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Judging (James 4:11-12)

Introduction:  Christian Hospital in Sahiwal

"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  13 "But go and learn what this means: `I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners"  (Matt 9:12-13)

 

It’s our first membership vow that we are sinful people justly deserving God’s displeasure and without hope save in his love and mercy.  To translate, that means we’re going to hurt each other in the church.  Things from time come out of my mouth and your mouths that are hurtful.  We are going to hurt each other.  What’s the answer?

 

The gospel makes us humble.  It lowers our pride.  It puts our own sins against each other in proper perspective.  The gospel takes us to the cross and reminds us of our great sinfulness against God.  It makes us pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  It reminds us that we need great forgiveness.  And it assures that we have a very great forgiveness, despite all that we’ve done.  It speaks beautiful words of peace and comfort despite all our sins and God says, “They’re all taken away.  It won’t come between us.”  And the gospel fills us with thankfulness.

 

And so it makes us able to forgive others just as we have been forgiven.  The gospel spreads a spirit of sweetness among us.  It brings God’s love to bear, a love which covers over a multitude of sins.  It’s surely covered a multitude of my sins.  The gospel keeps us from being shallow, brittle, superficial people.  It keeps us real and human, confident and gracious, meek and humble.  Problems simply die in the atmosphere of gospel humility.  The gospel teaches us, 15:7, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God” (Rom 15:7).

 

The Problem

The problem discussed here is a word repeated three times in the passage, I have translated in the NKJ as speak evil.  I think that’s an older idiom for speaking badly about someone.  I think that’s an excellent translation.  The ESV translates it speak evil the first time and then switches to speak against the next two times the word occurs in the verse.  The NIV has slander the first time and then speak against two out of three times.  It’s a broad term that includes practically any kind of speech that you wouldn’t like said to you or about you, including lies (1 Pet 2:12, 3:16), slander, gossip about a painful truth, verbal attack, or one Greek dictionary described it as to “say bad things” against or about someone (Danker, Gingrich, UBS, Liddell-Scott).  In the Greek translation of the books of Moses, the Torah, the word is used to describe the people’s grumbling against their leadership (Num 21:5).  So, it’s a general word that means to tear people down with your mouth.  It could be in public or private.  It could be to the person or about the person.  But whatever words tear down rather than build up, that’s what it means to speak evil.

 

And it’s so easy to do, because we’ve got so much material to work with!  The people all around us are constantly sinning, making mistakes, exposing their failures and faults and inadequacies.  Don’t look around, just look up here, but think.  It’s so easy to do because all you have to do is point out what’s really going on around you, what people are really saying and doing.

 

Are we supposed to deny reality?  Not at all.  Aren’t we commanded to make judgments of people?  Yes, definitely.  But you know that there’s a way to speak that wounds and there’s a way to speak that heals.  Proverbs chapter 12, "There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health" (Prov 12:18).  A doctor doesn’t deny the reality of sickness.  A doctor doesn’t refuse to deal with it—just the opposite.  A doctor knows how to promote health and not make the patient worse.  And when you have to deal with a sin, you don’t have to fight and wound with your tongue.  And you don’t have to flee and say “I’m out of here.”   You can address things in a way that builds up your loved ones and family members and fellow Christians.

 

James gets to the heart of the problem in three reasons:  1. speaking evil comes from a judgmental heart, 2. it’s against God’s law, and 3. it comes from pride.  And the solution to such speech is loving one another, placing ourselves under God’s law, and humbling ourselves before Him.  Let’s take first this matter of getting rid of a critical, censorious…

 

1. Departing from a Judgmental Heart

Speaking evil is not a problem of the tongue; it’s a problem of the heart.  And so you notice that James in this verse joins speaking evil of a brother with judging a brother.  Now you understand that this is not forbidding all judgment.  Jesus warns us to beware of false prophets, and tells us that we will know them by their fruit (Matt 7:15-16).  All such judging that we must do.  He says that if your brother sins, you should go to him privately and show him his fault and seek to win your brother.  (Matt 18:15).  These negative judgments are necessary.  So what’s forbidden here?

