Summary: At the time of writing this letter to the Philippians, we know full well that Paul was in prison, awaiting a trial that would determine whether he was to be executed. You...
I’ve chosen as my text this morning the Philippians passage - ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say ‘rejoice’!’
I do this partly to spare you from having to hear my John the Baptist sermon again. I only have the one. More significantly though, I’ve chosen this passage because I’m conscious of the fact that ‘rejoicing’ is not something I’ve been very good at of late.
Danielle, who was working with me on Friday, was telling me that she’d seen some statistics about how often children laughed in a day, compared to adults. She said this as we listened to my children laughing hysterically at something extraordinarily banal that was playing on the TV.
I can’t remember the figures now but they were quite extraordinary - something like 400 laughs per day per kid, whereas adults laugh on average about 4 times … per week! Danielle took these figures as evidence of the fact that she hadn’t grown up. The flip side of that, of course, is that I obviously have grown up, as I confess that I have become a rather miserable old sod of late.
Well … I’ve had a hard year - probably the hardest year of my life, and most people here have been very understanding of that. But then Paul walks in, saying, “Hey, why don’t you turn that frown upside-down?” and I feel like saying, “Oh … go away!”
You know the deal; ‘misery loves company’, but only if it’s miserable company, and the last thing I feel I need, when I’m busy feeling sorry for myself, is Paul waltzing in, singing, “If life seems jolly rotten, there’s one thing you’ve forgotten, and that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing!”
I find Paul a little hard to identify with at this point. I feel like saying, “what would you know?” But in truth I know full well that Paul did know what it was like to suffer. He knew very well. He might not have struggled with exactly the same things that have plagued me. I don’t think he ever had any teenage children to worry about, but in just about every other respect, I think he knew even my particular struggles very well.
Certainly he knew what it was like to struggle in your role as pastor of a church. Certainly he knew the difficulty of making ends meet financially, and certainly he knew what it was like to have people who hated you and wanted to destroy you. And yet he seems to retain a cheerful countenance even at the worst of times.
Indeed, at the time of writing this letter, we know full well that Paul was in prison, awaiting a trial that would determine whether he was to be executed. You wouldn’t think he had a lot to be joyful about! Even so, he says, ‘rejoice’!
What was his secret?
One possibility, of course, is that Paul was something of a masochist - that he somehow revelled in the pain?
The question has to be asked, for his writings do suggest that he was at times somewhat obsessed with his own suffering. He talks about it all the time. He lists his persecutions like a series of proud credentials:
“Five times I received the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure…” (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)