Rejoicing, Not as an Emotion, But as a Duty

I’m writing this blog posting with just a bit of a grumpy spirit. I’m dealing with some pain issues and trying very hard not to take pain pills.

A short time ago, I was leaning over the edge of the hot tub sucking debris out of the bottom when I felt a huge CRACK in my lower-left ribcage. Yup, it’s a bummer getting older.

As our bodies age, our bones become less flexible, and the weight of my torso leaning over the edge of the tub was all it took to bring that reality to my attention.

So I have the right to be grumpy, don’t I? I don’t feel well, and those around me are just going to have to understand and cut me some slack!

No. Not so much.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. – Philippians 4:4, ESV

Always, Paul says. This is not just rhetoric. The context of this statement is two sisters in Christ who are disputing to such an extent that it is threatening unity in the body of believers. Add to that, a similar dispute taking place in the church at Rome (Philippians 1:12-17). And to really stoke Paul’s fire, he had to be concerned about the potential for his own death!

So when Paul says rejoice in the Lord always we need to take him seriously, because he had more than sufficient reason to grouse.

But let all who take refuge in You be glad,
Let them ever sing for joy;
And may You shelter them,
That those who love Your name may exult in You.
 – Psalm 5:11, NASB

Circumstances fluctuate and vary. Feelings vacillate between euphoria and discouragement. For the apostle Paul, then, to say we are to rejoice at all times, and to emphasize that by saying it twice, there has to be something of this rejoicing “in the Lord” that is distinct from or unaffected by my emotional state or my circumstances.

Paul is not suggesting we try really hard to be happy. This is second person, active, imperative – χαιρετε, chairete. To employ a good southern vernacular, it’s as if Paul is saying, “Y’all do this! Rejoice!” It is a duty. He’s not giving us a choice.

The night before Jesus died (again, bad circumstance) he told the disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11, ESV). In the next chapter (same context) Jesus reveals some terribly unpleasant events, including their deaths (John 16:2), yet in the middle of that discourse, he speaks of their joy, “so that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). Even the writer of Hebrews chimes in saying of Jesus . . .

who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross – Hebrews 12:2, ESV

Reading through the Psalms, we see David running for his life, hiding, scrambling to survive, yet rejoicing. Reading through the letters of the apostle Paul, we see him persecuted, stoned to the point of death, imprisoned, beaten, yet rejoicing. We have the indwelling Spirit of God, and the fruit of the Spirit is joy.

We can rejoice in horrific circumstances, because we know the deeper truths. We know that our life here is but a vapor. This is not to say that we are never sad, or that we never know suffering, but it does help us recognize that rejoicing, or joy, is less a feeling and more a state of mind – one that transcends circumstances.

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. – 2 Corinthians 6:8b-10, ESV

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon
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Damon J. Gray

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