I want you to observe that in our church family, there are many different types of people. Some are large. Others are small. Some are young. Others are old. Some come from church backgrounds. Others were saved out of the world. Some are well off financially. Others struggle financially. Some are weak. Others are strong. Some are outgoing. Others are introverts.
People's experiences in life and personality have something to bear upon the way that they hear sermons. Some like theological preaching. Others like applicational preaching. Some like exegetical preaching. Others like to hear stories. Some just want to know what to do. Others like to know why. Some like preaching that gets really in-depth. Others like preaching that doesn't take so long.
Well, this morning, our text is for those who simply want to know what God wants of them. In fact, over the next few weeks, we will be looking at some very simple, but broad-reaching exhortations that Paul gives to those in Philippi. Rather than blitzing through them, we are going to take some time.
This morning, we are going to look at Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4 and 5, in which we see two commands. The command to be joyful comes in verse 4. The command to be gentle comes in verse 5. Thus, the title of my message this morning is, "Joyful and Gentle."
These are the two applications that we will pound this morning. If you truly understand these things, then you can stop reading right now, because there is nothing more that I'm going to say than this, "God's call upon your life is to be joyful and gentle." But now let's look at our text, ...
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
I trust that you can see joyful in verse 4. I trust that you can see gentle in verse 5. Well, let's dig in. I pray that the Lord will help illumine these words to our minds this morning. Let's look at my first point, from verse 4. Paul says, ...
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
We looked at this text last week, looking at one, little, specific application of this verse: rejoicing in the resurrection. We saw verses in the Bible that linked joy and the resurrection. When the two women saw the empty tomb, Matthew tells us that they came away with fear and "great joy" (Matthew 28:8). When the disciples were in the presence of the resurrection Jesus, Luke tell us that they were filled with "joy and amazement" (Luke 24:41). When Jesus was taken up into glory, the disciples "returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Luke 24:52). When the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch heard that the message of the resurrection and that that Jesus came for them, they responded by "rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord" (Acts 13:48). When Peter spoke of how God has "caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," he affirmed how believers "greatly rejoice" in this reality (1 Peter 1:3, 6).
This morning, though, I want to expand upon this verse. I want for us to think today about more than the resurrection. Because, the Bible gives us many more reasons to rejoice than merely the resurrection from the dead. This is to be expected! After all, the Bible tells the story of God's redeeming the world. It's a book filled with good news, that God has loved us and sent His only Son to redeem us from this world to spend eternity with Him. We simply need to trust in Jesus, whom He has sent.
Now, that's not to say that everything in the Bible is so lovely. In fact, there is much of the Bible that is ugly. Sin is not swept under the carpet; it is in full display for all to see. Even the greatest of saints have had their moments. Abraham doubted and had a child out of wedlock. Moses was a murderer. David was both an adulterer and a murderer. The disciples were faithless cowards. And even the great apostle Paul was a self-proclaimed "blasphemer and persecutor and violent aggressor" (1 Timothy 1:13). But, the sins of those recorded in the Bible only work to make the overall story all that much better. Because God overcomes those sins at the cross. He takes the worst of sinners and makes them the best of saints.
In fact, I would even put it this way: when you look at the overall message of the Bible, it's a feel-good story. Yes, there are ups and downs. Yes, there are times of ugliness. But, when you come to the end, God's plan has succeeded. His people are redeemed. Those who have refused him are rightly judged. And with this overall message being characterized as "good news," then we would only expect it to be filled with reasons to rejoice.
The Psalms are filled with praise and rejoicing. We rejoice in the LORD. We rejoice in His salvation. Consider a few verses from the Psalms. "And my soul shall rejoice in the LORD; It shall exult in His salvation" (Psalm 35:9). "For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name" (Psalm 33:21). "I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation" (Psalm 13:5).
Such attitudes are only right for the people of God. Our faith and trust is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth. We have the promises that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 12:5). Romans 8:32 says, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" And through good times and bad, we can trust and rejoice in the LORD. And when we aren't rejoicing, there is something intrinsically wrong with our walk with God.
