This study is a chapter from Dr. D. James Kennedy*s book Turn It to Gold.
Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. -- Philippians 4:4
What would you really like to get out of life? What are you honestly seeking?
Most people, if they answered that question honestly, would probably say they are just trying to get through life with a little happiness, just seeking a bit of joy in their earthly existence.
That desire, of course, is the essence of hedonism, a philosophy of life that sees no farther than the gratification of our appetite for pleasure. Even so, most errors contain at least a grain of truth, and such is the case even with hedonism.
Is there anything wrong with being happy, from the Christian point of view? To look at many congregations on an average Sunday, you might think there was! Many church folks seem to treat happiness as impious at best and ungodly at worst, and to think that proper worship requires a long face and a turned-down mouth.
But that is not the way it needs to be. The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, What is the chief end of man? The answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Do you enjoy God? Have you ever even thought in terms of enjoying him?
Most people look upon religion as something to be tolerated, certainly not as something to be enjoyed. Yet down through the centuries, the greatest saints have been people who somehow discovered tremendous joy in their faith. They have seen the nuggets of gold deeply embedded in the trying circumstances of life.
What about you? Have you discovered joy in your walk with God? You can!
Satan*s Greatest Lie
First we need to expose what is probably Satan*s greatest lie. For centuries he has been telling it to men and women in all walks of life. Though it may be expressed in different ways, in essence Satan says, God wants you to be miserable, but I want you to be happy.
Satan*s basic propaganda goes back to the beginning. Remember what he said to Eve? Did God tell you not to eat the fruit of that tree? Why, God knows that if you eat it, you will become like him! He*s jealous! He*s trying to hold you down. If you eat of the fruit of that tree, your life will be expanded, enriched. You*ll know happiness beyond anything you*ve ever imagined.
Eve bought Satan*s lie. She ate. And she died.
Satan has been telling us the same lie ever since. He says it to you and me even today: God wants you to have all the things that look bad, taste bitter, and make you appear stupid in the eyes of others. The whole world is going to laugh at you if you get caught up in this religion thing. I offer you things that look good and taste sweet and make others look at you with envy.
Have you ever heard that pitch? I suppose all of us have fallen for it at one time or another. God wants us sad, Satan wants us glad. That is the lie. What a colossal deception!
Against all this, we are confronted by the startling exhortation of Scripture, Rejoice in the Lord always! Isn*t that amazing? God is telling us to rejoice! It is virtually in the form of a commandment.
That may seem a bit odd to us. How can we be commanded to rejoice? Isn*t joy something that just happens inside us as a result of good things happening to us? Isn*t joy something outside of our control?
Yes and no. There is an emotion of joy that does just happen to us when things go our way. But rejoicing can also be a deliberately chosen action on our part. The Greek word is chairoie, which speaks of purposeful, deliberate activity: to be glad, to sing aloud, to leap with joy. We can -- and the Bible says we should -- decide to rejoice. When was the last time you leaped for joy? Yet that is what God calls us to do.
Testimony of Joy
Why does God give us this exhortation or commandment to rejoice? First of all, I think it is because rejoicing is a tremendous testimony to God*s goodness, to his faithfulness, to his love. It testifies to the truthfulness of his Word. Sadness in a Christian can appear to be a testimony to all the opposite traits.
Rejoicing is such a marvelous testimony because it baits the hook with the one thing people want most in this world -- to be happy. Human beings spend most of their waking hours seeking something to fill the emptiness in their souls. They are seeking joy. If you can offer them that, people will be eager to learn your secret.
F. B. Meyer, the great preacher of yesteryear, said he was brought to Christ by observing the exuberant joy in the face of a young man who had recently committed his life to God. The man*s joy was irresistible, he said. So he sought it, he found it, and he, too, went on his way rejoicing.
What a wonderful testimony to Christ is joy! Jesus himself said joy was like a spring of water that wells up in the soul and overflows to others. It is a river that sparkles in the sunshine of God*s grace. Joy shines forth from the eye and resonates in the voice, drawing people irresistibly to its source, which is Christ. No wonder God, who wants all men and women to come to know his son, wants us to rejoice!
A Strength and Shield
Another reason God calls us to rejoice always is that rejoicing gives us strength.
Have you ever had one of those days? You*ve been working hard all day -- at the office, at school, around the house -- and are just worn out. Dog tired. Exhausted. You have no energy even to think about doing anything.
Then the phone rings. It*s an old friend, someone you haven*t heard from in years. Your friend is in town unexpectedly and wants to see you -- tonight! What happens? All of a sudden the tiredness seems to melt away. Enthusiasm floods your heart and invigorates your body. Why? Joy at the prospect of seeing your old friend again has brought you to life!
