Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Philippi. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses ten through twenty-three of the fourth chapter. With this particular set of verses the New Testament epistle which Paul wrote unto the philippian church draws to a close. With these words the epistle which Paul wrote from Rome has finally come to an end and would be the only letter and epistle which the apostle would send unto them. What is so incredibly unique and interesting about this final chapter is that it begins almost the same way as the this chapter does. If you turn back to the third chapter of the epistle you will find that the apostle begins that chapter by instructing these saints to rejoice in the Lord. The apostle Paul would then go on to write that saying such words were not grievous or laborious for him, but were to and for the benefit of these saints. When you come to the fourth and final chapter of this epistle you will find the apostle once more instructing—and not only instructing, but also inviting—these saints to rejoice in the Lord. It’s actually quite interesting and astounding when you read the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto these saints, for within this invitation and instruction the apostle Paul doesn’t simply guide them to rejoice. It would have been one thing for the apostle to simply instruct and invite these saints to rejoice and stop with that singular word. It’s worth noting that the apostle chooses not to simply instruct and invite them to rejoice, but he instructs and invites them to rejoice in the Lord. It is absolutely necessary that we make now of and pay attention to these words, for the apostle Paul seems to set forth a clear distinction between rejoicing and rejoicing in the Lord. In other words, there appears to be a marked and noticeable difference between rejoicing and rejoicing in the Lord.
I have to admit that when I read the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the third and fourth chapters of this epistle are absolutely and incredibly astonishing and remarkable. I have to say that I find it to be absolutely incredible that the apostle Paul would instruct and invite them—not only once, but two times—to rejoice. What’s more, is that not only did the apostle Paul invite them to rejoice, but he also invited them to rejoice in the Lord. This is quite amazing when you consider the fact that there is a rejoicing that is found in that which is temporal and that which is natural, and there is a rejoicing that has its root and it’s foundation in the Lord. There is a rejoicing which is earthly and natural and temporal, yet there is an even greater rejoicing which far outweighs and far supersedes this natural rejoicing. I would dare say that for most men and women among us in this day and age, we don’t have to be taught how to rejoice. What’s more, is that there are men and women among us who don’t need any lessons on how to rejoice, or even what to rejoice in. I am convinced that one of the greatest realities we must be willing to face within our lives is what causes us to rejoice. What I mean by that is what we allow to be the source of our joy and our rejoicing in the here and the now. It is absolutely unmistakable that many among us in this generation can find a number of reasons in the natural and in the physical to rejoice, and they do so quite fervently and intensely. Consider how many Americans will rejoice when their political candidate secures the coveted seat within the government. Consider how many Americans will rejoice when their favorite sports team wins the world championship and comes out on top of every other team. I would by lying if I said that we weren’t saturated with and surrounded by countless Esther holy and temporal reasons to simply rejoice. I say again that there are very few who need to be taught how to rejoice, for it is a natural response that is built into our psyche and our being.
When I consider this reality of rejoicing in the Lord I can’t help but be reminded of the words which are written and recorded in the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah. More specifically, I am reminded of the words which are found in the sixty-first chapter of the book. If you turn and direct your attention to the beginning of the chapter you will find what are absolutely incredible words written and spoken by the prophet Isaiah. Consider if you will the words which the prophet first spoke and declared unto the southern kingdom of Judah and would later write on parchment and a scroll: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves. For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them. For I the Lord love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salivation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorned herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:1-10).
