“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” Philippians 4:4
How in the world does the Apostle Paul expect us to always be joyful? Does he really intend that we are to be like some Christians and walk around life as if we are on some spiritual cloud nine, totally oblivious to the things going on in the world around us? I have seen far too many people who seem like they are living on some spiritual drug, totally unaffected by events taking place around them. They seem to be joyful because they just don’t know how bad things really are. That kind of joy is not very attractive to most thinking people. It will certainly not provoke the kind of responses that we are hoping to get from people. Instead of wanting to find out how to have such “joy” most people flee from what they see as a mindless naiveté.
A mindless sense of well being that ignores what is going on around you is not what Paul has in mind when he tells the Philippians to Rejoice in the Lord always. The letter he writes to them is filled with recognition of difficult circumstances that they are all facing. In the opening words of the letter Paul acknowledges his own situation as a prisoner facing execution. A little later he encourages the Philippians to remain strong in the face of opposition that currently threatens them as well. Yet even in the face of execution, persecution, and suffering, Paul repeatedly calls on them to have joy, to rejoice in the Lord.
So how do we follow this command to rejoice in the Lord always, even when things are going horribly wrong? First we need to understand “joy” and then we need to understand how we live in it. I like the dictionary definition of joy found in Merriam-Websters online dictionary; “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires”. That is the first great clue to what Paul means by joy. So often our emotions are impacted both positively and negatively by what we are longing and hoping for. If we get it we celebrate and rejoice and even jump up and down getting all excited. Pittsburgh Steeler Super Bowl victories do that for me. When we don’t get what we hope for, what we desire, then we get all depressed and bummed out. A dozen or more straight loosing seasons by the Pittsburgh Pirates seems to bring that on. If what you desire is completely of this world then you will never be able to rejoice the way the Bible calls you to rejoice. One event in life will cause you to celebrate and rejoice and the next will cause you disappointment and heartache.
Fortunately Paul does not tell us to rejoice in our circumstances. He tells us to rejoice in the Lord and he tells us this repeatedly. He even acknowledges that he is repeating himself but says that it is good for us to be reminded again and again to rejoice always. But our rejoicing must be “in the Lord”. Why could Paul rejoice even in the face of his own pending execution? He could rejoice in the Lord because what he desired more than anything else in life was Jesus. What he desired above all things was to be in Christ, close to Christ, content in Christ, and ultimately to be with Christ forever, having run the race of his life in service to Jesus Christ. His rejoicing is not a blind, naive way of smiling at the tragedies of life. His rejoicing came because even as he looked at the chains on his ankles and wrists, as he heard about the persecution of the Philippians, as he was reminded of the fact that he had few to none of the comforts of life that most strove for, he knew that all of that was secondary at best? Why? Because he then thought of Jesus. Paul rejoiced because “in the Lord” he knew that he would in fact obtain eternal life with Christ. He knew that no matter what he suffered in life it would all be for God’s glory and Paul desired to glorify God far more than he desired avoiding hardship or living in comfort.
You see, rejoicing in the Lord is a matter of priority. What do you most desire? What is most important for you in life? What drives you to live and behave in certain ways? Is it recognition from others, or a comfortable lifestyle, or the perfect, healthy body with a lean sexy core and hard abs? Judging from television commercials that last one just might be tops on most peoples priority list. Whatever it is that you desire, that is the thing you are hoping will give you joy. But all of that is fleeting, temporary, and a cheap counterfeit for the true joy that only comes “in the Lord”. If you are striving to live a radical, provocative life for Jesus and want to bring glory to Him in all you do; if you are wanting above all else to be close to Him and serve Him; if your deepest longing from the bottom of your soul is to one day stand before Him and have Him declare, “well done my good and faithful servant, enter my rest”, then you can rejoice always because you will be living for your deepest desire. True joy is found not in the passing things of this world, but in the eternal relationship to be found “in the Lord”. Rejoice in that. Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice that He loves you. Rejoice that He died for you. Rejoice that He rose from the grave for you. Rejoice that He promised to return one day and take you to be with Him in Glory. Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice!