Right after urging the Philippians to remember that their citizenship is in heaven, Paul reminds them that this means they are called to rejoice always. This is because rejoicing and celebration are always community events, public events, political events.
In the first century, Christians were surrounded by celebrations: the old Jewish feasts, Greek and Roman festivals to their gods and celebrations of Caesar’s victories, and of course the first century, like our own, was thoroughly pluralistic. Many gods were welcome, many feasts were fine, but the real threat to the community, the real threat to the empire was when a growing number of people refused to celebrate with them. In 1 Peter, the apostle says that when Christians refuse to celebrate sinful acts and abominations, their neighbors think them strange and begin to speak evil about them (1 Pet. 4:3-4).
Paul’s point is not that we don’t celebrate, but rather now we celebrate always, we rejoice always in our new citizenship, in our new identities in Christ. We cannot pretend for a moment that being an American or our favorite sports or movies or music competes with being a Christian. Our loyalty to Jesus doesn’t obliterate all other loyalties, but Jesus assures us that following Him will sometimes mean hating father and mother, sister and brother for the sake of the gospel. They will think it strange when we cannot attend their sinful weddings. They may speak evil of us when we do not attend the celebration of their sin. We must carry right on loving all men, being kind to all men, but we wage our war through joy and celebration. We will not celebrate the works of darkness, and we will not send flowers or bake cakes to help them celebrate the darkness that is suffocating their souls.
To celebrate is to display and announce your loyalties and your priorities. When Christians celebrate a weekly Sabbath feast and gather together for worship and refrain from their ordinary labors, we are stating publicly that Jesus is our Lord and King, and that our lives belong to Him. Our citizenship is in heaven. That is why we are here this morning. We are here because Jesus is risen from the dead, and now we rejoice always.