Rejoice in the Lord! Are you Kidding?
One of the more famous statements Paul made is found in Philippians 4:4-7. Continue reading . . .
One of the more famous statements Paul made is found in Philippians 4:4-7. Many of you probably know it by heart:
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).
But wait a minute! Rejoice in the Lord? Are you kidding? Is Paul kidding? Does he have any idea what he’s saying? Is he so out of touch with the harsh realities of life that he can be this flippant and happy-go-lucky?
Rejoice in the Lord? It’s only been one year since the devastating tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma, and wiped out a large portion of that city. And yet you expect Christian men and women whose lives were turned inside out by that disaster to “rejoice in the Lord”? Seriously?
Or again, how am I supposed to rejoice in the Lord when the memory of past sins weighs so heavily on my heart? How can I obey this command when people I love are being persecuted and are suffering unjustly? I just lost my job. My mother died last week. My children won’t even talk to me. The car won’t start and I don’t have the money to get it fixed. I’m supposed to see the doctor next week but I’m too scared of what he’ll say. Rejoice in the Lord? Yeah, right.
I understand this reaction. Truly, I do. But before you dismiss Paul as some sort of first-century Pollyanna, remember this: He wrote those words while in prison. He wrote those words not knowing if he might be beheaded for nothing more than declaring his allegiance to Jesus Christ. The man who wrote those words knew more about suffering and deprivation than all of us combined. So, if you still want to dismiss his counsel as unhelpful, go ahead. But don’t do so on the assumption that he was naïve or unacquainted with grief or was insulated from the kind of pain and heartache that you’re facing right now.
Is it not obvious that Paul is calling us to an experience that is unrelated to our external circumstances and in some way transcends them? Charley Brown once said that “Happiness is a warm puppy.” But what happens when the puppy runs away? What happens when the puppy dies? No, the kind of “happiness” that Paul has in view, the joy and delight that he calls for in this passage is not tied to a warm puppy or money in the bank or a clean bill of health or peaceful family relationships. It’s tied to Jesus Christ.
So let’s begin there, with Jesus Christ. After all, it is there, in him, in relation to our Lord, in the context of all we know that he has so graciously done for us, that we are to rejoice: “Rejoice in the Lord!”
Joy is expressed in a variety of styles and circumstances. Paul couldn’t care less whether it is with hands raised or one’s face pressed against the ground. It matters not whether it is to the rhythm of a fast-paced worship song or in solemn silence with tears streaming down one’s face. What concerns Paul, and must concern us, is the ground or reason of our joy. There is a sense in which Paul is declaring: “Jesus is our joy,” and he is ours and we are his regardless of whether the sky is clear and sunny or threatens us with an approaching funnel cloud. That is why we can rejoice “always,” at all times, in every circumstance, no matter the pain or pleasure. Our joy is constant not because our circumstances are but because Jesus is.