“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Philippians 4:4
“Rejoice always;” 1 Thessalonians 5:16
Always, really?? In the original language of the New Testament, Greek, “always” means at all times. Yes, always. As in, I have always struggled with these verses so I just put them on the back burner and moved on. Today I bring them to the front burner…
The modern English definition of “rejoice”: to be glad; take delight. Synonyms: revel, exult, glory.
So let’s work this definition into Paul’s admonition to do so at all times. “My dog just died.” Be glad, delight, be pleased, revel, exult, glory. Worse, “My child just died.” Be glad, exult, glory. That’s just stupid. Beyond stupid, cruel. This interpretation and application is nonsensical and is simply not consistent with the law of love. So, it cannot be the proper interpretation and application. Perhaps something is lost in the transliteration…
Transliteration, the process of transforming, in this case, a Greek word into an English word. The Greek word used in both verses, cited above, is χαίρω. Got that? In English, the transliteration, is “chairó”. According to one lexicon, the root of the word means “to be favorably disposed, leaning towards”. Properly, to delight in God’s grace. Literally, to experience God’s grace, to be conscious of and glad for His grace. Further, it is closely related, a cognate (that is to share the same root or birth), to “charis”, which means grace and/or favor. Another lexicon suggests, “chairó” means “glad for grace” and it has a “direct etymological connection with charis (grace)”. Yet another commentator suggests that the Greek word for “chará”(joy) and “cháris”(grace) are cognate with “chaírō”(to rejoice), “they all share the same root and therefore the same core, fundamental meaning”.
First and foremost, what strikes me is what rejoicing is NOT in the original language. There is no sense of revelry, of doing a “happy dance” or sensual delight or sense of gaiety. There is no sense of smiling, laughing, or the lightheartedness that is suggested by the English definition of “rejoice”. It is not some shallow temporal emotional state. Rather, “chairó”, and its cognates, strike me as a deeper, more considered, even contemplative condition of mind and spirit that is more consistent with the concept of contentment, as over against happiness.
In the context of a relationship with God this Greek concept of rejoicing is eye opening. To delight in God’s grace. To lean into God. To be favorably disposed toward Him. These are notions consistent with a Father-child relationship. These are notions consistent with the law of love.
Lastly, we must consider the context in which Paul wrote these verses in order to understand his objective in so doing.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Phil. 4:5-8 (NASB)
This passage is found near the end of his letter, he is wrapping up his thoughts, these are his last words of instruction, therefore, they carry considerable weight. The theme, the emphasis, of these final words is on their state of mind and heart. Rejoicing is not a stand alone.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thess. 5:16-22 (NASB)
Once again, these represent Paul’s last words of instruction, this time to the Thessalonians. Do you see a theme? Compare the two passages and we see that rejoicing, giving thanks, guarding one’s mind, examining, dwelling on that which is good… are referenced in both. Again, rejoicing is not a stand alone. Rejoicing is inextricably linked to prayer, being thankful, meditating upon God’s grace, and paying attention to our thought-life. To rejoice is not to gin up an emotional state. Nor is it something that can be expected to sovereignly overwhelm us, lest Paul would not have given responsibility to the readers to invoke it. Given the etymology and the context how then might we apply the admonition to rejoice always?
When I am in a funk I find it very difficult to even think about rejoicing. However, I find that if I choose to pray, starting by simply finding things to be thankful for and continuing in that vein, mining the nuggets lodged in my memory of the manifest grace of God in my life, the darkness begins to lift. If I choose to begin to praise Him for all that He has done in my life, and especially if I choose to incorporate music, the light begins to dawn. As I choose to “lean toward” Jesus, as I choose to “delight in God’s grace”, as I choose to remain in a posture of listening to, and speaking with, Jesus (“prayer without ceasing”) I will find myself “rejoicing”, in the New Testament meaning of that word. It’s a place of experiencing the “shalom” of God, the peace of God that defies definition such that Paul refers to it as that which “surpasses all comprehension”.
When I perceive Paul’s admonition in this light I begin to see that his words are not so much a command, rather words of a loving father to his children. Why? Perhaps because he knew that it is impossible to rejoice and be depressed at the same time. It is impossible for evil to overshadow us when we are rejoicing in what God has done, and will do in us and for us. It is not some kind of litmus test to Christian maturity. It is not an end in and of itself. Rejoicing is a weapon that when properly wielded fends off all the fiery darts of the evil one. It is also a shelter, a place of rest in the midst of the storms of life. It’s a place of refreshment. Who wouldn’t want to dwell there at all times?
It has been said by those wiser than I, that giving thanks promotes mental health, and rejoicing promotes emotional/psychological health. Here’s to our health…