If I asked you to show me a picture expressing joy what would it be? The joy of a bride on her wedding day? The celebration of a game-winning moment? The grin of a wildcat driller when their oil rig turns to a gusher? The laughter of children at play? The amazement of someone eating chocolate for the first time? The victory salute of a climber having arrived at the summit? Or maybe something different like a still-life of flowers in full bloom? While all of these are valuable pictures of joy the gallery is incomplete and missing something. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is often called the Epistle of Joy. Let’s turn there to fill out our gallery.
Welcome to the 12th lesson on our walk through Philippians. Paul is at that point where he expresses several quick reminders to his readers. For this lesson we’re going to focus on, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NASB95) As mentioned above, Paul’s letter is punctuated with joy and rejoicing more than any other book in the Bible. Let’s take a closer look at the joy in Philippians.
Paul rejoiced that Christ was being preached even it was with wrong motives. “But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18, NLT) Several times Paul expressed joy and rejoicing in regards to his unknown future and possible execution. “But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy.” (Philippians 2:17, NLT) And, “Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.” (Philippians 3:1, NLT) He rejoiced that the Philippians sent tokens of their care and concern to him. “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.” (Philippians 4:10, NASB95) Paul prayed with joy. “Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy,” (Philippians 1:4, NLT) Paul found joy in experiencing faith, “Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith.” (Philippians 1:25, NLT) Paul found joy in unity, “Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2, NLT) Paul encouraged the Philippians to share in his joy and to share their joy with others as seen in Philippians 2:17-18. What we see is that Paul expressed joy and rejoiced in the Lord in both beautiful moments and in dark times.
Often we link joy with happiness, pleasure, and enjoyable experiences. C. S Lewis in his autobiographical book Surprised by Joy wondered “whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.” We often settle for pleasures that are less than, perhaps even a mockery of true joy. In a sense we try to manufacture joy, repeating activities that brought it to us in the past. In the same book Lewis also observes that joy “is never a possession,” it is “always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”
The Joy of Yesterday
A curious thing about the human condition is that we often paint our yesterdays with a bright brush. I think that it is part of God’s design. The pain of childbirth is quickly forgotten in the joy of new life. Time and distance often erode away our pain leaving monuments of joy. (Although sometimes it is the other way around.) There is something special about the “good ole days.” Sometimes we do need to look back to see the times of joy that were buried and hidden under a mountain of pain. In a way, the joy we experience when looking back is not the old joy from back then but a new joy that is fresh and for today. Sharing our memories is perhaps the easiest way to also share our joy.
The Joy of Today
Paul found a way to rejoice in the good things he saw and the bad. It’s natural for us to rejoice in the good times of life. But Paul’s emphatic encouragements and examples were to “rejoice always.” It’s a common misconception that we are to rejoice and be thankful for everything ala, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NASB95) The problem is that we inadvertently change God’s word to read “give thanks for everything” instead of “give thanks in everything.” For instance, God never asks us to be joyful or thankful that someone has been tragically taken from us, or that we lost our job, or that we’ve been in an accident. But we can rejoice and be thankful IN those situations. We can rejoice at the good we do see or the hope that brightens even in the blackest of days. We can rejoice in the Lord even when everything else has fallen apart. This is not doing the human thing of finding the silver lining in every storm cloud. This is anchoring our joy in the immeasurable and unchanging love of God. The events, circumstances, situations, pains, grief and despair are real, but God’s love, grace, compassion, mercy, and peace are always greater. That is why we can “rejoice always” and “in everything give thanks.”
The Joy of Our Tomorrows
Finding joy in an unknown future is poignantly displayed by Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Paul’s future is not in his hands. Over his head is the spectre of Caesar. He doesn’t know the outcome of the trial or when it will be. Paul writes, “But I will rejoice even if I lose my life.” It’s not that Paul wanted to die, he’d much prefer continuing his ministry. But he also recognized that for a follower of Jesus death is simply a gateway to being with Christ. He could rejoice in living, and he could rejoice in his death. Most of us aren’t facing that probability right now. We’ve got more mundane things that try to steal our joy. We can rejoice in the Lord no matter how bad things are. We can rejoice that He loves us. We can rejoice that we will one day meet him in glory. You see even if life is so dark that we can only hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel we can still rejoice in Jesus. As Corrie Ten Boom wrote, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” We don’t know what tomorrow will bring our way, but we can trust Jesus and rejoice in His love.
What pictures have been added to your gallery of joy? Perhaps one of a prisoner penning a letter in quiet confidence. Or one that is all black with just a hope of something brighter in one corner. Or perhaps one of a mother dealing with a crying toddler while seeing a vision of the child in years to come. Maybe there are a few pictures looking back at long buried and forgotten monuments of joy from our past. You see joy is much more that being happy or glad. It is more than just finding a silver lining to every cloud. Joy explodes like a geyser that cannot be contained as we turn our fears, our hopes, our pains, our disappointments, and our unknowns over to Jesus. Rejoice in the Lord always! And again I say, rejoice!