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Rejoice in the Lord

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Dearly loved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

There are numerous temptations and pitfalls for Christians.  This passage addresses a temptation that is particularly dangerous to Reformed Christians.

We face a temptation to be right. 

We like to think deeply and come to the right conclusions.  We want to have the right opinions and answers – we strive for orthodoxy.

And we like to do things right – to be baptized at the right time, to profess our faith at the right time, to come to the Lord’s Supper the right way.  We want to say the right things and do the right things.  We strive for orthopraxis.

Now, both orthodoxy (believing the right things) and orthopraxis (doing the right things) are noble goals.  It is completely proper and appropriate for Christians to strive to believe and do what is right according to the Scriptures – but only if we don’t put our hope for righteousness in our own efforts. 

That was mentioned each time we prepare ourselves for Lord’s Supper.  In the preparatory form, we are warned that “those who live in self-righteousness, who hope in works or virtues of their own . . . have no true place at the Lord’s Supper.”[1]  The salvation and comfort offered in Jesus Christ has nothing to do with “self-righteousness.”  Doing good works and being virtuous is our response to God’s gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds the Church of this gospel truth when he writes Philippians 3.  He indulges in what he calls “foolish boasting” in II Corinthians 11.  That’s where he says, “In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.”  The same could be said of the list of credits his gives in Phil. 3.

Yet from a human perspective, his boasting all seems so impressive: he believed all the right things and did all the right things.  He was able to say in all confidence, that according to legalistic righteousness he was faultless.  By the Pharisee’s measuring stick, he was.

We are tempted to aim for the same level of perfection.  We are tempted to try for the same level of personal righteousness.  We can get worn out by trying.  It becomes a competitive treadmill that really gets us nowhere.

That’s what Martin Luther found out – Ad lib.

Paul shatters the illusion of self-righteousness when he takes stock of his former attempts at right-living.  From the perspective as a Christian preacher, apostle, and evangelist, Paul calls all that self-righteousness stuff “rubbish.”  Actually the Greek word is even stronger; it’s the stuff you find in the streets of a cramped, first-century city: filth, manure, rubbish.

Paul audits his personal righteousness balance sheet.  All the accomplishments which formerly were in the profit column get cut and pasted into the loss column.  His successes and accomplishments actually brought him further away from the resurrection from the dead.  Despite all the assurances of being alright, Paul had been drowning in red ink and didn’t know it.

By writing this way, Paul points us to the gospel message again.  We cannot be righteous on our own.  We cannot attain the resurrection from the dead by our own willpower or efforts.

It’s only when we know Christ and the power of his resurrection,

·        when we know the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,

·        when we know what it is to become like Jesus in his death

·        only when we die with Christ, that we can be raised to new life in Christ.

That’s why there’s a refrain running through this whole book: “Rejoice in the Lord.”  Paul repeats it repeatedly in this short letter.  “Rejoice in the Lord.”  It is one of his first points and in this final point (he’s a preacher – you can make your final point half-way through the message, can’t you?).  This is it: “Rejoice in the Lord.”

By all means strive for doing and believing what is right.  Study and work hard to explore the Word of God and what it means to walk in obedience to God.  Follow Jesus Christ’s example throughout the week.  Pursue justice and truth and good works – but don’t rejoice in your deeds and works.  There is only one thing for Christians to rejoice in.  God calls us to rejoice in the Lord.

This is particularly important in our conversations and discussions with Christians who have a different background or perspective than we do.  We have our history of arguments and disagreements – and there is room for disagreements in the Church of Jesus Christ.

But we are reminded today that all our righteousness comes from Him.  That means everyone who has faith in Christ is part of his body – the Church of all time and all places.  Although we may be divided by distance and doctrines and even by death – Jesus’ body is unified in his death and resurrection. 

The church universal doesn’t agree on when a person should be baptized.  We have our disagreements about who should come to the Lord’s Supper.  We have different measures of orthodoxy and orthopraxis.  But there is one thing that cuts through all the differences in the world.  In a word: salvation.  We have received our righteousness through faith in Christ.  We’ve received a righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. We are unified by our faith in Jesus. 

Whenever we came to the Table we were reminded that we eat and drink with Christ and the Christians gathered here.  We are also reminded that we eat and drink with believers around the world and throughout history.  We already now have a foretaste of the festive celebration, where God’s whole family will eat and drink together in the New Creation.  We are united in the righteousness and life of Jesus Christ.

Our Saviour Jesus Christ is the only ark that rises above the water of destruction.  Jesus’ resurrection is the only exit from the tomb.  Somehow, by the miracle of salvation, we have attained the resurrection from the dead by the virtues of Jesus Christ.

So we rejoice.  We gather for worship.  We learn and we teach what the Bible says.  We leave this place to do good deeds.  But all of this is motivated by the gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ.  We rejoice in the Lord!


[1] PH p. 977

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