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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Rejoice in the Lord Always!
Text:Philippians 4:4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Enjoying Life

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 149:1,2                                                                              

Ps 119:61,62

Reading – Philippians 4; James 1:1-8

Ps 16:3,4,5

Sermon – Philippians 4:4

Hy 44:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 85:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, are we known as a joyful people? Is that the reputation we have, that we’re often rejoicing? Perhaps not. On first impressions, our worship is pretty sombre. In speaking about our faith, most of us are reserved, and we keep our emotions well in check. Even when we have what we call “the celebration of Holy Supper,” we don’t look like we’re celebrating at all, but we’re pretty solemn. Other Christians seem better at joy.

But is the joy really missing? That’s something to ponder. The blessed reality of our sins being forgiven in Christ is good news, and it should bring us a real gladness of heart. Now, someone might say that our personal experience isn’t so important—it’s about God’s glory, not our changing feelings, whether joy or confidence or something else. And perhaps that is true. It’s also true that people have different characters, and we express our emotions in different ways.

Even so, we cannot excuse the sin of a joyless life. That’s right, the sin of a joyless life! For God commands us to rejoice. And He does so, not just once or twice, but throughout the Scriptures. This should be the character of someone who’s been changed by God. Joy is called one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5, because those who know the Lord, those who have experienced his grace, and have been filled with the Holy Spirit, will most certainly rejoice in him. That’s our theme for this sermon on Philippians 4:4:

Rejoice in the Lord always!

  1. why do we rejoice?
  2. how do we rejoice?
  3. when do we rejoice?


1) Why do we rejoice? If you took a quick survey of the people on your street, and you asked each of them what brings him or her the most joy, you’d surely get a wide range of answers. Some have joy when their favourite tennis player (or hockey team) wins. Some might have a surge of joy when looking at their bank balance. Many have joy in the company of their family and close friends, or perhaps when they’re sitting down to a delicious meal with a glass of red wine.

There are many reasons for joy. Yet they’re so often linked to outward things or physical experiences. Which means that joy is simply a passing emotion. Your joy is based on what you have in your possession, or it’s based on the pleasures you’re experiencing at that moment. It’s nice while it lasts, but when the moment passes, so does the joy.

We fall into the same trap when we sometimes find our joy in the wrong places. It’s hard not to be excited by some worldly pleasures. Or you have joy when you get into your favourite leisure activity on holidays, or when you achieve a big career goal. You have joy when you’re surrounded by your grandchildren. You have joy on those days when everything goes well.

But does the joy last? Are you happy for long? So often, our joy deflates like party balloons almost as soon as the celebration is over. We need a better reason for our joy, a more permanent source for happiness. And we know there must be one, otherwise God wouldn’t have told us to “rejoice always.” There can be unending joy for the child of God, a joy through him!

But—and here’s the unexpected twist— God says our joy needs to begin with sorrow. Before ascending to the heights, we need to taste how the depths can be so bitter. For we grieve sin. This is our deadly serious problem.

We know it from the Catechism, which describes repentance in this way: “It is to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin” (Q&A 89). The Bible shows us what our sins have done: separated us from God. It tells what sin deserves: lasting condemnation.

And because of this reality, we should be grieved. Listen to how God calls to sinners in Joel 2, “Turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (v 12). Begin with weeping! Be broken in your sins and failures. But then let that true sorrow propel you toward repentance and a change of life. When you see the ugliness of your sin, then run to the Lord for mercy and relief. For He will dry your tears, pardon your guilt, and give you joy.

So here is the source of our true rejoicing. It’s found only through a right relationship with God! Everything apart from him is crumbling. Everything else is disappointing. Yet our God is eternal, He is glorious, He lacks in no way, and never fails. So those who enjoy a living fellowship with Him are given true gladness of heart—a joy that endures.

Listen to what David prays in Psalm 16. This was his confession to God, “In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (v 11). Maybe a word like “pleasures” sounds wrong in that context, like it must be something wicked, something nice but forbidden. But David dares to say that he will find his pleasure in his God—and so we can as well! Being near the LORD warms the heart and delights our spirit.

Beloved, just think of how meditating on God’s character can bring us delight. When I say ‘meditate,’ I mean just taking one of God’s attributes and turning it over in your mind and pondering what it means for us. There’s a joy in knowing the LORD, that He is constantly faithful, even when we are so changeable. There’s a joy in expecting blessings from his rich goodness. We can also be strengthened by his almighty power and instructed by his wisdom. God lacks in nothing, and He is our God! Beloved, do you have the holy pleasure of knowing God?

Those who begin with grief can journey towards joy because they have been redeemed by God through Christ. This is why our text says, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). Who exactly is “the Lord” in that text? It is none other than Jesus, our Lord and Saviour! In that text, Paul is saying, ‘Rejoice in the cross. Rejoice in the empty tomb. Rejoice that Jesus has ascended and sits enthroned in heaven above!’ Rejoice in the Lord Christ!

