For most of the culture today, it appears that joy is elusive.
Turning to entertainment, impurity, drugs, sports, relationships, shopping, or whatever else – all in the hope of finding deep soul satisfaction.
Perhaps it is the confusion that joy is an emotion – a desire to find continual happiness – and thus always on the search for the next emotional high.
But the only way we are going to experience joy is when we realize the source of it is not in circumstances, situations, or emotions. The source of joy is God Himself. He is the fullness of joy.
Psalm 16:11 tells us “You [God] make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
We must remember that the fullness of joy is found in the presence of God … and we won’t find it anywhere else.
Paul tells us in Galatians that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (5:22). Joy is not something we produce or whip up – joy is something that comes as a natural outflow of having the Spirit of God residing within us. When we are IN Christ and He is IN us, we find the fruit of His Spirit being produced within us.
Regardless of circumstance, situation, or trial – we can have joy within our lives because we set our gaze on Christ and declare our trust in Him, no matter what we face. It was from a prison cell that Paul commands us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
Again, joy is not about emotions, feelings, circumstances, or trials – it is about a steadfast trust in our God amidst the difficulties.
Joy Amidst Suffering
Paul often talked about rejoicing amidst trials, difficulty, suffering, and persecution.
- 1 Thessalonians 1:6 – And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit …
- 2 Corinthians 8:1–2 – We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
- Colossians 1:24 – Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church …
- Romans 5:3–4 – Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …
- Romans 12:12 – Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
And three times Paul explicitly commands believers to rejoice.
- Philippians 3:1a – Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. …
- Philippians 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
In all three verses above, the main verb (“rejoice”) is in the present, active, imperative. An imperative is a command – so we are commanded to “rejoice always.” The active voice tells us that we are responsible for the action – we are commanded to choose joy and rejoice always. And the present tense in Greek is the idea of the “ever-present tense” – in other words, whenever you live in the present this action should happen (and though many of us dwell upon the past or future, we live in the present).
So Paul commands us to choose joy every moment of our lives. We are to rejoice regardless of circumstance, situation, or emotion.
Yet, how can we practically “rejoice always” in all situations, every moment of the day? Here are twelve reflections and ideas how …
12 Reflections on Paul’s Command to “Rejoice Always”
1. We must know the source of joy
We will never experience joy if we don’t know where it comes from.
True joy (and the fullness of it) comes from God alone. He is the fullness of joy as Psalm 16:11 tells us. Though I quoted it above, read it afresh: “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
You can see this idea in our passage in Philippians 4:4. The command is to rejoice “in the Lord.”
Our joy and rejoicing comes from and is found in Jesus. He is the source of all joy. And if the fullness of joy is found in His presence and He does not change (see Hebrews 13:8), then the only place we should ever seek joy is in Him.
William Barclay (a biblical commentator) said it this way: “Christian joy is independent of all things on earth because it has its source in the continual presence of Christ.”*
2. Joy is a fruit … the natural outflow of the life of the Spirit within us
As I mentioned earlier, joy is not something we produce within us, nor is it a facade or smile we put on to make people think we have joy. Joy is an evidence of the life of Christ within us.
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, what comes out is His “fruit” – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
We don’t have to strive to replicate or produce it, it will naturally bear itself as long as we remain (abide) in Him.
Just as a healthy tree doesn’t have to work, strive, or grit its teeth to produce fruit – if it is a healthy tree, at a certain time of year, it is guaranteed to produce fruit – because of the life within it.
We are told in John 15, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:1, 4-5).
The job description of the branch is not to produce fruit (that will come as a natural result of abiding) – the job description is staying/remaining/abiding in the vine. For it is only in the vine that the branch receives life. And when that branch abides (remains) in the life of the vine, it will bear fruit.
In the same way, God, through His Spirit, wants to produce (and be) the joy in our lives.
Joy will be evident in our lives when we abide in the source of life: Jesus.
3. Joy is not about circumstances but a purposeful response amidst the circumstances
Being joyful doesn’t mean you need to be ignorant or ignore what is going on around you, rather it is about having the proper perspective amidst whatever life throws at you.
Joy is the set of the sail of the soul in the wind of circumstance.
When Paul commands us to rejoice always, he is not giving us a cute phrase that we can put upon our refrigerator – he is writing this with a beaten back sitting in a prison cell.
Paul knew great suffering. In 2 Corinthians 11:24–28, Paul recounts his struggles by saying, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
Yet it same man who despite all those painful struggles, commands from a prison cell, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
Paul wasn’t ignorant of his situation or the pain he experienced, but rather determined to “leap for joy” no matter what he faced.
Jesus gave the same commission in Luke 6:22-23, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”
4. Rejoicing doesn’t have to make sense … but it does need to happen (always)
It encourages me that “rejoicing always” doesn’t always have to make sense. But whether joy makes sense in the situation or not, I am still called to do it.
Because joy is not an emotion like happiness, you can rejoice even with tears in your eyes and sorrow in your soul. So whether you feel happy or sad, you are still called to rejoice.
We must decide to rejoice in every moment – good, bad, or ugly – even if it doesn’t make sense … perhaps especially if it doesn’t make sense.
To rejoice is a command. We must obey.
There are times when we must command our minds or souls to come in alignment with truth. In the Psalms, you find that the Psalmist will do that very thing. For example in Psalm 42:11, the Psalmist asks himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” Rather than live in self-reflection or the despair, he commands his soul in the second half of the verse, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
Regardless of how we might feel, let us choose to obey the command to rejoice always, in all circumstances.
