Week of December 17

Third Sunday of Advent Devotional:

Read the Bible Through: 2 Peter 1-3; John 1
Third Advent Reading: Isaiah 35:1-6
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
Philippians 4:4, ESV


“Begin to rejoice in the Lord, and your bones will flourish like an herb, and your cheeks will glow with the bloom of health and freshness. Worry, fear, distrust, care—all are poisonous! Joy is balm and healing, and if you will but rejoice, God will give power” (A.B. Simpson). A keynote theme in Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is joy. The Apostle in fact uses the word “joy” 18 times in the short four chapters that comprise the missive. He advocates for a joyful lifestyle.
The amazing thing to me is that he wrote the letter while he was imprisoned! Do you need what I need today? I refer to joy! Let’s see what the Lord has to say to our hearts today about this Christian virtue when we encounter trying times.

The Meaning of the Text

The simple truth about living joyful lives
A key aim in writing this powerful short letter rests in the longing that Paul had for the church in Philippi to experience humility, fellowship, and unity (1:27-2:11; 4:2-3). Therefore, he took the time to warn them against legalistic teaching, perfectionism, and moral laxity (3:1; 4:1). If we take a step back and consider Paul’s focus, we will recognize that he based his appeal to right living upon a specific, active relationship with Jesus Christ.
It is a simple fact that a core ingredient of a Christmas pecan pie is pecans. Well, an essential ingredient of joy is right living in the Christian life. I have good news for each of us. The living and sanctifying Christ enables joy to bubble up to the surface in such a life.
Living year round with a Christmas spirit
Have you noticed that folks by-and-large are more courteous and others-focused at this time of year? I have often though that the Christmas spirit is at the root of such harmonious efforts. I clearly believe that Paul expected the church in that city to rejoice at all times, despite the challenges that would surface! The truth in that his words often do not permeate the whole of our lives.
He truly expected believers to live with joy even when they faced trying times (James 1:2-5). Reread our focal verse carefully. The locus for this type of joy was not to be found in circumstances nor in a positive attitude. “Joy reigns in the heart only when Christ is Lord of life. Joy is always in the Lord” (italics mine; HNTC). In Ashlock-speak, it is not the Christmas spirit but the Christ-spirit that needs to follow us into the new year.
How to lead joyful lives
So, how do we take this truth from the pages of Scripture and experience it in our lives? We will experience joy when we do not squeeze the life out of it by rule-oriented living. Paul exhorts the church members to live “reasonably” with each other (cf. 3:1-11). He uses a word that means “yielding, gentle, and kind.” It enables us to go beyond the letter of the law in how we behave toward other people.

Francois Fenelon once wrote, “It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect we are, the more gentle and quiet we become toward the defects of others.” This season reminds us of the joy that comes in being kind to one another (cf. Ephesians 4:32).
Have you noticed how Christ behaved reasonably and gently with people (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1)? Paul uses a helpful argument when he urges us to mimic our Lord. He states that “the Lord is near,” meaning in both time and space, God is near to us (HNTC). How may this be so? He resides in our hearts to hear our innermost troubles and to guide us through them.
Look, Jesus knows us through and through, and, praise God, He does not harangue us all day long to follow the rules. He calls us to yield our lives to Him each day so that He may live out the Christ-life in us (Galatians 2:20; 5:16, “walk by the Spirit”).

Living the Truth

I enjoy seeing the colorful Christmas T-shirts that people wear throughout this time of year. How about you? The ubiquitous “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” imprinted on a red T-shirt immediately comes to my mind.

I recently viewed a T-shirt that had four lighted candles stamped on the front; three were purple and one appeared to be the color pink. The caption humorously read, “It’s not pink!” to indicate that the actual color of that candle is “rose.” There is a reason for the color change!

The third Sunday of Advent has been termed “Gaudete Sunday.” The word means “rejoice” in Latin. Many churches use a pink (rose-colored) candle to symbolize this joy. Pink is the liturgical color for joy. It should cause us to reflect upon the joy that Jesus’ coming into the world brings and that God’s redemptive plan gives to us. Prophets like Isaiah foretold of this coming joy that we know to be experienced in Jesus Christ’s coming and His promised return!
How has this been made possible in our turbulent and anxiety-producing generation? Our sufferings in this Christian life produce joy (1 Thessalonians 1:6; “for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit”). Joy is the great anxiety-buster! Please read chapter 4, verses 4-6a. “Joy replaces anxiety in life, so Paul advises the Philippians (and us) not to be anxious about anything” (HTNC). Joy to the world! And, I say, “Joy in your world!”

Family Focus on Prayer

1. The early 20th century evangelist, Billy Sunday, once said, “If you have no joy, then there is a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” If you lack joy in the Lord, then search for the leak. Take time with your family to put Philippians 4:4 to memory, then pray for God to encourage each member to live in a spirit of joy throughout the coming year.
2. Write down ways that you intend to become gentler and more reasonable in your attitudes and actions with each other.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock
Here is a link to daily advent readings that we believe will enhance your family worship time throughout this season: Daily Advent Readings