Be Glad

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“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” – Philippians 4:4

When you read a verse like the one above, you might think it was written in especially sunny circumstances. Someone so bold and direct about joy must be enjoying especially comfortable and fruitful conditions. An especially buoyant and fortunate person in your life may come to mind. Easy for him to say, we might think, but see what he says if he’s stuck in my circumstances. 

The apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians is unusually flooded with joy, but that wasn’t because Paul’s life was going especially well. Quite the opposite, actually. This four-chapter burst of joy sprung not out of a season when life and ministry were going according to plan. No, Paul found the depth and intensity of this joy at a low moment, when he’d been wrongfully thrown into prison and then attacked by fellow preachers. He says, even then, “Rejoice always” — not because his joy had come easy and pain-free, but precisely because he had tasted suffering, betrayal, and injustice.

Even in Prison

Paul wrote, in part, to assure the church he was okay. He was being held for preaching Christ, and those who loved him knew he wasn’t about to stop. They knew he would rather die than renounce his Savior. He himself says, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). In other words, I know I might die in these chains. And yet I have every reason to rejoice, even now, even here.

Where does that unexpected, unexplainable gladness come from? “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me” — all the opposition, cruelty, captivity — “has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12–13). Because he loved Jesus’s name over his own well-being, Paul could rejoice when his suffering meant more people would hear about Jesus. So he could say from prison, into whatever awful circumstances his fellow believers were facing or enduring, “Be glad. Always be glad.”

Even in Hostility

Prison wasn’t the end of Paul’s trouble, though. Some who bore and declared the name of Christ targeted and attacked Paul, even after he was thrown into prison. 

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry. . . . [They] proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.” – Philippians 1:15, 17

We don’t know why exactly these preachers wanted to afflict Paul, but we know they felt some envy and rivalry toward him, and wanted to see him suffer. And the fact that they proclaimed Christ surely made the pain worse, not less. How much worse to be mistreated by (professing) Christians? Envy can twist and corrupt just about any good intention. And yet listen to how the joyful prisoner responds to their bitterness: 

“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” – Philippians 1:18

And even though they treated him horribly, Paul could still rejoice in their ministry. He knew what it was like to be sinned against, and yet he could say to anyone else who had been wronged or offended, “Be glad. Always be glad.”

Even in Sacrifice

Paul’s letter tells the church about his imprisonment and mistreatment, but the letter itself was its own costly sacrifice. He knows he might be living his last days, taking his last breaths, and yet he devotes his precious, dwindling time to the church. Death draws near, and yet he keeps working for their “progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25). He spends all he has to see them grow, even a little more, in Jesus.

That kind of ministry can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s also often difficult and painful. Just ask any pastor. Paul describes the feeling as being “poured out as a drink offering.” Does your ministry to others feel that way sometimes? Does it feel like you’re giving more than you have to give, and seeing less fruit (or appreciation) than you expected? Watch what happens in Paul, though, as his life is being poured out for others: 

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” – Philippians 2:17–18

This letter does two great things for the pursuit of joy: first, it tells us that we were made for a joy greater, deeper, stronger than any joy here on earth. And second, it tells us that joy in God doesn’t have to shrivel or fade when life gets hard. In fact, the right joy will often grow and shine all the more. So, rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.