I have been feasting on Philippians in recent months, meditating on Paul’s command to, ‘rejoice in the Lord’, found in 3:1—and then intensified in 4:4: ‘rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again. Rejoice!’
Here are six reflections.
God wants us, to actually engage in the physical activity of rejoicing. We may tend to think that it is the internal attitude which counts: but there is no Biblical reason for doing so.
- The command to ‘rejoice’ does not only refer to a merely internal mental attitude, sense of obligation, or feeling. I think Paul wants the Philippians, and God wants us, to actually engage in the physical activity of rejoicing. We may tend to think that it is the internal attitude which counts: but there is no Biblical reason for doing so. In the Bible confession of sin, lament, trust, praise, complaining, sorrow, questioning, wondering, and worship are usually expressed verbally, by the physical action of speaking or singing.
As CS Lewis put it in his Reflections on the Psalms:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.
A good idea when reading the Bible: when it says to do something, do it! So is rejoicing in the Lord Jesus Christ part of your prayer life, part of your life? Do you do it every day? Are you offering ‘the sacrifice of praise’ that we should ‘continually offer up to God’—that is, ‘the fruit of lips that praise his name’ (Heb 13:15)?
- We can ‘rejoice in the Lord’ whatever our circumstances. There are always plenty of reasons—even when our world is falling apart; or when we are feeling discouraged … or ill … or anxious. Even if there is nothing else to rejoice in, we can rejoice in him!
Here are some reasons for rejoicing in the Lord that Paul has already written to the Philippians, for example in chapter 1:
- ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ 1:6
- ‘this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God’ 1:10,11
- ‘The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice’ 1:18.
- ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’ 1:21
These are all excellent reasons to rejoice in the Lord! And because Paul had learned to be content in Christ and to rejoice in Christ, he could ‘continue to rejoice’ in prison (1:18, NIV).
- The words are ‘rejoice in the Lord’, not ‘rejoice because of the Lord’. The expressions ‘In the Lord’, and ‘in Christ’, contain so much. Paul has already addressed the Philippians as ‘the saints in Christ Jesus’ (1:1) and will later refer to them as ‘all the saints in Christ Jesus’ (4:21).
Believers in Christ are ‘in Christ’: he has embraced us—made us part of himself—so that we live in him
Believers in Christ are ‘in Christ’: he has embraced us—made us part of himself—so that we live in him. ‘There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ Romans 8:1. We have been incorporated into Christ. As we read in Ephesians, God blessed us ‘in him’; chose us ‘in him’; God freely gave his glorious grace to us ‘in the one he loves’; ‘in him’ we have redemption; and God’s good pleasure was purposed ‘in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:3,4,6,7,9).
The disciples were branches in the vine, called to ‘remain in him’ (John 15:4). So all believers are now ‘in Christ’, called to:
… continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness (Col 2:6.7, NIV).
‘Rejoice in the Lord’ links to Paul’s instruction to the Philippians to ‘stand firm in the Lord’ (4:1). And it is reflected in Paul’s words about himself, and the contentment he has learnt: ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me’ (4:13).
Christ strengthens us, not from a distance, but because we are in him! Christ is not only the reason for which we rejoice, he is also the source of our joy, the place where we joy. We joy in Christ; are safe in Christ; are surrounded by Christ; with all who are in Christ. Wow!
- ‘Rejoice in the Lord’.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
To rejoice in the Lord, is to rejoice that he humbled himself, and became obedient to death on a cross, and to rejoice that God exalted him, gave him the name ‘Lord’, and that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.
- To ‘rejoice in the Lord’ (3:1) is also linked in Paul’s mind to glorying/boasting ‘in Christ Jesus’ (3:3). Paul used to boast in his birth and achievements. Now he boasts in Christ alone. If we boast in Christ we will rejoice in him: if we rejoice in him, we will boast in him.
- I was out walking one day recently and decided to rejoice in the Lord as I walked, and decided to base my rejoicing on the Gospels. Here is a rough summary of my rejoicing!
Lord Jesus I rejoice:
In your incarnation,
In your life in Mary’s womb,
In your birth,
In your being laid in a manger,
In your learning wisdom,
In your baptism,
In your temptations in the desert,
In your preaching of the kingdom,
In your healings,
In your casting out evil spirits,
In your miraculous feeding of many people,
In your calming of the wind and waves,
In your raising the dead,
In your touchability,
In your grace to sinners and outcasts,
In your rebukes to the Pharisees and teachers of the law,
In your teaching and training your disciples,
In your teaching about your death and resurrection,
In your suffering and glory as the son of man,
In your tears over Jerusalem,
In your betrayal,
In your agony in Gethsemane,
In your arrest and your trials,
In your atoning death,
In your mighty resurrection,
In your ascension to heaven to your Father’s right hand,
In your sending your Holy Spirit,
In your return on the last day,
In the glory of your kingdom.’
Rejoice in the Lord!
Dear friends, may you and I together rejoice in the wonderful Lord Jesus Christ. We might as well start now: we will be doing so for eternity.
I know that many people in ministry are stressed because of the current pandemic, and the many restrictions now placed on us. We have to deal with our own frustrations and fears, and with the frustrations and fears of others.
May God supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19, another reason to rejoice in him!)