Philippians 4:4-7 Always Be Happy

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Always Be Happy

1.  Addressing the disciples of Philippi, Paul wrote to them to "rejoice.*"  In what situation is the imperative sentence of "rejoice, be happy*" usually used?  For example, we say it when somebody has had a disaster on the mountains and has come close to dying; [in English we might say, "Relax.*  Take it easy.*  Don't sweat it.*  Don't worry.*  It's going to be all right.*"]  Thus, we hear it faintly from a distance in the shouting voices of a search party.  It's like the rays of their lights.  The one says to the other one who is weaker, "Hello?!  Don't worry.*  You've got help!"  Or, we use it when people are waiting for the results of a candidate selection exam so that the one with the news comes running in to them and shouts, "Congratulations.*  You made it!"  Or, we may have heard it said like this, "Good news for you.*  You were found not guilty and acquitted."  "Take it light*, mister."  "Enjoy yourself.*  It's your favorite food."  And on and on it goes.

2.  So we see that with the imperative sentence to "be happy," there is usually some reason that goes along with it.  It is precisely because there is a reason that we would say "be happy."  But, Paul was not just saying "be happy," he said, "Always be happy."  This is a strange command.  It's a weird one because we don't always have a reason to be constantly happy as anyone would know right off.

3.  Far from it, there must have been far more reasons not to be happy for Paul the writer of this epistle and for the church the recipient of this epistle.  What do we have written right before the command to rejoice?  "I exhort Euodia and I exhort Syntyche.  Please embrace the same mind in the Lord," (4:2).  The reason he must have written that way is because in all reality these two women were not of the same mind, but were at a disagreement between themselves.  And no, it wasn't just them who were in disagreement [because] in chapter one of this epistle this is what it is written there, "while some preach Christ, some might do it out of a mind of jealousy and strife and others do it in good will," (1:15).  What in the world might it mean that jealousy and strife enters even into preaching?

4.  That wasn't all.  There were not only internal problems, but there was also persecution from the outside.  Paul was at this very time in prison.  It was not a joyful place in the least.  Depending on the outcome of his trial, he may have been up for the death penalty.  When you think about it, ever since he started working for the preaching of the gospel the life of this man was but one hardship after another.  He sent this message to the church at Corinth, "Five times I have received 40 stripes minus one from the Jews.  Thrice I have been hit with the rod and once stoned, thrice shipwrecked.  I have drifted at sea all day and night.  I have traveled often, and faced troubles in rivers, troubles from robbers, troubles from my own country men, troubles from Gentiles, troubles in towns, troubles in the wilderness, troubles at sea, troubles from false brethren, and worked hard, travailed and often went without sleep, went thirsty and hungry, and in not eating often I froze in the cold and have been naked.  There is still more beside that, and on top of that, there are the burdens that press upon me every day, there are the worries for the different churches," (Second Corinthians 11:24-28).  [As we see how] he wrote like he did there were an unlimited number of major reasons for Paul to lose his joy.

5.  But, what was it that clinched it for Paul to say "Rejoice always?"  The joy that is spoken of here doesn't seem to be the kind of joy like "Don't worry.  You've got help," or "Congrats.  You passed the test," because you don't ever say "always be happy" for that.  The happiness of when your life is helped through a rescue from a crisis or healing from a disease is gone when you are later faced with death.  The happiness of when you passed that exam is lost when you have a set back later.  The joy of when a child is born is forgotten about when that child turns to wrong at a later age.  We should not expect the happiness spoken of here to be the kind of happiness that is produced or caused by any of the things mentioned above.  If it is not a happiness based on never changing no matter the situation, then the phrase "Always rejoice" will be meaningless.

6.  Please listen carefully to Paul's words here.  He is not just saying, "Always rejoice."  He says, "Rejoice in the Lord always."  The phrase "in the Lord" is one that appears frequently in Pauline epistles.  In other passages the same phrase is translated "joined to the Lord."  It is the bond with Christ that the scripture is speaking of here.  It is the relationship one has with God through Christ.  He does not live with "the things that happen" as the basis of his own happiness.  He sure doesn't, rather, he lives with "the One who I am with" as the basis of his own happiness.

7.  Many people try to direct their concerns only on "the things that happen."  They consider that as if it were the most important thing to them.  And so they live happy and sad based on the things that happen up and down.  But, the really important point is not "the things that happen, but "who I am with."  Isn't it?  And furthermore, isn't being joined in an eternal bond with the unchanging One better than any passing relationship of this old world?  Paul looks at the basis of his happiness in that very relationship with his true and unchanging Christ.  And so he exhorts the disciples of Philippi to live that way, too.  They must live with their eyes on the unchanging One precisely because they are surrounded by major reasons to make them lose their happiness.  Then, Paul tacks these words on, saying, "The Lord is very near," (verse five).

