Joy, a Duty
Intended for Reading on Lord's-Day, March 24th, 1895,
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
On Lord's-day Evening, March 20th, 1887.
"Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice."Philippians 4:4.
HERE IS A marvelous medicinal power in joy. Most medicines are distasteful; but this, which is the best of all medicines, is sweet to the taste, and comforting to the heart. We noticed, in our reading, that there had been a little tiff between two sisters in the church at Philippi;I am glad that we do not know what the quarrel was about; I am usually thankful for ignorance on such subjects;but, as a cure for disagreements, the apostle says, "Rejoice in the Lord alway." People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offence or to take offence. Their minds are so sweetly occupied with higher things, that they are not easily distracted by the little troubles which naturally arise among such imperfect creatures as we are. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord. Should it not be so? What is this joy but the concord of the soul, the accord of the heart, with the joy of heaven? Joy in the Lord, then, drives away the discords of earth.
Than tempests lowering overhead."
One is apt to spoil his joy by the apprehension that there is some evil coming. Now listen to this: "He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord." "Rejoice in the Lord alway." Do not anticipate trouble. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Take the good that God provides thee, and rejoice not merely in it, but in him who provided it. So mayest thou enjoy it without fear, for there is good salt with that food which is eaten as coming from the hand of God.
"Rejoice in the Lord alway." That is, when you get into company, then rejoice in the Lord. Do not be ashamed to let others see that you are glad. Rejoice in the Lord also when you are alone. I know what happens to some of you on Sunday night. You have had such a blessed Sabbath, and you have gone away from the Lord's table with the very flavour of heaven in your mouths; and then some of you have had to go home where everything is against you. The husband does not receive you with any sympathy with your joy, or the father does not welcome you with any fellowship in your delight. Well, but still, "Rejoice in the Lord alway." When you cannot get anybody else to rejoice with you, still continue to rejoice. There is a way of looking at everything which will show you that the blackest cloud has a silver lining. There is a way of looking at all things in the light of God, which will turn into sweetness that which otherwise had been bitter as gall. I do not know whether any of you keep a quassia cup at home. If you do, you know that it is made of wood, and you pour water into the bowl, and the water turns bitter directly before you drink it. You may keep this cup as long as you like, but it always embitters the water that is put into it. I think that I know some dear brethren and sisters who always seem to have one of these cups handy. Now instead of that, I want you to buy a cup of another kind that shall make everything sweet, whatever it is. Whatever God pleases to pour out of the bowl of providence shall come into your cup, and your contentment, your delight in God, shall sweeten it all. God bless you, dear friends, with much of this holy joy!
IV. So now I finish with the fourth head, which is this, THE EMPHASIS LAID ON THE COMMAND: "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice." What does that mean, "Again I say, Rejoice"?
This was, first, to show Paul's love for the Philippians. He wanted them to be happy. They had been so kind to him, and they had made him so happy, that he said, "Oh, dear brethren, do rejoice; dear sisters, do rejoice. I say it twice over to you, "Be happy, be happy,' because I love you so well that I am anxious to have you beyond all things else to rejoice in the Lord alway."
I also think that, perhaps, he said it twice over to suggest the difficulty of continual joy. It is not so easy as some think always to rejoice. It may be for you young people, who are yet strong in limb, who have few aches and pains, and none of the infirmities of life. It may be an easy thing to those placed in easy circumstances, with few cares and difficulties; but there are some of God's people who need great grace if they are to rejoice in the Lord always; and the apostle knew that, so he said, "Again I say, Rejoice." He repeats the precept, as much as to say, "I know it is a difficult thing, and so I the more earnestly press it upon you. Again I say, Rejoice."
I think, too that he said it twice over, to assert the possibility of it. This was as much as if he had said, "I told you to rejoice in the Lord always. You opened your eyes, and looked with astonishment upon me; but, "Again I say, Rejoice." It is possible, it is practicable; I have not spoken unwisely. I have not told you to do what you never can do; but with deliberation I write it down, "Again I say, Rejoice.' You can be happy. God the Holy Ghost can lift you above the down-draggings of the flesh, and of the world, and of the devil; and you may be enabled to live upon the mount of God beneath the shinings of his face. "Again I say, Rejoice.'"
