The most profound thing about the Scripture is how clear it is. It was not written for the world’s greatest scholars alone, but instead was written in such a way, and in such times, that people who have little may know the truth in an eternal abundance. We often get so caught up in the fine details (the Greek/Hebrew wording, historical context, various comparisons, etc.) that we can sometimes miss what is so blatantly clear. I am by no means saying that we should never look into the fine details, as such is practically one of the most important part of a pastor’s calling, and is utterly essential for the Christian to know to understand the deep truths that the Scripture conveys. But at the same time, there are some who look so “deep” that they never actually get around to stating what the Text says. Indeed, in such cases there often certain theological facts that we miss, simply because we look so close that we miss the big picture in general. And such can be said for this text, which is by no means vague. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice!” It doesn’t take a scholar to know what “Rejoice!” means, nor does it take a reformer to see that he reemphasizes it immediately after, to affirm that it is a clear and important point. It is not a questionable point of a theology, nor a confusing requirement, but a distinct and yet contextual statement of fact. This is due to the reason for the action- the motivation behind it. He does not merely say “Rejoice!” Rather, he adds the clarifier, “…in the Lord…” which is extremely important to note. If we look at the text plainly, we will not miss this, nor will it be a point we would gloss over, if we seek to understand the meaning of what is said. He says, essentially, “Rejoice because of He whom you call Lord!” This “Lord” is not a simple picture of a general ruler, but the “Lord God,” the same who they speak about in the Gospel mentioned in verse 3, the same Gospel which permeates the entirety of the New Testament, which the Old Testament points to throughout. This Gospel being that we, as Gentiles and sinners, are brought into the economy of salvation by the sacrifice of the Son of God, something the Jews in this time would clearly understand. To understand the Gospel in its complete actuality is the only thing you need to understand why Paul says to rejoice in light of the One we get to call “Lord.” To understand this Gospel, we have no reason not to follow this command, nor any excuse to claim we don’t understand it. The one who is depressed cannot understand this Gospel fully, or simply chooses to disregard the otherwise clear reality that results from the salvation through Christ.
But Paul does not stop here. He goes on, adding to this and making it even more specific. “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” “Moderation” is the meaning behind “Gentle,” meaning “patient.” We are not anxious or worried, overactive or arrogant. Instead we are clear-minded and patient, in light of one particular point in history that has yet to occur. “The Lord is near.”
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown define “Moderation” this way:
Moderation – from a Greek root, “to yield,” whence yieldingness [Trench]; or from a root, “it is fitting,” whence “reasonableness of dealing” [Alford], that considerateness for others, not urging one’s own rights to the uttermost, but waiving a part, and thereby rectifying the injustices of justice. The archetype of this grace is God, who presses not the strictness of His law against us as we deserve (Psa_130:3, Psa_130:4); though having exacted the fullest payment for us from our Divine Surety. There are included in “moderation,” candor and kindliness. Joy in the Lord raises us above rigorism towards others (Phi_4:5), and carefulness (Phi_4:6) as to one’s own affairs. Sadness produces morose harshness towards others, and a troublesome spirit in ourselves.”
In other words, the Christian, in light of the rejoicing that comes from the knowledge of God results in a patience towards those who do and do not believe, because we are no longer seekers of our own rights, but instead seek the better for those around us in light of their need for the Gospel, and growth in this knowledge of God. This does not mean that a person no longer has any physical “bents” towards various sins or attitudes, as mentioned earlier, but rather this becomes the “new nature,” one that supersedes the prior nature, and dictates the new man. We, in light of what God has given, are no longer “sad” either in nature nor attitude- no genuinely. We may struggle, we may suffer, we may even break and give in to the desires of flesh, but it is no longer who we are. If someone suffers with “depression” as it is defined specifically (that is, a physical condition which results in a constant “downness” or sadness with or without a circumstantial cause), they are no longer enslaved to it, and regardless of medication, can be freed from it through the Gospel. Not that the physical bent disappears, but their response to the prompting of the flesh is no longer acceptance. Because as has been stated, regardless of whether or not any sin is prompted by the body, it is never a justifier for giving in. Because giving into despair, caused by a physical condition or otherwise, is indeed a sin, and this is not something that can be countered by Scripture, just as giving into sexual addiction or homosexual attractions or hateful rage cannot be justified either. These are never justified in the Scripture, and the exact opposite is commanded clearly. If my physical ailments result in a behavior that is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, no matter the cause, I guarantee they are unrighteousness, and to say otherwise is to assume that the Scriptural commands are unrealistic, if not unrighteous.
