The Joy of Knowing Christ
The Joy of Knowing Christ, 9.6.20
2020 has been a difficult year, hasn’t it? It has. Some many people have been anxious and fearful about the pandemic. Families have been kept apart because of the virus. There’s been considerable economic trouble this year. We have our national election coming up very soon. No one, other than our Lord, knows what will happen with that. Lots of social unrest going on in our country. It’s been a tough year.
Despite the difficulty, we have hope. As Christians we have Jesus Christ. He is our hope, our peace, and our joy. There’s such tremendous joy in following Jesus. This is one of the great benefits of following Christ. We have joy. We have joy in him.
This topic of joy will be what we investigate this morning. The joy of knowing Christ, specifically. We have joy in Jesus as Christians and we are commanded to have joy in him. He is so worthy and great that despite what we go through we can and have joy in him. Let’s go ahead and turn to our passage this morning. It is Phil 4:4. Turn with me there.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness4 be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand
I’m not going to structure this morning’s sermon in accord with how the verses in vv. 4 and 5 are sequenced. Rather, I’m going to skip around a bit. This will make sense as we proceed through the sermon.
The Theological Basis of Our Joy
To begin our exploration of what this passage says regarding the joy of knowing Christ, we first must understand the theological foundation of this belief as presented in this passage. What does Paul teach is the basis, the foundation of the believer’s joy in Christ? Where does it come from? What is it based on? These are the types of questions we want to tackle with this first point. I’ve entitled my first point, “The theological basis of our joy.”
The Lord is at Hand
To answer these questions, we have to look at the end of v. 5. Paul says this at the end,
The Lord is at hand
Other translations render this part of v. 5 slightly differently. Several translations render this part of v. 5 as, “The Lord is near.” So we have “the Lord is at hand” and “the Lord is near.” The same idea is communicated. The idea is this. In some way, Jesus Christ is close. Now we have to be specific in regard to the specific way that Jesus is close. In what way is this true?
One way to understand Jesus’ closeness is by understanding it as a reference to Jesus’ second coming. That is, Jesus is near, Jesus is at hand in the sense that he will return soon. His coming is close. The rapture is imminent. It can happen at any time.
There is good reason to think that this is what Paul means when he refers to Jesus’ nearness based upon what Paul says in 3:20. Look with me there,
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to even to subject all things to himself.
In 4:5, Paul could be alluding to what he says in 3:20 and 21. That is, Jesus is close in the sense of time. His coming can happen at any time.
There’s another way to understand Christ’s nearness. The second way is this: Christ is near in the sense of his presence. That is, there is no space, there is no distance, there is no height, nor depth that can separate the believer from Christ. Christ is near in the sense of his presence. As with the previous point, there is good reason to believe that this is the sense that Paul is sense in which Paul means that Jesus is close.
Look with me 4:11. I will read through v. 13. Paul writes this,
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Notice that last verse, v. 13. Paul says that Christ strengthens Paul. Paul is in prison, remember? Nevertheless, Christ still strengthens Paul. How is it that Christ strengthens Paul? He strengthens Paul by means of his presence. Christ is with Paul. The confines of the prison do not limit Christ in his ability to comfort and encourage Paul. Although Paul is in prison, Paul is not separated from Christ. Christ is with Paul while Paul is in prison.
So when Paul says that Christ is near, in our passage this morning, Paul could be referring to Christ’s presence. Although the Philippians do not see Christ and do not observe him, he is still with them. Christ is spiritually present with the Philippians.
Time and Space
So which one is it, pastor? Don’t just tell me what it might mean, tell me what it means? No problem. I take what Paul is saying is that Jesus is near in both sense—temporally and geographically. Jesus is close in both time—his second coming is imminent—and space—Jesus is with the Philippians to comfort and encourage them. This highlights a beautiful powerful truth about Jesus Christ’s relationship with the believer.
To bring out this point, it is helpful to explain the relationship that Christ has with believers to other relationship we have with friends and family. When it comes to our relationships with other people, those relationships are hindered and limited by both time and space.
Take the issue of time. In your life, there are people with whom you have had close, deep relationships with but those relationship were cut short because the person you had a relationship with died. This could be a friend, a parent, a child, a sibling. In my life, I never knew my grandfathers. My father’s dad died before I was born, and my mother’s father died when I was young. I never knew these men. Death can cut short the relationships that you have with people. The boundaries of time limit you in your relationships.
Geography also limits relationships. Physical distance separates us from our ability to have relationships with other people. This pandemic has made this point clear. As we have been socially distancing from one another over the last six month, how many of us have longed to reconnect with people face to face? All of us, I would imagine. This COVID situation has brought us face to face with the difficulty of not being able to spend face to face time with people—in the church and outside of the church. I know that some of you have parents in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. It has been so hard on you and your loved ones to not be able to embrace, hold each other’s hand, and talk face to face without some barrier. Physical distancing, social distancing hinders relationships. To have a thriving relationship with someone, you must be able to be with them. Geography limits us in our relationships with people.
