Today is Thanksgiving. I can think of no better theme for such an occasion than that of rejoicing. Thanksgiving and rejoicing go together.
You may be thinking, “What have I to rejoice about — inflation, family problems, personal trials, sickness, financial loss, heartaches of all kinds. Why rejoice?”
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let me encourage you to consider what the Apostle Paul said to the Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice” Philippians 4:4.
The Bible is a very practical book. Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Scriptures are profitable, practical, useful and helpful. What Paul wrote to the Philippians is no exception. He lays great stress on gladness. Consider the whole of Philippians. Read the whole book. In chapter 1, Paul speaks of the “joy of faith” and also he hopes “that your rejoicing may be more abundant.” In chapter 2, Paul encourages them to “joy and rejoice.” He sent a messenger to them, advising them to “receive him therefore in the Lord with gladness.” In chapter 3 Paul writes, “My brethren, rejoice in the Lord;” repeating again “My brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” He also says, “For we are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus.” Then in chapter 4 comes his great statement I’m emphasizing. In verse 10 Paul writes, “I rejoice greatly in the Lord.” This is a book of joy and rejoicing; gladness and true happiness.
There is an important bit of information essential to understanding what Paul is talking about when he speaks of joy and rejoicing. When Paul wrote about this joy and gladness, he was in prison. He was not in pleasing circumstances. Guarded by the elite Pretorian guard (the Marines) of the Roman empire, day and night, chained and watched. Treated as a common criminal, he was not in pleasing and attractive circumstances. Yet Paul wrote, “I rejoice greatly in the Lord.”
Such an emphasis in such circumstances may seem strange. Was Paul rather weird? Isn’t joy a natural result of pleasing circumstances and of situations free of pain, hardship, toil and pressure? What is even more a problem, isn’t joy spontaneous? So many seek to manufacture it, desire to achieve circumstances that make them happy, yet are unable to do so. What Paul is talking about is something that cannot be manufactured by man, achieved by human effort or maintained in human strength. It is not related to our circumstances or governed by our relationships. The gladness and joy Paul speaks about is the fruit of a deeply-committed, deeply-rooted life in God. It is more than a superficial gladness that springs from pleasant circumstances or pleasing occasions.
Consider the reality of Paul’s statement here when he says we should “rejoice in the Lord always.”
First, we are commanded to rejoice. If we are going to do what is commanded of us, we ought to know what it is we are asked to do. What is joy?
Joy or its equivalent appears numerous times in the New Testament. The most common form related to the concept Paul presents is in the word chara or chairo. It is used most frequently in the New Testament related to joy that has a spiritual basis. It is the “joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul relates this joy to “love... peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faith, temperance.” What a family to belong to. The Lord commands us to rejoice regardless of our circumstances or trials.
Many people live under a perpetual cloud of gloom and joylessness, never cheerful or glad. We should embrace and encourage others by our joy. One semi-poetical product from a nameless author is this —
God has not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through,
God has not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
But God has promised strength for the day,
Rest for the laborer, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.
Second, we are to rejoice in the Lord. When a person reacts in gloom and foreboding, anger or meanness, despair or hatred, it is simply a disclosure that he is not walking in the Spirit. He is not obedient to the Lord.
Several years ago reading an article by the German theologian and pastor Helmut Thelicke on prayer, I gained an insight into this point. The title of that article alone was intriguing, “Talking about God or Talking with God.” He emphasized that Jesus lived in the realm of prayer, a God-saturated thought world. Jesus was always conscious of His Father. The writer of Hebrews emphasizes this about Jesus, saying that “for the joy that was sent before Him (He) endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the Father.” (Hebrews 12:2). This is the point. We can obey God’s command to rejoice, living close to Jesus, talking often with Him, walking in the Spirit, thereby experiencing joy.
Last, we are to rejoicing always. Everywhere! At all times! In everything giving thanks! A great hindrance of joy in many lives is unfaithfulness in small things — relationships, friendships, worship. We are to rejoice because God has commanded us to; He has made it possible for us to in Christ Jesus; and because of that we can at all times rejoice.
Blaise Pascal, a great philosopher-mathematician, had an experience that changed his life. He wrote this experience out and sewed it into his clothes. When he faced a time of gloom or ill-will, he would touch the spot where he sewed this message and brighten with joy. Here is what he wrote,
“The year of the Lord 1654. Monday, 23 November, from about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve at night: fire. God of Abraham. God of Isaac. God of Jacob, not the God of philosophers and scholars. Certainty, JOY, peace. God of Jesus Christ. He is only found along the ways that are taught in the gospel. Tears of JOY. I had parted from Him. Let me never be separated from Him. Surrender to Jesus Christ.”
Know Jesus Christ, faithfully serve Him, often talk to the Father through Him, associate with His people, work for Him; read and study His Word. In this manner joy will stay with you, not just for Thanksgiving day, but always.