“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Philippians 4:4
What does it mean to “rejoice in the Lord?” This is one of those “Christian” phrases that we have been using and singing for so long, I wonder if we have even stopped to ponder what it means. It must be important because Paul took the time to repeat it in his letter to the believers in Philippi. “Again I will say it,” he wrote. Perhaps the key to understanding the true meaning of joy is not found primarily in the word, “rejoice,” but in “always.”
There is a great expression of rejoicing in God always found in Habakkuk 3:17-18. It says: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be one the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” In other words, when all the earthly sources of my happiness are gone, God will be my delight…my joy…my everything. When there is no visible reason, I will rejoice in God because He is better than life itself.
In both the Old and New testaments we are commanded to rejoice or delight in God. “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). The psalmist speak repeatedly of the joy they have found in God. “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). “Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad” (Psalm 35:27). “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in Him” (Psalm 111:2). “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Just to be clear, none of us can say these words truthfully apart from God’s amazing grace. This deep, abiding joy is the fruit of His Spirit. It is the supernatural result of His work in our lives. We cannot muster up this kind of rejoicing. And if we try to, we will end up feeling discouraged and defeated. So if we can’t do it, why does God command it?
Perhaps the command is intended to humble us, and to make us desperate for true Christianity. In his book, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, John Piper writes, “Preferring anything above Christ is the very essence of sin.” If this is true, then God’s command to rejoice in Him above all else defines true conversion. The way one behaves is manageable without Christ. But our emotions, the way we feel and what we desire most, that is the barometer of the heart. Nothing will reveal the true condition of our hearts better than the demand to rejoice in the Lord above all else always.
Dear Father, Please create in me both a hunger for and delight in all that You are. Show me what it means to rejoice in You alone. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.