Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent 12/19/21
A Life of Faith
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Do you believe in God?
That sounds like an odd question for a sermon, eh? The thing is, believing about God and believing in God are two different things. Most everyone who comes to church anywhere believes about God. Christians all believe about God. The problem is that many who believe about God take that for "faith" in the sense of "being a Christian" – and it is not. Christians, who are truly Christians and not simply deceiving themselves, also believe in God. They trust God.
So, the question I began with is really, "Do you trust God". I want you to note the difference between "trusting in God" and "trusting God". Trusting "in" God is a generic sort of thing. It is sometimes half-hearted, and other times, at arm's length. We trust in God to do His part, or we trust in God to be a certain way or do specific duties, and the like. It has the sense of a list of responsibilities that God is to assume, and we trust in Him to do them and to do them passably well.
Trusting God is actually and deliberately – or at least consciously – depending on Him. Trusting God is facing life with the certainty within yourself that God is watching, and blessing and caring for you. My month of Covid and the near brush with death impressed this on me. You are safe because God loves you. You will have what you need because God loves you. You will make it through whatever challenge faces you, because God loves you if it is in accord with His holy will. And that is what our text is addressing this morning. Our theme is a Life of Faith.
The focus of the season of Advent is the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is His return that will mark the end of all of our pains and sorrows and the beginning of eternal life in glory. That life in glory is the cause for our rejoicing, mentioned in our text. We know the love of God for us, which we celebrate in the Christmas season, as we celebrate the first Advent of Jesus long ago in Bethlehem. The Spirit-wrought certainty of the love of God for us finds its first evidence in the gift of His Son. It is that confidence in God that produces the rejoicing Paul addresses in the first verse of our text, "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I will say, rejoice!"
Our cause for rejoicing is not found in our circumstances. The first Christians and every generation since have faced the hostility of the world and the normal troubles of life. Being a Christian does not change the external conditions of our lives, except that under the hatred of the world, our troubles may be multiplied. Our rejoicing is due to the gift of God in salvation, and our confidence in Him and His love for us, and His ever-present concern for our welfare. We do not judge the love of God or His ‘favor' by checking out our external well-being. Our certainty of the love of God for us and His will to bless us flows out of the knowledge of what He already has given for us, and our trust in the promises of blessing, protection, and salvation which He has made to us which are rooted in Jesus Christ, and His death for our sins and His resurrection for our justification.
Because we believe that, we can rejoice – even in circumstances that seem less than joyful. What is happening in our daily lives is not the final word of God to us or about us. Jesus Christ, resurrection from our graves, and everlasting life beyond pain and sorrow, sickness, and death are the final word of God. In many ways, this life is a prelude to the one to come. That life is where and when the full blessedness of the believer will be seen. Now, just as you can face the difficulties of life because you look forward to the cessation of pain and the comfort and well-being to follow, God's people can look forward to the joy to be received and continue to rejoice in that promised joy even in the midst of present trouble and pain. It is the final and enduring state that gives us the courage to live in and live through the intermediate stuff.
We can be so moved by our confidence that the hope of the life to come affects our conduct in the present time. That hope, and the knowledge of who we are in the eyes of God, builds in us patience - forbearance in the face of the sorrows and difficulties of life. That is reflected in the words of our text, "Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men."
Paul isn't suggesting here that we go about telling people about how patient and forbearing we are. He intends that we let people know by being forbearing, by exercising patience. The patience of which he speaks is the patience we evidence in times of trouble, pain, or sorrow. Let's face it, life will present us with situations and conditions over which we will chafe. We just don't give up on God. We continue to rejoice. We behave as God's people even when those with whom we must deal do not. Our God has forgiven us great sins, both in quality and quantity. As our relationship to Him is marked by forgiveness, our relationship with others is to be marked by forgiveness – by patience and forbearance – as well. We are the people of forgiveness.
We are a people formed by forgiveness, and we are a people whose conduct toward the world is shaped by our forgiveness and forbearance with their thoughtless and evil ways. We don't forbear by taking part in the evil, but by being Christ-like, by forgiving those who haven't asked and dealing honorably and decently with everyone, even the rotters!