5. Joy increases with the increase of pressure (suffering, trial, persecution)
Joy has an interesting quality about itself – the more pressure we experience, the more joy should be produced.
My friend Eric often talks about Christians being “cheerios in milk” – utterly unsinkable.
Have you ever tried to sink a cheerio? Every time you push it down into the milk, it pops back up to the top.
Or imagine jumping on a trampoline. The harder the bounce, the higher you soar.
When life presses you with pain, suffering, trials, hardships, or difficulty – that added pressure should only cause our joy to leap all the higher.
There is a classic illustration of the toothpaste tube. When you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, what comes out? Obviously toothpaste – but why? Some might say because the tube was being squeezed … but that’s not the question. The question is why does toothpaste come out? The answer – because that is what is in the tube. The issue is not the squeezing (you will be squeezed, guaranteed!), the real question is WHEN you are squeezed, what will come out of you?
Can you imagine living in such a way that the harder you are squeezed, the more joy bubbles forth?
Sound crazy? Perhaps. But it describes the life of a Christian.
One commentator on Philippians 4:4 said it this way: “Lest there be any detractors or recalcitrant members of the church who resist the encouragement to rejoice in the Lord, Paul repeats the command, I will say it again: Rejoice! He doubles the command in case there are those who object that rejoicing in a time of suffering is inappropriate. A time of suffering is a time when rejoicing in the Lord is the only way to survive. In no way is Paul simply advocating a positive mental attitude or urging his readers to “cheer up” and “have a nice day.” His double emphasis on joy comes from his own experience of knowing the resurrection power of Christ and participation in his sufferings (3:10) in his Roman prison.“**
6. Joy is a present declaration in our future hope (we rejoice because we know the future)
When we rejoice, it is our present declaration in our future hope.
If we know the end of the story, and the hope that awaits every believer, we can rejoice regardless of what happens around us.
Jesus said, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). When we know where we are going, we can rejoice!
What if we lived with an eternal perspective – looking at our “momentary afflictions” in light of eternity?
- 1 Peter 4:13 – But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
- 1 Peter 5:10 – And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
- Romans 8:18 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
- 2 Corinthians 4:17 – For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
- Hebrews 12:11 – For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
- Hebrews 13:5b-6 – For He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
7. Joy exposes and declares our focus and trust in God
What we rejoice in declares our focus.
When we experience God’s joy in our lives, it reveals that our focus is Jesus but that we trust in His provision and timing (even if we don’t see the results immediately).
8. We rejoice because we know trials and difficulty lead to maturity
When you see the end result of difficulty, you find yourself joyfully enduring it.
James tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).
Similarly, Paul says in Romans 5:3–4, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …”
When we face trials and difficulty, it produces steadfastness, endurance, character, and hope. In short, trials and hardships develop maturity in our lives.
9. Joy is most evident (or seen more clearly) in our trials, sufferings, hardships, difficulties, and weaknesses
The best place to see if we are rejoicing is not during times of ease. It is easy to have joy when things go well … but joy is proven in difficulty.
As we mentioned in number five, as pressure increases in our lives, so too our joy should expand and be seen more clearly
Paul rejoiced in his weaknesses because it was in his weakness that the power of God was made more evident (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). What if we saw trials, sufferings, hardships, difficulties, and weaknesses not as something to dread but something to rejoice in.
What the world needs now more than ever is to see believers not walking in fear or worry but rejoicing – especially with everything going on in our world.
10. We rejoice because we know God is King … and He has overcome the world
There is always a reason to rejoice because our God is King of kings and Lord of lords and He has overcome the world! He is the victor! He is the savior! He is King!
- Psalm 97:1 – The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
- John 16:33 – I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
11. We rejoice because God is a God of Joy
God is a God of joy.
- Psalm 16:11 – You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
- Zephaniah 3:17 – The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
- Nehemiah 8:10b – And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
- John 15:11 – These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
God does not want us to be conformed to the pattern and image of the world (Romans 12:2), rather we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Since He is full of joy, so too our lives should ever be rejoicing!
12. Joy is to be a distinctive mark of a Christian
Gordon Fee wrote, “‘Joy,’ unmitigated, untrammeled joy, is—or at least should be—the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus.”***
Another scholar said it this way, “this command calls for the development of a cheerful attitude in every circumstance to be the dominant theme in the Christian life. The fulfillment of all other goals in the Christian walk flows out of the practice of rejoicing in the Lord.”****
Is joy one of the distinctive marks in your life?
We know Christians are supposed to be known for love (John 13:35) and Peter says that we are to wear the clothing (the mark) of humility (1 Peter 5:5). In fact, all the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are to be the evidence of the life of the Spirit within a believer – which means joy should be one of the “dominant themes” bearing itself out in our lives.
Paul reminds us that the Kingdom of God is one of joy (remember, He is a God of joy and thus His kingdom bears His nature) – “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
Let Us Rejoice Always
If joy isn’t an emotion nor based upon circumstances, then there is every reason to “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!”
Is that true in your life?
Would you allow God, in Whose presence is the fullness of joy, become your joy and bear that fruit in and through your life?
As Isaiah wrote, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
Listen to the message on Philippians 4:4 and our call to “Rejoice in the Lord Always”
- William Barclay, The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 88.
- G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 288.
- Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 404.
- G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 287.