What we find in this particular passage of Scripture is in all reality a Messianic prophecy, for if you journey into the New Testament—particularly and specifically the gospel according to Luke—you will find Jesus opening to this particular portion within the scroll of Isaiah, and reading these words in their hearing. Once He had finished reading this words, had the scroll returned to its proper place, Luke records how all eyes were fastened on Him. Once the attention of all those which were present in the synagogue was fixed on Jesus He proceeded to declare unto them that today—that day—this Scripture was fulfilled among them in their generation. In other words, what Jesus was emphatically declaring unto all those who were present in the midst of the synagogue in Nazareth was that He was indeed and He was in fact the fulfillment of the words which Isaiah prophesied unto them. Jesus was in all reality declaring unto them that the Spirit of the Lord God was upon Him, and that the Spirit of the Lord God had anointed Him to preach good tidings unto the meek, and to bind up the broken-hearted, and to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. You will go on to read how Jesus would also declare of Himself that He was anointed of the Spirit of the Lord God to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord in that generation among all those who were present. Please don’t miss the significance and importance of these words which were spoken by Jesus—words which were first proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah according to the word of the Lord. What makes these words all the more intriguing is that the weight and magnitude of such words didn’t merely apply to Isaiah’s generation, nor did they apply to the days in which the Messiah walked among us in the form of human flesh. I am convinced that just as the Spirit of the Lord God sought to bind up the broken-hearted in Isaiah’s generation, as well as during the days of the Messiah, so also the Spirit of the Lord God seeks to bind up the broken-hearted in our generation. I believe that just as the Spirit of the Lord God sought to proclaim liberty to the captives in Isaiah’s generation, as well as during the days of the Messiah, so also the Spirit of the Lord God seeks to proclaim liberty to the captives among us within this generation. What’s more, is that just as the Spirit of the Lord God sought to bring about the opening of the prison to those which were bound during Isaiah’s generation, as well as during the days of the Messiah, so also the Spirit of the Lord God seeks to bring about the opening of the prison to them which are bound in this generation.
As you read the words which the prophet Isaiah writes within this particular chapter within the prophetic book of which bears his name you will find specific categories of individuals which were present among that generation. When you read the words which the prophet wrote and spoke in that generation you will find that there were indeed those who were broken-hearted among the masses during that day. When you read the words of the prophet Isaiah you will find that there were in fact a number of captives that were found to be among the crowds and masses which were present in the southern kingdom of Judah. What’s more, is that you will find that there were countless prison doors which were closed to all those which were bound during that specific generation—prison doors which appeared to be closed, and had absolutely no chance of opening. Moreover, the prophet doesn’t merely stop with these three realities, but goes on to write and speak about all those who not only mourned, but all those who mourned in Zion. There were those present among them within that generation who found themselves sitting among the ashes with absolutely no hope whatsoever. I can’t help but be reminded of the account of Job in the second chapter of the Old Testament book which describes and details the events of his life. Consider if you will the words which are recorded and found in this Old Testament book beginning with the first verse of the second chapter:
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said unto Satan, From whence comest thou? And Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and up upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause. And Satan answered the Lord, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes. Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (Job 2:1-10).
The words which we read in the Old Testament book of Job are actually quite remarkable and intriguing when you take the time to consider them. In this particular chapter and on this particular day we find the sons of God coming to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan coming along with them. As He had done previously the Lord asked Satan where he had come from that he would appear before him among the sons of God. Satan’s response was the same as it was previously, for he responded by stating that he had come from going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. Once more the Lord asked Satan if he had considered his servant Job, and then went on to declare that there was none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one who feared God, and shunned evil. The Lord would go on to declare of Job that he still held fast his integrity—despite the fact that Satan moved Him against him to destroy him without cause. Satan would then proceed to declare unto the Lord that a man would give everything he had to the Lord for the sake of his life, but should the Lord put forth His hand and touch his bone and his flesh, he would curse Him to his face. The Lord’s response was permission granted unto Satan to touch Job’s flesh, but even Satan’s activity within Job’s life had limitations and restrictions—just as it had been previously. It’s worth noting that even though the Lord granted permission for Satan to first move against Job’s household and possessions, Satan’s activity within his life had clearly defined parameters, restrictions and limitations. IN other words, although Satan could move about and operate freely within and among Job’s household and possessions, he could only operate within those limitations and confines the Lord Himself would set. What’s more, is that when you come to read the second chapter of the same Old Testament book you will find that the Lord once more granted permission unto Satan to stretch forth his hand and to now touch Job himself within and upon his flesh, but he could not take his life. It would have been one thing for the Lord to grant Satan permission once to come against Job by touching his family and his possessions, but it was something else altogether for the Lord to grant Satan permission to stretch forth his hand upon Job’s actual flesh. It was one thing to stretch forth his hand upon all that was present around Job, but it was something else altogether for Satan to be permitted to stretch forth his hand against Job himself and against his flesh.
