Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 4-7, NRSV)
We cannot find a better watchword than these words, which bind us in heaven, as it were, and do not let go of us on earth. Thus we can satisfy the demands of both heaven and earth. We satisfy the demands of heaven when we rejoice in the Lord and when the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guards us so that our hearts and minds are made firm in Christ Jesus.
This is absolutely essential for us. I would not want to live another hour without being thus firmly grounded in the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 3:11). I do not know whether you know the Lord in such a way as to be able to rejoice in him. If you do, then you have already made a big step forward. And if not, my wish for you is that you may rejoice in the Lord Jesus and that you may find a firm grounding in this Man. This Man, who died two thousand years ago, must mean more to you than politics, churches, or anything else that exists. This Man must become your joy and your strength (Col. 1:11).
Jesus, Not a Religion
Isn't it a miracle to be able to rejoice and find a firm grounding in someone who lived two thousand years ago? I don't mean to be firmly grounded in a religion. For Muslims and Buddhists, it is their religion that is important to them, rather than Mohammed or Buddha. But for us religion is nothing, and Jesus is everything. With him we will conquer the world. We are not interested in doctrines about Jesus; we are interested in the Lord Jesus himself (Acts 15:11). He is our doctrine – the Man who can grab us by the arm when we misbehave, or give us a pat when we are good. No dogma, no doctrine, nor anything else – no, the Man himself, it is he whom we want!
I tell you boldly: as far as I’m concerned I would not want to live an hour without him. If you do not have [such a relationship to Jesus], wake up and at look for it. Light a lamp and search for it as for a needle so that you can delight in this Man and value him higher than anything else (Luke 15:8). For this Man makes us so firm that our minds and hearts are guarded against everything that agitates and distracts us (Phil. 4:7). He is a rock; and if he is within us, this rock will shatter the whole world (Ps. 31:1-5; Dan. 2:34-35). But he must be within us; we must have him (John 15:4-9). You must all have this Man. Whoever does not have him lives today and is dead tomorrow.
“Rejoicing” vs. Enjoying (verse 4)
But if we have him, come what may, we can rejoice in the Lord! Our Man does not change except that he becomes stronger and mightier. Therefore we can truly rejoice in him. I would be distrustful of any other kind of joy and enthusiasm we might engage in. It's quite nice now and then to have a pint of beer, but it would never occur to me to rejoice in the beer. Or is there something else you would rejoice in or seek strength in? Nature? Politics? Or anything else? If so, I will have no part in that. I can also enjoy these things, but I cannot rejoice in them. There is a difference between enjoying something, and rejoicing in it. There is but one Man from whom we can derive firmness and joy: Jesus. Therefore we can rejoice, because we simply do not depend upon earthly things (Matt. 6:25 – 34). Thank God, I have never depended on temporal things and do not do so now. And so whatever happens, nothing shall deter us if this Man remains with us. And he will remain with us if we are watchful.
But watchfulness is required. It is quite possible to lose him. Many people do lose their joy in the Lord and the sense of being securely upheld and kept by God; that is to say, they lose what is of heaven because they forget what is of earth. That is why we must remain firmly on earth. The words, "The Lord is near," are meant for us here on earth (Matt. 6:10). If I am always thinking of heaven and do not make efforts to do what is right here on earth, then, having already lost the earth, I will lose heaven too and sit in the middle with nothing. A lot of people have become too other-worldly. They want to have the Lord Jesus in such a way as to have nothing more to do with the earth. Then they lose what is of the earth, and since this is not God's will, they ultimately lose what is of heaven as well and fall between two chairs. Take care therefore! Your task is here on earth. When we have found joy and a firm grounding in our Savior, we must turn our eyes away from the sky and look around on earth. What can I do here with what I have in my heart?
“Let Your Gentleness Be Known to Everyone” (verse 5)
First of all, be gentle and kind to everybody (Phil. 4:5). Bear this in mind, you who so often pass people by indifferently. We know that our Lord is gentle toward everyone. He rejects no one, and therefore we have no right to reject, or even ignore, anyone. We should not agree with everyone, but from a Christian standpoint, we should be gentle with all. From Jesus' standpoint, you cannot be ruler (Matt. 20:25 – 27). Remember this, and do not become a party man! We cannot be anything but gentle in the name of Jesus; regardless of what people are, we must meet them with gentleness.
