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June 5, 2008

How a spirit of rejoicing becomes our protection

by Dave Malnes

How often do we see people struggle to find lasting joy, peace or contentment in their lives. Like a misty rain, they dissolve away under the noonday sun when pressures, grief and worries arrive at our doorstep. To find real joy does not rest on the circumstances of life, but solely based on the promises God has given us.

The Apostle Paul got it. He learned how to truly rejoice despite the difficult circumstances in his life. His greatest fear for young believers was teachers who came in and tried to rob that lasting joy and peace from them.

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!  It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.  Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence.”  (Philippians 3:1-3)

To rejoice is a dominant theme in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. Only in Christ can we truly rejoice no matter what happens around us.

A Christian who possesses a spirit of rejoicing will be far more able to respond positively to life’s circumstances and at the same time, protect themselves from the world and its false teachings. Paul’s words of truth and encouragement serves as a safeguard or a life preserver during those times when the waters of life become stormy and treacherous.

His words also serve as a lighthouse. He blasts out warnings of “Watch out!” so we will not crash into the rocky shores of false teaching.

We notice he uses strong and forceful words to get our attention which may cause us to be uncomfortable. However, if you saw a little boy step out from a curb into busy traffic, we would frantically call out to save him from serious physical harm.

Paul calls out to us, his children, to warn against serious spiritual harm. Paul was most concerned about the jagged rocks of the Judaizers, a group of Gentile and Jewish converts to Christianity. They were teaching new Christian believers that it was still necessary for salvation to observe ceremonial laws that God had given to the Old Testament Israelites. Their words enslaved New Testament believers from the freedom Jesus already won for them. They planted in people’s hearts the dangerous idea that we can somehow contribute toward our own salvation.

Paul was so alarmed by these Judaizers that he refers to them as dogs.

It would be helpful to know that dogs in Paul’s day were not cuddly pets. They tended to be large, dangerous beasts that roamed the streets and lived on garbage. You always needed to watch out for these animals or you would be attacked. Paul called the Judaizers “dogs” and men who “do evil,” because they actively opposed the gospel of God’s grace. All the ceremonial laws and regulations came to an end when Jesus died on the cross.

Anything that robs us of the certainty of salvation and our status before God stunts our growth and replaces peace and joy with worry and anxiety. It is this true spirit of joy that protects us from any teaching that may sway us from God’s amazing promises.

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