Dear friends, Jesus is not limited by time or space. No matter where you are on this world, nor what time period you were born into, nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. Jesus is Lord of time. He has access to every point in time. His Father has a perfect plan that he executes in time. Time is not a hindrance to Christ. His reign and rule is occurring right now, it has occurred in the past, and it will occur in the future. Because he is the Lord of time, he can return at any time. What prevents him from coming right now is the Father’s perfect plan. God the Father has a plan for the Son’s return. That plan is for him to come soon but not now.
Further, Jesus is also not limited by space. His power extends to the whole universe. Jesus can be with us here in Pierre, SD, on this Sunday morning, and he can be with another congregation on the other side of the world. By means of the Holy Spirit, Christ is spiritually present with his people. His will never leave his people. He will never forsake his people. No matter where you go in this universe, no matter how far you travel, Christ is there. By means of his Spirit, he reigns and rules over the entire cosmos.
Listen to this verse from Rom 8:35–39. Paul writes this,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Wow. Jesus transcends the limits of time and space. He is Lord over all things. He is near—in the sense of his coming and in the sense of his presence. We have such a great and wonderful Savior. How vast is his love. How outstanding is his power. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, dear friend. Nothing. No amount of time. No amount of space. He will never die. Death will never rob you of precious moments with him. He is always accessible. No amount of distance can separate you from him. He transcends all space and time. He is near in every sense of the term.
Because our Savior is so great, so mighty, so tremendous, powerful, good, loving, and gracious, we can have tremendous joy in this life. Jesus is so valuable and worthy that we can have a happiness through all of life’s difficulties. In fact, we are commanded to have a joy through all of life’s difficulties. That’s what we explore here in our second point. The second point is this, “Be joyful.”
What the Bible teaches in v. 4 is that, because Jesus is “near,” because he transcends space and time, we are to be happy in Christ. We are to find our joy and satisfaction in him always. Look with me in v. 4. Paul writes,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
The word “rejoice” here is a simple, basic word. It means to be “glad.” A word study is not needed of this word. It means what it says in English. Paul uses this verb, “rejoice,” twice in this passage. Unless someone was not sure what he says, he repeats himself. Dear friends, this is a command. God commands us to have joy in Christ.
Now, dear friend, there are some serious objections to this passage, to this command here. You might read this passage and shrug it off as an impossibility given the sad state of affairs in this world. You might be thinking, “How on earth can I rejoice in the Lord when I’m struggling so badly with my business? With my marriage? With my family? Pastor, don’t you know what I’ve been through in 2020? I had someone who I loved so much recently die. How on earth can I be joyful?” The difficulties of life can make us skeptical about obedience to this passage. This is an important objection that we have to deal with in this passage.
Paul gets it. Paul is not writing here from a position of power and prestige. Paul is writing from a prison cell. That is important to remember when we consider his point. Paul is imprisoned in a first-century cell. A horrible experience. And, yet, this command is still here. Further, God understands the way that you feel. He knows what you have gone through. He knows the pain, the hurt, the scars you have suffered this year. I might not know about them, but God does. He does. And you know what? He wrote this book. And he tells you, still, in light of the difficulty of life, in light of your pain and suffering, he commands you to rejoice in his Son. God is aware of the difficulties of the world and yet still gives this command. How do we understand this?
In the Lord
Looking again at the passage. I want you to see what the passage doesn’t say. The passage does not say,
Rejoice always; and again I say rejoice.
It doesn’t say that. Nor does it say this,
Rejoice in your circumstances always; and again I say rejoice.
It doesn’t say that either. Well what does it say. It says this,
Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say rejoice.
That little phrase is so important. “In the Lord” is so important. God is not commanding is to find satisfaction and enjoyment in something outside of Christ. So let’s say your circumstances have been less than ideal recently, this command still makes sense because God is not commanding you to rejoice in your circumstance but in Christ. What God is doing here is he is drawing us away from what frustrates us, what brings us down, what discourages us, and he is placing our focus, attention, and joy in Christ—who will never leave you, nor forsake you.
We might understand it like this. Jesus is so great—his power, his love, his mercy, and his goodness is so tremendous—that we can have joy in him even through the difficulties of life. Yes, life is hard. Yes, Paul is lonely, cold, tired, and hungry in his prison cell. Yes, to all of these. And yet Christ is of such value that we can still be happy in him with our difficulties. Further, we are commanded to be happy in him. This only makes sense considering the value and worth of our Savior. We are to always be happy in Christ.
Beyond the general application of “be joyful,” I want to make a more specific application of this passage. I want you to notice that Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Emphasis on the “always” here. We are to always be happy in Christ.
This “always” suggests an emotional stability. Rejoicing in Christ is more than an emotional experience but it is not less than an emotional experience. To rejoice in Christ involves your emotions. This passage is teaching that as Christians are emotions need to be of consistent joy in Christ. We need an emotional stability. We need to be emotionally strong in our Lord.
