(Thanks to our dear friend and brother Hugh for inspiration on this one.)
“As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (II Corinthians 6:10).
The Apostle Paul's testimony of rejoicing existing concurrently with sorrow reveals that God's definition of joy involves something far deeper than our emotional sensibilities. The life and experience of the Lord Jesus Christ confirms this vital truth.
"He is a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). “Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26:38).
In order to be our sin-bearer on the cross, the Lord Jesus had to perfectly fulfill God’s righteousness, including the commands concerning rejoicing. Thus, as a “man of sorrows,” He was also required to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). In Gethsemane, when He sorrowed to the point of death, the Lord Jesus nevertheless had to experience joy in the midst of His anguished heart. As referenced above, He had to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
This means that true joy cannot be defined in the usual terms of happy feelings. Certainly, joy often includes such emotion. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad” (Matthew 5:12). Sometimes, however, rejoicing must occur when no happy feelings exist. We can be “always rejoicing” even while feeling “sorrowful.” How is this possible? King David of the Old Testament and James of the New answer the question for us.
“Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations” (James 1:2).
David reveals that the essence of joy is God Himself – “God, my exceeding joy.” James amplifies this truth by calling us not to “feel” it all joy when we experience trouble, but to “count” it all joy (meaning to think, deem, or consider). Our brothers unite to call us to the same path of grace and faith concerning joy that characterizes the entirety of our walk with God. Our Lord Himself provides Himself as the heart of all Divine supply – “He is thy life” (Deuteronomy 30:20). We appropriate and experience such provision not by the feeling of faith, but by the believing of faith. Thereby we make the choice to rejoice as a matter of trust and conviction. We choose to believe that despite our troubles and troubled soul, God is present – “a very present help in trouble” –and that He is the joy of our hearts, regardless of what our emotional state may indicate (Psalm 46:1). “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 42:11).
Little wonder that David referred to “sacrifices of joy” (Psalm 27:6). Few commands more challenge us to think, speak and act in opposition to our fleshly inclinations. Moreover, few commands more reveal our need for the power of the Holy Spirit than the mandate that we walk in perpetual joy. Indeed, our Lord calls us to rejoice, to “count it all joy,” when every feeling of soul and body screams at us to complain, despair, and mourn. This is sacrifice of the highest order and definition, and this is faith based upon the conviction that God is everything we need Him to be even if the ground seems to be collapsing under our feet. Mere feelings need not apply as the essence of this joy. No, our Lord Himself must be this joy, and we, His trusting children in Christ, must believe that He is this joy.
Through Christ, we can rejoice in the Lord always. By the power of His indwelling Spirit, we can be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Understanding the essence of joy, and how we experience our Lord as this essence, makes possible the sacrifices of joy whereby we count it all joy. Feelings may accompany and they will ultimately follow, but we do not concern ourselves with that as we honor our Lord by making the choice to rejoice, based upon His choice to now and forevermore be “God, my exceeding joy.”
“We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:11)