Philippians 3–4: Joy & Peace

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 27: Sunday

Furthermore*, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.
Philippians 3:1

Sunday’s Bible reading is Philippians 3–4. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is about joy in the midst of the circumstances of our lives. If you look at this letter you’ll find that even it’s structure reflects this. The letter opens with the circumstances of Paul’s imprisonment, and closes with the circumstances of the Philippians. In the middle of the letter Paul talks about the Lord Jesus, who is our joy. J. A. Motyer writes,

The command which Paul gives in 3:1 acts as a bridge between what he has taught and what he is about to teach. Jesus has been glorified as God, Saviour, Example and Lord. So then, rejoice in the Lord. He is about to be displayed as the Christian’s pride, choicest possession, ambition, pattern, possessor, the crucified and coming Saviour. Should we not then, rejoice in the Lord?1

John MacArthur and William Hendriksen both note that although Paul has already written about joy in his letter, for the first time in 3:1 he adds the phrase, in the Lord.2, 3

Paul rejoiced in the Lord. Why was he able to do this?

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…
Philippians 3:7–9

It wasn’t that Paul hadn’t suffered—he suffered much—it wasn’t that Paul never knew sorrow—he knew affliction and rejection; it was that Paul gloried in the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, his Lord.

I’ve heard some cliches about happiness and joy—you may have heard some as well—and I always found them to have a finger-pointing, discouraging tone, but in the sermon to which I referred above, Dr. MacArthur distinguished the two in a way that I found to be very helpful. I’ve added the emphasis:

…Paul is not talking about happiness when he talks about joy and rejoicing. Happiness is from hap…hap is a circumstance, happenstance, happenings, happiness, all the same word group. That is to say happiness is an emotion or an exhilaration associated with certain events. It is not an emotion or an exhilaration associated with a relationship. It has to do with an event, a thing, a happening. So the kind of joy that Paul is talking about and calling for, and this by the way is a command, and the command implies the capability of obedience on the part of a believer which in itself is no doubt a test of true salvation. But he says…rejoice in the Lord…commanding us to joy. But it is not the kind of emotional outburst, good feeling, exhilaration that is associated with an event. It is the kind that is associated with a relationship. It doesn’t even say, Rejoice because of what the Lord has given you…rejoice because of what the Lord will give you…rejoice because of what the Lord is giving you. It doesn’t say, Rejoice because of what the Lord has done for the people that you care about. It says, Rejoice in the Lord.

It is the exhilaration in the relationship, perhaps the simplest human analogy to it would be the joy of a parent in a newborn baby…there is something about the relationship that literally exhilarates the soul. It is the same kind of emotion only in much greater and deeper proportion as that of falling in love. And it isn’t so much that your emotion and your exhilaration and your exuberance and that overwhelming sense of silly peace that you enjoy is related to what the one you love does for you as it is just the thought of the one you love. And extrapolating out of those irrepressible human joys that come out of relationship, we can magnify that concept in to what we ought to feel and ever rejoice in that we enjoy with the Lord Himself.4

In chapter 4, we again see Paul’s concern for the Philippians. He wants Euodia and Syntyche to live in harmony, and he wants the Philippians to have peace in the midst of their circumstances. He enjoins them again to rejoice in the Lord, and writes:

Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:5–9

In addition to teaching them about turning to God in prayer, and turning their minds to things of worth, by his own example Paul witnesses to them that he has learned to be content in all his circumstances, through Christ who strengthens him.

The more I have read Philippians the more I have become convinced that Philippians 4:4 is the key verse of this letter:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!

In a sermon on “Contentment,” Dr. MacArthur said:

But please notice, verse 4, carefully, “Rejoice in the Lord.” It doesn’t say rejoice in your circumstances. It says rejoice in the Lord, that is rejoice that God is the God of goodness and power and mercy and grace and provision. Rejoice that the Lord is your shepherd and you shall not want. In other words your rejoicing is not in the circumstance, it’s not in your own ability to evade the most fatal blows, your rejoicing is in the Lord. Jesus said, John 16, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament. The world will rejoice superficially. You will be sorrowful but your sorrow will be turned to joy.” And that’s the promise of the Lord, that he’ll always be there to provide what we need to turn sorrow into Joy.5


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Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1J. A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians (InterVarsity Press, Leicester, England, Downers Grove IL: 1984) 147.
2, 4John MacArthur, “The Distinctive Qualities of the True Christian, Part 2,” May 7, 1989. This article originally appeared here at Grace to You.
3William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids MI: 1962) 147.
5John MacArthur, “Contentment,” April 7, 2002. This article originally appeared here at Grace to You.

*I’ve substituted Furthermore for the word Finally in Philippians 3:1, because Motyer and MacArthur both believe the Greek words would be better translated as: additionally, furthermore, from now/then on, to proceed, etc. (Motyer, Philippians 146); or furthermore (MacArthur in “The Distinctive Qualities of the True Christian, Part 2.”). I recommend both MacArthur’s sermon and Motyer’s book. An index of Dr. MacArthur’s sermons on Philippians can be found here. The summer I became a Christian, my Bible study group used Dr. Motyer’s small booklet, The Richness of Christ, Studies in the Letter to the Philippians.

†I’ve substituted For the rest for the word Finally in Philippians 4:8. This is a translation of the same Greek words found in Philippians 3:1. The Rev. Alfred Marshall gives this translation in The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI: 1958, 1959) 787, as does Hendriksen in his commentary on page 198.

This post is included in the categories of Heresy and False Teachers because Paul warns of them in Philippians 3. You can learn more about them in Dr. MacArthur’s sermons or in J. A. Motyer’s book.

Original content: Copyright ©2011–2012 Iwana Carpenter

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