This actually brings me to an incredibly interesting thought which I would dare say not many think about or consider. As I am sitting here right now I can’t help but think about death, and think about the various causes of death that are found to be present among us within the earth. I can’t help but think about those who find themselves riddled and racked with cancer within their bodies, and as a result of the cancer which slowly caused their body to erode, they wound up dying. Much like Lazarus in the New Testament gospel of John there are those who come down with and are plagued with a sickness of some sort, and as a direct result of their sickness, they end up dying and passing from this life to the next. Pause for a moment and consider all the various reasons and causes for one dying in this generation, and what would cause an individual to pass from this life to the next. Consider all the various ailments, infirmities and diseases which can riddle and plague the physical bodies of countless men and women among in this generation, and how such infirmities can cause these individuals to suffer and die. Now, I feel the great need to emphatically declare that I do not believe for one minute that the Lord ever causes cancer, or any disease or infirmity to come upon or strike the physical body of any individual. I do not believe for one minute that it is the Lord God who causes anyone’s body to be struck with cancer, or any type of plague, or any type of disease or infirmity. With that being said, I must say that when I read the Old Testament book of Job I am becoming increasingly convinced that the Lord God—just as He did in the case and life of Job—may very well grant permission unto Satan to stretch forth his hand upon the physical bodies of countless men and women. What’s so incredibly interesting about this is that when Satan does in fact stretch forth his hand against the physical body and flesh of a specific individual, you can be absolutely certain that he does so with the express intention and purpose of ultimately destroying such individuals. When Satan stretched forth his hand against the physical body of Job, there is not a doubt in my mind that he not only sought to destroy Job, but he also sought to induce Job into entering into a place where he would curse God to his face. We must recognize and understand this very important reality, for failing to do so will be to not only fail to understand the activity of Satan, but also failing to understanding the plan and purpose of the living God.
When you come to the New Testament gospel of John you will find Lazarus being struck with a sickness and illness, which would ultimately cause him to die. Later on in the same New Testament book we find Satan inciting the religious community against Jesus, and even inciting the mob before Pilate to cry out for the death and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Now, there is not a doubt in my mind that when Lazarus died and passed from this life to the next, and even when Jesus was crucified upon the cross and His body buried in the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, Satan rejoiced that he had not only brought about the death of Lazarus, but he had also brought about the death of Jesus Christ. Imagine the utter shock and horror that came over Satan—not only when Lazarus was raised from the dead when Jesus showed up at His graveside, but also when Jesus Himself was raised from the dead when angels showed up at His tomb, and when the Spirit of the Lord God entered into that tomb and raised Him up from death to life. There is not a doubt in my mind that when Jesus was crucified, Satan thought he had crucified and killed the Son of God, and thought that he had somehow gained a victory over the Father in heaven. It might even be said that when Lazarus died as a result of the sickness which plagued his body, Satan thought that he had gotten another one of Jesus’ followers. Similarly, I can’t help but think that when Satan is given permission to stretch forth his hands upon men and women among us within this generation, he does so with the express purpose and intention of utterly and completely destroying that particular individual. We have heard it said that what the adversary and enemy meant for evil, the Lord God meant for good for the express purpose and pleasure of His will. Oh, I can’t help but wonder how many men and women Satan has physical rejoiced over when they perished and passed from this life to the next thinking that he had somehow destroyed the saints of God in the earth. Even when we journey to the New Testament prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ and find Satan’s war against the saints, and even the beast’s war against the saints through persecution and martyrdom, there seems to be an indication that Satan somehow rejoices and feels triumphant when such men and women die. I can’t help but be absolutely and utterly convinced that Satan would be utterly and completely shocked to know that his activity within the hearts and lives of men is not only limited to the parameters and restrictions set forth by the living God, but also that even though death should come to the saints of God, it is never a victory for the adversary. Regardless of how much the adversary might think and believe that he has somehow obtained and gained victory over the saints of God through death, he learned very quickly through the lives of Lazarus and Jesus that the Lord God holds the power of death, for He was able to turn back death and cause both Lazarus and Jesus to emerge from their tombs and graves.
