“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand[.]” (Philippians 4:4-5 ESV)
Paul’s detour in his message to the Philippians has run its course. In Philippians 4, he merges back onto his original path, taking up the same exhortation with which he had begun the previous chapter: “Rejoice in the Lord” (vv. 3:1, 4:4). And, as though this was not enough, Paul specifies the duration of the Philippians’ rejoicing: “always.”
Christian joy is indeed cultivated through extended periods of reflection upon the goodness of God in Christ. Yet this is not the only type of rejoicing Paul has in mind. Even the most fervent, lengthy periods of meditation eventually end and give way to the ordinary business of life. Paul would have his readers to rejoice in the Lord in and through all the engagements of life. To everything there is a season (see Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), and the believer may savor Christ through all of life’s vicissitudes. And in our unsettled age, such a joyful Christian stands radically apart from his peers.
Paul restates emphatically: “again I will say, rejoice” (v. 4). Why the apparent redundancy? In this epistle of joy, as in the rest of Scripture, such repetition tells us as much about ourselves as it informs us of the mind of the author. The Spirit of God, speaking through the apostle’s pen, knows we need constant calls to rejoice. Though joy ought to be the most natural response to God’s grace, we still find ourselves neglecting it, needing to be summoned time and again to delight in the Lord. Yet, as Calvin encapsulates: “come what may, believers, having the Lord standing on their side, have amply sufficient ground of joy.”
Paul continues: “Let your reasonableness (epieikes) be made known to everyone” (v. 5). The apostle has not changed topics but is turning the gem of Christian virtue over in his hand to examine another one of its facets: “reasonableness” (ESV), “moderation” (KJV), or “gentleness” (NIV). Calvin, drawing on the Stoic philosopher Cicero, understands this trait as being “when we are not easily moved by injuries, when we are not easily annoyed by adversity, but retain equanimity of temper.” In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle goes as far to equate this temper with justice itself (5.10.1).
Yet the apostle is not merely arguing for an abstract philosophical notion of patience but one that is grounded in reality: “The Lord is at hand” (v. 5). Regardless of the precise timing of Christ’s coming to judge and consummate the new creation, from an eternal perspective, he is always near. He walks in the midst of the churches (Revelation 2:1) and comes to his people when they gather each Lord’s day (1 Corinthians 5:4). Because he already presides as judge, the suffering Christian can patiently wait upon his justice (see 1 Peter 2:23). Because he is already ruling as Lord, he is subjecting the whole world to himself (Psalm 110:1). And as the ever-present God, he at all times draws near to all those who call on him in faith (Psalm 145:18). Hence James, Jesus’ brother, also writes: “the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8).
Oftentimes, we are told that a life of mission must be “radical”—marked by holy discontent, sacrificially generous to the point of suffering, and remarkably apathetic to the accoutrement of modern life. And it is true that, against the backdrop of as decadent a society as ours, the consistent practice of our faith will indeed appear radical. Yet it is also true that, compared with the restless, carousing culture of Paul’s day and ours, a culture of joyful and levelheaded Christianity would itself draw the curiosity of our pagan neighbors. Whether we are sacrificing wealth to mobilize missionaries and downgrading church amenities to provide for the poor, or simply singing with glad hearts at each meal, birth, graduation, funeral, or church picnic, we can trust that Christ is magnified in our rejoicing. Again let us say—rejoice!
I rejoice in your goodness to us in every sunrise, supper, and Sunday service. Most of all, we thank you for the saving work of Christ in which we stand. I confess how often I fail to rejoice at your glut of gifts. Please fill me with such gratitude that I would walk through life with clear eyes and level head, knowing that the sufferings and inconveniences of this life pale before the weight of glory. Let our joy as your people be a witness to those around us.
In Jesus’ name,
- Pray that joy and reasonableness would mark your family and church. Ask God to open evangelistic opportunities through it.
- Pray for the pastors, missionaries, and other vocational Christian workers you know to be characterized by patience and moderation, such that the eyes of outsiders would be drawn to their witness.