Joy gives strength for living. It gives wings to our feet. Our steps are lightened when our hearts are filled with joy. The best part is that the same benefits result whether joy just happens to us, or whether it flows from our decision to rejoice in the goodness of our God. The joy of the Lord truly is our strength! (See Nehemiah 8:10.)
A third reason God urges us to rejoice always is because rejoicing protects us from temptation. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to fall into sin when you are down in the dumps? When we are unhappy, we look for something to fill the inner void -- and sometimes we look in the wrong places. But when we are rejoicing, we have less room in our hearts for sin. The voice of the tempter meets greater resistence.
The Double Antidote
Paul*s exhortation to rejoice always is surrounded on either side by two very interesting texts. On the one side is Paul*s discussion about two women in the church at Philippi who are having it out. Paul urges them to be of one mind. On the other side is Paul*s admonition about anxiety: Be careful for nothing (Philippians 4:6). Rejoicing is like a mountain peak, rising up between the valleys of interpersonal problems and worry.
Joy is, indeed, an antidote to both. Perhaps you have not noticed, but happy people have very few enemies. The person who has trouble getting along with others is often the one who is morose, down in the mouth, unhappy. People do not respond well to someone like that. The joyful person, on the other hand, is easy for others to relate to. He is not quick to take offense, nor does he often give offense. Rather, he brings gladness into every situation.
A joyful husband brings happiness into his home. A wife who rejoices will not have the troubles that an unhappy wife will encounter. What a wonderful thing to walk into a home and hear singing, or better yet, bring singing with you. How often does either happen in your home? Scripture calls us to rejoice, to leap with joy, to break forth with singing.
As to anxiety: joy simply drives it away. True joy, the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, brings with it God*s power to chase worries away.
The Source of Joy
What is the source of true joy? Where does it come from? When God calls us to rejoice, does he mean we are to go around pretending to be happy, putting on a false face? Of course not. But where is joy to be found?
The scripture says, In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11). There is the secret! The answer is simple: the fullness of joy is found in the presence of God. As we spend time with the Lord, his joy is infused into our souls. We discover, in contradiction to Satan*s great lie, that Christ is no cosmic killjoy. Rather, he is the source of all happiness.
Ah, you say, but doesn*t the Bible describe Jesus as a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3)? Indeed it does. And indeed he was. Jesus was acquainted with our grief. He bore our sorrows, our sins. He received our chastisement and our punishment, so that we might be able to rejoice.
Jesus is the source of joy -- a joy that does not depend upon outward circumstances. Human happiness, which is much more shallow, depends upon happenings to bring happiness. But Jesus brings a joy that is untouched by the circumstances of life. It was, after all, awaiting execution from inside a Roman dungeon, that Paul said, Rejoice! Clearly, he knew a joy that did not depend merely on his having a nice day!
Jesus is the source of joy. Our joy is, in fact a barometer of our closeness to him. Our silence in song indicates the poverty of our prayer. If we do not leap with joy, it is because we do not often enough bend the knee. If we are empty inside, it is because we have not allowed Jesus to fill us with the love, peace, and joy of his Spirit.
The Great Hindrance
The great hindrance to joy is, of course, sin. Sin is like a film that coats the soul and robs it of its sparkle. Sin makes us like a crystal chandelier that has hung too long without being cleaned, until it has lost its lustre. But if it is cleaned and the film washed away, the chandelier of our soul will once again shine forth with all the colors of the rainbow.
So it is with joy. When we are forgiven, the film of sin is washed away and our joy can shine forth. When God gets rid of the last vestige of sin in our lives, we will be in heaven, where there is eternal joy. In thy presence is joy forevermore.
Lovelessness, which is the ultimate sin, will rob us of joy more quickly and more ruthlessly than anything I know. Are you holding animosity toward someone else? If so, you are depriving yourself of the most glorious experience you can know in this life: the richness of the joy of the Lord, which is the aura of the heart where his love resides.
When are we to rejoice? Incredibly, Paul says we are to rejoice always. At all times. All day. Every day.
But there are so many times when we do not feel like rejoicing, when things are going badly, when the whole world seems to be against us. We simply do not feel happy. But remember: happiness depends on happenings, but joy comes from Jesus.
Whatever else may be happening in our lives, we can rejoice in God and his salvation. We can rejoice in his mercy and forgiveness. We can rejoice in the hope of eternal life. We can rejoice in the providence that watches over our lives, working all things together for good.
Rejoice always. That includes right now. Are you rejoicing in the Lord? If not, why not? There is no substitute for that time in Christ*s presence when we can be filled with his joy. We cannot fake joy. We cannot work it up. We can only receive it from the Spirit of God.
And, we might add, life is divine when joy is a duty to which we apply ourselves by God*s grace: Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
A quote from Jay Kessler in his book Grandparenting:
I slept and dreamed that life was joy. I awoke and found that life was duty. I did my duty and God gave me joy!