Sorrowing, yet rejoicing

By Ong Keng Ho

Paul repeats over in Philippians 3 & 4, “Rejoice”. But how are we to rejoice in our present circumstances?

The pandemic is like a dark cloud hanging over our heads. The recent spike of 100 or so cases doesn’t help. The P2HA has kicked in just when we are moving towards relaxing measures for meeting together. Church ministry lags. Family relationships struggle. No holiday breaks. Jobs are scarce. Every area of life is affected. And mental health is now a hot topic. But the more we desire to regain our deprived pleasures, the more depressed we become.

Yet Paul insists that the Philippians should rejoice, under stress or otherwise. False teaching had infiltrated the Philippian house churches (3:2). Disunity among them was apparent (4:2). And the apostle was writing in the most uncomfortable of circumstances – in jail or more probably under house arrest (1:14)

He used 2 modifiers in 4:4 to advance this Christian duty and divine command  – “again” and “always”.

“again “ ie in case we forget to rejoice and to remind and emphasize that rejoicing is just as important as other commands. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh 8:10). We are made for joy. The chief end of man is to enjoy God (WSC Q1). The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). Joy is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (5:22). And unlike worldly joy that centres on pleasure, Christian joy is rejoicing yes, in the Lord.

“always” ie not only all the time but under all conditions. Here is where we see the kind of joy Paul relates to. It is joy that is deeper and not dependent on pleasurable circumstances or good feelings. Paul rejoiced in song even after he was whipped, then chained and locked up in Philippi. Joy is not matter of temperament or an unpredictable providence or a mood. Joy is a condition that is experienced. It is more than a feeling. It is, primarily, a state of mind that is both thought and feeling. Paul therefore could say in 2 Cor 6:10, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”.

It is upon this understanding of joy, Paul is directing the Philippians and us to choose to rejoice in the Lord. And by actively choosing to rejoice and practising it that joy becomes a personal reality. By choosing, Paul meant we focus our minds on things that promotes joy. The idea is reflected in 4:8 when Paul commands, “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is  excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” Controlling and directing one’s thoughts on joy is a habit of the heart, and the more one practices it, the better one becomes at it. Such is the secret of “rejoicing in the Lord always,” namely, to choose what you think about. It is as simple- and as difficult!-as that[1].This has nothing to do with the trending I-centred “mindfulness” therapy.

Having tasted the grace of God, Spirit quickened Christians of all people, have a strong motivation to think loving thoughts of our Lord. Praise Him for who He is. Adore His care over us. Delight in His works at every circumstance of our daily lives. Thank Him for the gift of His abiding Spirit. Reflect upon God’s love and mercies of saving us to be co-heirs.

2020/21 has been good to Providence, hasn’t it? If you say “No” or “Yes”, what events or circumstances did you base it on? Therein lies what brings or hinders your rejoicing

Therefore “rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice”. By God’s grace, may rejoicing be a habit of our hearts.

Rejoice, the Lord is King!

Your Lord and King adore!

Rejoice, give thanks, and sing

And triumph evermore:

Lift up your heart,

Lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say rejoice

………….Charles Wesley

[1] J I Packer, Hot Tub Religion pp . 164-67