REJOICE IN THE LORD
Written by Doug Ponder on September 8, 2013
The Need to Rejoice
Many of the “books” of the New Testament are letters that were written to specific churches. In each letter, Paul remind the recipients of the good news of Jesus that he preached to them during one of his previous stays in their city. For this reason, we often find in Paul’s letters the personal names of people who were members the various churches.
Imagine, then, standing in the church service one Sunday morning when the pastor excitedly announces that Paul’s letter has arrived. The entire congregation waits with eager anticipation as the letter is read aloud in the presence of everyone. When the reader nearly reaches the end of the letter, he comes to a sudden halt. His eyes seem to scan the page several times, glancing up at the congregation, then back to the parchment in front of him. He clears his throat and says, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Now imagine what it must have felt like to be either Euodia or Syntyche, having just been called out for your ongoing spat in front of the rest of the church. What was Paul doing? He was applying the good news of the gospel to their specific situation. Notice that he says ‘their names are written in the book of life.’ This is not a throw-away phrase. Paul is explaining both why and how they ought to get along, or “agree in the Lord.” First, the reason why they ought to get along is that they will share life with Jesus forever. Love is not just their duty, therefore, it is their destiny. Paul is calling them to embrace the reality of the future in the circumstances of the present. Second, this truth (the final destiny of the saints) also becomes the means for how to get along. When you realize that Jesus died to make us one, it is easier to get along in him.
The How and Why of Rejoicing
This is Paul’s basic approach in every letter: lay out a command, then explain why and how the command should be followed. Indeed, this sort of pattern lies at the heart of this passage. For Paul lists a string of commands (rejoice in the Lord always, let your reasonableness be known to everyone, do not be anxious about anything, and let your requests be made known to God), all of which are anchored to a single truth: “The Lord is at hand.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” he says. Why? Because the Lord is at hand.
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” Why? The Lord is at hand.
“Do not be anxious about anything.” The Lord is at hand.
“Let your requests be made known to God.” The Lord is at hand.
But how are we supposed to do these things? Where do we find the strength to rejoice always and to be free from anxiety and worry? The “how” of these commands is the same as the “why” behind them: the Lord is at hand, which means that he is near and he stands ready to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
Rejoicing in the Lord
Part of the reason that we struggle to rejoice always and be free from anxiety is that we either don’t believe that the Lord is near, or else we do believe that he is near but we have such a poor view of the Lord that this news doesn’t excite our hearts or relieve our fears. But it shouldn’t be this way. When Paul says, “The Lord is at hand,” he means the same Lord that he has been writing about throughout the letter. He is talking about Jesus, the Lord who is with us, for us, and in us.
Jesus was also called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” He was with us in the sense of being in our midst and on our side. Jesus showed that God is not a distant, uncaring deity. Instead, he is the God who was born in a stable, facing poverty and persecution at the hands of the people he came to save. As Paul wrote earlier, “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Instead, he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).
Jesus was not just with us, he was also for us. That is, Jesus did not just come to live alongside us for the purpose of inspiring us and teaching us a better way to live. Instead, Jesus went to the cross for our sake, absorbing the justice of God on our behalf. And not only that, but he was also raised to life for us, so that in him we too might be made alive together with Christ. As Paul said, “Paul wrote this too, “Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:8-11).
Finally, Jesus also lives in us through his Spirit, the one who “works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). That means that Jesus is nearer than we can imagine. His presence is a constant reality. His Spirit moves within us, giving us the desire and the ability to do what we otherwise could not do.
When we realize that the God of the universe, as seen in the light of the life of Jesus Christ, is at hand, that he is with us, for us, and in us, then we can’t help but to rejoice! Likewise, gone are our anxieties when realize that the Lord is at hand. There is no place for worries for those who know that Jesus the victor reigns and lives for his glory and our good.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.