Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
We don’t need much encouragement to rejoice when things are going well. It just happens spontaneously. When the home team’s last second, game winning field goal splits the uprights, the stands erupt in cheers. Grown men on the sidelines jump up and down like 300 pound 4-year-olds. At that moment the cheerleaders are irrelevant. No one has to give the cue to start rejoicing.
When soldiers separated from family by their service overseas come home safely and are reunited with wives, children and parents, there is a celebration. Hugs and kisses, joyful tears and happy squeals all express the joy of the moment. No one has to tell the family how to feel or what to do.
But this not the rejoicing Paul speaks of here. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Rejoice when the company to which you gave the last several decades of your life hands you a pink slip, and the prospects that someone will hire a 55 or 60 year-old in your field seem slim to none. Rejoice when the doctor tells you that funny bump is malignant and spreading fast. Rejoice when it’s the bill collection agency on the phone again. Rejoice when your teenager calls you from jail. Rejoice when the car in front of you slams on its brakes, and by the time you stop your front bumper is sitting in his back seat. Rejoice when you studied the wrong chapter for the test. Rejoice when you accidentally tripped the meanest kid in school. Rejoice when you set the oven on the wrong temperature and dinner now consists of baked charcoal.
Don’t think that the Apostle Paul had lived some sort of charmed life and didn’t know how hard it is to rejoice all the time. He was writing these words from prison after two years in chains. Still, he speaks of joy and rejoicing seventeen times in the four short chapters of this letter to the Philippians.
Something inside of us rebels at the idea of rejoicing even when something painful or unhappy is going on. We would rather feel sorry for ourselves. We would rather grump around and rain on everyone else’s parade, too. Maybe it seems somehow twisted to think we could rejoice in the face of pain or tragedy or hardship. I mean, if I am rejoicing when something terrible is happening, doesn’t that suggest that I have some sort of abnormal psychological condition?
It does only if we consider faith an abnormal psychological condition. Note that Paul does not tell us we should never cry, or feel sad, or grieve. Nor does he suggest that we should rejoice because of the bad things that happen. No, we rejoice “in the Lord.” We have a Savior who loves us so much he left heaven to save us. He stood in our place and died the death we deserved for our sins. He is stronger than death, and he promises that someday he will raise us from the dead just as he rose. He personally handpicked each one of us to belong to his family of faith. Out of all the people in the world, he set his heart on you and me. Now we know his return is near, and no matter how bad things seem today, he is going to come and get us out of this mess soon.
That is always true. It is true every moment you are breathing, but it was also true before you took your first breath, and it will continue to be true after you draw your last. Jesus’ everlasting love for you, his inexhaustible forgiveness, and his unchanging desire to bring you safely home runs on in an unbroken, unceasing stream through your life. It goes on whether we experience good things or bad things. It is true at the hospital, the police station, the unemployment line, the accident site, and even at the funeral home. Keeping his never-ending love in mind, we can rejoice in him, and we can rejoice in him all the time.