That doesn't mean that they will reciprocate. They will likely continue to hate us and try to abuse us or take advantage of us. But, in Christ Jesus, what do we have to lose? We already have eternal life. Resurrection is not merely guaranteed, it is a foregone conclusion. Jesus rose, and we are tied to Him, so, just as we share in His righteousness, and in His life, we must share in His resurrection! In fact, He has promised that everyone will rise from their graves. The difference between us and the others is that we will rise the everlasting life in glory, and those who reject Christ will rise to eternal death, shame, and torment - what we have learned to refer to as "hell".
It is the reality of life, the pains and irritations of normal life, and the hostility of the world, that Paul has in mind when he says, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." The world will not reciprocate our patience and forgiveness. They will be looking for, and sometimes just making up, a cause to attack us and hurt us. Plus, our lives are not set aside from all of the troubles that normally afflict people. We will get sick. We will get injured. Sorrow and troubles will find us. We bear witness to our confidence in God, and His utter reality and love, by how we bear all these things faithfully and patiently and in a manner that reflects clearly that we are the people of God in Jesus Christ.
So we are not anxious about anything. That means we set aside worry. Some of you may be worried about how you are going to manage in your senior years. Some of you are worried about things I cannot imagine. Paul says, "Don't worry about anything", "Be anxious for nothing." Trust God.
Now, this isn't a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky kind of thing. It is a life of faith. It is confidence in God. We believe the love which He has for us and we trust His promises. He said, "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee." Okay, we do. Just been there and done that. We pray. He has promised to hear our every prayer and answer each one. He has promised to "cause all things to work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purposes." That's us!
Do you trust God?
Then pray. But as you pray, pray in faith. Speak to God about your confidence in Him and remind yourself that your hope is about something far better than this life and that you know with the full confidence of faith that God has already won it for you, and promised it to you, and has begun giving it to you even in this life. That is how and why your prayers are filled with thanksgiving. Do you need things, blessings, help? Of course! Yes! But you also know that God loves you. You know the gift of life which is already yours. You have a firm expectation of future bliss and glory. So you don't just say, "Thank God!" You actually thank Him. Your prayers are not the childish and demanding prayers of the unbelieving and immature. They are prayers of faith, of people who have seen God in action, who have heard of His love and know His promises, and believe. They are prayers for faith, for strength of faith, for greater patience and perseverance, for a heart a thanksgiving in the midst of whatever struggle you may be in.
And the result, which God alone works, is the peace of God. It is the peace of knowing that, no matter what, God is with you. It is the peace that works in times of danger, times of sorrow, and times of trouble of any sort. It is understandable, to some extent. It is founded on faith and does not worry. It is built with thanksgiving, and so it cannot be mixed with feeling sorry for one's self, but has to be aware of the goodness and grace of God. It has the confidence that God is listening when we pray and blessing us according to what we know to be a good and gracious will, so it is peaceful, unafraid, confident - not of one's self, or of life, but of God and His love.
The text describes the love as surpassing all comprehension. That doesn't mean it makes NO sense to us. It is just so much more and so much more powerful than it seems like it should be. It is incomprehensibly durable, powerful, lasting. The circumstances in which we find ourselves are not those that determine this peace - and so it "surpasses all comprehension". It is not worked by our thoughts, or by our faith, although it is grounded in it. It is worked by God. The peace which God gives through faith is so much better, more durable, and broader than anything we can work up in ourselves, that it catches even those who possess it by surprise - although pleasantly so.
I don't mean to suggest that you will not or should not feel those fears, worries, angers and such. Your flesh will challenge you daily with such things. I know mine does. I mean that you fall back on God, on prayer, on your faith, on His Word and His promises, and on His love for you. You fight the good fight of faith, even within yourself. Especially within yourself.
And that is a life of faith. God creates this peace and strengthens us to live as His children. When we do it, the world sees it, and we witness just by being God's people. It was the biggest evangelistic tool of the first century of the Christian Church. People saw the peace and joy of Christians who were facing life as hard or harder than themselves. They wanted some of that peace. They wanted whatever it was that gave the Christians the power to face death singing. They wanted to know something so worth living for that it was easily worth dying for. Nothing in their world of unbelief and despair matched it. Nothing even came close. And so they sought out the Christians and asked them what it was. And Christians told them. And they believed the Word of God, and the Church grew. That is still God's great evangelism program today. It will work just the way God has planned for it to work, because it doesn't depend on us. And, it is a life of faith!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)