 

Dear friends, do you remember when Noah got drunk in his tent and was lying there totally exposed, and his son Ham walked in?  Not only did Ham look at him, but he called his brothers’ attention to the situation.  “Look at the old man!”  The other two brothers had a very different response.  Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders and walked into the tent backwards and covered their up their dad (Gen 9).  They blessed for that.  They dealt with it in a positive way.  And there’s an important lesson on how we look on each other’s shame.  We don’t advertise it.  We don’t draw others’ attention to it.  We don’t even allow ourselves to gaze at it.  So it’s written that love covers a multitude of sins.  Love does not rejoice in iniquity.

 

Critical, judgmental people assess character like flies assess meat.  Their attention is drawn to what’s rotten.  They’re critical of others, and they’re brittle in their relationships.  There’s no strength of love.

 

Listening to Christmas music on the radio some time ago, the station had people call in and tell why they broke up with their ex.  All the typical answers were given, rude about this, angry about that, insensitive about the other.  Someone called in and said, you know when you open the microwave before it’s done and that time remaining is left on the timer until you hit clear.  My ex never cleared it, no matter how often I asked her.  And that was the end.  That caused a few jokes in the house when we’ve found time on the microwave timer.  But how’d you like to be married to someone like that?  Well, you obviously wouldn’t be for very long!  ((clothing comment))

 

Do you know what makes small thing like that big?  Do you know what makes careless acts and comments federal matters?  A critical, censorious, judgmental heart.  That’s why too many marriages are not places of appreciation and grace and joy.  They’ve become minefields of bitterness, and criticism, where records of wrongs are diligently kept.  Where’s the love?  The same can be asked about parenting which can devolve into a daily battle—words like the thrusting of a sword rather than words that promote health.  I so appreciate and admire you parents for taking so much time and effort to cultivate a loving and strong relationship with your children and build them up.  I am inspired by you, and we need to encourage each other in it.  James applies this specifically to brothers, our fellow Christians who are in the family of God.

 

Are we not all truly secure in his love?  Hasn’t God, knowing all your sins, received you, forgiven you, and spoken so wonderfully and tenderly to you?  And will he now cast you away for some small matter?  He cannot.  Here is the motive and the power for us to do the same, because the same Spirit he’s given us by which we know him as Father makes us know each other as brothers and relate to them appropriately.

 

I love you, my dear brothers and sisters.  It’s my great privilege not just to teach you but to be with you on this journey through life to eternity where we are all seeking to love and heal and bless and encourage one another on the way, so that our lives may be a blessing to the world to the praise of God.  And since we ourselves have received such great grace, we are committed to show it and live in it with each other.  Be mindful to add to all your conversations blessing, comfort, encouraging one another to love and good deeds, joy, and mercy.  As James taught us earlier, "judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (Jas 2:13).  Let’s move secondly then to

 

2. God’s law

James writes, "He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge" (Jas 4:11).  What’s he talking about here?

 

James had just been writing about what he called the royal law of Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (2:8).  That law comes from Leviticus 19, which is also where the law against speaking evil and slandering is found.  Same paragraph.  Leviticus 19:16, "You shall not go about as a talebearer [or slanderer, ESV, NIV, NAU] among your people" (Lev 19:16).  “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Lev 19:18).

 

Yes, some things must be dealt with by speaking to others.  For example, Jesus says, if someone has sinned against you, first go to him privately and win your brother, he says.  If that’s failed then two or three others should go.  And it’s got to be an important matter, of course, to progress, because Jesus says then to the church to judge, and put the man out if he won’t hear the church.  Things must be dealt with.  But not by speaking evil of people and tearing them down.