What has astounded me is the fact that no one has ever countered this with Scripture, nor can they, because the Word of God cuts far deeper than a physical observation or condition, going right to the core of the issue: the heart. The entirety of our body is infected with sin, is naturally bent towards any and every area of sin, needing only an excuse to give in entirely. Some might then reply “What are we supposed to do then? I can’t help that I get depressed! It’s a medical condition, and I can’t help that.” Paul answers, essentially, such a rebuttal, and with more biblical clarity. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” If we ever response with such a statement, we deny the reality that God has power over even our bodies, and can do with them as He so chooses. In fact, we ought to consider our physical conditions as all the more reason to fight temptation harder, seeing it as a test given by God to see whether or not we believe what we claim to believe. Just as He did with Job, God will send challenges, physical or otherwise, to put our professions the test, and any person who justifies their unbiblical behavior with a physical condition or medical facts (or anything else for that matter), quite frankly, fails that test, because they are truly stating that these overrule any command or expectation of God. Nowhere in the whole of Scripture will you find such an excuse, but you will find not only the opposite, but rebukes against such reasoning. Job’s physical issues were no excuse to point the finger at God and say “Why would you do this to me?” God, instead, rebukes him, and with the brutal reality that God is control of the physical, not us, nor the devil, who was given permission by God to cause Job’s trouble, and all for the purpose of proving God’s faithfulness and ability to overpower any reasoning we or anyone else may have against His righteousness in all things. Read Job 38 to the end of the book, and you are quickly reminded of God’s control over every single created thing, making all the clearer that any excuse we may think we have to justify our otherwise ungodly behavior is null and void.
And so, be “anxious for nothing.” How? Whether we are suffering or in great contentment (as will be dealt with next), we are to pray to God- making our requests known to God. Not that He does not know them, but rather (for our sake) we go to Him with our needs, proving that we see Him as the answer. If I feel depressed, and go to my doctor and get medication for it, and call it a day, I am proving nothing and aiding little. Because actual despair can only be masked by anything other than prayer, and such denies by implication God’s ability to deal with our despair. If it is caused by a physical condition, it may be temporarily hidden by a medication, but true despair is only ever cured by God. I am not saying that we should never take medication, as I cannot emphasize enough, but I must state urgently that medication is not the answer either. Dealing with the physical never truly does anything eternal in and of itself. We in our society have become so content with simply “popping a pill” for our various physical trials that we never face much of any actual trouble anymore. I am thoroughly fed up with the answer always being physical- truly and literally reasoning of the flesh. Because if my physical condition, whether it is depression, cancer, heart disease, diabetes or the like, ever cause me to act contrary to the Christ-like behavior that is expected in the Scripture, it is to be pushed aside by “prayer and supplication.” We may take medication to keep ourselves from dying, but it is never a cure for sin, nor do we ever strive to live forever. Because if we are to die the most painful physical death due to a lack of available medication, is this eternal loss? Absolutely not. In fact, we are told to rejoice in our infirmities, seeing them as all the more reason to glory in God. If we have opportunity to try and deal with the physical condition, then sure, by all means try to live, but not ever at the cost or justification of sin. Why say this? Because this has become our mindset in the church today. “I struggle with depression” many say, and it truly has become nothing more than “I have a valid excuse to be sad.” No you do not! Such a statement is dreadful sin and faithless subjection to the enemy, and is shameful at best. If our physical condition (and all of us have one) can so easily subject us to such behavior, then we are not Christian, because we have not brought our bodies under subjection. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:24-27) What will prayer and supplication to God do for one’s depression? Simple (and yes, it is simple): “…the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It surpasses our ability to comprehend. No amount of science or human reason can understand the work of the Spirit, nor should we expect it to, since it is impossible to know how exactly the Spirit works. But we do know what the fruit of the Spirit is (Gal. 5), and it is expected of the Christian, regardless of we, in our limited human minds, can comprehend. Because is able to guard our hearts and minds, and to overcome any physical ailment that may cause us suffering. Yes, even depression. How is it that we can go on, day after day, overcoming the flesh, which is perhaps the greatest struggle we will ever face in the whole of our lives? What have we to look forward to in this painful and sinful world, living in these suffering and wretched bodies? We have something to look forward to, unlike the world. We have an expectation of an inheritance. We look the sky, hoping for and longing for the Day of the Lord. The day when our bodies will, physically and mentally, be forged into full conformity to the image of Christ.
The Lord is near.
To be continued in Part IV (Final)