However, being gentle sometimes means saying a clear word to others. Gentleness toward my best friends is not just flattering them, but also speaking the truth to them. Gentleness does not mean that the truth should have to suffer. In our daily relationships we can be outspoken to everyone – but gently, without separating ourselves from others. Simply bearing this in mind will keep us level-headed.
Take note: Christians who are not able to deal gently with all men will not remain level-headed. They are often terribly pious, but they lose their foundation. Such super-Christians who sit in their corner awaiting the Savior, believing that their little band is the only cohort of the Savior, are no longer gentle toward all everyone; they lose the foundation. We cannot expect everyone to rejoice in the Lord. But in the light that has been given us, we can show gentleness to all, and do this in the awareness that the Lord is near. Once we have taken him personally into our hearts, we can expect him to intervene at any time to prepare his coming.
“Do Not Worry About Anything” (verse 6)
Then we will also be free from worry (Phil. 4:6). Part of having the right attitude, here on earth, is that we do not become involved in unnecessary cares and oppressive thoughts that prevent us from being free for God. Our hearts must be free. A man who was suffering from a terrible illness wrote me that he could hardly stand it anymore and that he spent the whole day praying and sighing. I answered him: "Free your heart! Chase the illness out of your heart. God must be in your heart. You can carry your sickness in a bundle on your back if you like, but it does not belong in your heart." A woman has an alcoholic husband, and her life revolves completely around her miserable situation. "Free your heart," I say. "Cast this misery from your heart, and bear your cross bravely" (Ps. 55:22).
People are often weighed down by small things (Matt. 6:26). I tell you: Free your hearts! Let your head be concerned with these trifles, if you like, but God and the Savior must be in your heart. So many people are paralyzed because they allow their burdens to enter their hearts. They should keep themselves free so that even in the deepest suffering, they are free for God and ready to serve him. We must let nothing enter our hearts – least of all ourselves, thinking and worrying about ourselves the whole time. For then we lose the foundation upon which we should represent something on earth, with prayer and supplication and in thanksgiving to God (Phil. 4:6).
Often there is very little we can do for God. There are times when all external work seems to be mixed up with much that is bad (Rom. 7:21 – 24). But then we must at least be able to give ourselves to God in spirit, with prayer and thanksgiving. In this way we give God the glory on earth.
Praise God “in Everything” (verse 6)
Someone wrote me that he wanted to join a monastery in order to serve the Lord. I congratulated him on becoming a "brother," but I told him that I do not think the Lord's work can only be done in a cloister. It can be done in every house, in every business. We can make a temple wherever we are (1 Cor. 3:16). The work of the Lord must come out of the churches and institutions. It has to enter people’s homes and hearts. That is where the Lord's work must be done, not in buildings and clubs. It must come into daily life. Then our lives and everything we do will be done for God (Col. 3:17). We will be servants of God without having to buy a clerical collar. We can do the Lord's work with a pitchfork in the hand. Nobody need feel excluded; for everyone, whoever he is and whatever he does, can share in the work of the Lord.
In this way we will become the right kind of people on earth. Just as by having joy in the Lord and being firmly established in him we take root in heaven, so by doing God's work on earth we shall become the sort of people God wants on earth. Then God can take us by the hand; we shall be his servants, and whatever work we do is bound to become godly (Rom. 8:28-30). Our greatest wish is that all earthly matters may come into the hand of God (1 Cor. 15:28).
Think of it, at the moment nothing is in God's hand, nothing at all. People have seized hold of everything and hold it tightly in their greedy clutches. And if we say put it to work for God they don’t understand. But to whom does it belong? Naked you came into the world, naked you will leave it (Job. 1:21). You can have everything – you can even have it for eternity – if you want it for God. But if you keep it for yourself, the thief will come; and you will stand there with nothing, for it does not belong to you (Matt. 6:19 – 20).
In this series, we read Scripture together with Blumhardt (1842 – 1919), a little-known but massively influential theologian who inspired Barth, Bonhoeffer, and Moltmann. Readings follow the Revised Common Lectionary.
For more Blumhardt Bible Studies, visit our Bible Studies page.
From Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt: Sterbet, so wird Jesus leben: 1888 – 1896, (Zurich: Rotapfel Verlag, 1925), no. 35, trans. Jörg Barth and Renate Barth, © 2013 The Plough Publishing House.
Do you rejoice in the Lord at all times? When Paul tells us not to worry about anything, is he just exaggerating for effect? Share your thoughts.