by Revd Dr Peter Sanlon
Christians are commanded in the Bible to ‘rejoice.’ It is such an important instruction that Paul repeats it: ‘Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.’ (Phil. 3:1)
We tend to assume that our emotional well being, happiness or sense of joy are all dependent on circumstances. With that common outlook, our emotions are very much outside our control. However this may seem to fit with much experience in life, the Bible’s commandment to rejoice suggests that there is more going on.
The rejoicing that is the right of the believer does require that we cast aside a worldly outlook. Paul in Phil. 3 makes clear that he has changed his valuation of his culture’s recognition, rewards and pleasures. They are viewed as refuse, in comparison with knowing Christ. If we cling to the baubles this world offers us, then we will not be able to rejoice in Christ. Valuing Jesus more than anything else, opens to pilgrims the door to rejoicing in Him, regardless of external circumstances. If we find we cannot rejoice due to circumstances – perhaps we need to look again at how wonderful Jesus is. Ponder his grace, his gifts, his sacrifice. And feel yourself rejoicing in Him.
The rejoicing that marks out a believer does not erase or nullify other complex and apparently contradictory feelings and affections. We do groan at the travails of this fallen world (Rom. 8:22) and we do grieve the loss of those we love in death (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Yet the Christian experience is that Jesus is often felt to be closest to us, when we suffer thus. And so even at our lowest points of grief and sadness, we rejoice in Him. Certain precious insights to our Lord’s character and ways are granted us when we suffer – and we rejoice in that even if at the same time we weep.
All of this is possible because we have been made in God’s image and we are being conformed to the image of the crucified saviour. Jesus – the one who brings joy to our hearts – is a crucified saviour who knew what it means to rejoice in the future glory even as the suffering of this world weighed upon Him.
Rev. Dr. Peter Sanlon is minister of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: www.emmanuelanglican.uk