Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! —Phil. 4:4
“Aha!” you say, “That’s easy,” as you lie on a beach in the Bahamas and hoist another drink in a toast to the good life.
But the apostle Paul did not pen those words during his annual holidays, but from a prison cell in Rome, when he wrote to the Christians in Philippi around 62 A.D. The Archaeology Study Bible mentions that in Roman jails of the day, prisoners were chained to stocks (wooden devices with foot holes) and had to provide for their own meals and clothes. As a Roman citizen, Paul was eligible for daily food allowances, but he had chosen to depend on his friends for meals. Now, under these circumstances, how could he possibly have written this “rejoice always” command?
A recent email from a friend read in part, “I am deeply troubled by the power grabs, vilification, violence, hatred, threats, conspiracies, and misinformation in my country. Also, in my own life I lately encounter masses of pain-causing grief and misery that make it look like the Lord doesn’t care about the world at all. A close friend is currently experiencing so many disappointments that he teeters on the brink of a deep depression. We sing, ‘The joy of the Lord is my strength,’ but where is that joy?”
The sobering email resonated. We have the Russia-Ukraine war, China-Taiwan tensions, North Korean missile launchings, floods, fires, droughts, hurricanes, climate worries, thousands of children in camps worldwide without medical facilities, and the concerns many of us have about teenagers and younger adults who do not seem to walk with the Lord, and the deaths of loved ones. Isn’t Paul’s command just a bit much?
Paul wrote from a God-inspired perspective. He knew that rejoicing, sadness, and all our other feelings are part of the human condition—intrinsic, built-in. To see rejoicing outside of this wholeness would be reductionistic and should have no place in an integrated life.
Paul was fully aware that the ability to rejoice in the Lord was a special, divine gift also given to you and me by Jesus himself (John 15:11). Therefore Paul’s words are not a command at all, but a reminder that inside all of us a jubilant “rejoicing in the Lord” is anxiously waiting to be let out and take flight!