One problem that we have as Christians is that we struggle controlling their emotions. Some days we are up or down. We might be moody. One day we’re nice and kind; the next day we’re sour and bitter. We lack stability. We fail to consistently rejoice in the Lord. We fail to consistently find their joy in him—in his ability to transcend both space and time.
Based upon this passage, we need to have an emotional stability that is established on Christ. Rejoicing in him always. This emotional instability, this lack of always finding our joy in Christ is an area where we need sanctification. Do allowing your emotions—those fickle creatures that change the way we feel—to get the best of you. We need a consistent, steady, constant joy in Christ. Rejoicing in him ALWAYS, not every other day.
That’s what we do on the inside. A joy in Christ on the inside is how we should obey this passage. Finding our joy and happiness in Christ, not in our circumstances. That’s how we respond to Christ’s nearness.
Now how does that joy reflect itself on the outside of us? That is the question we tackle with our third point this morning. My third point is entitled this, “Be gentle.” So we are commanded to rejoice in Christ in 4:4. That’s directed towards Christ. How are we supposed to act towards people, in light of Christ being near?
Look with me at 4:5. Paul writes,
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.
If you have an ESV like the one I am reading from, you will notice a footnote here. And if you look at the bottom of the page, the ESV footnote reads, “or gentleness.” So the editors of the ESV are telling us that “reasonableness” in 4:5 can also be understood as “gentleness.” So, v. 4:5 could also be read like this,
Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
And this latter translation—“Let your gentleness be known to everyone”—is how most other English translations render this verse. And I, too, think “gentleness” is a better rendering.
This word is for “reasonableness” or “gentleness” means this:
Not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant, forbearing.
To explain what this word means here, I think it is best to give an illustration of what someone who is not gentle, not reasonable looks like. And then I will give an illustration of someone who is gentle, reasonable. Let’s think about first a parent who is not gentle, reasonable.
A parent who is not gentle is a parent who corrects every wrong of their children. As we know children sin and make many mistakes. This parent who is not gentle constantly harps on their children. Every infraction is met with correction. There is very little encouragement in the relationship. Rather, the parent feels that children need to learn how to live through correction. Even when the child does something good, the parent always has something negative to say. Johnny, who’s 3, recently spilt the milk at the dinner table and his parents yelled at him, spanked him, and sent him to his room. Fun is not allowed. No one every laughs. If the child ever wants to do something fun or exciting, the parent is slow to allow it. The child is rarely praised or spoiled with nice gifts. The parent rarely if ever takes into account what it is that the child wants, what it is they would like to do. Rather, the enforcement of rules are what matters most. Discipline and correction are all that the children know.
So that’s not what this idea of gentleness is in this passage. That would be disobedience to this passage from the perspective of a parent. Those are the types of behaviors we want to avoid. Now for an illustration of a parent who is gentle, reasonable.
This parent like the first parent also emphasizes rules. Rules, discipline, and correction are important to this second parent, the gentle parent. However, this gentle parent overlooks many infractions. Timmy, who is also 3, spilt his milk in the dinner table. His parents, rather than scolding him, reassured Timmy that it was okay. They cleaned up the milk, didn’t raise their voices, and assured Timmy that it was not big deal. Thy’re slow to anger. While they do raise their voices and do get angry, their anger is controlled and fits with the infraction. Laughter, fun, goofiness, and playing are common in the home of this family. Praises and encouragement are dolled out all the time. The parents physically embrace their kids all the time, and tell them they love them. Kindness and love are the main virtues of this home. Correction and discipline are used, but they take a back seat to kindness and love.
What type of parent are you, dear Christian? What type of person are you? Are you quick to correct, slow in giving encouragement? Do you nitpick? Are you hard to get along with because people perceive you as always offering some correction? Do people find you hard to please? If you answer yes to these questions, you are not honoring this passage, dear Christian. We must be gentle, forbearing, merciful, gracious, and slow to anger towards everyone. Yes, we maintain standards, yes we correct when we have to, yes we exhort when we must. Yes to all these. But we must also forebear, be gentle, and gracious.
I want to end with this final theological point, relating this point back to Jesus. We must act towards others the way that Jesus acts towards us. Jesus does correct. Jesus does exhort. Jesus does rebuke. Amen and amen. But what is his first impulse? What is he all about?
Listen to this passage. It’s Ps 103:8. It says this,
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
In this passage, what is the Lord’s inclination? What is he quick to do? Well it says he is “slow to anger.”
Anger is not God’s gut reaction to our sin. He does and will show anger, but he comes to that point slowly. Rather, his gut reaction is “steadfast love.” That is his nature. His first inclination is towards forgiveness, grace, and mercy, not anger. He does have anger but he is slow towards executing on it yet he abounds in steadfast love is.
This is how Jesus is towards us. He is slow to anger and quick to forgive us. He is gentle towards us. Therefore, dear friend, because he is like this and because he is near, be gentle with other. Forebear their thoughts. Be known to others as someone who rarely gets mad, who is gentle, generous, forbearing, kind, merciful, flexible, yielding, and courteous. Be that way. As you have joy in Christ, as you express to him your satisfaction, express towards others how Jesus is towards you. Amen.