Summary: Rejoicing in your circumstances can be a difficult thing, if not impossible sometimes. Paul teaches us in this text about rejoicing in the Lord.
Jim is going through some tough times. Growing up, he fell into a bad crowd, and long story short, he ended up becoming addicted to some drugs. After attending rehab for two months, when released, he falls into temptation, and goes back to using. His mother, Jill, found him in his room with them, and yells out in frustration, “Why can’t you just stop? It can’t be that hard after rehab!” Angry, Jim responds, “That’s easy for you to say, you don’t have this addiction!” Or consider the plight of Amy, a single woman, who longs to be married and to have children. Currently, she is single, and is having a hard time finding Mr. Right. When pouring her heart out to her friend, her friend comforts her by saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll find him soon enough. It will be all good.” Frustrated, Amy tearfully responds, “That is easy for you to say! You have a husband and three kids!” With that, she storms out of the room. That’s easy for you to say. It is a phrase of frustration and hurt. It is a phrase uttered in time of trouble. It is the phrase said to someone whose situation is the opposite of yours. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” It is easy to say that when times are good. It is another thing to say it when times are rough. As we hear this verse this evening, we may be tempted to say, “Well, Paul, that is easy for you say! You aren’t in my situation! How can I rejoice?”
Is it really easy for Paul to say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Let’s take a look at Paul’s own life as he writes this verse and letter to the Philippians. As he pens this, he is sitting in a dank, dark prison cell. Things aren’t going so great. He is dealing with the stresses and struggles of prison, on top of dealing with the pressures and worries of watching over the various churches, like the ones in Corinth, Thessalonica, or Ephesus. This isn’t including the problems that he is dealing with in Philippi. In chapter three, he expresses worry over false teaching in their midst. At the beginning of chapter four, he is dealing with a feud between Euodia and Syntyche. On top of it all, he is working in a context and place that is hostile to Christianity. The point being: Paul is not writing when everything is all good. He isn’t writing after he has had a mountain top experience, but rather when his life is full of challenges. However, despite the hardships, he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
Paul’s call to joy is helpful and brings up two important questions for us Christians: Where do we ultimately find our joy and what affects it? We can find joy in our hobbies, like reading or gardening. We can have joy in following our favorite sports teams like the Twins or Blackhawks. We might find that special joy in a person, whether it be a spouse, child, grandchild, friend, or relative. It is in things and people like these that we go to in trouble, and to find our ultimate fulfillment in life. Honestly speaking, it seems that we don’t have joy in our Lord like we do in these other things.
And if that is not enough, our lives also teach us about the real nature of joy, and what truly affects it. Consider this story. Steve wakes up in the morning to find out that his fantasy football team pulled out the win after Monday Night Football, and he is now in first place. He is riding high from excitement. However, his day takes a turn for the worse as he goes out to his new car at lunch, the one that he hasn’t even made a payment on yet, to find that its back bumper is severely cracked from someone backing into it. He is fuming and devastated. When he grumpily goes back to work he finds out that afternoon that the company gave him a $3,000 Christmas bonus, and he is ecstatic and happy again. His smile goes from ear to ear. When Steve finally makes it home, his wife alerts them their heater is broken, and that it is supposed to become below zero during the evening. He is stressed beyond belief.
Steve’s story shows that our happiness can depend on our circumstances in life. Although Steve had some great things happen to him, his joy disappeared when tragedy entered in. His story also points out that our joy can be reactionary and dependent on things outside of our control. Our joy can be sensual, being dependent upon things that are experienced, like winning the football game. It can also be dependent on us, and how we take situations and events. And as we saw, his joy isn’t lasting.