In his book Spiritual Burnout, MALCOLM SMITH writes of taking a walk one morning in the Catskill Mountains of New York. As he rested near an algae-covered pool, he was treated to an incredible sight. Mosquitoes danced near the surface of the water. Dragonflies darted between the reeds. Then his attention was captured by a frog sunbathing on a partially submerged rock out in the center of the pool. Something was happening to the frog. Before his very eyes, it collapsed – not falling over, but deflating like a balloon with a slow leak. It finally lay in a dreadful crumbled heap of frog skin, its insides completely gone! It was only then that he noticed the killer. A giant water bug had bitten the frog, injecting it with a substance that dissolved its insides. Then he had proceeded to suck out the inside of the frog, leaving the skin like an empty grocery bag on the rock.
• Is that you?
• Is there something draining the life and vitality out of you?
• Are you spiritually drained?
• Have your thoughts become poisoned, negative and cynical?
• Are you bitter, resentful, or unforgiving?
• Does God seem far away?
• Are you stressed out?
If so, I have some godly advice for you: Don’t let people or things or circumstances stress you out. Whatever you are dealing with in your life right now, don’t let it stress you out. An old proverb that says: “The bow that is always bent will soon break.” That’s true. Constant pressure naturally leads to spiritual burnout. However, the pressures of life do not have to overwhelm or undermine your devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
• You don’t have to be stressed out by your PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITIES.
• You don’t have to be stressed out by your PHYSICAL CONDITION.
• You don’t have to be stressed out by your FAMILY PROBLEMS.
• You don’t have to be stressed out by your FINANCIAL SITUATION.
• You don’t have to be stressed out by your WORK ENVIRONMENT.
If God were to add to the Ten Commandments and asked my advice on what that eleventh commandment should be, I would recommend: “THOU SHALT LET IT STRESS YOU OUT.” Philippians 4:4-5 teach three basic Christian attitudes that confront, counter-attack, and conquer the pressures of life.
I. BE JOYFUL
Philippians 3:1 says, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Apparently, Paul really didn’t mind repeating himself, for in Philippians 4:4 he exhorts them again: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Then he adds for emphasis: “again I will say, rejoice” It is as if Paul says, “Just in case you missed it the first time or thought I was kidding or whatever…I’ll say it again: Rejoice!” This call to joy is repeated and emphasized here because God knows that we will inevitably live in frustration, anxiety, and discouragement, unless we develop and maintain the spiritual discipline of Christian joy. Christians do not have to be stressed out by the realities of life. We are people of stubborn joy. And our joy is not hypocrisy. It does not deny the facts. And it is not merely optimism or positive thinking. Christian joy is real and rational. We rejoice in the Lord always.
A. NOTICE THE REALITY OF CHRISTIAN JOY
This verb “rejoice” is in the IMPERATIVE MOOD, which means it’s a command. It is not a suggestion or a recommendation or an encouraging piece of advice. God the Holy Spirit moved Paul to order the church to rejoice. It doesn’t matter if you feel like it. It doesn’t matter what’s happening to you or around you. And it doesn’t matter what you’re going through. God commands you to rejoice. And if we are commanded to rejoice, then to fail to do so is a sin. Of course, there will inevitably be things that get you down. But you must not stay there. You must keep lifting praise to God, even when the circumstances of life get you down.
Also take note of the fact that the verb “rejoice” is in the PRESENT TENSE, which denotes repeated or continuous action. It speaks of that which is done so habitually that it can be rightly characterized as a way of life. The idea is that joy is to be the Christian’s lifestyle. And that’s not just hidden in the grammar. It’s clearly stated in text. Not only does Paul tell us what to do (“rejoice in the Lord…”), he also tells us when to do it (“always…”). The term “always” is all-inclusive. It means that our joy is not limited to good days, special occasion, or fruitful seasons. We are commanded to practice a lifestyle of joy no matter when it is, no matter what we are going through, and no matter where we find ourselves in life. The point is that joy is a choice! It is an intentional attitude. It is not dependent on circumstances. Christian joy is not what the world calls happiness. Happiness is fleeting – it’s an outside job. Joy is perpetual – it’s an inside job. You may have absolutely no control over what is happening to you. But you are not helpless. You are not a victim. You are don’t have to be stressed out by the people and things you are dealing with.
• It’s your choice to rejoice.
• No one can make you miserable without your permission.
• The devil can’t take your joy; you have to give it to him.
• You don’t have to live under the circumstances. You can live above them.
• Regardless of your circumstances, you can choose to be joyful.
Psalm 34:1-2 says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.” Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no heard in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” And James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces patience.”
