Scriptures: Matthew 22:1-14; Philippians 4:1-9
You Are What You Think?
Today we're going to talk about rejoicing. As we look at at the passage in Philippians today, we're going to take a look at the way we might approach, essentially, a way of living life. There's a saying, “You are what you eat,” and I'm not so sure about that but [indicates belly] I guess I eat a lot. But there's another idea that's out there, that “You are what you think.” That deals with many different aspects, both in terms of your mental state, and even affecting your physical state, which I'll get into a little later.
In Philippians 4:4, Paul says to rejoice in the Lord always. He repeats it, “Again, I say rejoice.” Now Paul, when he was writing to the Philippians, if I remember correctly, was in prison. That wasn't what most people would consider to be a reason for rejoicing. And yet Paul is able to rejoice.
He says that the Lord is near. “So do not be anxious about anything, but in prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We're told not to be anxious, not to be worried. Not to be, perhaps, even frightened. I don't know about you, but I tend to worry. There's always something I can find to worry about. One of the most difficult things, perhaps, is letting go.
But Paul speaks of “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.” So maybe the way to not worry is to think about what you've already been given, so that no matter what situation you're in, and what you think you might be missing, what you think you might still be needing, you remember what God has already given.
“And the peace of God which transcends [or passes] all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The word “guard” is one of defense. It's a military term. It's going to protect your heart and your mind, in Christ Jesus.
Then he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And the God of peace will be with you.”
So again, perhaps it's not thinking about what you don't have, but rather we need to think about what we have already been given, and what we do have. And when we do that, we can rejoice, no matter what situation we're in.
This is important, for a couple of different reasons. After all, who does not want to be happy and feel joy in their souls? One pastor said, in a sermon, “If one had a time machine, and could relive any event in your life, what would you choose to experience again? Would it not be the joyful moments in your life?
For instance – although I don't remember it – your first step? When you finally learned to ride a bike, or met a lifetime friend. Your first kiss, your marriage ceremony, or the birth of your children. Boy, I remember the birth of my firstborn, Zach, in particular.
While these occasions are all sources of great joy, we should remember that they pale in comparison to the moment that you bowed and invited Jesus into your heart, or that point in time where you realized that He was Lord. For it was at that moment that for the first time, living waters flowed in your soul, and you were able to feel that inexpressible joy.
Now I have to admit, if I had a time machine, what I would be tempted to do is go back and try to fix mistakes, rather than just experience joy. But perhaps that's, again, something I need to learn about letting go.
Since we don't have a time machine, and cannot live constantly in these moments, how can we obey the command to rejoice or feel joy in the Lord always, when we live in a fallen world where bad things often happen to every one of us?
One of the things we can do is remember why we should rejoice. I'm not just talking about remembering the salvation we've gained in Jesus Christ. There are benefits to living a joyful life, just as there are detriments to living a worried life.
It has physical as well as spiritual and mental effects. Worried people are far more likely to suffer from ulcers, colon cancer, intestinal cancer, and heart problems. They are far more likely to be depressed. We want to focus, perhaps, for our own benefit, which I'll get into a little later, on how to rejoice.
Now being the kind of guy I am, and the teacher I am, I have to give a caveat. That doesn't mean that we walk around with rose-colored glasses and expect that everything's going to be OK. Paul was in prison when he wrote this. We need to be realists.
But we have a hope that cannot be taken away. We have a joy that is already present, because of what has already been accomplished. It's not something that is a “maybe so” that we reach for. It's something that is an “already done” that we just need to accept.
The first benefit of a living a joyful life is that it is contagious. We've all met a modern-day Eeyore. You know the kind of person, whose very being, whose very pores seem to exude sadness and depression and skepticism. It seems like they can make almost any joyous occasion seem irrelevant, or worse yet, like a dirge.
I have admit, my first thought as I was reading about this idea of a modern-day Eeyore, was of Calvin, in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, with this idea of misery loves company. There was one time, I believe it was a Monday morning, where it showed Calvin having some problems while he was getting up and on his way to school, and he had this black cloud – you know, the thought cloud over his head – and he meets Susie Derkins.
She's smiling, and she's happy. She says, “Hi, Calvin! Good morning!” I forget what he says, but afterward she has a dark cloud over her head, and he goes away with a smile on his face.
Those are the kind of people that, if they claim to be Christian, can actually ruin the witness for Jesus. Carey Nieuwhof warns Christians of the danger of skepticism and how negativity can ruin a person's witness for Jesus. So we need to think about those things that can cause us joy.
