Recently we’ve been going through Philippians at church. It is full of Paul’s warmth and encouragement about how the Philippians are doing but also warnings about suffering, hardship, and perseverance they are going to continue to face as Christians.
The verse that is always the most difficult for me to get my head around in Philippians is Philippians chapter 4, verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” How is this to be done?
What ‘Rejoicing Always’ is not...
Before I talk about what ‘rejoicing always’ looks like I have to talk about what it is not. It is not being happy when bad things happen - “Hurray! My car broke down!”
It is not feeling happy all the time even when things are going really badly, and it is not pretending that you don’t ever feel sad or angry or disappointed about how things have turned out. Rejoicing does not exclude our feelings but it is not only based on our feelings.
Struggling to Rejoice Always
I struggle with the concept of rejoicing always. When things are bad, I do not feel like rejoicing, at best I feel like I can muster up some begrudging acceptance but Paul does not command us to “Be begrudgingly accepting always”.
I can even go so far as to be joyful in hindsight for trials and suffering but rejoicing always? I wish I was able to be more like that.
Paul the Apostle was no stranger to suffering! He was shipwrecked, stoned, persecuted, beaten, imprisoned, suffered illness, injury, and finally executed but he was still able to say ‘Rejoice always’.
Don’t you wish you were more like him? I know I do, almost every-time I read about him or read one of his epistles!
The Key To Rejoicing Always
A couple of weeks ago our pastor said something that was a breakthrough for me – it comes straight from the first part of the Philippians verse - “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. The key to rejoicing always is what we are rejoicing in!
Back in Ephesians chapter 1, verses 3-10, Paul talks about all the amazing things we have in Christ –
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.
With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
We don’t need to rejoice when bad things happen but instead we rejoice in spite of them happening because our hope is set on something much greater, more grander, and much more glorious!
Something that fills our vision and our hearts so that even in the worst of situations we look to what we have in Christ and rejoice in it because it has a worth above measure and nothing can compare to it!
Not only is Christ worth any suffering that we may experience being his followers but that even amidst all the other struggles and suffering of life we have something of such great value to fix our eyes to that we cannot help but rejoice in it whatever our circumstances may be.
I am still a far cry from having the contentment of Paul but now I am excited that I no longer have to strive to always have joy about suffering but instead have joy regardless of what happens in life because of what Christ has done for all who love and trust in him!
Jessica McPherson lives with her best friend and husband, Eoin and their family of rescue animals in Christchurch. She loves reading, writing, photography and scrap-booking but most of all sharing God’s love and truth with a hurting world. Jessica is particularly passionate about encouraging children and building them up in gospel truth.