Philippians 3:1, “Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.”
“I choose joy.”
My friend spoke these words through tears as she relayed the story of her husband leaving her—and their three children—for another woman. It sounded like an implausible choice given her circumstances, but my friend knew what the Apostle Paul also knew: the source of true joy is Christ.
Rejoice in the Lord!
It’s not a helpful suggestion but a command. Paul is not telling the Philippian believers that they can rejoice if they feel like it. He’s saying they must rejoice—whether they feel like it or not. And we must rejoice too. But what does this mean? What will it look like to “rejoice in the Lord?”
Think about some of the things that cause you to rejoice. Maybe your sports team winning a match or your political party winning an election. A family member’s academic achievements or your own successes and accomplishments. Encouragements in your church ministries or stories of people becoming followers of Jesus. All of these things—and many more—give us reason to rejoice. But, because so many of these things are temporary and changeable, the joy we derive from them is inconsistent—it ebbs and flows like an ocean tide.
Joy that endures is found in Christ alone. He is the source of true and lasting joy. Unlike our ever-changing circumstances, he is unchangeable, unshakable, and unfailing. This is why Paul commands the Philippian believers—and us—to rejoice in him.
We rejoice in who Christ is and what he has done for us. We rejoice in his love, his compassion, his grace, his presence with us by his Spirit. We rejoice in his perfect life and death on our behalf, his resurrection and triumph over death, his ascension to the right hand of the Father, his eternal rule and reign. We rejoice that he intercedes in heaven on our behalf, that he is coming again to judge the world in righteousness, and that we will live and reign with him for eternity in the New Creation.
All Christ is, and all he has done on our behalf should thrill our hearts so that they overflow with joy in him. He is worthy of the unending delight of our souls. What’s amazing is that, as we rejoice in the Lord, he also delights in us! (Zephaniah 3:17)
So we rejoice in the Lord because he is worthy of our rejoicing. But Paul gives the Philippians another reason to keep rejoicing in the Lord—he says it is a safeguard for them. Why do followers of Jesus need a safeguard?
The believers in Philippi were under attack from false teachers who were adding to the gospel—we’ll see in the next few verses how their false teaching might lead the Philippians astray if they do not guard themselves from it. We are just as vulnerable as the Philippians. We are easily distracted from the gospel by the dazzling attractions of the world. Our hearts are divided—between God’s glory and our own. Our idols of comfort, status, respectability, and power pull us away from living solely for Christ and his Kingdom. Like the Philippians, we are in danger of falling away from grace—and experiencing the suffering that ensues. So we need a safeguard.
Paul says our safeguard is to rejoice in the Lord. This is something we must actively do—not something that will just happen to us. Christ is the source of joy, but we must direct our hearts and our minds to experience his joy. This is what my friend understood, even in her suffering—to rejoice in the Lord is an act of will. It is to declare our steadfast hope in him, our humble trust in his sovereignty, and our unwavering confidence in His goodness—regardless of our circumstances. It is to choose the deep, rich, secure, infinite joy offered to us in Christ over the fickle and fading promises of this world.
This doesn’t mean that life will always be full of laughter and lightness. One of the great paradoxes of the Christian life is that great sorrow and deep joy can co-exist. The presence of joy does not mean the absence of tears. But, even through tears, we rejoice in the one who will, one day, wipe every tear away. We rejoice that we are eternally united to the Triune God and that he is working things out for our good and his glory.