Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:4-5 (NIV)
The apostle Paul is a fine one to talk about joy! Does he know how difficult a year we are having, trying to survive 2020? Could he imagine how much suffering good people have endured this year? What would he say if he knew about COVID-19 and the ensuing economic crisis? What would he have to say about the crime, and the hatred and violence, all around us in South Africa? Paul would have said exactly the same things. Remember, that he is under house arrest when he writes this letter. He is chained to a Roman soldier 24 hours a day. He has no privacy, and the conditions would have been hard to bear. His trial could come up any day and he was expecting a death sentence.
Under these circumstances, he still gives this command to all believers everywhere, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” The joy that he is referring to is not subject to ideal conditions to flourish. There are no exceptions to this command. We are to find our joy in life, under all possible circumstances, in the Lord. He is the one unchangeable factor in every believer’s life. He has paid such a high price to set us free. He has given us a new life as God’s child. He will never abandon or forsake us, even in our most desperate times. This is our joy in life: to know Christ, and to follow him all the days of our lives. How is it possible to rejoice in the Lord always? Because, as Paul reminds us in verse 5: Christ is near. Remember the last words of Jesus, in the book of Matthew, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Through his Spirit, Jesus is with us, every step of the way on our path of life. That changes our way of thinking about our lives. We live to glorify him. It also changes our relationships with our fellow man. Because our Lord Jesus is so near to us, our lives are characterised by gentleness. What does that mean? We wish the best for everyone crossing our path in life. We are friendly. We try to serve the needs of our neighbour with the love of Jesus. We try to better the lives of all, because Jesus’ love has touched us.
We can rejoice in the Lord, even on days when we are doing it through our tears. We are forever safe in his hands – even if we suffer in this world. Our joy in the Lord bears testimony to the love of Christ that has changed our lives. This joy makes the love of Christ visible to others. Paul could sing songs of praise even in chains. That gets people’s attention. This is the challenge, this is our testimony: Jesus is near, therefore, I shall rejoice in him!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the promise that you are always near. Through your Spirit you even know my thoughts, before I think them. You are with me all the days of my life until the day you come to call me home. Therefore, I ask that you will renew my spirit and mind today. Fill my heart with your joy so that my life may bear witness to your goodness and your love. Help me to act with gentleness to all even in these days. Amen