10 October 2014Philippians 4:4-13
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” (vv. 4-5)
As Paul moves towards the end of this letter he presents his readers with a series of challenges as he sought to encourage the Christians in Philippi to demonstrate the reality of their discipleship. In the first two verses of today's reading, the challenge is to be people of rejoicing and gentleness.
The NRSV footnote indicates that the word translated "rejoice" could also mean "farewell" but the context of the letter (eg Philippians 3:1) indicates that "rejoice" is the preferred translation. The fact that both joy and gentleness are included by Paul in his list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 is further evidence for this translation.
However, being confident about the preferred translation does not make the challenge an easy one. Is it possible to "Rejoice in the Lord always"? Before we dismiss Paul's words as unrealistic, we need to note that he wrote while he was in prison awaiting the outcome of his trial. This does not mean that we are immune to the sufferings of others or the difficulties of our own lives. In 2 Corinthians 6:10 Paul interestingly refers to the experience of being "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing".
In terms of gentleness, Paul encourages his readers to demonstrate this fruit of the Spirit to everyone; that is to those outside the Christian community as well as those within it. As with "rejoicing always", this is not an easy task, but the word used to challenge his readers is one that Paul uses to describe the one they seek to follow ("I ... appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:1)), so the challenge is offered to the disciples to follow the example of their Lord.
The concluding phrase of the selected verses can be understood in two ways. In one sense, Paul assures the Philippians that the Lord is near and with them in their current troubles and difficulties. In another sense, the phrase points to the belief that the time of the second coming of Jesus was approaching. Both meanings offer the Philippians a word of encouragement.
- What difficult situations are you facing today? How might you "let your gentleness be known to everyone" in these situations?
- In the midst of a broken and suffering world what does it mean to "rejoice in the Lord always"?