“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4, ESV)
We have made the point that the Christian’s joy is not dependent on the Christian’s circumstance. That could not be more blatant than in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. He wrote the letter from prison, in a situation both depressing and dire, yet his message is filled with joy, gratitude, and hope.
How can that be? It has to do with Paul’s focus, his frame of mind. He describes himself as being content in his trouble, ensconced in the eye of the storm, at peace though adversity swirled about him. His refuge was the presence of God with him, his confidence the strength of Christ in him.
Often we think of joy as something that erupts from us unbidden. Yet Paul tells us the generator of joy is the mind and when trials come, we must engage our minds. Just as James cultivates joy in trial by directing us to what we know, so Paul takes us to a battle for our thoughts. He says: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
We are to think upon, perhaps even better put, to reason through. In so doing, as with Peter, we lift our eyes from the tumultuous sea to the Lord who rules the sea. Paul is not calling us to rose-colored positive thinking but to faith-focused profitable thinking. We are to reason for gain through the lens of what God wants us to consider. In so doing, we tap into joy.
Paul instructs us in confronting our trial. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:4–5). Joy is not simply a condition; it is a command, something we are to do. In the face of a circumstance that could lead us to despair or to grumble and complain, we are told to meet it with joy. Throughout the tribulation, we keep our wits about us and our gaze steadily on our God.
Our joy is the Lord Himself. Peter wrote to believers homeless and persecuted. He stoked the fires of faith by reminding them that Christ had died for them and was alive for them. He secured for them a heavenly inheritance. These eternal, immutable realities transformed their present circumstance. “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Pet. 1:6).
Trials are real. They are unpleasant. But they cultivate joy, not only in the promised relief but in the promised Redeemer. “[Jesus Christ] whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8–9, NKJV).
No wonder in Paul’s twice-issued command to rejoice in the Lord he urges us to draw near to Him who is able rather than to be debilitated by anxiety (Phil. 4:6). Our prayer is to be seasoned with thanksgiving, because the giving of thanks nestles us in the arms of our God. There we will find the peace of God that exceeds our efforts to understand and establishes a sentry to our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).
When adversity seeks to evoke complaint and despair, let rejoicing in the Lord be our rejoinder. The prophet Habakkuk gives us perspective and gives us words to take to our God.
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The LORD God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
- How can we find joy in adversity when we don't feel joyful?
- What is the difference between positive thinking and profitable thinking?
Father, by the Holy Spirit fill me with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of Your name.
For study of the fruit of the Spirit through abiding in Christ see A Vine-Ripened Life (Stanley D. Gale, Reformation Heritage Books)
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.