“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.”

Paul wrote that while he was in prison. He was facing a trial. Someone else would decide whether he lived or died. He faced the ultimate uncertainty, and his instruction to others, who were suffering in much the same way, was that they should rejoice!

Paul asked for nothing he did not do himself. That is what is so interesting about finding this in the letter to the Philippians. Surely the Philippians would remember what Paul himself did when he first visited them.

He was beaten by a mob. He was treated with grievous injustice. He had to be hurting all over. He had every reason to be raging inside. He was locked in a dark cell, chained to the stone. And in this situation, he sings. He sings songs of praise to God. He sings psalms.

An earthquake sets him free. Does he run for freedom? No! He waits to make sure the jailer has heard the good news about the love of God expressed through Jesus Christ. He baptizes the man’s family.

I do not know anybody who demonstrates this kind of holiness, this kind of single-minded devotion to the mission God gave him in the face of adversity. I do not know anybody who would rejoice like that under circumstances similar to what he experienced.

In fact, as an aside: you hear more and more people objecting strenuosly to some things Paul wrote, especially what he wrote in Romans 1, for instance. They will suggest that what Paul wrote there is not loving … as if the man who wrote, “These three remain, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love,” doesn’t really understand what love is.

I do not know anyone who holds a candle to Paul, and when Paul makes a statement about who we are and who we ought to be that agrees perfectly with the rest of scripture, I’m placing my confidence in Paul, not anyone else who claims they know how to interpret scripture.

But to come back to the text: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” How can I possibly be more condemned by something so innocuous? I suffer so much less. I have been asked to sacrifice so much less. And yet I find it difficult to rejoice. Throw the tiniest little suffering at me, and I whine and groan and complain and go looking for sympathy … just ask my wife!

Then I come down hard on myself. “Why aren’t you rejoicing? Can you possibly be any more self-centered?” I berate myself. And once again, I’ve gone off the rails because all I need to do is … rejoice.

I wish I could tell you what the secret is, but I do not have it. However, I do think Paul makes it clear. Remember what he said. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ …”

Paul hoped for something so profound, so complete, so fulfilling, so full of joy, that nothing else compared. He found this in God, his Creator, and it had been made available by the powerful work of God in Jesus Christ.

I do not claim to comprehend that fully, yet. I long for the day when God so overwhelms with the sense of joy that can only be found in him that I have no choice but to join Paul in his rejoicing no matter what the circumstances.

In the meantime, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is beautiful, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

There is an awful lot that falls into those categories and if I spend my time there I may just find myself naturally and effortlessly rejoicing and praising the One who created it all.