 

The people grumbled against Moses and spoke evil against them, and God brought judgment upon them saying, "Why … were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?" (Num 12:8).  Same word in Greek translation as here in James.  You might remember this when hearing so much talk today about our own national leaders.  God says, “Explain this to me, how is it that you were not terrified at the idea of speaking against this leader of the people?”  Now, we often feel free to grumble and speak against people in leadership, especially at work.  People gossip and grumble about leaders in ways that they’d never dream of talking about anyone else, but they think it’s okay because they’re leaders.  God takes the logic in the opposite direction.  If they’re leaders over you, and the powers that be are appointed by God, isn’t even more reason to be afraid to speak against them.  It’s wrong even to receive such evil speaking from others.  Psalm 15, the one who walks with the Lord is, as we sing, the one “who, to his neighbor’s shame, no ear doth lend" (Ps 15:3).  It’s against God’s law for us to spread around our own offenses or to take up the offenses of others.  Someone who judges his brother in this way has thus judged God’s law unworthy of being kept.  That’s James’ point.

 

Now, we often think that we’re righteously indignantly when people have done us wrong.  We know the commandments they’ve broken.  But friends, we’re rarely upset because people have violated God’s kingdom, but because they’ve violated our kingdom.  Thomas Manton writes in his commentary: “It is usual to condemn everything that doth not please us.”  Someone has insulted you, hurt your feelings, snubbed you, harmed you in some way.  You say, “They’ve broken God’s Law.”  And then contrary to the law, you go and speak evil of them, or if you do go to them, it’s in attack mode to wound them with your words.  When you judge your brother in these ways, James says, you’re judging God and his law.  You’re saying it’s not worthy to be obeyed.  You can’t both keep the law yourself and speak evil of others who aren’t keeping it.    

 

So remember, vengeance is wicked enough without making it even more wicked by using the Word of God to justify your anger.  If you find yourselves judging others by tearing them down with your tongue, realize that your zeal was never for what the person did wrong, that the Law of God was broken.  Your zeal was someone hurt you.  And now you’ve done wrong also.  So please don’t drag God’s Word into your personal revenge.  God’s royal law is to love our neighbor as ourselves, as James just reminded us.  And do we not want to submit ourselves to such a noble law, seeking to love and build up each other?  This is the way.

 

If the command is not to be against one another, then the solution is to be for one another.  You don’t have to discipline yourself to avoid bad mouthing the people you really love.  Consciously think about what you can say that would build others up, and build up their reputation in the sight of others.  Appoint yourself as the PR director for everyone in the church.  If our speech about one another isn’t what it should be, our love isn’t what it should be.  And that is where the problem needs to be addressed.

 

Did you notice the three times James used the word “brother” in verse 11?  "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother … judges his brother" (Jas 4:11).  The NIV only has it twice, because it sounds a little repetitive I guess, but that’s intentional.  We’re called to love as brothers.

 

What a blessed thing to know that those who love me are deeply committed to me.  They encourage me and speak good about me.  They’re not going to get offended by some small comment and say, “I’m out of here.”  Surely we have in Jesus the power and the motive for being committed to one another in love.  Why should we be brittle, easily offended, turning small slights great offenses and counting small hurts as great and unhealable wounds?  God has forgiven us a mountain of sin, that we might likewise learn do so with the molehills of sin against us.  That is honoring God and keeping his law.

 

3. Humbling ourselves before God and each other

Verse 12, "There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (Jas 4:12).  Who am I?  Remember from verse 11, I’m not your judge, not your master, not your creator, and not your lawgiver.  I’m your brother.

 

My kids have a limited role in dealing with each other’s sins.  But how many times have I heard my wife remind one of them, “You’re not the mommy.”  Sound familiar?

 

Romans 14:10, “You, then, why do you judge your brother?  … For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.  13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. 14. Who are you to judge someone else's servant?  To his own master he stands or falls.  And God will make him stand.”

 

So the next time you’re tempted to speak negatively about someone, go ahead and answer James’ question.  He asks who are you to judge your neighbor?  That’s a rhetorical question.  But let’s go ahead and answer it anyway.  Who am I?  I am a man under grace.  I am a man who has been shown mercy much more than I could ever know because my guilt is beyond what I can understand.  I am a man who has hurt people thousands of times.  I am a man who has sinned against God and against everyone in my life.  A man who is deeply in need of patience from everyone around me.  I am a man who deserves to be punished eternally forever for my sin, but instead I am forgiven and I am going to be given all the riches of Christ.  I am the man in Matthew 18 who’s been given an unfathomable debt, 10,000 talents, by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, through a redemption that cost Him His life though I was his enemy.  And he asks me, “Since I had that much mercy on you, will you have mercy on your brother?