B. NOTICE THE REASON BEHIND CHRISTIAN JOY
The opening verses of Philippians 4 show us some of the benefits of being in the Lord. Verse 1 says, “Stand firm in the Lord.” That means Jesus is the source and sphere of CHRISTIAN STEADFASTNESS. In verse 2, Paul calls on two women in the church to agree to “agree in the Lord.” That means Jesus is the source and sphere of CHRISTIAN UNITY. And here in verse 4 we are called to “rejoice in the Lord.” That means Jesus is the source and sphere of CHRISTIAN JOY. The fact that we know, trust, love, serve, and worship Jesus Christ enables us to have stubborn joy. Psalm 144:15b says, “Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord! It’s like two lovers. They always enjoy being together, no matter where they are. Followers of Jesus Christ do not have to stop and count their money before they can rejoice. We do no rejoice in our jobs or in our families or in our possessions. You can lose jobs. You can lose families. And you can lose possessions. But the joy that we have, the world didn’t give it, and the world can’t take it away. Nehemiah 8:10 puts it best: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
• We don’t base our joy on the size of our bank accounts.
• We don’t base our joy on the model car we drive.
• We don’t base our joy on the style of clothes we wear.
• We don’t base our joy on the degree of education we have.
• We don’t base our joy on the type of work we do.
Our joy is not tied to temporal possessions, finite people, or favorable circumstances. We rejoice in the Lord. And because Jesus is the infinite center of our joy, we are able to rejoice no matter what is happening in our lives. No. Things don’t always go our way. Yes. We are subject to face pain, rejection, and disappointment just like everyone else. But even still, we rejoice, because our joy is not is in the things of this world. It’s in the Lord who does not change.
The king of a particular country traveled often, but one day a man living near the palace remarked to a friend, “Well, it looks like the king is home tonight.” “How do you know?” asked the other. The man pointed up toward the castle. “Because when the king is home,” he said, “the palace is all lit up!” That’s the way it is with Christian joy. Joy is the flag the flies over the believer’s heart signify that the King is in residence.
II. BE REASONABLE
Philippians 4:5a says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” The word the ESV translates “reasonableness” is a rather broad term that WILLIAM BARCLAY calls one of the most untranslatable of all Greek words. It generally refers to one who does not insist on the letter of the law, but treats others with an attitude that is gentle, fair-minded, and charitable. It describes someone who is willing to yield his or her rights to show consideration to others. It is a person who is willing to accept less what is due them for the sake of others. Matthew Arnold translates the term “sweet reasonableness.” 1 Timothy 3:3 says that overseers – the men who lead the church – should not be violent but gentle. Titus 3:2 exhorts the entire church to be gentle. James 3:17 teaches that the true wisdom – wisdom from above – is gentle. And Philippians 4:5 commands, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”
I submit to you that a reasonable attitude toward others will protect you from becoming stressed out about how other people treat you. And take note of the fact that gentleness, like joy, is an intentional attitude. It’s a personal choice. It’s an inside job. The call to be reasonable is a call to treat others with love, fairness, and compassion that is independent of how they treat you in return. Gentleness involves controlling your reaction to people. It means choosing your own response to people rather than simply reacting to them. And when the reasonableness abounds in us…
• Anger is driven out, and kindness replaces it.
• Animosity is driven out, and peace replaces it.
• Impatience is driven out, and patience replaces it.
• Pride is driven out, and humility replaces it.
• Self-centeredness is taken out, and concern for others replaces it.
It’s the radical love Jesus taught in Matthew 5:39-41, where he says, “But I tell you not to 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 away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” I know this sounds crazy to many of us. We wouldn’t dare respond to getting hit by putting ourselves in a position to get hit again. In fact, the motto of many is, “If you hit me once, that’s your fault. But if I let you hit me again, that’s my fault.” Consequently, you walk around like a paranoid cowboy with an itchy trigger finger. You are loaded with a short temper, angry words, hurt feelings, painful memories, and a bunch of folk to blame your problems on. And the people in your way are just one look, one word, or one deed away from being blown to “smithereens.” Some people don’t even wait to actually be attacked. Just the feeling that their territory is being threatened – be it real or imagined – is sufficient cause for them to take matters into their own hands.
• No wonder you can’t get along with your family and friends!
• No wonder your coworkers and classmates make you want to go postal!
• No wonder you keep telling yourself that all church folk are hypocrites, so that you’ll have a ready excuse for not making a real commitment to godly people who can hold you accountable for your profession of faith!
• No wonder your romantic relationships never seem to work, mature, or last!
• No wonder it’s so easy for people you don’t even to push your buttons!
But there is another way – a better way. Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your reasonableness be know to everyone.” EUGENE PETERSON’S The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.” Did you get that? The text is not merely calling us to practice gentleness. It is calling us to practice gentleness in such an intentional, consistent, and obvious manner that it becomes evident to every person in our sphere of influence. Get that. Christians should be known for their gentleness. Let me ask you a question? What do you want to be known for?
• Do you want to be known for your good looks?
• Do you want to be known for your quit wit, your wealth, or your connections?
• Do you want to be known for your money, your education, or your family?
• Or perhaps you are more pious and want to be known for you prayer life, or your generous giving, or your Bible knowledge?
Well, I submit to you that all of these things are selfish, worldly, and unacceptable motivations for Christians! God calls us to a higher and nobler calling. And here it is: Be known for your gentleness.
