Philippians 3:1

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.  To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you[NASB ‘77]

The first verse of Chapter 3 presents a few questions to work through:

  • Does Paul use this statement to transition to a new idea or to summarize his thoughts at this point in the letter? Or does the statement stand on its own?
  • Why does he begin the verse with Finally? It sounds like he’s coming to the end of the letter, but he’s just over halfway through.
  • When he says in the second part of the verse that it’s no trouble to write the same things again, does he refer to the statement about rejoicing or to what he’s about to say regarding the Judaizers starting in verse 2?

Whether or not we can answer the first two questions may not have too much effect on what we’re supposed to learn from the text.  In the case of the third, however, the answer greatly affects how we understand Paul’s admonition.

Overall, the verse seems to be a little out of the blue, doesn’t it?  It doesn’t appear to really go along with what’s before or with what follows.  It’s almost as if Paul is suddenly overwhelmed with the thought of rejoicing and so blurts it out – as if he can’t contain himself.  And that could be the way to read it.  Paul may intend to simply repeat an overarching theme of the letter – to make sure his readers don’t forget it.  On the other hand, it may be how he summarizes his thoughts about all he’s said to this point.  If that’s the case, it could be a clue as to why he begins as he does.

So what does he mean by Finally?  It doesn’t make sense that he intends to conclude the letter.  Perhaps it’s his way of concluding this section.  We should note that finally could also be translated “Well then,” “Furthermore” (NIV has “Further”), or “To proceed then.”  Translated that way, the verse becomes a summation.  It could be that since he’s dealt with different things that could rob them of joy – his imprisonment, their suffering, their lack of unity, the near-death of Epaphroditus – he now concludes with what he sees as the only reasonable response.  He’s shown that the obstacles to joy aren’t obstacles at all when seen in the right light, so now he essentially says, “So to sum up, rejoice in the Lord,” or “When all is said and done, rejoice in the Lord.”  It’s what’s left for the believer when everything that’s unimportant is stripped away.

Another option is that this is the last of a series of admonitions to rejoice.  Notice that he told them at the end of Chapter 2 to rejoice over the return of Epaphroditus and receive him in the Lord with all joy (2:28-29).  Perhaps this verse is the conclusion to that thought.  In that case, we would read it as, “Rejoice that Epaphroditus is alive.  Receive him in the Lord with all joy.  And finally, rejoice in the Lord.”  [The idea for this option comes from G Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary; 214-215.]  This theory may make for the smoothest read between the chapters, although it does limit the scope of its application in the letter.

At the end of the day there’s no way to really know why Paul starts this way.  The good news is that it doesn’t really matter.  Whether Paul means it as a closing argument or a transition or just a random outburst, the meaning for our study stays the same.  It’s an admonition to rejoice in the Lord and we can learn from it regardless of whether we understand finally or not.

The other issue to work through is what he means when he says it’s no problem to write the same thing again.  Does he mean it’s no problem to tell them to rejoice or does he mean it’s no problem to repeat earlier warnings about the Judaizers (which is the subject of the following verses)?  The fact that he says it’s a safeguard for them makes a compelling argument that he means it’s no problem to warn them again about the Judaizers.  But if that’s the case, when did he write about Judaizers the first time?  There’s been no reference to false teaching at all in this letter so he’d have to mean he wrote about them in something we don’t have a record of (which is entirely possible).

That’s why it seems to make more sense (the key word is ‘seems’ – this could be totally wrong) to assume he refers to the admonition to rejoice, since he’s referred to joy in this letter several times already (note too that the ESV, NASB, and NET all start a new paragraph in verse 2).  He said he rejoices that the gospel is spreading as a result of his imprisonment (1:18).  He said he’s confident that he’ll live to see them again for the sake of their joy in the faith (1:25).   He admonished them to make his joy complete by being united in Christ (2:2).  He told them he rejoices with them in his service for the gospel and encouraged them (this is the first instance of a command to rejoice) to rejoice with him in the same way (2:17-18).  And – as we already pointed out – he told them to receive Epaphroditus in the Lord with all joy and to rejoice over him because he almost gave his life for the work of Christ.

If we’re right that he’s referring to the command to rejoice, then we can read this verse as a complete thought.  “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.  To repeat the command to rejoice is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.”