Do you not think that this was intended also to impress upon them the importance of the duty? "Again I say, Rejoice." Some of you will go and say, "I do not think that it matters much whether I am happy or not, I shall get to heaven, however gloomy I am, if I am sincere." "No," says Paul, "that kind of talk will not do; I cannot have you speak like that. Come, I must have you rejoice, I do really conceive it to be a Christian's bounden duty, and so, "Again, I say, Rejoice.'"
But do you not think, also, that Paul repeated the command to allow of special personal testimony? "Again I say, Rejoice. I, Paul, a sufferer to the utmost extent for Christ's sake, even now an ambassador in bonds, shut up in a dungeon, I say to you, Rejoice." Paul was a greatly-tried man, but he was a blessedly happy man. There is not one of us but would gladly change conditions with Paul, if that were possible, now that we see the whole of his life written out; and to-night, looking across the ages, over all the scenes of trouble which he encountered, he says to us, "Brethren, rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice."
Did you ever notice how full of joy this Epistle to the Philippians is? Will you spare me just a minute while I get you to run your eye through it, to observe what a joyful letter it is? You notice that, in the first chapter, Paul gets only as far as the fourth verse when he says, "Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy." Now he is I his right vein; he is so glad because of what God has done for the Philippians that, when he prays for them, he mixes joy with his prayer. In the eighteenth verse, he declares that he found joy even in the opposition of those who preached Christ in order to rival him. Hear what he says: "The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." And he does not finish the chapter till, in the twenty-fifth verse, he declares that he had joy even in the expectation of not going to heaven just yet, but living a little longer to do god to these people: "And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again." You see it is joy, joy, joy, joy. Paul seems to go from stave to stave of the ladder of light, as if he were climbing up fro Nero's dungeon into heaven itself by way of continual joy. So he writes, in the second verse of the second chapter, "Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." When he gets to the sixteenth verse, he says, "That I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain."
But I am afraid that I should weary you if I went through the Epistle thus, slowly, verse by verse. Just notice how he begins the third chapter: "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord." The word is sometimes rendered "farewell." When he says, "Rejoice," it is the counterpart of "welcome." We say to a man who comes to our house, "Salve," "Welcome." When he goes away, it is our duty to "speed the parting guest," and say "Farewell." This is what Paul meant to say here. "Finally, my brethren, fare you well in the Lord. Be happy in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord." And I do not think that I can finish up my sermon better than by saying on this Sabbath night, "Finally, my brethren, fare you well, be happy in the Lord."
Still for ever, fare thee well."
May that be your position, so to walk with God that your fare shall be that of angels! May you eat angels' food, the manna of God's love! May your drink be from the rock that flows with a pure stream! So may you feed and so may you drink until you come unto the mount of God; where you shall see his face unveiled, and standing in his exceeding brightness, shall know his glory, being glorified with the saved. Till then, be happy. Why, even
Should constant joy create."
Be happy. If the present be dreary, it will soon be over. Oh, but a little while, and we shall be transferred from these seats below to the thrones above! We shall go from the place of aching brows to the place where they all wear crowns, from the place of weary hands to where they bear the palm branch of victory, from the place of mistake and error and sin, and consequent grief, to the place where they are without fault before the throne of God, for they have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Come, then, let us make a solemn league and covenant together in the name of God, and let it be called, "The Guild of the Happy"; for the
May speak their joys abroad;"
nay, they must speak their joys abroad; let us endeavour to do so always, by the help of the Holy Spirit. Amen and Amen.
This Epistle was written by Paul when he was in prison, with iron fetters about his wrists; yet there is no iron in the Epistle. It is full of light, life, love, and joy, blended with traces of sorrow, yet with a holy delight that rises above his grief.
Verse 1. Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.
See how the heart of the apostle is at work; his emotions are not dried up by his personal griefs. He takes a delight in his friends at Philippi; he has a lively recollection of the time when he and Silas were shut up in prison there, and that same night baptized the jailor and his household, and formed the church at Philippi.
2. I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.
These two good women had fallen out with one another. Paul loves them so much that he would not have any strife in the church to mar its harmony; and he therefore beseeches both of these good women to end their quarrel, and to "be of the same mind in the Lord." You cannot tell what hurt may come to a church through two members being at enmity against each other. They may be unknown persons, they may be Christian women, but they can work no end of mischief; and therefore it is a most desirable thing that they should speedily come together again in peace and unity.
