“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). I wrote this article two days before South Africa implemented a national lockdown period of five weeks. This was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a large impact across the world and on much of the African continent.
Christians can rejoice, within the hardships of daily life and even during the present worldwide crisis.
Christians, Rejoice Always!
Today the Christian, as in all other times, must be exhorted to rejoice. This exhortation is strange in a time like this because this situation is unique and unsettling. Yet Christians can rejoice, within the hardships of daily life and even during the present worldwide crisis.
Indeed, it is in such unique times that the exhortation to rejoice is particularly necessary, because the truth of Scripture must capture us and be our source of rest, peace and joy if we wish to survive these times.
Rooted in Scripture
This exhortation to rejoice is not intended to downplay the seriousness of the situation. On the contrary, it is because of the acknowledgment of how serious the situation is that the truth of Scripture must be exalted; put in its proper position.
The truth of Scripture must capture us and be our source of rest, peace and joy
My hope is that in doing that, God’s truth will produce the necessary fruit for the uplifting of the church.
Joy Is Relational
Paul says this in Romans 5:1-5. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
The Presence of Joy for Christians
This joy “in hope of the glory of God”, which persists even through sufferings, is only ours because we have a restored relationship with God.
The joy that Paul speaks of is clearly relational. Now that we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God. That is, we have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is the grace that Paul is talking about when he says “this grace in which we stand”. Because of this grace “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God”, even in suffering.
The Possibility of Joy for Non-Christians
It is then only those who stand in this grace who are able to rejoice in difficult times. However, this gift of joy is available for unbelievers too, if they turn and put their hope in Christ. For in so doing they are restored to relationship with God.
It is only if we have peace with God that we can rejoice in hope of the glory of God, a joy which transcends the stress and panic brought by COVID-19.
It is only if we have peace with God that we can rejoice in hope of the glory of God
Joy Depends on Its Object
Now, according to Paul, our joy in suffering comes from the knowledge of the end product of suffering. Suffering produces endurance, which in turn produces character, which then produces a hope that does not put to shame (Romans 5:3-5). The reason that this hope does not put us to shame is because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). The Holy Spirit, then, is God’s love in us. He is the guarantee of our hope in him. So we are able to rejoice in suffering because our hope is guaranteed.
Joy never exists by itself – our joy is always dependent upon that in which we find it.
We Rejoice in Possession
There is no greater joy than knowing that our relationship with God is so intimate that his love dwells in us. It is important for us to remember that joy never exists by itself – our joy is always dependent upon that in which we find it.
Those in relationships rejoice in their relationships. Those who are wealthy rejoice in their wealth. Those who are healthy rejoice in their health. The list can go on and on. When we possess that which we consider most valuable, the result is joy.
When we possess that which we consider most valuable, the result is joy
But What About When Our Possession is Threatened?
If then our joy is based on what we consider most valuable, and if those things are not constant, as all earthly things are, our joy is always at risk. Therefore it makes sense that, in light of the current pandemic, those who put their joy in wealth, health, relationships, travelling, sports, gaming, and more, would be worried and panic-stricken, because COVID-19 threatens all those earthly sources of joy.
The Bible, however, exhorts us to rejoice in something that COVID-19 cannot threaten. Thus we will have reason to rejoice always, even in the midst of a terrifying pandemic.
Possessions that Cannot Be Taken Away
The following verses show how the things that we are called to rejoice in are not things that can be taken away from us.
Certain Hope in God’s Glory
“We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). While this joy is eschatological in nature, it is grounded in an already inaugurated relationship. The reconciled relationship that we have with God enables us to wait for his glory with joy.
The Christian hope is for something unshakeable, the revealing of God’s glory.
Peace with God cannot be removed from us once it has been won for us by Christ, and neither can the hope that comes with it. For this hope is for something unshakeable, the revealing of God’s glory. This hope is then a sure source of joy in the midst of the present pandemic, because of the worth and value of what we are hoping for.
For this reason Paul could say, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). The present sufferings include COVID-19 and whatever other forms of suffering believers might be enduring. Yet they are nothing compared to the glory to that will be revealed to us. This is the unshakeable hope that we have as believers.
The Development of Holiness
“We rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3). This comes with a reason as to why we can ‘rejoice always’ in suffering, that is, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Sanctification is a process by which we are made holy, and all forms of suffering are there for this purpose.
The very suffering that would seem to threaten our joy does in fact produce a secure hope
Yet the beauty about this passage is that it does not downplay suffering by trying to deny its presence, but acknowledges the suffering and encourages us to rejoice that it produces endurance, and endurance character, and character hope that does not put us to shame.
The very suffering that would seem to threaten our joy does in fact produce a secure hope, and therefore we can continue to rejoice in the midst of that suffering.
Peace With God
“We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11). This passage points back to the fact that our joy is relational. It encourages us to have joy in the one we have relationship with (God) through the person who made that relationship possible (Jesus). Our relationship with God through Jesus Christ should result in our joy in God through Jesus Christ.
The Person of Christ
“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Unlike the previous verse where joy is a result of a restored relationship with God, in this verse joy is more of a command. “Lord” here is a reference to Christ (Philippians 4:23), through whom we have a relationship with God. Joy, then, is not something that is produced in us while we remain passive. Rather, we are commanded to seek and find our joy in the person of Jesus Christ.
We are commanded to seek and find our joy in the person of Jesus Christ
The Only Way To ‘Rejoice Always’
We can rejoice in the things of the world as the rest of the world does. Or we can rejoice in what God is calling us to rejoice in. If we rejoice in the things of the world, our joy will not last, as the current pandemic shows. But if we rejoice in God and the things that God calls us to rejoice in, our joy will stand. Even during a worldwide pandemic and the economic hardships that may follow.
his joy does not downplay the seriousness of the situation. Rather, since it is rooted in the promises of God and who he is, we can take this situation seriously and follow advised preventative measures, while still having joy that remains unshaken.