8.  In the primitive church they had a phrase they used like a watchword.  It was the phrase "Maranatha."  It meant, "O Lord, please come."  Of course, it was a prayer of expectancy for the second coming of the Lord.  Thus, the saying "The Lord is very near" meant number one that the re-appearing of Christ was near.  But, until the second coming of Christ they did not consider Christ absent or that he would be coming from so far away when that hour should first begin; for, the Lord himself said, "Until the end of the world I will always be with you," (Matthew 28:20).  Until the hour the Lord reveals himself as the final judge or savior, the Lord is with us always as the head of the church and in Spirit.  Therefore, when Paul said that "The Lord is very near," another meaning he had was none other than that "The Lord is with us."  Because "the Lord is very near" as we've seen, therein lies the basis for the happiness of the believers.

Quit Worrying

9.  Then next, Paul says, "Quit worrying."  Being happy and not worrying are both sides of the same daily life in the Lord.  You might say they are the positive and the negative aspects.  Both are important.  There is no such thing as one of them alone without the other.  It can't be.  Therefore, when Paul said "in the Lord," he was exhorting them to pray in the form of a specific exhortation.  The every day life lived "in the Lord" takes on the specific form of prayer and worship.

10.  There must have been so many seeds of worry for Paul and the disciples at Philippi that they couldn't be counted.  But, the important thing for living without worrying is not to give it all you got in taking out the seeds of worry, but to live as a person in the Lord and to live in prayer to God.

11.  Paul is saying here to "Tell it all to God; confide in Him."  This is more than simple wishing.  We see that because the phrase "with thanksgiving" comes along with it.  But at the same time, in saying "with thanksgiving" it does not necessarily always mean to pray with only words of thanksgiving.  We see that in reading the Psalms of the Old Testament.  In them there are people grieving, weeping and pleading before God.  When we read the Psalms, we have thoughts that are truly overwhelmed with the width and the depth of the world of the prayers which the Bible gives.  So, in saying "with thanksgiving" as we have it written here it is not to offer up to God words of thanks, mindlessly, adjusting only the outward appearance.  It's hardly that, but rather it means that even though we've prayed with those such words, there is a thanksgiving and confidence in an unchanging God at the bottomline to our prayer.  More precisely, no matter how choppy the surface of the river gets from the strong winds, at the undercurrent it is like the stream that is flowing evenly and steadfastly in one direction.

12.  Prayers made from natural human desire and wishing are not that kind of prayer.  It is the prayers that come by way of a response to God's love and born out of the good news of the Gospel that indeed become the prayers that have an unwavering thanksgiving at their undercurrent.  It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us first.  As we begin to know this it becomes possible to "offer up prayers and requests with thanksgiving."  In other words, it also means to pray as a person who has been saved by God.  This is the very meaning of what it means to pray as a person joined to Christ.

13.  So, when we "confide in God" like this, what might happen then?  Paul says this, "In doing so, the peace of God that surpasses every kind of human intellect will preserve your hearts and thoughts by Christ Jesus," (verse seven).

14.  As Paul speaks here he is imprisoned on alleged grounds unconvicted.  He can't preserve his own life by himself.  But, here we are hearing the words of a man who is having his hearts and thoughts preserved by the peace of God that surpasses the intellect.  We should probably call a man like him "a man preserved by God."  We try with all our might to preserve our lives.  We try to preserve ourselves, we try to preserve our positions, we try to preserve our reputations, we try to preserve our bodies from illness, we try to preserve our daily lives from economic distress.  But, aren't there plenty of times that our hearts and thoughts have become like crumbling ruins [even though] all the while we were at it with all our might trying to preserve ourselves in those so many ways?  We need to have our hearts and thoughts preserved by the peace of God.  And just as it was for Paul this is a preservation of God which is promised to be given to us as well whenever we pray to God as persons joined to the Lord.

15.  The twentieth century has come to its end.  If we looked back over this century we could say that it was truly a century hardly related to "happiness."  And then, when we look futuristically at the coming twenty-first century, who in the world out there will hope to see a twenty-first century filled with joy and sparkling light?  Most people would never think of associating the word "joy" with the coming twenty-first century.  But, even during such a time period, no wait, precisely because of the kind of times it will be, I would think we must keep up our witness in this world of this joy and peace and live in happiness as a person in the Lord having our hearts and thoughts preserved by the peace of God.  Today the Bible is speaking to us too.  It says, "Be happy in the Lord always.  I say it again.  Be happy."

End Note

*In English it was necessary to translate "rejoice, be happy, take pleasure," in these very different ways, but all the starred words are the same word in Japanese.

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