I fully recognize that the account of Job, and even what was written in this writing might seem like it has absolutely nothing to do with what we previously read in the New Testament epistle to the Philippians, or even the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah, but I am convinced that it must be carefully considered. I am convinced that just as Job found himself sitting among the ashes in a posture and position of despair and discouragement, so also there are countless others who find themselves sitting among the ashes. In the prophetic book of Isaiah we find the Spirit of the Lord giving beauty for ashes, giving the oil of joy for mourning, and giving the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Within the sixty-first chapter of the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah we find the Spirit of the Lord binding up the broken-hearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, and opening the prison to those which are bound. THE BROKEN-HEARTED! THE CAPTIVES! THE BOUND! THE MOURNERS! THE HEAVY! THOSE AMONG THE ASHES! The reason the words of the prophet Isaiah so resonate within my heart and spirit this day is because I am convinced that there are those among us who find themselves in a place where they continually mourn and can’t seem to find any reason or way to rejoice, to be joyful, or even to sing unto the Lord. I am convinced there are men and women among us within this generation who have found themselves sitting among the ashes—not only in an attempt to find relief from that which they have faced and experienced, but are also in a tremendous place of despair, discouragement and hopelessness. I absolutely love how the Spirit of the Lord God seeks to comfort all those who mourn, to give beauty for ashes, to give the oil of joy for mourning, and to give the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, for the Spirit of the Lord God seeks to bring turn the tide on that which would cause us to remain in a place of discouragement, hopelessness, despair, and the like. When I read the words which the prophet Isaiah wrote and spoke in this particular passage of Scripture I can’t help but be keenly aware of the countless men and women among us who are unable to rejoice, who are unable to be joyful, who are unable to sing, who are unable to overcome that place of utter helplessness, discouragement, hopelessness, despair and the like. I absolutely love what I read in the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah, for within this passage of Scripture we find the Spirit of the Lord causing those who mourn to find joy once more. Within this passage we find the Spirit of the Lord turning the tides on the spirit of heaviness and causing the spirit of heaviness to be replaced with and by a garment of praise. What’s m ore, is that we find the Lord specifically, deliberately and intentionally going after those in the ashes in order to cause beauty to come forth from among the ashes.
LIKE A PHOENIX RISING FROM THE ASHES! If you know anything about this expression you will recognize and understand that a phoenix is a bird which would die and immediately turn to ashes, and on the surface once the phoenix died and turned to ashes, that would be the end of it. What is so interesting about the phoenix, however, is that although the phoenix does in fact die and turn to ashes, that phoenix is reborn once more from the ashes which would appear to have been the remains of their existence within and upon the earth. In other words the ashes of the phoenix—ashes which appear to signal the ultimate end and the ultimate destruction—would prove to be the very soil from which new life springs forth and emerges. I am reminded of the words which the Lord spoke unto Adam in the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Genesis: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it was thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). It is quite clear from these words which were spoken by the Lord that not only were we taken from dust, but we would also return unto the dust. This is actually quite interesting, for I can’t help but see even the dust of the earth from which we ultimately will return as nothing more than the same ashes of the phoenix—ashes which might very well seem to signal the end and ultimate destruction. I am sure that the adversary rejoices when we return unto the dust of the ground, for it was from the dust of the ground we were taken and created. When I read the words which the prophet Isaiah proclaimed in the prophetic book which bears his name, and when I consider the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthian congregation, I can’t help but get the strong sense that not only can the Lord cause beauty to come forth from ashes, but the Lord can also cause life to spring forth from ashes. WHEN LIFE SPRINGS FORTH FROM DUST! WHEN LIFE SPRINGS FORTH FROM THE ASHES! I absolutely love the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the fifteenth chapter of this first epistle to the Corinthian saints and congregation, for not only do his words indicate a reversal of the curse—a curse in which we return to the dust of the earth—but his words also indicate the tremendous reality that life can indeed and can in fact result in life. If you read the account to the life of Job you will find that the Lord ultimately took Job from the ashes of his despair and discouragement, and ultimately restored him two-fold what he previously had.