Joy is a central theme of Philippians. It’s sometimes called Paul’s “Letter of Joy,” because joy just keeps bubbling to the surface. About 15 times in about 100 verses, Paul speaks of his joy, or about the joy of every child of God.

And Paul is saying much more than, “Be joyful in what you have,” or “Rejoice in what you see right now.” We know that, because Paul’s situation when he wrote this letter was anything but joyful from a human point of view. He wasn’t sitting in a comfortable study somewhere or writing from a seaside villa. Rather, he’s in prison, confined against his will, and apparently getting close to the day of his execution. His earthly situation could hardly be worse. And yet his joy overflows, more in this letter than any other.

Because what is most important in this life, more important even than health or freedom or family? Our salvation in Jesus Christ. For Jesus accomplished something that no one can ever take away. Jesus suffered, and He died, and He rose again, in order to bring us back to God. Today He reigns in glory and sends us his Spirit. And one day, our loving Redeemer will return in glory to renew us and take us to Himself forever. In the Lord, we have every reason to rejoice!

Is this the kind of joy that lives in you? Whatever the day brings, are you glad that you’ve been made right with your Creator? Do you rejoice to know that your sins have been fully covered in the blood of Jesus Christ? Do you find delight in the Lord?

Let’s understand what this joy looks like. Joy in Christ might not put a perma-smile on your face. It may not be a happiness that quickens your pulse and brings laughter to your lips. Most days, your life will flow calmly onwards. Maybe your life will run into severe trouble, like Paul’s did. Yet there is joy, a peace, a perspective on life that is unfailingly hopeful.

Maybe you know someone like that, who really lives in the joy of faith. They’re quick to thank God for his daily mercies. They praise him, and they speak of their trust in him, no matter what. It’s not ‘put on,’ it’s not a naïve joy, a fake cheerfulness. But through the Holy Spirit, a believer can hold onto a confidence and hopefulness—a lasting joy—in God alone.

At the beginning of every day, getting up from our bed, driving to work, starting our duties, we say with the Psalmist, “This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (118:24). We have a reason to rejoice, because it’s another day of grace in Jesus Christ. We have a reason to rejoice, because it’s another day for receiving God’s gifts, large and small. We rejoice because it’s another day for doing his will.


2) How do we rejoice? So joy in the Lord won’t always be a flood of positive emotion, something like ‘a holy high.’ But make no mistake: joy will come out! The fruit of the Spirit is meant to be real, concrete, practical. It should be as real as the fruit you hold in your hand at the grocery store: you can feel it, you can taste it—and others will be able to taste it too.

Our joy in the Lord comes out in different ways. One important way is through public worship. We know the words of Psalm 122:1: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD.’” The Psalmist was glad to be going to the temple, glad even for the invitation, glad because he’d be entering God’s presence.

It should be the same for us, that we have gladness in worship. In view of everything God is and all that He’s done, it’s fitting that we come and rejoice with heart and soul and mind. As we sing and pray and listen, don’t let it become routine. Remember that the Lord never intended worship to be a tedious and lifeless event.

In Deuteronomy He tells the people about their days of worship and He says, “You shall rejoice before the LORD your God” (16:11). For when worship is rightly focused on God, we see that we have much to rejoice in. We see what a God we worship! We see what a Lord has saved us! And we give Him praise.

So do you rejoice on the Lord’s Day? Do you rejoice to hear the Word of God, read and explained? Do you rejoice like the Psalmist did, celebrating the opportunity to go to God’s house, and to lift up your voice in praise and prayer? Do you cherish the weekly opportunity you have to show God again that you love him, that you delight in Him?

The rejoicing that begins on Sunday flows into the whole week. For each day, we can rejoice in prayer. David says in Psalm 86:4, “Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you I lift up my soul.” David expected joy through prayer. That’s because he was drawing close to God, enjoying with him a holy dialogue. And as he did so, he was confident that God would answer him with a measure of joy.  

When we pray too, we can expect the gift of joy. Joy, not because we immediately receive everything we pray for and all our troubles vanish. But we have a sense of joy, because we’re speaking with our loving Saviour. Joy, because we see that we have much to be thankful for. Joy, because we’re sure that God will hear and answer.

Those who have the Spirit will also rejoice in God’s Word. Psalm 119 is full of this truth, like verse 111: “Your statutes are the joy of my heart.” The Psalmist loved God’s life-giving Word. For here he discovered God’s will for his life, he found out more about his LORD and what He’d promised. Each and every page held the potential of pleasure.

Can you relate to this joy? When you have Scripture open, are you rejoicing in what you read? Are you happy to deepen your knowledge of the LORD? Once again, it’s not as if we are flooded with delightful thoughts as soon as we open Scripture. Like we learn in Psalm 119, reading God’s Word takes diligence, eager searching—it’s like the slow and steady uncovering of great treasure. But be sure that your joy will increase as you grow in the Word.

And let’s also share this joy in the Word. Tell your children about the glories of God. Tell your fellow saints about new things that you’ve read or learned from the Scriptures. Tell your neighbors about the good news of great joy for all people.

