Three times in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in
Philippi, he tells them to rejoice.
In Philippians 2:17-18 he says:
‘But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. In the same way you too should be glad and rejoice with me.’
In Philippians 3:1 he instructs his readers:
‘Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.’
And in Philippians 4:4 he tells them:
‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again – rejoice!’
What does Paul mean?
Paul’s instructions in these verses can seem rather strange to some Christians. He tells his readers to rejoice. Yet isn’t joy a feeling that people simply may or may not happen to have? Surely Paul isn’t telling the Philippians to choose to feel a certain way, is he?
In a sense this puzzlement is understandable. It is certainly true that joy is something that can be felt. And it is true too that Christians should never try to manufacture feelings of any kind within themselves. For believers to try to psyche themselves up to feel joy is all wrong.
Nevertheless, there must be some course of action the Philippians could have taken to rejoice. Otherwise Paul’s words would be meaningless.
Surely what he means is that his readers should consciously choose to reflect on things that they are glad about. In Philippians 2:17-18 he is telling them to reflect on how good it is that they are Christians and that they are growing in the faith. And in 3:1 and 4:4 he is instructing them to reflect on all that the Lord is to them and has done for them.
All Christians should rejoice
In Philippians 4:4, as I have noted, Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always. There is no doubt that this is a command which applies to Christians in each century of the church.
In fact, it makes sense to think that we should rejoice in all the positive things in our lives. Every good thing we experience comes from God, so rejoicing in anything good is really a kind of indirect way of rejoicing in the Lord anyway.
Today, then, as Christians did in the first century, we should choose to focus and reflect on the positive things in our lives, the things we are glad about. And above all this will include what God is to us and has done for us.
Rejoicing in all circumstances
Importantly, rejoicing is something that we need to do regardless of our circumstances.
When a Christian’s life is relatively easy and has many things they enjoy, they should spend time reflecting on how positive those things are.
However, even when life is very hard, it is still important for us to rejoice.
We can learn about rejoicing in difficulty from the example of the prophet Habakkuk. In Habakkuk 3:17-18 he says:
‘Though the fig tree does not blossom and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though the flock is snatched from the sheepfold and there are no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.’
Habakkuk is saying that even if all sources of food disappear, that will not stop him rejoicing in God! Even in a dire situation like this, he will continue to reflect positively on all that God is to him. If we are going through difficult times, Habakkuk’s attitude is a great one to try to imitate.
Something else that can be very helpful when we are suffering is to list things in our lives that we are glad about. It is always true that God has saved us, loves us and is with us. And every day we can find a multitude of small things in life that are positive too. Just spending a little time thinking about good things in our lives and acknowledging that they are good is a fine example of what it means to rejoice.
Why is rejoicing important?
So rejoicing is something we can choose to do in obedience to God’s command. But why does He require it of us? Why is it so important that we make the effort to focus on things we are glad about?
There are a number of reasons:
First, there is the simple fact that God loves us and wants to bless us. He knows that if we are focusing on the good things we experience, this will be a blessing to us.
Second, if we are dwelling on the positive aspects of our lives, it will be easier to endure the negative parts. Rejoicing will encourage and comfort us.
Third, the more we rejoice, the less inclined we will be to feel sorry for ourselves. Self-pity is a sin that hinders our relationship with God.
Fourth, the more we focus on the good things we experience, the more inclined we will probably be to feel grateful to God. Thanking Him for what He does for us is very important.
Finally, concentrating on the good things the Lord has done for us can help to increase our faith and reduce doubt and unbelief.
All these things are important for our Christian walk, and deliberate rejoicing serves as a fuel to strengthen them.
Choosing to rejoice
If, then, you are feeling down, make sure that you take the time and effort to actively rejoice. Quietly focus on God’s love for you and grace towards you, as well as the other good things in your life that you are glad about. By doing this, you will hopefully find that the burden becomes a little bit lighter.
If, however, you are in high spirits, it is still important to actively rejoice. It is often when things are easiest that we are most in danger of taking our eyes off the Lord. Rejoicing can help to guard us against this.
Basically, regardless of our circumstances, we need to choose to focus on the good things in our lives, especially all that God is to us and has done for us. This is what rejoicing is all about.