Paul’s command to “rejoice always” in Philippians 4:4 seems a little unreasonable. We naturally think that joy is something that happens to us, not something that we control. And even if we acknowledge that rejoicing is something that we can do and a command that we can obey, we naturally assume that certain circumstances are excluded from the requirement to rejoice.
But the New Testament regularly affirms that our joy is not dependent on our circumstances. As we saw this morning from the example of Paul himself, it is possible to rejoice when persecuted to the point of death, falsely imprisoned, experiencing broken relationships, suffering physical ills, and even hearing God say, “no” to our prayer requests. In fact, Paul would say that his physical infirmities were an occasion for joy because it made him dependent on the Lord and gave him an opportunity to experience God’s surpassing strength (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Other Scriptures affirm that the believer can rejoice even when he is in unfavorable and uncomfortable circumstances. The believer should be joyful in these situations:
- When he keeps obeys the commands of God (and so demonstrates that he is abiding in Christ, Jn. 15:10-11).
- When he hears of the salvation of others from sin (Acts 15:3; 1 Thess. 2:19-20).
- Whenever the gospel is preached accurately, even when it might be preached with impure motives (Phil. 1:17-18).
- When others make progress in growing in conformity to Christ and His likeness (Phil. 2:2; 1 Thess. 3:9; 2 Jn. 4; 3 Jn. 4).
- Whenever we contemplate Christ and our position in Him (Phil. 4:4).
This last consideration is the great foundation of the believer’s joy. Because He is in Christ, He has everything he needs. The blind hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, made this the focal point of many of her hymns. So she wrote, “All the way my Savior leads me, what have I to ask beside? Can I doubt His tender mercy, who through life has been my guide?…For I know, whatever befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.” And, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.” And, “Not for ease or worldly pleasure, nor for fame my prayer shall be; gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with Thee…”
So it is essential — and possible — to rejoice always.
And not only do we benefit when we always rejoice, but rejoicing in God demonstrates the glory of God. And not rejoicing is sin, as John Piper has noted:
…we have a powerful confirmation of the duty to pursue our joy—namely, because it displays the glory of God.
This truth should make us tremble at the horror of not rejoicing in God. We should quake at the fearful lukewarmness of our hearts. We should waken to the truth that it is a treacherous sin not to pursue our fullest satisfaction in God. There is one final word for finding delight in the creation more than in the Creator: treason. What a motivation this should be to obey the demand of Jesus, “Rejoice…and leap for joy.”
So rejoice, because you can. Rejoice, because you must. Rejoice, because joylessness is sin. And rejoice, because it reveals the glory of God.