So let’s take the verse apart.  First thing to notice – it’s a command.  This isn’t simply a blessing.  And that’s interesting because all of us would probably agree that it’s easy to write something like this but not so simple to do.  If he said this and nothing else it would be somewhat discouraging because we couldn’t live up to it.  But we know we can read this in the context of doing everything in the power of the Spirit.  It’s like his command to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (2:12).  It’s a stark command until we read the follow-up truth that God works in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure (2:13).  He’ll later tell us to be anxious for nothing (4:6), but will go on to say that the cure for anxiety is to make our requests known to God and His peace will sustain us (4:6-7).  In all cases we have the responsibility to obey but to do it in God’s strength.

The second thing to notice is that our rejoicing is to be in the Lord.  We aren’t to rejoice in ourselves or in our achievements or in our family or in others around us or in the sense of security we have right now because things are going well.  Our joy is in the Lord.  That’s what makes this command realistic.  If he said rejoice in anything or anyone else he’d have to qualify the statement.  “Rejoice in your freedom and prosperity as long as you have them.”  “Rejoice in your family while they’re alive.”  Only the Lord stands rejoicing under any and all circumstances.  Remember that Paul writes while in prison to people suffering for their faith.  He doesn’t write this lightly.  And what he commands them to do in the midst of tough circumstances is to rejoice IN THE LORD.

Which means what?  And how do we do it?  To rejoice in the Lord is to focus on Him and celebrate Him and His gospel throughout all the circumstances of life.  He’s loving, faithful, merciful, kind, gracious, forgiving, mighty, awesome.  He wants a relationship with me personally.  He wants me to talk to Him continually.  He knows me completely and yet loves me perfectly and unconditionally and omnipotently.  He walks with me and He’s stronger than he who is in the world.  He never changes.  I’m free because he died.  I don’t have to work my way into His presence – He did that for me.  He’s working to complete me for Himself.  He’s the author of my situations.  I live because He died.  When I die physically I’ll be with Him in paradise because He rose from the dead.  He defeated death so I will too.  He promised He would never leave me nor forsake me and that He’d go with me to the ends of the earth and the end of the age.  So I rejoice in all these things.  I prayerfully immerse myself in them and rejoice.  They’re true regardless of what my life’s like.  They’re true regardless of what the people around me are like.

As believers, even when we rejoice in other things we ultimately rejoice in the Lord if we see with renewed minds.  Our joy in family or friends or good fortune is all joy in the One who brings them to us.  Our joy over the effects of trials is joy in the One who makes all things work for His glory and good.  When we see as we should we rejoice in Him whenever we rejoice in anything.

But remember, it’s a command.  I’m to actively have this at the forefront of my mind on a daily basis.  “I’m to rejoice in the Lord today.  I must rejoice in the Lord right now.”  So I need to make sure my mind’s renewed and my vision is correct and I see my life as God wants me to.  Job going well?  Job not going well?  Lots of friends?  No friends?  Very busy?  Not enough to do and kind of struggling with my place in the world?  Feeling on top of the world?  Feeling like a fireplug at a dog show?  Scared about the future?  Not scared of anything?  I rejoice in the Lord.  It’s my response to the world.

Notice the final part of the admonition.  Paul tells the Philippians that rejoicing in the Lord is a safeguard for them.  Apparently, rejoicing in the Lord protects us.  From what?  It protects us from despair, from misplaced priorities, from becoming enamored with the shiny things of the world, from wasting time, from unthinking lives, from bitterness, from selfishness, from besetting sins.  To rejoice in the Lord requires a mind set on Him, and that kind of mind is protected from the pitfalls of a sin-drenched world (not from hard times – from wrong thinking).  So the command has benefits.  When we rejoice in the Lord we’re guarded by the focus of our joy.  But that also means that when we don’t rejoice in the Lord we’re not protected and we’re susceptible to the hopelessness of a lost perspective.  The final statement of this verse is both encouraging and sobering.

So in the end this one verse becomes – in many ways – the answer to all of life’s questions.  How do we deal with anything and everything?  Rejoice in the Lord.  How do we respond to every person?  Rejoice in the Lord.  What does God want me to do?  Rejoice in the Lord.

In Chapter 4 Paul will revisit this command and explain how it’s affected by prayer and show how it’s a testimony to those around us.  For now, however, we just know that we must do it.  We must rejoice in the Lord in the strength God provides so we’ll be safe in a world lost to sin.

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