Remember when David sinned with Bathsheba? He testified, "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer" (Psalm 32:3-4). After he repented, he prayed, "Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice" (Psalm 51:8). In other words, joy and gladness is the regular state of affairs for those who trust in the LORD. And David desperately wanted it back. Later in the same Psalm he said, "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation" (Psalm 51:12).
When God saves us, He gives us joy. And it is only right and proper and natural for believers in Christ to be joyful people. If you doubt this, just think about the fruit of the Spirit. Can you name the fruit? Galatians 5:22-23 say, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."
Did you hear it? The fruit of the Spirit is joy. When we believe in Jesus and know the forgiveness of sins that He gives, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, giving us joy. In other words, the working of God's Spirit in our life is a joy-filled life.
A joyless Christian is a sinful Christian. Consider how fundamental joy is to the Christian life. Paul wrote in Romans 14:17, "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." In other words, the kingdom of God is not about the external matters of the food you eat or the days you keep. It's about the inner qualities of righteousness and peace and joy that the Holy Spirit produces in you.
Now, I want for you to notice, here, that God commands us to be joyful. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" Whenever we are not joyful, we are disobedient to the Lord's command. Another name for disobedience is sin.
Similar commands are all over the Bible. The saints in the Old Testament were called to rejoice. "Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart" (Psalm 32:11). "Let Mount Zion be glad, let the daughters of Judah rejoice" (Psalm 48:11). "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing" (Psalm 100:1-2).
Jesus told us to rejoice. When the disciples of Jesus were rejoicing that the demons were subject to them in the name of Jesus, Jesus said, "Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Jesus told those who were persecuted for the sake of righteousness, "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great" (Matthew 5:12).
Paul told us to rejoice. "Rejoice with those who rejoice" (Romans 12:15). "Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11). And on that last day, when we are enjoying the marriage supper of the Lamb, the summons will be, "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready" (Revelation 19:7). As Psalm 16:11 says, "In Your presence is fullness of joy."
Let this all sink in. God commands us to be joyful. If we aren't, we are being sinful. A grumpy Christian is a sinful Christian.
If there is anything that I have sought to promote at Rock Valley Bible Church is an atmosphere of joy and happiness. That's different than saying and atmosphere of "entertaining." We aren't an "entertaining" church. Sunday morning isn't some big show that you come to see to be entertained, so that you leave feeling wowed by everything you saw. We don't have the resources for that. On the contrary, my hope is that you come to Rock Valley Bible Church to hear from God and His word; to sing His praise. And that you genuinely experience His love working out among us.
I so want us to do life together, so that when we see each other each week, we are an encouragement to each other to press on in the ways of God. As we gather each week and throughout the week, I long for our times to be like celebrating a holiday with your believing family. Being with those you love and care for and encouraging one another in the process.
Too often churches are not places of joy, because those who attend are attending out of duty, rather than delight. And when people come to church out of duty, there will be no joy. There will be only a religious experience. But, when people gather with the church out of delight, there will be great joy. There will be great love that is shared all around.
One of the great hindrances to joy is that people often think that joy is simply an emotion. Sometimes we are happy. Sometimes we are sad. We really aren't in control of this emotion. Sometimes we will be joyful. Sometimes we won't. It all depends upon our circumstances. But, look again closely at verse 4. Paul gives no room for such a perspective. Joy is a choice!
Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" In other words, there is no time in our lives when we are excused from being joyful.
Now, there will be seasons in our life when rejoicing is difficult. But, in those times, I would encourage you to fight for joy. Do you remember the battle the Psalmist faced in Psalm 42? He was in despair (Psalm 42:5, 6). He was far from the people of God (Psalm 42:4). He was being mocked for his faith (Psalm 42:3). He was in tears, night and day (Psalm 42:3). He was really struggling.
He remembers the time when he, "used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival" (Psalm 42:4). In other words, he remembered the joy of worship. He remembered being in the temple worshiping the Lord. But, alas, such is not his feelings now. And so, what did He do? He doesn't give in to his emotions. Rather, he seeks to pull his soul back into joy and happiness, by speaking truth to himself. "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence" (Psalm 42:5).