 

Conclusion

We need each other’s mercy and encouragement and love and building up.  God did not design us to be Christians on our own.  The Bible is full of such commands as these, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “build each other up.”  Romans 15:1-2, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  3 For even Christ did not please himself.”  Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God … 31 Get rid of all bitterness, … and anger …32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Galatians 6:1, “If someone is caught by a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  … 2 Carry each other's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (NIV).  1 Peter 1:22, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”  Romans 12:10, “Show family affection to one another with brotherly love.  Outdo one another in showing honor” (NIV).  Hebrews 3:13, “Encourage one another daily.”  1 Peter 5:14, “Greet one another with a kiss of love.”  John 13:34-35  "A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

 

We’re coming to the start of a new year, and that reminds us of the potential of the future.  We resolve to advance in certain ways.  How much we need the increase of encouragement, affection, building one another up, and brotherly love in our relationships, our friends, our families, our homes, and our church.

 

Has the Lord been a hard master to you?  Or has your Master in heaven overlooked your foolishness, sin, rebellion, disobedience, stupidity, folly, and mistakes by the hundreds of thousands?  Why would we be impatient with one another?  Has he not patiently endured our poor service?  Why would we be stingy in granting grace to others?  Has God been stingy with us?

 

The church above all is to be the place where emotional barriers melt.  We’re not what we should be yet.  But we do know a great measure of that here.  We know the feeling of letting down our guard, of being at home, of become open, vulnerable, loved and accepted.  As it’s written, “Receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God” (Rom 15:7).

 

Let us receive again this day the very love of Jesus which is the source and free-flowing fountain of all our love.  We not only have a common salvation.  We have common direction.  We have a common purpose.  And through this may the world be filled with life and love and joy of God through his Spirit in Jesus Christ. 

 

 



Joy Always (Philippians 4:4)

IntroductionJoy a Christian Virtue

Nowadays, people don’t talk about virtues.  That sounds so absolute.  People talk about values.  That sounds very relative, you choose your values and I’ll choose mine.  But before our collapse into moral relativism, Christians and non-Christians alike talked about virtues.  A virtue is a morally excellent behavior or characteristic.  Honesty, integrity, courage, generosity, humility, self-control, patience, these are virtues that theologians and philosophers of all kinds wrote about.

 

Today we’re going to talk about something that I think is a specifically Christian virtue.  In his short book on having joy in life, R. C. Sproul begins by saying that joy is not only an important theme in the Bible.  “Joy,” he says, “is a Christian virtue.”  And the Bible is full of instruction of how to cultivate joy and exercise it in our lives.  We should pray for joy, and we should practice joy.  Therefore, the Bible is not shy about commanding us frequently to rejoice.

 

It has everything to do with what you’re doing here this evening.  Eight times it’s repeated in the law, we’re to come together to worship “before the Lord your God.  And you shall rejoice” (Deut 12:7).  That’s why the Biblical calls to worship are filled with this theme of joy.  Psalm 100, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!  Serve the LORD with gladness!” (Ps 100:1-2).  Psalm 95, “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms” (Psa 95:1-3).  It has everything to do with our life everlasting.  Psalm 16 reminds us of the joys of heaven: “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (v. 11).

 

Indeed, God makes opposite point in Deuteronomy 28:47, where he threatens to curse and judge Israel if she does not serve the Lord joyfully.  “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart,” he says, “therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you” (Deut 28:47-48).

 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of joy in the Bible, it’s so fundamental.  Romans 14:17, “the kingdom of God is … a matter of … righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  The kingdom of God is a matter of joy.  The fruit of the Spirit, writes Paul, is love, then joy (Gal 5:22).

 

Joy is essential and central to our Christian faith and experience.  It’s very important to God how much joy you have, and what’s the source of your joy.  Besides, it matters greatly to your life, and to the relationships with others, and the health of the church that I spoke about the morning, and the glory of God.  C. S. Lewis was not overstating the point when he wrote, “It is a Christian duty … for everyone to be as happy as he can.”  Certainly, our passage reminds us, we should rejoice in the Lord as much as we possibly can, and again I say rejoice!

