In Philippi, the Apostle Paul, with his freedom, the skin of his back, and his ministry apparently stripped away, “prayed and sang praises unto God” with his fellow servant Silas (Acts 16:25). From a Roman prison, the same Paul commanded believers to “rejoice in the Lord alway, and again, I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). He repeats the admonition in his first epistle to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice evermore” (I Thessalonians 5:16). Thus, by both example and command, Paul encourages and challenges us with the Christ-enabled potential to know God’s joy in all things and at all times.
Human understanding scoffs at such a notion. Fleshly reasoning perceives joy as the fruit of pleasant and desirable circumstance, situation, and condition. Our experience seems to confirm, as pain and difficulty foster in us thoughts, emotions, and physical sensibilities that seem to escort joy to the exit door of our hearts. Rather than rejoice when trouble comes, our natural tendency seems to coincide far more with the plaintive sigh of the Psalmist, “I mourn in my complaint” (Psalm 55:2).
This raises a challenging intellectual issue for committed born again believers. We believe a Bible filled with commands to rejoice always. Moreover, the Word of God promises the possibility and power in Christ to do so, providing both examples and assurances that joy can be known in prisons no less than palaces. Therefore, if joy cannot be known in all things, we must – and if intellectually honest, we should – close our Bible, proceed to our trash receptacle, and deposit the sham of this false and dangerous document therein. Better to live in the light of reality, sad as it may be, than to participate in a fantasy that creates false expectations at best, and insane delusion at worst.
If, however, we know in our hearts that God’s Word is in fact God’s Word, we must face the difficult truth about joy, namely, that through Christ we can “rejoice in the Lord always” and “evermore.” And, let us be honest: this is a difficult truth. Our flesh resists the notion of joy based not on circumstances, situations, and conditions. Even more, our spiritual enemies mock the possibility of “always” and “evermore” joy. They point to past failure - “You didn’t rejoice then!” They create possibilities of future disaster and catastrophe – “What if that happens?!” Perhaps most discouragingly, they emphasize our present dilemma – “can you really say you’re rejoicing in this?!” Indeed, the challenges of the world, the devil and the flesh concerning joy confront us with savage ferocity because the joyful believer does such harm to their nefarious purposes (e.g. – the aforementioned Apostle Paul as a chief example).
What are we to do about joy? Our first step as believers is to believe. That is, we must doctrinally and personally build an altar within our hearts whereupon we sacrifice the devilish and fleshly notion that circumstances, situations and conditions determine our rejoicing. They influence it, of course, but they do not determine whether we obey God in the matter of joy. Indeed, failure to “rejoice in the Lord always” often proceeds from failure to establish as a matter of personal principle that the Lord Jesus is able to reveal His joy in us at all times, and in all things. Repentance will accompany the building of this heart altar, leading to the establishment of faith and expectation that God’s joy awaits us whether we venture to palace or prison…
“Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.”
Tomorrow: “Count it all joy.”