Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!
(Philippians 4:4 ESV)
The Philippians had a lot on their mind. Thus far in this brief letter to them from Paul we’ve learned that they were distressed due to Paul’s imprisonment and the possibility of his death, Epaphroditus’ illness, and the antagonism of unbelievers. The infiltration of false-teachers into their midst, and friction among members of the church could not have helped their attitude.
But nevertheless, Paul tells them to “rejoice” twice in this one verse. He had also told them the very same thing in Philippians 3:1. It seems that the people of Philippi were letting their troubles get to them.
God is realistic. No where in the Bible does He command us to be Pollyannas who ignore problems in our world or our own pain. The Psalms, for example, are filled with grief [Psalm 119:28 et. al]. Even Jesus wept after seeing Mary’s pain at her brother Lazarus’ death [John 11:33-35].
There will be pain in this world. That is a given. The world is filled with sin, and so are we. Sin causes pain. If we expect the world to make us happy we will be disappointed and that will make us even less happy. The only place that true joy can be found is “in the Lord”.
The joy Paul is talking about here is not a temporary, euphoric, feeling that has to be constantly renewed. That is what the world chases after.
Biblical joy is a persistent (“always”) internal attitude of contentment and hope that transcends circumstances. Our circumstances are not always joyful. We will face difficulties and trials in this life [John 16:3].
True joy rises above circumstances. Paul is a good example. Despite the fact that he was in prison waiting to find out if he would be beheaded, he was filled with joy [Philippians 1:4, 4:1]. He was not focused on his circumstances. He was looking ahead to the joy of heaven.
Likewise Jesus, despite knowing that He would one day endure the pain and humiliation of crucifixion, did not count that temporary experience worth giving up His joy for [Hebrews 12:2].
God knows that this world is filled with problems. But He did not create us just so we could trudge through a difficult life. He wants us to be happy. The world will tell us that the way to happiness is having certain possessions, or climbing the corporate ladder, or via sex or money. None of that will work.
All those things provide a temporary happiness at best and long-term disappointment at worst. That is why God reminds us here (twice) to find joy in Him and Him alone.
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23] who resides in every believer [Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Timothy 1:14]. It may not always seems like it, but it is therefore possible for every believer to rejoice always.
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