Summary: Not rejoice in the Lord 'anyway' - but Rejoice in the Lord "Always".
REJOICE IN THE LORD - ALWAYS!
It was midnight, and in a certain prison in Philippi, the Apostle Paul and his missionary companion Silas had been left to languish in chains in a dark dungeon. However, if we were to listen in at the door we would not hear the moans and groans and complaints of those who have been unjustly accused and unlawfully beaten - and certainly not the cursing and blasphemy one might otherwise expect - but rather two men lifting their voices in praise to the true and living God. So loud were they there in the inner prison, that the other prisoners could hear them (Acts 16:22-25).
Paul knew what it was like to be “cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). So when he exhorted the Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord, always” (Philippians 4:4), he was not just blowing hot air. The Apostle practiced what he preached.
“Joy” is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It is ours from the very first day that we put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is part of our very being as God’s children.
Joy is not something that we need to pursue in outward things. The “poor in spirit” are already in possession of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). The graces of the Holy Spirit are gift-wrapped, with our name written upon them, waiting to be unpacked and put into use.
So Paul insists, “Rejoice in the Lord - always -and again I say, Rejoice!”
The Apostle does not say, ‘anyway’ - as if we might stoically shrug our shoulders and yield blindly to our circumstances. What Paul does say is, “Always” - which rises above our present situation, whatever it may be, and is a constant through all the changes and challenges of life. For emphasis, he repeats the exhortation.
Joy is not the same as happiness. We can enshrine ‘the pursuit of happiness’ in national constitutions, but happiness is not keen to be found. Happiness depends on circumstances - it is illusive: it soon flutters away.
It will surprise many, but true Joy is not found in the ‘the pursuit of happiness’ - but in the pursuit of holiness! If we seem to lack joy, this lack is an affliction of the flesh. We need to recognise who we are - and Whose we are - and lift ourselves, as Paul did, out of the doldrums.
Mary used an equivalent word in her magnificent song of praise: she “exulted” - or “rejoiced” - in God her Saviour (Luke 1:47). And using both words, Jesus tells us that Abraham “exulted” to see Jesus’ day from afar, and “rejoiced” (John 8:56).
It is because “the Lord is at hand” that Paul goes on to exhort the Philippians - and ourselves - to let our “patient self-control” be manifested to all men (Philippians 4:5).
Our “patient self-control” is akin to Paul’s own, when he was able to sing praises in the midst of adversity, as previously discussed. It arises from the joy that is within. The outward look towards all men is part of letting the mind of Christ Jesus be in us (Philippians 2:5).
The Lord is at hand in two senses. First, Jesus has promised that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is right there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). Secondly, He is on the sidelines, waiting for the Day that the Father has set for His return to the earth (Mark 13:32).
In saying, “Be careful for nothing” (Philippians 4:6), the Apostle echoes Jesus’ teaching about anxiety (Matthew 6:25-33). Prayerfulness is the cure to carefulness. Our supplications should be seasoned with “thanksgiving” - knowing that our heavenly Father hears and answers prayer.
The result of all this is “peace” (Philippians 4:7). It is not the peace that the world can give (John 14:27), but it is “the peace of God, which is beyond mortal comprehension.” It is peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
It is a holistic peace which garrisons our hearts and minds against all that assails us. It speaks of wholeness, wellness, and completeness. It is another fruit of the Spirit to be unwrapped at this season as the angels sing, “peace on earth and goodwill toward men everywhere” (Luke 2:14).