Do you see the struggle? His emotions are those of despair and depression. But, his mind is trying to persuade his feelings. And he's working hard at doing so. In fact, three times he says the same thing, "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence."  He's not simply letting his feelings dictate his life. He's working hard to direct his feelings of joy to God.
John Piper calls this, "The Fight for Joy" -- fighting to find our joy and delight in God. This is the essence of our faith, as we believe and trust and love the Lord Jesus; finding our delight in Him above all others. He is our treasure. As Peter says, ...
1 Peter 1:8-9
and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
Piper says that this fight for joy has been lost in our churches today. He writes, "One of the reasons that today in the Western church our joy is so fragile and thin is that this truth is so little understood--the truth, namely, that eternal life is laid hold of only by a persevering fight for the joy of faith. Joy will not be rugged and durable and deep through suffering where there is not resolve to fight for it. But today, by and large, there is a devil-may-care, cavalier, superficial attitude toward the ongoing, daily intensity of personal joy in Christ, because people do not believe that their eternal life depends on it." 
How about you? Are you seeking with all your heart to find this joy in the Lord? Is this even important to you? Do you ever think about this? Do you make efforts to rejoice in the Lord? Or is this something that simply comes or goes in your life? Is it something that you strive after?
Can you say with the Psalmist, "You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound" (Psalm 4:7)? Joy is truly the gift of God. Though, we should still fight for it.
I love how Paul practiced what he preached. Think about the circumstances surrounding this letter. As he writes, he is under house arrest in Rome. Paul calls it "imprisonment" (1:7, 13). As he writes, he is under the threat of death, should the judgment of Caesar in the upcoming trial turn against him (1:19-20). As he writes, there are many people who are preaching Christ from envy and strife, thinking to cause Paul distress in his imprisonment (1:15, 17). And yet, through it all, Paul is rejoicing. Many call Philippians, "The Epistle of Joy."
He's joyful in chapter 1, praying for those in Philippi, "with joy." He finds joy in those preaching Christ "from envy and strife," saying, "What then, only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice!" (1:18). In no way is Paul downhearted. Circumstances have not gone his way. He is facing death. And yet, he is joyful!
This wasn't an attitude that simply came upon him while in Rome. This was a perspective that he maintained for many years. Do you remember when he first came to Philippi? He was accused falsely (Acts 16:19-21). He was beaten with rods without a trial (Acts 16:22-23). Bruised and bleeding, he was placed in stocks in a filthy prison (Acts 16:24). And what's he doing? It's midnight and he and Silas "were praying and singing hymns of praise to God" (Acts 16:25). He practiced what he preached.
Now, you tell me why you can't rejoice in the Lord. You tell me why you can walk around like a grump. You haven't been accused falsely. You haven't been beaten for your faith. You haven't been placed in stocks in a smelly dungeon somewhere. None of your circumstances are as bad as the apostle Paul. And yet, he was rejoicing.
How? How was he rejoicing? The key is found in verse 4. He was rejoicing "in the Lord." Note, he wasn't rejoicing "in his circumstances." He was rejoicing "in the Lord."
Truth be told, that's the only way that you will ever be able to rejoice always. Because, life is fragile. Let's put it this way: if you are waiting until life gets good enough for you to rejoice, then you will never have this attitude of which Paul speaks. But, if your hope is in the Lord, your rejoicing will never cease. You will find it easy to submit yourself to this command to rejoice in the Lord always.
Job had a good perspective of this. Do you remember when tragedy struck his house? In a matter of minutes, he lost all of his servants and oxen and donkeys (Job 1:14) and his sheep (1:15) and his camels (1:17) to those who came and stole them away. And he lost all ten of his children, who died when their house fell down in a great wind (1:18-19). And some time later, he lost his health, being struck with "sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head" (2:7).
When his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" (2:9), Job replied, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (2:10). Now, Job didn't go on to model great rejoicing in the LORD. But, we do see him struggling. And we do see him maintaining his faith, seeking the LORD. And if you look hard enough, you can see that he had a measure of joy. Consider what he says in chapter 6, ...
