I am continuing to study the book of Philippians. For this post I want to focus on one verse.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4
This is one of, as Matt Chandler calls them, the coffee cup verses of the book of Philippians. One of you reading this is drinking from a coffee cup that says this verse on it. This is an incredibly popular verse of the Bible and I want to look at in some depth.
So often people will be told this verse when they are suffering. I think this is sad because people are trying so hard to be helpful but often it ends up being hurtful to one already hurt. When someone just got a cancer diagnosis please do not run up to them and hand them your coffee cup and tell them to read it. This verse is a powerful verse, but I don't think it means the same thing as the song "Chin Up Charlie".
Let's look at what the verse actually says and what it doesn't say. Let's begin by what it doesn't say.
Rejoice in everything always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
This is not the passage. It does not say to rejoice always or in everything. When you've been told that your wife had a miscarriage that is not the time to start rejoicing. I know that sentence seems mean and callous but it's not intended to be. I simply want to say that some circumstances are so horrible that we do not rejoice because of them. Thank God the passage doesn't say "Rejoice in everything always."
Instead let's look at what the verse actually says.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!"
In the Lord is the phrase that the entire verse hinges upon. Without these three words the verse becomes impossible. Not everything that happens in our lives inspires joy in us. The phrase in the Lord makes this verse possible.
See, God is infinitely good and therefore there will be reasons to rejoice in Him for eternity. We will spend eternity discovering and beholding more of His goodness. So we can rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances while not rejoicing in the circumstances. Get that... we can rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances while not rejoicing in the circumstances. We don't have to rejoice in the circumstance or rather because of the circumstance but we can rejoice in the Lord always.
An example, I mentioned earlier a cancer diagnosis. There is nothing about cancer that is worthy of rejoicing. Cancer is a result of a sinful world and cancer has no place in heaven. But even in the midst of a cancer diagnosis there is reason to rejoice in who God is. We can rejoice that God promises to make all things good for those called according to His purposes. We can rejoice that God is good enough to not be surprised by or sidetracked by cancer.
We rejoice in suffering because God is in control. Suffering has a way of making us painfully aware of our inability to control our own lives. In the chaos of suffering we are keenly aware of our smallness. But if we recall the promises of God and the character of God we will know that He has it in His hands. It is in this trust that we rejoice. Our rejoicing may be with tears streaming down our face but it can be rejoicing that someone much bigger has this in His hands.
I think this is why the Apostle Paul continues on like this in verse six:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7
Some of you are in the middle of a storm and need to fight to rejoice in the Lord, to find Him good. Some of you aren't in a trial, but I can promise you will be in one in the future. To you I give this advice: hide the promises of God in your heart and study His character. These two things will buoy you in the storm and allow you to "Rejoice in the Lord always."
Keep your eyes on Jesus today.