Joy also comes out in the life of the church. For good reason, Paul instructs us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom 12:15). This is a key part of the communion of believers, when we come alongside one another and share in the journey. When there is reason to rejoice, let’s do so together. Let us be happy for one another, and give thanks together!

And when any of us has reason to mourn, we can do that together as well. We mourn on account of sin, or disappointment, or the passing of a loved one—and we can mourn together, with understanding, with prayers and support.

We’re seeing that joy isn’t only for special occasions, or when everything works out for us. Joy is a spirit for all of life, because all of life is for serving God. And it’s our privilege to do so. You know when there’s someone you really care about, serving him or her doesn’t feel like a burden. If you love your spouse, you’re glad to do things for him or her. If you love your children, you take delight in doing something special for them, even to sacrifice for them. You’re happy to make them happy!

How much more when it comes to God. See how glorious He is, how majestic, and everything He’s done for us! So to serve him is a delight. We can rejoice in serving him, even when serving is hard, because He is pleased to use us for his Kingdom. In whatever place of life God has put us, let’s serve him with gladness!


3) When do we rejoice? Our final question receives an easy answer. Just re-read our text: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” There it is: we must bear this fruit of the Spirit, all the time. There should never be a season when joy can’t be found on our branches!

That’s easy for the minister to say on a pleasant Sunday morning. Easy to say when all is well, when you’re healthy and employed and no pressing worries. But we already said that’s not the kind of joy we’re talking about, a joy linked only to circumstance and how we’re doing at that moment. For every child of God will experience struggle and strain, times when joy can be hard.

Now, maybe you still think that the Christian life is pretty easy overall. That could be for a few reasons. One: you’re not old enough to have suffered much—fair enough. Or two: you’re living in denial, closing your eyes to the suffering all around you—that’s not good. Or three: you’ve taken the easy way out. You’ve figured out a way to act like a Christian but still get most of the good times that you want from this world. Your version of the Christian life is more like a walk in the park than a pilgrimage through the wilderness—then you need to repent.

If you’re serious about following Christ, you will suffer—that’s a fact. But that doesn’t make us miserable. For even as you suffer, you can rejoice! Paul understands how this doesn’t make sense. That’s why he repeats himself, in case the Philippians thought he was crazy: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

The Philippians knew all about Paul’s situation, of course. From the first paragraph of this letter, he’d written about his difficult situation in prison. He had even talked about that most uncomfortable topic: death and dying. And his own death seemed very close—he felt like he was right on the threshold of the grave.

Yet Paul will say it again: “Rejoice!” He won’t ever tire of saying this. Why? Because he knows the way back to God. He knows the great price that Jesus paid for his people, a price so high that God won’t ever let his chosen ones be lost.

So of course we rejoice when all is well. We rejoice when we have our health, when we receive our daily bread, when there is peace in our family and in the congregation, and freedom in this country. It’d be wrong not to be glad for so many blessings. Let’s receive all these things as tokens of the Father’s steadfast love!

But then let’s also rejoice in the times of deep brokenness. We can have a joy in the Lord even a loved one becomes sick and then dies. We can have joy even when there is a strife in our family. We can rejoice even when there are disappointments and failures. We rejoice always!

These are shocking words, yet I’m not the first to say them. These are the words of God, from places like James 1:2, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Or Romans 5:3, where Paul says, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations.”

We don’t rejoice because of these things, for they are hard and terrible and even tragic. But as we endure these things, we still strive to rejoice—to have that all-surpassing peace of God—because we’re still joined to the LORD. Whatever happens, our hearts and minds are secure in the knowledge that we belong to our Saviour, in life and death.

We can look for joy in our sufferings, because we know this precious secret: God is using even these hard times for our benefit and salvation. He is sanctifying us, He is drawing us closer, He is counting us worthy to suffer for the sake of the gospel. “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials,” James says. And he explains it this way: “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (1:2-3). Rejoice in the midst of your trials!

No, it’s not what you’d expect—it’s a surprise. C.S. Lewis wrote a book about his conversion to the Christian faith. And he gave it the title, “Surprised by Joy.” For he didn’t really want to become a Christian. He resisted because he knew it was going to be a harder life. But having come to faith, he was surprised by something: he was surprised by joy. No matter what he had given up, no matter the hardships, the mockery that was going to come, God gave an unshakable joy.

That’s the experience of all who put their trust in Jesus as Lord! I trust that it’s your experience too. We don’t expect an easy life. We don’t count on having constant eruptions of joy within us. Yet knowing the Lord, we do expect to rejoice. Even in the darkness, we expect the surprise of experiencing again the goodness of belonging to the Lord.

And take the joy you have today as a down payment. Look at it as a foretaste. For the fullness of joy belongs to the last day, that day when we and all the heavenly hosts will sing, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come” (Rev 19:7).

Imagine a place without tears or death or sorrow. Imagine a place without brokenness and pain. Imagine a place where we’ll have full and unending joy, finally seeing our God, even face-to-face. Let that promise lift your spirits already now! Beloved, how long will we rejoice? We shall rejoice in the Lord always, and rejoice forever!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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