A joy-filled life is contagious because it helps us to be an encourager. Have you ever seen an encourager who's negative? And yet we're to encourage and edify and lift each other up within the church. An encourager is almost always welcome in a group, compared to somebody who's not. I believe the modern term is “buzzkill.” And nobody wants a buzzkill in their group.
As I noted earlier, the second benefit of joy is medicinal. You are healthier when you are focused and you are more joyful. In some places, the only kind of religion that is allowed is hospital chaplains, and pastors visiting the sick, even though church is not allowed.
Why do you think that is? Because most readily agree that hope in a Higher Power can reduce anxiety and depression, and as a result speed up the healing process. That's of course leaving aside the power of prayer, which we all know works and is helpful. As Christians, we believe that joy in the Lord not only provides these benefits, but when coupled with prayer often leads to almost miraculous healing.
The third benefit of joy is that it reduces offenses between people. People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt to either give offense or take offense. They're so focused on heavenly goals and crowns that little troubles that commonly arise among us fallen creatures can be forborne. When things do get heated between two Christians, joy in the Lord can be key to reconciling hurt feelings.
We even see that in verses 2-3 of today's passage, where Paul says, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel along with Clement and the rest of my c-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
I found an interesting interpretation regarding this. I thought what it meant that they “contended at my side” was that they worked with him. But most of the commentaries I read were pretty clear that they were contending in front of him, that there was a division between the two of them.
Since their disagreement was very personal in nature, and could cause disunity in the church, Paul's remedy was to remind these ladies that their joy in the Lord should compel them to be of the same mind, so that they might be reconciled and promote harmony within the church.
So you start with joy, and that enables you. After all, isn't it 1st Corinthians 13 that says love forgives all wrongs, or keeps no records of the wrongs done against it? Joy accompanies love, the knowledge of being loved. Those who are filled with joy in the Lord are less likely to be offended, because they've learned from God how to be gentle, compassionate, and forbear in love.
The last benefit of joy in the Lord that we might explore today is its ability to help one persevere in trials and tribulations. Not just Paul but even James says this strange thing: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work in you so that you may be mature and complete and not lacking in anything.”
To consider trials and tribulations pure joy is not something that comes naturally. It's easy to feel joy when things are going well, when things are going smoothly. But.we need to work at and understand how we can feel joy in the midst of sickness, joblessness, enemies, marital problems, or the financial difficulties of life.
Charles Spurgeon made the following statement about joy: “When the day darkens into evening and the evening into midnight, and the midnight into a sevenfold horror of great darkness, rejoice in the Lord. And when that darkness does not clear but becomes more dense and Egyptian, when night succeedeth night and neither sun nor moon nor stars appear, still rejoice in the Lord always.”
Spurgeon said he could make such a statement because his source of joy was not found in the green pastures or in still waters, but in the Lord, who was and always would be his Shepherd. It's not where we are. It's Who were with, and Who is caring for us.
When God is our refuge and portion in the land of the living, then temporary setbacks of life cannot drown the joy of knowing Christ as our Lord. Continuous joy – though I have not found it yet – is attainable for those who put their trust in the Lord.
There was something in the 19th century that people called the quassia cup, to help cure fever and other ailments. As soon as one poured water into this cup, it became bitter. Spurgeon states that for some Christians, they always seem to live with one of those cups in their hands.
Joy is not found in being anxious or pessimistic about our future, but in every situation, by prayer, petition, and thanksgiving, presenting and trusting in God, that He will always do good to those who love Him. And when we stumble and fall, like Peter, we can be assured that our Rock will pick us up and place our feet on a firm foundation.
Now it's not easy to be content in all circumstances. But if one trusts fully in the Lord, then heavenly rewards will be a great source of joy, a greater source than earthly ones. In his letter to Rome, the apostle Paul summed up joy in the Lord best with the following petition: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
We want to be like that. So here's a practical suggestion or two. The first thing we want to do is frequently count our blessings, so that our joy in the Lord might overflow in all circumstances in our life. It is very easy to let life's circumstances get a person down, especially when one is going through trials and tribulations.
But take the time to remember that we as Christians are forgiven, cleansed, a masterpiece of God's grace, and He who loves us with an undying love promises never to forsake us, but has a glorious future planned for each and every one of us. As I've said before from the pulpit, and I don't remember where I first read it, “Never forget what is important because of the tyranny of the urgent.”
Don't let those things in life overwhelm you and make you forget about what's important, that you're saved by grace, and that God is with you. When we do that, we are to delight in the Lord Jesus, remembering that He is in each and every one of us, and we are to reflect Him, in our love and our joy with others.
So think about those things that are admirable, those things that are lovely, those things that are pure. Particularly think about Jesus, so that you, too, may be joyful, in all that you do and say.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.