Rejoicing over anxiety! By that I mean rejoicing trumps and displaces anxiety. Rejoicing is the Spirit’s remedy for the soul that struggles to be anxious for nothing. In writing from prison to the saints in Philippi, Paul interweaves a common theme of rejoicing throughout his letter to those experiencing anxiety and affliction. Here are four insights from Philippians 4:4-7 for overcoming the common temptation of anxiety.
1. Rejoicing in the Lord always is a command.
In Philippians 4:4, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Easier said than done, right? Someone might say, “Does God really expect me to rejoice when there is a faltering economy and I’ve lost my job? How can I rejoice when my child has forsaken the faith and lives a vile lifestyle? How do I rejoice when I’ve received a terminal diagnosis? How can an expectant mother rejoice when she goes in for a sonogram, eager to hear her baby’s heartbeat, yet there is nothing but excruciating silence? How do I rejoice when life seems to be unraveling at the seams? Paul has lost his mind! Surely, a God of love would not expect me to rejoice under these gut-wrenching conditions! How cruel it would be for God to command that I actually rejoice and do so always!”
Let’s note upfront that the command is not to “rejoice always in our circumstances,” but to “rejoice in the Lord always.” If our rejoicing is foremost in our circumstances, our health, our finances, our relationships, or our performances, will not our lives in this chaotic world be an emotional rollercoaster? Our rejoicing is not to be directed by the circumstances that surround us, but rather by Christ who is in us. We can rejoice in the Lord always, for Christ is always with us and for us, and the joy found in him surpasses the sorrow found in this world.
Concerning the command to “rejoice always,” Charles Spurgeon wrote:
“It is not an indifferent thing to rejoice, or not to rejoice, but we are commanded to rejoice, to show that we break a commandment if we rejoice not. Oh, what comfort is this, when the Comforter himself shall command us to rejoice!”
2. Rejoicing in the Lord always is reasonable.
Paul continues in Philippians 4:5, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” It is only reasonable to “rejoice always” because Christ is infinity greater than our biggest problems and uses even the worst of our circumstances to bring about good — namely our conformity to Christ (Rom 8:28-29).
Knowing that the Lord is “at hand” brings comfort in affliction, peace in the midst of turmoil, and confidence in the midst of opposition. We could not escape his presence even if we wanted to. David declares in Psalm 139:7-10:
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
It is the inescapable, sovereign hand of our heavenly Father that leads and holds us!
In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul tells the Philippians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” God is “at hand” working upon the heart for his good pleasure and our eternal good. So let us be reasonable, and rejoice — always!
3. Rejoicing in the Lord always is enabled through prayer.
Having commanded them to rejoice, Paul gives another command in Philippians 4:6 as he writes: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Why do we need to “let our requests be made known to God?” Is it to inform God of what we need as if he were clueless? Of course not. Psalm 139:4 says, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” Why then, do we need to “let our requests be made known to God”? Ultimately it is for our benefit as we remind ourselves that he is sovereign and we are not. Rather than pretending to be in control of our circumstances (and thus growing anxious when things don’t go our way), prayer is a humble dependence upon our Heavenly Father who reigns supreme. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.”
God is also bigger than all the “what ifs” that flood our minds and make us anxious when we take our eyes off God. God is bigger than our circumstances, and God is with us in our circumstances. Thus, Paul says in all our prayers we are to give thanksgiving. Remembering God’s presence with us, provisions for us, promises to us, and purposes for our good compel us to give him thanks in prayer.
4. Rejoicing in the Lord always is rewarded with surpassing peace.
As we rejoice in our Lord who is at hand, he grants to us a gift that the natural man relentlessly pursues in this world but can never obtain. Philippians 4:7 says through rejoicing and prayer with thanksgiving that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Perfect peace is found only as we are reconciled to the God of peace through Christ, and then is daily enjoyed as we keep our eyes fixed upon him. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
Much like Paul as he wrote to the Philippians, John Huss was a convicted criminal. Why? According to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, he was a criminal for being “rather willing to teach the Gospel of Christ.”1 Huss was labeled a heretic and sentenced to be burnt alive at the stake. As the wood was placed around him, Huss said this, “with a cheerful mind and courage, I am here ready to suffer death.” So they lit the fire around him, and what did he do? He sang repeatedly in a loud voice, “Jesus Christ! The Son of the living God! Have mercy upon me.”
As Huss kept his mind fixed upon who God was, God was at hand keeping Huss in perfect peace, even during intense suffering. Likely we will not be burnt at the stake, but whatever our circumstances we can rejoice because God is at hand! Although our circumstances are different than those of Jon Huss, our God remains the same. In his very essence, God is good and therefore does good, using all things in our lives as his servants (Ps 119:68, 91). To that end, let us rejoice together in our Lord as we consider these words from Matthew Henry:
“It is our duty and privilege to rejoice in God, and to rejoice in him always; at all times, in all conditions; even when we suffer for him, or are afflicted by him. We must not think the worst of him or of his ways for the hardships we meet with in his service. There is enough in God to furnish us with matter of joy in the worst circumstance on earth.”
- Foxe, John. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, p. 90-91.
Bryan Gaines is Pastor of Family Discipleship at Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, Texas. He regularly teaches classes to encourage and equip parents, works in the Student Ministry, leads an adult Care Group, and oversees Grace Preschool. Bryan also leads Grace Biblical Counseling, LLC. He is certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).
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