Reverend Dr. Maurice J. Nutt

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Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!... Have no anxiety at all.
—Philippians 4:4,6a

A Spiritual Reflection Rev. Maurice J. Nutt, C.Ss.R., D.Min.
A hallmark of Christianity is joy. We believe that salvation was won by Christ's death and resurrection. Our sins have been forgiven and hope has been restored. This belief, however, isn't always expressed in our lives.

The skeptic will ask, "Why should I be joyful? Our nation was terrorized on September 11, 2001. The economy is uncertain. People have died of anthrax. America is at war. Crime and violence still exist. Give me a reason for rejoicing!"

I suggest Philippians 4:4-7.

Peace That Surpasses Understanding

St. Paul sets before the Philippians two great qualities of the Christian life.

The first is joy. Imagine: This great evangelist could conjure up thoughts of joy while lying in prison facing possible death. Paul's concern was not with his own peril but with the Christians in Philippi. They were setting out on the Christian way and Paul knew that dangers and persecutions lay ahead.

Nonetheless, Paul asserts (and I paraphrase), "I know what I'm saying. I've thought of everything that can possibly happen. And I still say, rejoice!" Christian joy is independent of all things on earth because it has its source in the continual presence of Christ.

Secondly, in verse five, Paul writes, "Your kindness should be known to all." The Greek word for kindness is epieikeia. It is difficult to translate epieikeia. The Greeks explained it as "justice and something better than justice." Epieikeia basically means that a person knows when not to apply the strict letter of the law, to introduce mercy.

Christians, as Paul sees it, know that there is something beyond justice. They know that something is God's mercy. We rejoice because justice demands what we truly deserve, but epieikeia looks beyond to meet us in our need.

For the Philippians, life was bound to be a "worrying" thing. Besides life's normal cares, they also worried about the threat of death because they were now Christians. Paul tells them that the result of believing prayer is that "the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

This peace is so precious that the mind, with all its skill, can never produce it. It's only of God's giving.

Rejoice Before the Blessing Comes

Rather than rejoicing after we have received a blessing, we are called to confidence that we shall be blessed! The result of such joy is victory over the oppressive situations we face as we enter into the abundant life.

Victorious and abundant life is the blessing we get from rejoicing. The primal purpose is recreated. We return to where we were created to be, where Adam and Eve were before the Fall, where Jesus was after the Resurrection.

When God has intervened in our lives, we cannot explain what has happened. All we know is that the space we thought was cluttered with debris and rubble has been cleared.

Be sure that nothing you face in life is too hard for God. Be free of your worry and doubt. We are renewed, revived and ready to rejoice!

Biblical Background

Paul's Letter to the Philippians is often described as three letters in one: a letter of thanks, thoughts from prison and a scolding. Philippians 4:4-7 is from the most important part of this letter, which also includes 1:1—3:1 and 4:21-23, written from prison.

He has heard that the Philippians, in the Roman province of Macedonia (now part of Greece), are taking a lot of grief for their beliefs. Their moral strength is also being tested by internal tensions and squabbles.

This letter, perhaps Paul's warmest and most pastoral communication, is full of good cheer, which especially inspires when his circumstances are recalled. This is definitely a letter written to friends.
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