“Having said this, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write this to you is not something from which I shrink, on the other hand, for you it is firm ground.”
This verse is a little bit idiomatic, but should not be too hard to sort through. It begins with the phrase to\ loipo/n (to loipon), which literally means: “the rest.” In other words, Paul is changing gears here with this statement. We are not just at the middle of the book, per say, but it is as if he is saying, “okay, I am done talking about the sickness that Epaphroditus has suffered…it was mentioned because it needed to be mentioned, but now I am getting back to the real reason that I am writing to you, and that is to offer counsel to your souls.” That, at least is the notion that is being conveyed.
So, having said all of this about his sorrows, Paul turns to words of counsel and begins with the statement, “Rejoice in the Lord!” But, Paul, what about all of the sickness and suffering of you in prison and Epaphroditus on the sickbed? Paul is saying to us that while those things are earthly realities, our God is not earth-bound and there is glory waiting for those who are faithful to the end. So, why our long faces? Rejoice!
In light of this…something that Paul will soon repeat…what I am going to say may very well frustrate some of my Reformed brethren…but they will get over it. Sometimes Christians hear and even affirm this language that we are to rejoice in the Lord, but we hardly communicate that when we gather to worship. We often find ourselves gathering with long faces and somber attitudes, like one would expect at a funeral, not like one would expect at a celebration of the Resurrection (which is every Sunday, by the way!). Even people’s attitudes before they arrive have not been helpful to their demeanor…how many times have we heard, “Do I really have to go to church today?” As if it is a chore!
Folks, don’t misunderstand me…I am not talking about dancing in the aisles or charismatic kinds of things. I am simply saying that when we gather to worship, everything from our thoughts to our actions ought to communicate what a wonderful salvation that we enjoy in Jesus Christ our Lord. Our obedience to God ought to reflect the joy it is to serve the Lord we serve. And when visitors join our midst and see everything done in good order, they should not see that order as a bored routine, but as a glorious way to guide and train our affections toward an attitude of worship…genuine worship in Spirit and in Truth. We should look forward to Sunday worship for indeed, it is meant to be a taste of heaven…or at least practice for heaven. Yet, in how many churches was Mark Twain correct in saying, “They talk about heaven where they will worship God eternally but they dread doing so for an hour a week here on earth” (Letters From The Earth)? So, brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, rejoice! But I get ahead of myself.
Finally, Paul begins a transition back to practical points of spiritual counsel. Again, the phraseology is a bit awkward in English, but what it seems to be that Paul is saying is that counsel is something from which he does not shrink. Sometimes it can feel awkward to say, “You need to do this or that,” but Paul recognizes not only that offering such counsel is his calling (so he does so) but that it is also good for the people of Philippi to receive this counsel.
How often professing Christians are faced with such counsel in scripture and act as if it were optional for them. “I can do this or that,” they think, but then they ignore the other things. Yet, Paul is making it clear that this counsel is a solid foundation on which to base their lives. And if it is good for the church in Philippi, it is good for our churches today. Take heed, beloved, to the words of the Apostle (as well as to the words of all the Scripture!) for they are food for your soul and guidance for your life.