Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, take pleasure in Him]; again I will say, rejoice!
Rejoicing is both a response and a choice. In response to the goodness and greatness of God, we praise God and thank Him for His gifts to us. But whether or not we feel like it, and whether or not we see any reason for it, Paul tells us to rejoice always. Praise and thanks during difficult times rivet our minds on God’s truth and stimulate trust in Him, even when we don’t know what He’s doing.
Paul certainly had opportunities to practice rejoicing always. In Acts, Luke records the phenomenal ways God used Paul to take the message of Christ to the known world.in every city, people responded to the gospel and trusted Christ. But also in every city, opposition rose up to try to stop Paul. In his letter to the Philippians, he describes how others were taking advantage of his being in prison to “steal his thunder” and take his platform.(Philippians 1:15-18). That didn’t matter to Paul. He rejoiced because the message was getting out, even if the messengers had selfish motives. And Paul describes how God had been faithful when he enjoyed plenty and when he barely had enough to eat(Philippians 4:11-13). Either way, God had proven Himself to be good, kind, and gracious to him.
Can we, like Paul, focus our attention on God’s character and trust Him in every situation? Sometimes, we rejoice and our hearts almost burst with gratitude, but at other times, we make gut-level choices to thank Him during painful seasons of life. In every situation and every relationship, through good times and bad, when we have plenty and when we barely have enough, we choose to rejoice. It’s a choice that pleases God and reinforces our faith. Encouragement is the fuel on which hope runs.
If there is hope in the future, then there is power in the present.
At the time Paul was writing the letter to the Philippians, he was in prison. I make that point to say when he was encouraging us to “rejoice in the Lord always,” he wasn’t speaking from a pleasant place or time. He encourages us to rejoice in the Lord. In another place he tells us “in everything give thanks.” The words used in both places are important. Here in Philippians 4 we are told to “rejoice in the Lord always.” This isn’t suggesting that we rejoice that we are being tested or tried. It isn’t suggesting that we only rejoice when life is good. What Paul is telling us is about our focus. What do we focus on when life is good or when life turns sour? Is it our circumstances? For many that is true. It’s easy to get so focused on the situations that are taking place around us and in us that we loose focus on God. When life is going great, it’s easy to be enjoying the blessings and success so much that God becomes almost an afterthought. When life is challenging, it’s easy to focus on our need or our struggle and wonder where God is. Paul says that we are to rejoice in the Lord. When we make our relationship with God our priority, in every situation we can rejoice in Him. If life is going good, we are aware it’s due to His blessing and provision, so we find thanksgiving and praise pouring out of grateful hearts. We recognize that it is through the goodness and kindness of God that we can enjoy all our blessings. On the other hand when life is a struggle, we can rejoice in God because we know we are His and He is with us even in the darkest of times. We know that He loves us and hears our cry and according to Romans 8:28, “working all things for the good of them that love Him.” In his letter, Paul encourages us to focus on God and he is telling us that is what he is choosing to do. Many times we focus more on our circumstances than we do on the God who works in our circumstances. Some may say it’s a “pie in the sky” mentality to trust God in every thing with child-like faith. Society presses us to take matters in our own hands or to react to whatever life brings our way. We are told that we are “masters of our destiny” or that we have ownership of our future. But when we take the credit for all that’s going well or when we conclude it’s up to us to “fix life” we find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster. We rejoice when life’s good and we’re miserable when it’s bad. Like a ship tossed by the wind and waves, we find ourselves literally out of control, subject to the movement of everything around us. When we choose to focus our minds on God, we find the stability of peace and joy in everything. We have peace knowing that God, who is above all and who sees from an eternal view is working through every situation something for our good. We rest in our trust in Him who has His eye on the sparrow. We have joy in knowing that even in times of testing, there is a victory, a success. Like Christ on the cross, we endure our present suffering for the joy that awaits us at the end.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us that we are to give thanks in everything. We aren’t commanded to give thanks foreverything but in everything. There’s a vast difference between those two words. When we can give God thanks in everything, means that in every thing we can find something to thank God for. I agree that sometimes we have to look hard to find it but it’s worth the search. If there’s nothing else to be thankful for, we can always be thankful that everything only lasts for a season. We can be thankful that we are the children of God and for our inheritance that waits us. We can be thankful for every breath and every heartbeat. And we can be thankful that it’s not as bad as it could be. An attitude of gratitude is the balance of life. Finding things to be thankful for during difficult times must also be balanced with finding things to be grateful for during times of blessing. Both are necessary to give balance and level out our ups and downs of life. They smooth out the waves.
Wherever you are in life today, pause and find reason to rejoice in the Lord. The last phrase of Philippians 4:4 is in the imperative. “I WILL rejoice.” In other words, I choose to rejoice. In spite of my circumstances, I choose to focus on God and His goodness. I choose to find something for which to give Him thanks. I choose to think about His love and grace. I choose to reflect on His character and nature. Sometimes rejoicing isn’t a natural reaction to life but a choice to react. Life will always be filled with good and not so good things, but God is faithful and consistent and constant. We can rejoice in Him!
Dr. John Thompson