In the fourth chapter of the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Philippian saints we find the apostle Paul instruction gthem to stand fast in the Lord—and not only are they to stand fast in the Lord, but they are also to rejoice in the Lord always. I began this writing by suggesting a difference between rejoicing in the natural and the temporal and rejoicing in the Lord, and I am convinced that we must recognize and understand that we have been given a tremendous privilege and opportunity to rejoice in the Lord—and not only rejoice in the Lord, but rejoice in the Lord always. In other words, when the apostle Paul suggested to the Philippian congregation that they rejoice in the Lord, he went on to instruct and invite them to rejoice in the Lord always. In other words, as he would instruct the Thessalonian congregation to pray without ceasing, so he would instruct the Philippian congregation to rejoice always. I feel compelled to emphatically and boldly declare that the only way we can truly rejoice in the. Lord always is if we first stand fast in the Lord. I am utterly and completely convinced that we cannot think to rejoice in the Lord—much less rejoice in the Lord always—until and unless we are first willing to stand fast in the Lord. Within the fourth chapter of the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Philippian saints we first find him instructing and inviting them to stand fast in the Lord, and we then find him instructing and inviting them to rejoice in the Lord always. The apostle Paul would go on to instruct them to be careful [or anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving letting our request be known unto God. What’s so incredibly interesting is that we often quote the verse which comes immediately after this out of context, for we declares unto others that “the peace of God, which passes all understanding will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” and yet we fail to recognize and understand that this is only made possible when we first rejoice in the Lord alone, and when we are indeed careful or anxious for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication. The peace of God does in fact pass all understanding, and the peace of God which passes all understanding shall indeed and shall in fact keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus, but we must in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known unto God. Oh, you might very well desire that the peace of God which passes all understanding guard and keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus, and yet you must also be willing to rejoice in the Lord always, and to be anxious for nothing. It is absolutely imperative that we clearly understand that which is set forth in this particular passage of Scripture, for there is a direct connection and correlation between rejoicing in the Lord always, being anxious for nothing, and in every thing by prayer and supplication making our requests known unto God.
What we must also recognize and realize when reading the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular passage of Scripture is that in the final set of verses within the chapter he declares how he had learned that in whatever state he was in to be content. The apostle Paul declared that he knew how to be abased, and he knew how to abound. The apostle Paul revealed that he was instructed to be full and to be hungry, to abound and to suffer need. The apostle Paul would then go on to write and utter some of the most famous words every to be written within the Scripture—“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). Later on in this same chapter we find the apostle Paul declaring unto the Philippian congregation that his God would supply all of their need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus, but these words came immediately after he commended them for their willingness to give unto the work of the ministry of the kingdom, and even for ministering unto his needs. When we come to the final words of this passage of Scripture we must understand the direct connection between our standing fast in the Lord, and our rejoicing in the Lord always. What’s more, is that we must also recognize and understand the direct connection between our rejoicing in the Lord always, and our being anxious for nothing, but in every thing in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving making our requests known unto God. It is true the peace of God which passes all understanding can and will keep our minds, but we must purpose within our hearts and our minds that we not only rejoice in the Lord always, but we also purpose to be anxious for absolutely nothing because we stand fast in the Lord. I leave you with the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the eighth and ninth verses of this fourth chapter as a profound word of encouragement and instruction to you in this generation: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any future, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heated, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).