 

I want to study Philippians chapter 4 with you over the next few weeks, and the theme will be fighting for joy.  I want you to be joyful, in fact, more excited than ever about the prospect of having greater joy in your life.  But the chapter reminds us that joy is a grace and virtue which must be cultivated, a command that we must strive to obey.  Now, you say, if joy is work it doesn’t sound so joyful.  Well, I hope to convince you otherwise.  Joy is work, but very rewarding work.  Paul writes this to the Corinthians, "we work with you for your joy" (2 Cor 1:24).  So let’s work together on rejoicing.  Let me say a few words on the context of our passage before we dig in.

 

Context:  Joy for unity in the church

Joy plays an important role in the health of the church.  And if you’ve ever been in a cold, joyless church, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  There are some interpersonal difficulties Paul learned about in Philippi.  Two women are mentioned by name in verse 2, "I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord" (Phil 4:2).  Poor ladies, immortalized in Scripture over some falling out.  Paul calls the on the church to step in and help these women reconcile.

 

It’s in this context of interpersonal conflict in the church that this famous verse 4 is set, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" (Phil 4:4).  When we lack shared joy, the church is headed for trouble.  People get irritable, fault-finding, brittle.  The church at Philippi is suffering a measure of persecution and stress, and you know how stress can erode your joy.

 

Paul’s is writing this letter from prison, and he wishes them to maintain their joyful unity even during suffering.  He does this not only by precept but by example, showing them how he himself remains joyful and joyful even when he suffers.

 

You might think, “In our marriage, or home, or church, if we had harmony, then we’d would have joy.”  But it goes both ways.  We don’t just get joy through harmony; we get harmony through joy.  You don’t just get a more joyful marriage by getting along better.  You get along better when you both find greater joy.

 

Paul therefore addresses three areas in verses 4 through 6:  our relationship with God, our relationship with people, and our relationship with circumstances.  God, people, and circumstances.  Regarding God, verse 4, we need to be joyful.  Regarding people, verse 5, we need to be gentle.  And regarding circumstances, verse 6, we need to be at prayerful peace.  These are the virtues we’ll consider in the next couple weeks that bring unity: joy, humility, and tranquility.  Let’s consider tonight two aspects of verse 4, the command to rejoice and the time to rejoice.

 

The Command

"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" (Phil 4:4).  Rejoicing a repeated command.  It’s a moral issue.  It’s a matter of godly character.  We read the same thing back in 3:1, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.”  Thus he fruit of the Spirit includes not only patience, kindness, goodness, and so forth, but joy!  It’s #2 in the list.  God commands us to be joyful, and he gives us his own Spirit that we may share in the joy of the Lord.  Happiness is a key part of holiness.  You can be joyful without being holy, but you can’t be holy without being joyful.  It’s a virtue, which means if you’re lacking joy, it’s like lacking love or humility or patience or self-control.

 

We often think of joy as something we just have or not, but that’s not right.  The Bible does not think of joy that way at all.  The joy that we’re talking about isn’t the joy of natural temperament.  It’s the joy of the Lord, and it’s both possible and necessary for all believers to experience this joy (see Ps 5:11; 9:2; 32:11; 33:1; 40:16; Phil. 3:1; 4:4; etc.).  Joy a duty—it’s a privilege to be sure, but also a sacred obligation, which Christians are called upon to practice.  It is our inheritance as God’s children, and a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).  So Paul commands the Thessalonians, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:16-18).

 

Some people, it’s true, are naturally more cheerful than others, more inclined to brightness and gladness than others.  Some have temperaments are naturally more melancholic.  God has made us all differently.  I could put it this way to the kids.  God doesn’t expect us all to be bouncy “Tiggers.”  But neither should we just resign ourselves to be glum “Eeyores.” 

