It's that time of year again. The Halloween decorations are taken down and Christmas decorations begin to fill the aisles of Canadian Tire and Dollarama; and the word “Joy” begins to appear again on festive décor all over. “Joy” has been associated with Christmas since the first one over 2000 years ago,
"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." - Luke 2:10-11
While it may be a little early for me to start putting thoughts of Christmas into your mind; it is never too early for true Joy to be set before our hearts and minds. In the book of Philippians, Paul uses the word "rejoice" several times to help us see our need for joy in every season and situation.
Rejoice in the Preaching of Christ
"Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice." - Philippians 1:18
Paul is writing the letter to the Philippians from a prison cell and he has heard that some of his opponents are using that fact to defame him. They are saying that his imprisonment is an appropriate punishment. Paul, however, insists that it is for the sake of the gospel that he is imprisoned. Reflecting on those within the Church body who oppose him in ministry, he rejoices that, regardless of their feelings about him as a person, Christ is proclaimed and that is enough for him to rejoice.
We need to rejoice in the witness of Christ throughout our city, nation, and world, regardless of how we feel about the tone of the message, the person, or the methods by which the message is proclaimed. Christ is not bound to our preference when it comes to Gospel preaching. He has made known his will through the mouth of a donkey before (Numbers 22:28). The message of the Gospel is the "power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16)." When you sit in church, listen to a podcast, or read an article where the message of Jesus' life, death, burial, and resurrection is proclaimed we need to have joy and recognize it as one more opportunity has been made for lost people to come to know Jesus as Lord. Where Christ is proclaimed, Christ's people must rejoice.
Rejoice in Answered Prayer
Being in prison, you would think Paul would lose some of his optimism. Not so. He always finds a reason to rejoice and he rejoices in answered prayer.
"Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance." - Philippians 1:18-19
The prayers of God's people for him bring Paul great joy. He knows he is not forgotten and he knows that God has heard his plea. That is enough for him. He admits that he is not certain what the answer to the prayers will be, but he knows that whatever God does will be good and perfect.
One of the things that keep me going on hard days is to think of how many people pray for me. It is such a privilege to know that my brothers and sisters are lifting me before God. If you are discouraged, reach out to a brother or sister to pray for you, even at that moment on the phone or as you have coffee together. Commit to praying for them as well and be a reason for them to rejoice in the prayers of God's people.
Rejoice in the Growth of your Brothers and Sisters
Paul continues to look outside of his current situation to the growth of others as a source of joy.
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure... Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me." - Philippians 2:12,17-18
Paul not only rejoices in the preaching but also in the growth of others. When our brothers and sisters in Christ are being changed by the Holy Spirit and growing in their knowledge of God, that is a reason for joy.
That’s why I get so much joy from small group and prayer meetings. When I get to hear from other people what they are working through, struggling with, or thanking God for, I get greater insight into how big God is. Sometimes, I think we can get bogged down and discouraged thinking God must be fed up with us. But when we see God working in the lives of others, we are reminded of God's promise of transforming power for us. Rejoice in God's work in others, he has not forgotten you. He may even be using you to show his glory to others as you endure trials.
Rejoice in Gathering Together
Being in prison, Paul is reminded of the simple treasure of being with fellow Christians in fellowship.
"I have thought it necessary to send you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need... that you may rejoice at seeing him again." - Philippians 2:25,28
It is very hard to rejoice alone. Picture the memes that circulated last year as people celebrated "pandemic" birthday parties. Sitting at the table with a party hat on and a whole cake to eat...alone. Not a lot of fun. But when we are surrounded and reunited with those we love, joy flows naturally. Joy comes from fellowship as it forces us to think of others rather than ourselves. Don’t shy away from gathering together, being in Church on Sunday, a small group, or opportunities to serve others in the community or at Church. These are critical moments that will fuel your joy, even if you are an introvert. We were made to be known and know others. Without that, we grow stale and cold.
Rejoice in the Lord... Always
For the Apostle Paul, even if he was in prison, alone, hated, forgotten, and destined to die, there was more than enough reason to rejoice because God was with him.
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." - Philippians 4:4
God is the ultimate good of all the universe and in that goodness, we always have reason to rejoice because he has made himself known to us. How do we do that, Paul continues in verses eight to nine,
"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think of these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things and the God of peace will be with you." - Philippians 4:8-9
The only thing, actually, the only person, to meet those criteria is God himself. Think about him. Remember his amazing works in scripture and your life. Think on his immense attributes, read a psalm and pray those attributes to God in worship. Put on your favourite worship album and dance through the house as you vacuum. God is good, all the time and he will never leave us or forsake us. That is worth rejoicing in, even on the darkest days. "Rejoice in the Lord" when? Always.