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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
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"Rejoice in the Lord, Always" -- Philippians 4:2-9

The Eighth in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Letter to the Philippians

Many have identified the main theme of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi as the often-repeated exhortation from the Apostle to “rejoice.”  This is borne out by the fact that the words for “rejoice” and “joy” occur a dozen times in Paul’s brief Philippian letter.  Paul is writing to a church (in Philippi) which he helped to found, and which is now enduring a difficult season of persecution from without (Greco-Roman pagans) and from within (a group of newly arrived Judaizers).  Paul’s ultimate intention is to encourage the Philippians to do those things necessary to stand firm in the face of this opposition–among other things, they are to have the same humble attitude as Jesus did, they are to strive to love one another, and they are to be of one mind and one accord.  But why would Paul repeatedly exhort the Philippians to rejoice when times of difficulty have come upon them?  What does Paul mean by “rejoicing,” and how are we to rejoice in time of trial?  It is important to consider this carefully, because most of us can recount times when well-meaning Christians have told us and others “to rejoice” during times of suffering and loss.  Far too often someone telling us to rejoice when life has turned sour can easily take on a tone of smugness or triteness, which, of course, is far from what Paul actually means.  

We have come to that point in our series on Philippians when it is time to address the manner of how we ought to read the so-called “practical sections” of Paul’s letters.  This will be a refresher course for many of you.  This will help to understand why Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians (and to all Christians) to rejoice in the midst of our trials and difficulties should make perfect sense to a Christian who understands the distinction between the law and the gospel (or the indicative and the imperative moods).  This distinction is so important to get right (and so difficult to do at first ) that Martin Luther once quipped that anyone who mastered these distinctions should be immediately awarded their doctoral cap and gown.  This is one the most fundamental distinctions in all of Christian theology.  Philippians 4:2-9 (our text) which includes Paul’s final and repeated exhortation for Christians to “rejoice” provides a good test case to illustrate this distinction.  

The law of God (the Ten Commandments) requires us to do certain things–the law says “do.”  When we fail to do these things, or do the opposite of what is commanded by God, we sin and are therefore guilty before God.  The gospel, on the other hand, announces to us the good news that God freely gives to us in the person of Jesus, all the things he demands of us under the law.  If the essence of the law is “do,” the essence of the gospel is “done.”  In Jesus and his saving merits, all that God commands us to do has already been done by Jesus, for us, and in our place.  Through faith, his obedience becomes ours.

The imperative and indicative moods are closely related to the law and gospel.  Imperatives are commands–“do this.”  We find them throughout the Bible, and in Paul’s letters they tend to come in the second half–the so-called practical sections of his epistles.  Paul has given the Philippians a number of exhortations (imperatives) throughout this letter to do certain things in order to stand firm in the face of persecution.  A statement made in the indicative mood is simply a statement of fact and is not a call to do something, but to accept something as true, as for example, God has provided all that is necessary for you to be delivered from his wrath in the person of his son, Jesus.  The law corresponds with the imperative mood (a command), while the gospel corresponds with the indicative mood (a statement of fact).  

You cannot more fundamentally misunderstand Paul’s exhortations such as this one to rejoice (which usually come in the last portion of his letters) than by attempting to understand and act upon the imperatives apart from a prior understanding of the indicatives from which they arise.  To read Paul’s exhortations (so as to be practical and relevant, and to avoid the hard work of thinking through the doctrinal sections) apart from the prior gospel indicatives (Paul’s description of all those things God has done for us in Christ) is to command us to do things which we cannot do.  The law (the imperative) brings us further frustration and condemnation.  The exhortation for a suffering Christian to “rejoice” without reference to, or a proper understanding of the gospel, is not a word of encouragement, but can be downright cruel.

To read the rest of this sermon:  Click Here

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