Peter Miller had a neighbor lived near a man who hated him intensely because of his Christian life and testimony. The man violently opposed Miller and sought to do him great harm. But one day this unbeliever was found guilty of treason and was sentenced to death. Upon hearing this, Miller set out on foot to meet with George Washington to intercede on behalf of the man and plead for his life. The general listened to the minister’s earnest pleas but told him he did not believe he should pardon his friend. “My friend? He is not my friend,” answered Miller. “In fact, he’s my worst enemy. “What?” said Washington. “You have walked sixty miles to save the life of your enemy? That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light. I will grant your request.” So with pardon in hand, Miller hastened to the place where his adversary was to be executed, arriving just as the condemned prisoner was walking to the scaffold to be hanged. When the traitor saw Miller, he exclaimed with bitter anger, “Old Peter Miller has come to seek his revenge by watching me hang!” But to his astonishment, he watched the minister step out of the crowd and produce the pardon that spared his life.
This is the attitude Christians should be known for. And if this sounds unreasonable to you, remember that this is exactly how the God the Father has treated you through Jesus Christ. You had a death penalty over your head because of sin. But God has pardoned us through the bloody cross and empty tomb of Christ. Isaiah 53:5-6 says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
III. BE FOCUSED
Philippians 4:5 summarizes both the HORIZONTAL DIMENSION and the VERTICAL DYNAMIC of the Christian attitude. The horizontal dimension is summarized in verse 5a: “Let your reasonableness be known to all men.” The vertical dynamic is summarized in verse 5b: “The Lord is at hand.” What a statement! The Lord is at hand. The Lord is near. We can practice sweet reasonableness because we are focused the Lord is at hand. The Greek term translated “at hand” is used spatially and temporarily. It can speak of time to say that Christmas is near. Or it can speak of space to say that the chair is near. Commentators disagree about which meaning is intended here. But both implications are true. Jesus Christ is the ever-present Lord whose personal return may occur any time. Therefore, we don’t have to be stressed out. We can overcome the pressures of life by focusing on the fact that the Lord is at hand.
A. BEING FOCUSED ON CHRIST PRODUCES CONSECRATION.
Let me give some good news to the believers here and a warning to the unbelievers: Jesus Christ is coming again soon. Scripture does not tell us exactly when he is coming. But it does tell us that it is imminent. It can happen at any moment. The Lord could come back for us before I finish preaching this sermon. The Lord is at hand. He is near. The fact that the Lord is coming soon holds us accountable for how we live our lives. James 5:8-9 says, “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold the Judge is standing at the door!” 1 Peter 4:7 says, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” And 1 John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
During an expedition to the Antarctic, SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON left some of his men on Elephant Island with the intent of returning for them and carrying them back to England. But he was delayed. By the time he could go back for them the sea had frozen and he had no access to the island. Three times he tried to reach them, but was prevented by the ice. Finally, on his fourth try, he broke through and found a narrow channel. Much to his surprise, he found the crewmen waiting for him, supplies packed and ready to board. They were soon on their way beck to England. He asked them how they knew to be ready for him. They told him that they didn’t know when he would return, but they were sure he would. So every morning, the leader rolled up his bag and packed his gear and told the crew to do the same saying, “Get things ready, boys, the boss may come today.” In that same spirit I declare to you today: “YOU BETTER GET THE THINGS IN YOUR LIFE IN ORDER. THE LORD MAY COME TODAY!”
B. BEING FOCUSED ON CHRIST PRODUCES CONFIDENCE.
Let me close by saying that not only is Jesus on his way back. But in a real sense, he’s already here. The Lord encompasses us with his presence. His center is everywhere and his circumference is nowhere. And he will never leave us nor forsake us. Jesus is on his way. But he is already here. He is with you no matter what the situation is. He with you right now, whether you feel him or not. And that’s why we are confident. Psalm 119:151 says, “Your are near, O Lord, and all your commandments are truth.” Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” And Matthew 28:20a says, “And, lo, I am with you, always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus says…
• When you are sick, I am with you.
• When your heart is broken, I am with you.
• When family and friends forsake you, I am with you.
• When you’re broke, I am with you.
• When you don’t know which way to go, I am with you.
• When the enemy of attacks you, I am with you.
• When you feel as if you are all alone, I am with you.
NEVER A BURDEN THAT HE DOES NOT CARRY
NEVER A SORROW THAT HE DOES NOT SHARE
WHETHER YOU DAY MAY BE SUNNY OR DREARY
JESUS IS ALWAYS THERE.
During the filming of the famous movie Ben Hur, It is said that during filming, Charleton Heston had trouble learning to drive a chariot. With much practice he was finally able to control the vehicle, but still had some doubts. He reportedly explained his concerns to the director, Cecil B. DeMille, by saying, “I think I can drive the chariot, but I’m not sure I can win the race.” DeMille responded, “You just stay in the race and I’ll make sure you win.”
I’VE SEEN THE LIGHTNING LASHING AND HEARD THE THUNDER ROLL.
I’VE FELT SIN’S BREAKERS DASHING, WHICH TRIED TO CONQUER MY SOUL.
I’VE HEARD THE VOICE OF MY SAVIOR; HE BID ME STILL FIGHT ON.
HE PROMISED NEVER TO LEAVE ME, NEVER TO LEAVE ME ALONE.