In many books of the Bible, certain words stand out and convey themes of a particular book. In the inspired epistle Paul wrote to the Philippians, these words are "joy" and "rejoice." Paul used these two words sixteen times, as well as a use of "gladness." It did not bother Paul in the least that the Holy Spirit had inspired him to be repetitive in this respect: "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe" (Philippians 3:1). Paul was glad to be able to write a message of rejoicing. Throughout this epistle are various "Reasons to Rejoice."
The Want of the Lord
God desires rejoicing. Indeed, the imperative "rejoice in the Lord" (3:1) is a Divine imperative. Jesus sought the joy of His apostles: "And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they [the apostles, LM] might have my joy fulfilled in themselves" (John 17:13). Jesus prayed for the joy of His apostles, and spoke for the joy of His apostles (John 15:11). Those things which Jesus said are revealed to us, that our joy might be full as well (1 John 1:4).
Some have the idea that God wants everybody to be miserable. Generally, those who believe this do not want anybody telling them that there are some things they must do and some things they cannot do. However, God wants to rejoice and He wants mankind to rejoice (Isaiah 65:18-19). God not only desires that we rejoice, but also took steps to see that we would have cause for rejoicing.
The first time the word "rejoice" is used in the New Testament is at the birth of Christ: "When they [the wise men, LM] saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy" (Matthew 2:10). The word for "rejoice" also means "be full of joy." Thus, it might be said that the wise men were "full of joy with exceeding great joy" that they were to see the Christ child. There was certainly good reason for them to rejoice. His names would signify that He would be "God with us" and the One Who would "save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:23, 21). And the wise men from the east had more reason to rejoice than they may have known, as this salvation was not limited to physical Israel, but would be extended to everyone of every nation who "feareth him [God, LM], and worketh righteousness" (Acts 10:34-35). God had a design for the reconciliation of man to Himself (Ephesians 1:9-10).
God provides for mankind a joy incomparable to any other known by man. As Jesus said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). This by no means guarantees Christians the best outward circumstances (compare with 2 Timothy 3:12). However, God provides joy in the face of the worst outward circumstances:
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12).
Brother Dub McClish explains, "To 'rejoice in the Lord' does not mean that we are to paste a fake smile on our faces and walk around like zombies. However, we should likewise guard against being perpetual 'sourpusses' and turning into cynics." God provides internal joy, but that joy is not internal alone. "Joy is not just inward. It has a cause and finds expression." God provides a reason to rejoice in that He desires that we do rejoice.
The Workers for the Lord
It is truly a joy having faithful brethren. Paul prayed often about the beloved brethren at Philippi: "Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now" (Philippians 1:4-5; compare with 4:10, 17). The Philippians likewise anticipated a joyful reunion with Paul (1:25-26), and with the faithful messenger Epaphroditus (2:28-29).
Paul's greatest joy was seeing his spiritual brethren succeed. He looked forward to the Philippians successes, and to seeing the fruits of their successes at the glorious Last Day (2:2, 16-18; 4:1; compare with 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). Unfortunately, there were some brethren for whom Paul could not rejoice: "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ" (Philippians 3:18). Paul had "great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart" because of "my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:2-3). He was referring to Israelites, who had "not attained to the law of righteousness" (verses 4, 31). Fleshly Israel's failure to follow Christ broke Paul's heart, as did the failures of those who had once followed Christ. Nonetheless, we can rejoice in every success of our brethren in Christ-as we hear of foreign evangelists carrying the Gospel to new lands, as we learn of churches standing firm for the Truth in the face of adversity, or as we see young babes in Christ maturing in the faith to become productive workers for the Lord.
The Word of the Lord
Paul exclaimed, "Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" (1:18). He could not rejoice over the motivations some held in preaching Christ (verse 16); nonetheless, he rejoiced greatly when the truth of Christ's Gospel was preached. He knew very well the blessings available to those who heard.
You see, the word of the Lord had been a great blessing to him, as it is to any who receives it. Jeremiah said, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts" (Jer. 15:16). The psalmist wrote of the blessed man, "But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night" (Psalm 1:2). It is cause for rejoicing whenever Christ is preached; whether we hear Him preached, or hear of His being preached (Acts 8:5, 8, 35, 39, 11:18).
That We Are in the Lord
Paul repeats two final times the imperative to "rejoice." He writes, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4; compare with 2:18; 3:1). He speaks of a rejoicing that does not end. This continual rejoicing is "in the Lord"-it is possible only for those who have been baptized into Christ, and remained faithful in the Lord. One cannot have true joy if he does not have Christ. There is no other religion which offers the hope and joy Christianity affords (3:2-3).
The Christian knows how to maintain joy in Christ. Warren Wiersbe notes three attributes found in the verses immediately following Philippians 4:4 that enable one to maintain this joy in the Lord: (1) Right praying. "Be careful ["anxious," American Standard Version) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (4:6). The Christian is to be anxious for nothing, yet he is to pray about everything. And right praying requires adoration, supplication, and thanksgiving. As Wiersbe points out from this epistle, one needs the single mind of Philippians 1 to give adoration, the submissive mind of Philippians 2 to come with supplication, and the spiritual mind of Philippians 3 to give God thanks. If these are being practiced, one will have the secure mind of Philippians 4. (2) Right thinking. Paul exhorts, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (4:8). What we think upon controls our attitude, and in turn controls our life. As Solomon wrote, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). (3) Right living. Paul goes on to say, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:9). There is indeed a right and a wrong way to live. While the wrong way might grant license for self-indulgence without regard for consequence, eventually consequence catches up with wrong living.
The Christian can rejoice that he is in the Lord, because is able to look beyond things temporal (2 Corinthians 4:18-5:1). The heathen has all of his joy placed in this world. However, when things of this world depart from him, in what can he rejoice? Paul wrote this epistle of joy while he was in prison, yet he could be thankful even for his imprisonment (Phil. 1:12-14; 4:11). Even in death, one who is "in the Lord" is blessed (Revelation 14:13).
As Christians, we should rejoice in the joy we have. This may sound redundant, but we should rejoice that we have true joy, unlike any other known to man. There are good reasons for Christians to rejoice: Rejoicing is the want of the Lord, we are blessed with the faithful workers for the Lord, we are blessed with the word of the Lord; and we are in the Lord. However, if one is not in Christ or has left Christ, there is no cause for rejoicing. Notwithstanding, even heaven can be provided a reason to rejoice: "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" (Luke 15:10).
1 "Chairoo," in William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), p. 478.
2 "Losing All Things to Gain Christ," in Studies in Philippians and Colossians, ed. Dub McClish (Denton, TX: Valid Publications, 2000), p. 122.
3 "Chairoo," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999 printing), 9:363.
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