"Oh that my request might come to pass,
And that God would grant my longing!
Would that God were willing to crush me,
That He would loose His hand and cut me off!
But it is still my consolation,
And I rejoice in unsparing pain,
That I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
When things were really bad--even in the midst of wanting to die, rather than suffer all the pain he was experiencing--he still found joy. He rejoiced that he had not denied the LORD. Perhaps Job's life was so miserable during his days of suffering that this may have been the only part of his life in which rejoicing was possible. And when God calls us to "rejoice always," sometimes it may be like Job. It may be in the midst of our deep suffering that we find our deepest joy in the Lord. It will not be in our circumstances.
Certainly, more could be said about rejoicing. But, let's go to my second point this morning. Not only should we bb joyful (verse 4), we should also ...
The admonition in verse 5 goes like this:
Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
First off, let's deal with the meaning of this word that is translated here as, "gentle." It's a word that's not used very often in the New Testament. I counted some seven times that this word (or a form of this word) is used. And its precise meaning is a bit difficult to convey.
You can see this difficulty if you look at the various ways that the different Bible versions have translated it. The New American Standard translates it, "gentle spirit." The older New American Standard (pre-1995) translates it, "forbearing spirit." The English Standard Version translates it, "reasonableness." The old King James Version translates it, "moderation." The New International Version and the New King James translates it, "gentleness."
William Barclay, the great Greek historian, said that this word is "one of the most untranslatable of all Greek words." He gave several other translations:
"Wycliffe translates it patience;
The Geneva Bible, the patient mind.
The Rheims Bible, modesty;
The Revised Version, forbearance (in the margin, gentleness);
Weymouth, the forbearing spirit;
The New English Bible, magnanimity.
C. Kingsley Williams has: 'Let all the world know that you will meet a man half-way.'" 
Another commentator said that "[It] is difficult to translate with it full connotation. Such words as gentle, yielding, kind, forbearing, and lenient are among the best English attempts, but no single word is adequate." 
Now, I mention all of these translations to say this: though we don't have an exact word in English that best translates this, it's not that we don't know what the word means. It means patience, softness, forbearance, reasonableness, moderation, kindness, yielding, leniency; or, as I have taken (following the New American Standard), "gentle."
Again, I go back to William Barclay, because he gives a few profitable illustrations that help to describe this word. He said that the ancient Greeks described this word as meaning, "justice and something better than justice." He said that there are times when "a perfectly just law becomes unjust." He said that there are times when "justice is not the same thing as equity." He said that the man with this quality "knows when not to apply the strict letter of the law, when to relax justice and introduce mercy." That's where you get the idea of "fairness" and "moderation" and "yielding" in this word. Barclay then gives a helpful illustration,
Let us take a simple example which meets every teacher almost every day. Here are two students. We correct their examination papers. We apply justice and find that one has eighty percent and the other fifty per cent. But we go a little further and find that the man who got eighty per cent has been able to do his work in ideal conditions with books, leisure and peace to study, while the man who got fifty per cent is from a poor home and has inadequate equipment, or has been ill, or has recently come through some time of sorrow or strain. In justice this man deserves fifty per cent and no more; but [this word] will value his paper far higher than that. 
This is illustrated in the story of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, we read about in John, chapter 8. I trust that you remember how she was, "caught ... in the very act" and brought before Jesus (John 8:3-4). According to the strict letter of the law, she should have been stoned to death. And so, she was brought before Jesus. But, according to this "gentleness," Jesus went beyond justice to apply appropriate mercy in this case. "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7).
This is the gentleness to which Paul is calling us. He is calling us to a "fairness." He is calling us to a "softness." He is calling us to a "reasonableness."
I think that the opposite of this is the contentious woman, spoken of in Proverbs. She's always trying to make things exactly right. She's willing to bring up the past hurts to press her point. She wants everything to go her way. She wants everything to be perfectly set. She wants what she wants and will not give in until she gets it. And frankly, she is a pain in the neck. That's why the Proverbs say that "it is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman" (Proverbs 25:24).
