Speaking the Truth in Love

Rejoice in The Lord

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul urges his readers to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). Is he talking about happiness? Certainly, most people want to be happy. Happiness is the good feeling we have when everything goes our way. Happy is how we feel when our favorite basketball team wins a big game, when we hit the road for a trip on a holiday weekend, when several inches of slow rain soak the ground after a dry summer, or when we dip up a big bowl of homemade ice cream. Happiness largely depends on happenings, on present circumstances.

Godless people do almost anything to grasp after the elusive feelings of happiness. They drink to excess, abuse drugs, overspend, engage in destructive sexual behavior, or work endless hours to acquire more stuff. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” though, does not mean “be happy.” Happiness and unhappiness cannot exist together, but joy and sorrow can and do.

Consider the Lord’s own experience as an example. Predicting the suffering of Jesus, Isaiah says that “he was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (53:3). This “man of sorrows” anticipated the cross with a heavy heart. In Gethsemane he prayed “in an agony,” and his perspiration “became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44). And yet, the Bible speaks of the “joy that was set before him” as he “endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Was Jesus happy in his sadness? No. He rejoiced in his sorrow.

Happiness is a feeling, but joy is an attitude. “Rejoice in the Lord always” is a commandment because rejoicing is something that we can decide to do. No one can choose to feel happy when he is feverish and nauseated. But a sick person can choose to rejoice in the Lord—to thank God for his blessings, to trust in his care, to anticipate the great day when “he will wipe away every tear” (Rev. 21:4).

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