14th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Well, Labor Day is upon us once again. Labor day is the holiday that America sets aside to honor American workers who have contributed to the well-being of our nation through their labor. But Labor day also serves a “sort of” non-official purpose as well. In a way Labor Day marks the ending of summer. Most schools gear up to go into session for another 9 months. For most people Labor Day marks the end of the time to go on summer vacations. So for many Labor day kind of marks the final holiday before people return to their normal schedules. Well, today as we continue in our series on the joy of being a Christian we focus on a set of resolutions that God gives us as we go about our lives as Christians.
We are nearing the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Here at the end Paul is making some final encouragements to the Philippian Christians and each verse of this text is somewhat disconnected. In the original Greek the verses have no coordinating or connecting particle to connect them. So the verse gives us a nice list of 4 separate encouragements or resolutions for us.
The first resolution is: Rejoice. God says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Notice what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say, “Rejoice when the weather is nice,” It doesn’t say, “rejoice when you get a day off work,” it doesn’t say, “rejoice when you’re healthy,” it doesn’t say, “rejoice when your life is going well.” It says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.” That means in every instance and in every situation and in every circumstance. God wants us to rejoice always, to have a certain joy and gladness inside of us at every time in our life. God wants us to rejoice all the time and to live our lives with joy. This is the joy that the Philippians had heard of or seen firsthand when Paul first stopped in Philippi. After having been brutally beaten and unjustly thrown in prison for sharing the gospel, Paul and his companion Silas were singing hymns and praying to God in prison! I, too, saw this Christian joy this past week. Many of you know Katie’s dad and know that he’d been battling cancer for these past two years. There’s been ups and downs but mostly downs. He’s had massive surgeries, chemo, many tubes coming out of him, he’d been in constant pain for many months. These last few weeks he was confined to a bed, couldn’t move, wasn’t strong enough to sip water out of a straw, didn’t even have the strength to talk, and was just waiting to die. This last Monday when I was saying good-bye to him I told him, “Greet Jesus for me.” And I won’t forget how he mustered just enough strength to smile. That’s the joy of a Christian. By all outward appearances and from every worldly standpoint he should have had nothing to smile about, he should have had no joy, he had nothing left and was waiting to die. But, the Christian rejoices….always.
Do we do that? Do we rejoice always? How easy it can be for us to let the things of life sap away our joy. When there’s a problem, when something doesn’t work the way we had hoped, when there’s bad news, do those things extract our joy? Do we live downcast lives? As if our lives are a wreck? Do people see us as people with a certain joy that pervades every corner of our lives no matter what, all the time? Or do people see us as down, depressed, and disgusted with life?
But God says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS” and just in case we were sitting here thinking, “What? Paul you can’t mean also in difficult times.” He says, “Again I say rejoice.” Why can we rejoice all the time? Why could my father-in-law still rejoice as just about all earthly enjoyment had been stripped from him?
The Christian’s joy is not joy for the sake of joy as if all we need to do is sing, “I’m happy all the time.” To ourselves and eventually it might sink in. The Christian’s joy is based on something. Paul said, “Rejoice IN THE LORD.” Our joy does not spring from outward success or the outward conditions of life so that we are happy when things go well and overcome with grief when they don’t. Our joy springs from the assurance of having Jesus as our Lord, from the confidence knowing that every one of our sins have been forgiven in Him, from the peace knowing that our names are written in the book of life. And as we are in the Lord none of those things can change.
So come what may: good times, bad times, loss, hardship, trouble, or even death: Rejoice in the Lord always!
Our 2nd Godly resolution for our lives is: Refocus. Paul tells us that the “Lord is near.” The Lord could come at any moment, when He comes he will set all things right, he will make sure that He wins and no other will, since we know that Jesus is near, that Jesus will come soon, that Jesus will bring the whole rat race of life to an end one day, we can live in “gentleness.” In the Greek this is a difficult word to try and translate. One of the commentators that I read in preparing for this sermon defined it like this: “It is a humble, patient steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting in God in spite of all of it” and another said, “not making a rigorous and obstinate stand for what is your just due.” This “gentleness” isn’t simply a passive thing, it is very active in two ways, first not stubbornly insisting on the smallest detail of our own rights and secondly being lenient to others.
In other words it’s not only putting the best construction on the words and behaviors of others, but is also looking out for their best interests. But isn’t our focus often directed at ourselves? “I want it MY way.” “I don’t care if someone gets hurt; I have a right to get even, don’t I?”
But that’s not the attitude of God’s people. God’s people know that Jesus is near, he is coming soon. And it is refocusing on Him that changes our attitudes. Think about it: God yielded his own rights when he dealt with us. He set aside what was rightly due him in order to suffer and die on a cross that we might live forever with him. He had our best interests in mind all the time. And if He has done that, and he has, then we can treat everyone in our lives- not just family and friends, but all people, everyone- gently, humbly, and patiently. That’s the 2nd Godly resolution: Refocus on the fact that Jesus is coming soon and live gently.
Our 3rd Godly resolution for our lives is: Request. God says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” Worry is something that robs a person of the joy the Lord wants us to have. What is worry or anxiousness? Worry or anxiousness is the natural human reaction to a need. When your paycheck gets cut, what’s the immediate reaction? “Oh boy, how am I going to do this, how am I going to make it this month.” Worry is standing in your kitchen with food filling the cupboards and the fridge and thinking, “Oh boy, what am I going to eat! I don’t know how to prepare this food!” J Worry is finding out you have a health problem or disease, or a family member has a health issue, and thinking, “Oh boy, what are we going to do now! Am I going to be all right? Is this going to mess up my plans for life?” Finally, worry is sin. It is a lack of trust in God.
But what does God tell us here? “Have no anxiety about anything.” Do not be anxious! And God’s solution? “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” God invites us to pray to Him. God invites us to pray to him in everything and when we pray we submit our will to God’s. In effect we say, “God, you are the One with the power, the competence, the knowledge, and the ability to work this out. I leave it in your hands and trust that you will do what is best.” When we pray we present to God specific requests, not that he doesn’t already know about them, but then we are assured that he knows about them because we’ve told him. God then takes our prayers into consideration and uses them as he rules the universe for our good. One person once commented: “The way to be anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything.” So, Godly resolution #3: Request.
Our final Godly resolution for this morning is: Relax. Who doesn’t like to relax? Who doesn’t like to collapse in an easy chair knowing that everything is taken care of everything is just the way it’s supposed to be? But how can we relax this Labor Day weekend? How can we relax when there’s trouble in Syria, oil prices are going up, when there’s unrest in the world? Even with all of the trouble of the world the Christian has peace. The Christian has a certain tranquility of soul resting totally on God. Peace is what God pours into the souls of Christians who have case aside cares and worries and have brought them to God in prayer, who know God will provide for them, who know that the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared to eternal glory, who know that all things work together for the good of those who love God. This trust and confidence is rewarded by God and he in turn fills such people with peace. And its this peace that surpasses our minds. When we try to use our minds to figure the problems of life out we are left with trouble. But the one who trusts in God discovers that the problems have been left and have been replalced by peace and rest of soul coming from God. So, relax in the peace that God gives.
Finally, all these resolutions are yours as you have a close relationship with Jesus. As you know him and his undying love for you and the salvation that he has won for you. So this Labor day, make these your resolutions: Rejoice, refocus, request, and relax.