Rejoice in the Lord Always
The Christian life is to be a life of constant, unhindered joy – or at least, so says the apostle Paul: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ According to Paul, joy is not to be an occasional feature in the believer’s life, it is to be a constant reality, a daily, moment by moment reality. Does this seem a somewhat unreal expectation? Is Paul expecting too much? Is he even living in the real world, where disappointments, discouragements, and disasters can, and do, blast the believer’s life? Is it not the height of spiritual escapism to think that Christians should always be rejoicing?
We can hardly, however, accuse Paul of engaging in spiritual escapism, or of suggesting that believers live trouble-free lives. For one thing, his own life was a catalogue of disappointments, discouragements, and disasters (read 2 Corinthians 11:23-29); and for another, he never tired of telling Christians that the life of faith was a life beset with trials, temptations and persecutions (read Acts 14:21-22, 2 Timothy 3:10-12). Paul was no head-in-the-clouds Christian. He well knew, by bitter experience, the pains and sorrows of the believing life. And yet, he still writes, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’, and in case we don’t quite take in the force of what he has said, he repeats himself, ‘I will say it again: Rejoice!’ Paul is well aware of how seemingly impossible his command (for that is what it is) will appear to us. But in no sense is Paul suggesting that Christians will always have the sunshine of God’s love and goodness shining on their backs, making it easy for them to rejoice. What he is saying, however, is that in spite of all the troubles and discouragements and disasters that can (and do) overtake the child of God, he is still able to ‘rejoice.’ How can that be?
Look carefully at what Paul writes: ‘Rejoice in the Lord.’ The Christian is to rejoice always because his joy is pre-eminently located not in his circumstances, but in his Saviour – the unchanging and unchangeable Lord Jesus Christ! Paul is not saying for one moment that believers should be walking around with a permanent grin, saying ‘Praise the Lord’ every second sentence. For one thing, this is not the picture the Scriptures give us of our Lord Jesus, the proto-typical man of faith. Our Saviour knew the sore reality of disappointments and discouragements; he experienced the greatest weariness; he was ‘despised and rejected by men.’ Christians are able to ‘Rejoice always’, because our joy is in who our God and Saviour is and in what he has done for us – and nothing can change his love for us, or change the constancy of his faithful character. This means that no matter what befalls the believer, he is still a child of God, a forgiven sinner, a heaven-bound saint, the most blessed being in the cosmos! If the Christian loses everything, he still has everything, for he cannot lose his Saviour, nor his great salvation. Martin Luther saw this and concludes his great Reformation hymn with these words:
And though they take our life,
Goods, honour, children, wife;
Yet is their profit small,
These things shall vanish all;
The city of God remaineth.
Paul is not saying that the Christian will always appear to be full of joy; but even through the bitterest of tears, the believing heart can rejoice in the Lord. Even in times of deepest and darkest perplexity, the child of God can rejoice, not because he can fully understand God’s ways with him, but because he has a Saviour, who loved him and gave himself for him.
Christian joy can at times be ‘out of this world.’ At other times it may be covered by an avalanche of trials and discouragements. But can we not always rejoice, seeing that our Lord Jesus is God over all, blessed forever? That he, who bore our sin and shame, is seated on the throne of the universe? That one day we shall see him as he is, and be forever with the Lord? Jesus is our cause for constant rejoicing.
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church.
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