 

A few weeks ago we studied Psalm 13, where David cries out, “How long, O Lord?  Will You forget me forever?” and describes his sorrow.  But at the end of the short psalm, he affirms his trust in the Lord’s lovingkindness and then declares, “My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me” (13:5-6).  That is not the joy of circumstances or temperment, but rather the joy that comes from focusing on and trusting in the Lord and His salvation.

 

Josef Tson was a Romanian minister who suffered under the Ceausescu regime (A Godward Life, Book Two, pp. 358-360).  One day the Communists came to his house and confiscated nearly all of his books.  The soldiers wanted proof that they were getting his books from him, so they made him sit at a table and write in each book that they found it in his house, while they took pictures of him doing this.  At one point in this process, Tson took down a book whose title was, “Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory,” with the subtitle, “Is This Your Experience NOW?”  You must understand, it’s not a joyful thing for a pastor to lose his books!  As he read the title, Tson asked himself that question, and remembered the Lord, and at that moment was flooded with great joy in the Holy Spirit.  He lost his anger and fear and told his wife to get the soldiers some coffee.  He remembered the Lord and his promises and purposes.  Tson was not going to suffer in vain.  Later that week he had to preach.  His congregation knew that they’d stripped him of his books and harassed him daily, so that he had no time to prepare a sermon.  But he spoke that day on Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  One man in the congregation was so overwhelmed with the sheer force of Tson’s joy in the midst of suffering that he could not hear anything after the text.  He was broken in his own heart and deeply changed.

 

God is only commanding what we need for a healthy spiritual life.  We need joy, not only for church unity and overcoming conflict as the context here indicates, but to have victory in a thousand ways.  When people aren’t joyful in the Lord, they don't’ grow in grace and fruitfulness in their service to the Lord as they ought.  When they’re not joyful in the Lord they seek their joy elsewhere, which is the cause of a myriad of sins.  When they’re joyful in the Lord, they can endure all things.  Here is the command, rejoice in the lord!  I say again, rejoice!  We’re also told here…

 

The Time:  Always

What does he mean always?  What about Ecclesiastes chapter 3, "To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven:  … A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance” (Eccl 3:1-4).  How then can Paul say we should always be rejoicing?  Are we never to be sad?

 

Let’s not misunderstand.  Paul himself wrote in his letter to the Romans about the unceasing anguish he had in his heart because his Jewish brethren didn’t know their Messiah.  We sing in many psalms of the anguish and broken-heartedness the authors experienced, which in so many ways predicted the sufferings of Christ, a man of sorrows.  John 11:35, Jesus wept.  The Holy Spirit may be grieved.  Similarly for us, there are plenty of situations that call for tears and grief.  It’s right to be sad about loss, broken relationships, suffering, and certainly over our own sin.

 

Didn’t we just read from James 4, “Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom” (Jas 4:9, NIVO).  Well then, how do we reconcile all this with the command to rejoice in the Lord always?

 

Some people have tried to say that joy is not a feeling.  No, they say, Biblical joy is a spiritual disposition that isn’t an emotion but a determined act of the will and mind that transcends the affections.  Somebody should hear that and think, “Ok, you’ve been in seminary too long.”  Joy is supposed to be joyful.  Don’t let people use philosophies to get rid of commands that address our emotions.  People do the same thing with love also. “Love isn’t a feeling,” I’ve heard people say.  It’s a dispassionate commitment to the good of others.  Why then does Peter say, "Have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart" (1 Pet 1:22).  Why does Paul write at the beginning of this letter, "I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:8)?  If the Lord wanted to talk about the will or service or obedience or self sacrifice, he could have used those words.  The fact is that the Bible commands our mind, our emotions, and our actions.  And by the way, when the Bible promises that we will have joy in heaven forever, it uses the same word as Paul uses here when he commands us to have it now. 

 

So what’s the solution?  How can you have sorrow and still be rejoice in the Lord always?  Understand that always mean every second of every day.  In verse 4 of chapter 1, Paul said he was always thanking God for the Philippians.  he can’t didn’t every second of every day, because he also said the same thing to the Corinthians, the Romans, the Colossians, the Thessalonians, and Philemon.