3. And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life.
He tenderly thinks of all those who had helped the work of the Lord, and, in return, he would have all of them helped, and kindly remembered, and affectionately cherished. May we always have this tender feeling towards one another, especially towards those who work for the Lord with us! May we ever delight in cheering those who serve our Lord!
4, 5. Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
We have come to understand this word "moderation" in a sense not at all intended here. The best translation would probably be "forbearance." Do not get angry with anybody; do not begin to get fiery and impetuous: be forbearing, for the Lord is at hand. You cannot tell how soon he may appear; there is no time to spare for the indulgence of anger; be quiet; be patient; and if there be anything very wrong, well, leave it. Our Lord Jesus will come very soon; therefore be not impatient.
6. Be careful
That is, be anxious
6. For nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
See how the apostle would bid us throw anxiety to the winds; let us try to do so. You cannot turn one hair white or black, fret as you may. You cannot add a cubit to your stature, be you as anxious as you please. It will be for your own advantage, and it will be for God's glory for you to shake off the anxieties which else might overshadow your spirit. Be anxious about nothing, but prayerful about everything, and be thankful about everything as well. Is not that a beautiful trait in Paul's character? He is a prison at Rome, and likely soon to die; yet he mingles thanksgiving with his supplication, and asks others to do the same. We have always something for which to thank God, therefore let us also obey the apostolic injunction.
7, 8. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
If there is any really good movement in the world, help it, you Christian people. If it is not purely and absolutely religious, yet if it tends to the benefit of your fellow-men, if it promotes honesty, justice, purity, take care that you are on that side, and do all you can to help it forward.
9. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen I me, do:
Paul was a grand preacher to be able to say that; to hold up his own example, as well as his own teaching, as a thing which the people might safely follow.
9.And the God of peace shall be with you.
In the seventh verse, we had the expression, "the peace of God." In this ninth verse, we have the mention of the "God of peace." May we first enjoy the peace of God, and then be helped by the Spirit of God to get into a still higher region, where we shall be more fully acquainted with the God of peace!
10. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.
"I rejoiced." So Paul was himself in a happy mood; these saints in Philippi had sent to him in prison a gift by the hand of one of their pastors, and Paul, in his deep poverty, had been much comforted by their kind thoughtfulness about him.
11. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
That was not an easy lesson to learn, especially when one of those states meant being I prison at Rome. If he was ever in the Mamertine those of us who have been in that dungeon would confess that it would take a deal of grace to make us content to be there; and if he was shut up in the prison of the palatine hill, in the barracks near the morass, it was, to say the least, not a desirable place to be in. Soldier chained to your hand day and night, however good a fellow he may be, does not always make the most delightful company for you, nor you for him; and it takes some time to learn to be content with such a companion; but, says Paul, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."
12. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
These are both hard lessons to learn; I do not know which is the mor difficult of the two. Probably it is easier to know how to go down than to know how to go up. How many Christians have I seen grandly glorifying God in sickness and poverty when they have come down in the world; and ah! How often have I seen other Christians dishonouring God when they have grown rich, or when they have risen to a position of influence among their fellow-men! These two lessons grace alone can fully teach us.
13. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
What a gracious attainment! There is no boasting in this declaration; Paul only spoke what was literally the truth.
14, 15. Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.
The Philippians were the only Christians who had sent any help to this great sufferer for Christ's sake in the time of his need.
1618. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.
I do not suppose that they sent him very much; but he knew the love that prompted the gift, he understood what they meant by it. I always had a fancy that Lydia was the first to suggest that kind deed. She, the first convert of the Philippian church, thought of Paul, I doubt not, and said to the other believers, "Let us take care of him as far as we can. See how he spends his whole life in the Master's service, and now he may at last die in prison for want of even common necessaries; let us send him a present to Rome." How grateful is the apostle for that gift of love! What gladness they had put into his heart! Now he says:
19. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
"You have supplied my need out of your poverty; my God shall supply all your need out of his riches. Your greatest need shall not exceed the liberality of his supplies."
20, 21. Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Salute every saint in Christ Jesus.
The religion of Christ is full of courtesy, and it is full of generous thoughtfulness. I do not think that he can be a Christian who has no knowledge nor care about his fellow church-members.
21. The brethren which are with me greet you.
They saw that he was writing a letter, and they therefore said, "Send our love to the Philippians."
22. All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household.
Only think of saints in the household of Nero, saints in the service of such a demon as he was, and saints who were first in every good thing: "Chiefly they that are of Caesar's household."
23. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"136, 720, 870.