Perhaps this is where Paul is giving counsel to Euodia and Syntyche. I trust that you remember them from a few weeks ago. They were having some sort of dispute Their story is told in verse 2, "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord." In verse 3, Paul summoned his "true companion" to help these women get along in peace. In continuing to fight and quarrel with each other, these women were not displaying this gentle spirit. And certainly, as is the case with the vast majority of relational conflict, there was wrong done on both sides.
Whereas here, the "gentle," is willing to overlook the matter, I suspect that Euodia and Syntyche were not. They were each holding their ground, maintaining their position in the matter, wanting their way and wanting justice to be done.
The "gentle" person will often let things flow, willing to live with the loose ends, and willing to take a bit of injustice for the sake of peace. Proverbs 19:11 says, "A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression." Jesus illustrated this "gentleness" in the Sermon on the Mount, saying, ...
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
In other words, better to be wronged with mercy than to be right with justice. Now, that's not to say that we all should roll over and play dead and let everyone tromp all over us. But, it is to say that there is time for this.
When Peter was writing to the suffering saints, he told the servants, "[to] be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable" (1 Peter 2:18). This is one of those few instances where this word is used. Peter went on to encourage these servants to look to Jesus, who was trampled upon as an example for us.
1 Peter 2:21-24
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
Or, to use an illustration from Philippians, we can go back to chapter 2.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus was greatly wronged at the cross. But, He didn't stand up for Himself. Instead, He was like the silent sheep before its shearers. And when people in the church have such an attitude, it will lead to a unity in the body, I am sure.
I think that this is where we see the next phrase coming in. "Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near." When wrong and injustice is done to you, you need to have a bigger hope. You need to know that the Lord will deal with such matters and set them straight.
Paul directs us to hope in the nearness of God. Now, this may either mean that the Lord is near to us, and able to help. Or, it may mean that the Lord's return is near, and will soon set all matters straight. I don't know what exactly it means here. Nor do I know whether or not Paul was trying to be clear as to the precise meaning. But, I do know that it means that the Lord knows full well all that is going on in your life. And nothing will escape His notice. He can help. He will right all wrongs in the end.
Please know that there is a direct correlation between your beliefs regarding future events and the way in which you can handle the hurts that others have inflicted upon you. If you believe that God is the future judge of the world and will right all wrongs in the end, then, you will be able to free yourself from anger and the need to seek revenge. You will trust the Lord, who said, "Vengeance is Mine. I will repay" (Romans 12:19).
However, if you believe that God will forgive everybody in the end, then you will have great difficulty putting aside the wrongs done to you. Your heart will continue in hardness toward those who hurt you. You will (rightfully) be angry and will (rightfully) desire for justice to prevail.
I have heard one man say it this way, "Soft eschatology will make hard people and hard eschatology will make soft people." The fact that God is near ought to create in us a softness toward others. So, how about you? Do you have such a gentleness in your life?
Although Paul didn't use this exact word in describing the fruit of the Spirit, he spoke of a parallel word. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). In other words, not only are you to cultivate this in your life, but when you trust in Christ and receive His Spirit, God will work this in your life.
Do you have it? Or are you angry? Or are you argumentative? Or are you contentious? What would those around you say? Do people know that this quality is evident in your life. Paul says that they should know.
Look again in Philippians 4 to see how exactly Paul phrases this command. He says, "Let your gentle spirit be known to all men." In other words, let everybody see and know that you are willing to bend for the sake of mercy. Let everyone know that there is a softness and a reasonableness to your character, that can be characterized as "gentleness."
Now, it's not that you are out there trumpeting for the world to see every wrong done to you, where you didn't insist on your own way, but, in gentleness, sought for peace instead. It's not that at all. Instead, people can see and notice when you drop the subject for the sake of peace, rather than drill it home. People around you can see how you deal with others; they can see how you respond.
This about it this way -- what kind of people do you want to be around? Do you want to be around vengeful, contentious people? No! You want to be around joyful people. You want to be around gentle people. Likewise, those who do not know Christ will likely prefer to be around joyful and gentle people. The Lord can use joy and gentleness to draw others to Himself.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
April 27, 2014 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.