 

Jesus said he always taught in their synagogues (John 18:20).  But we know that at least once his teaching was on a mountain.  The word always doesn’t mean every second of every day.  It refers to something is a general rule.  Something that’s done consistently, routinely, as a regular, ongoing, pattern of life.  Have you ever heard someone say something like this:  “You always leave your dirty dishes out on the counter.”  We all know what that means.  It doesn’t mean someone’s putting dirty dishes on the counter every single moment of every day.  It’s probably not even every meal.  But it happens enough so that it’s a habitual pattern of life.

 

Paul is saying that we are to be joyful in the Lord as a regular, consistent pattern of life.  It’s to be the normal, everyday characteristic of our lives.  Do we have times of sadness?  Of course.  But when the time for weeping is over, we return to the life of joy.  That’s what Paul is commanding here.  And remember, we have been given an ocean of joy that’s untouched by the storms of our lives that disturb the surface.

 

Jonathan Edwards has a wonderful sermon called, “God the Best Portion of the Christian,” based on Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.”  He writes, “Hence we may learn, that whatever changes a godly man passes through, he is happy; because God, who is unchangeable, is his chosen portion.  Though he meet with temporal losses, and be deprived of many, yea, of all his temporal enjoyments; yet God, whom he prefers before all, still remains, and cannot be lost. … His chosen portion, on which he builds as his main foundation for happiness, is above the world, and above all changes.  And when he goes into another world, still he is happy, because that portion yet remains. …  How great is the happiness of those who have chosen the Fountain of all good, who prefer him before all things in heaven or on earth, and who can never be deprived of him to all eternity!” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:106).

 

Conclusion

Let me answer a few questions now before we conclude.  First, what is the main hindrance to joy in the Lord?  Answer, unquestionably, sin.  Sin is the great impediment to joy.  The practice of sin is what chiefly clouds our joy.  David, after his sin with Bathsheba, cried out to God: “Restore to me, the joy of my salvation.”  With his sin he had lost his joy (Ps 51:12).  Hence true happiness comes from true holiness. 

 

Second question, what if I don’t feel like rejoicing in the Lord?  The feeling is commanded.  How can I obey?  Here’s some sound advice I read from the book Desiring God:

 

Perhaps we have a barrenness of soul that scarcely feels any longing.  And yet, our soul has enough grace to feel a repentant sorrow that there’s so little love.  Psalm 73, “When my soul was embittered, … I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant” (Ps 73:21-22).  Even in this godly sorrow that there is so little joy, there’s honor to God.  And this motivates us to press on and seek after joy.  We should bewail our lukewarm hearts, seek the fruit of the Spirit that is joy, lay hold of Christ, and not let him go unless he blesses us.  Worship helps.  We should come together, as the psalm says, into “His gates” and “His courts” and rejoice.

 

When we’ve made some progress, we have some measure of joy, but we still long for so much more.  We rejoice in the goodness of God but it seems far off.  Again in the psalms we find this same longing for God, and this too is good.  Even though it falls short of what we want and what God wants, it is an honor to God.  We are longing to be filled with him more.

 

But there are times when we feel overcome with joy, gratitude, wonder, hope, and admiration.  Psalm 63, “My mouth praises you with joyful lips” (Ps 63:5).  This is worship as it should be, a feast of joy.  It’s not always our experience, but it is what we long to have more and more.

 

Let us therefore seek to rejoice in the lord more and more.  Psalm 100 says, “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”  Here, we’re reminded why we have the greatest cause to rejoice. 

 

(a) Because He is God.

“Lord, You’re the only true and living God.  I will rejoice in you.”

 

(b) Because He is our Creator.

“It is He who has made us.”  All that we are and have is from him.

 

(c) Because He is our Redeemer.

“We are His people,” it says.  Once we were not a people, but now, it says, we are the people of God (1 Pet. 2:9-10).

 

(d) Because He is our Shepherd.

Indeed, Jesus says that he’s the good shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep.  His sheep know His voice and follow Him as He leads them.

 

(e) Because of His goodness, mercy, and truth (or steadfast love)

The end of the Psalm reminds us that “the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Ps 100:1).  What more reason do we need to have joy in him?

 

 

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