Rejoice in the Lord

If there was anyone who had reason to rejoice in anything, spiritually speaking, it was Paul. This guy was amazing. He had the right lineage. He had the right tutelage. He had the right zeal. And after he was saved, he was almost immediately effective at arguing the truth and validity of Christianity. He was discipled by a guy who was personally acquainted with the apostles in Jerusalem. He quickly became a leader in his church. And soon was traveling the world starting other churches.

Surely, if anyone could rejoice in anything spiritual, it was Paul. He had it going on.

But as I run today into Philippians 3:1, I am shocked to see this point-blank statement: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” And then, in the succeeding verses, the apostle goes on to rail against all those things that I think he should be celebrating, declaring in verse 7 that “everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ.” And then, in verse 8, he concludes, “More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

As I read this passage – I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve read the same passage throughout my life – I am struck anew by the deceptively simple mandate to rejoice in the Lord. I mean, how often have I rejoiced in other stuff instead?  I remember the celebrations of my life. The first ones were birthdays and Christmas, with Easter right there. But it was never about God; it was always about me getting stuff. I celebrated my graduations from high school and college. My marriage. We didn’t throw a party when we bought our first car, but we sure told a lot of people about how great it was.

I shudder to think how someone looking back on my life might think I would have completed Paul’s statement. “Rejoice in…” The stuff? The accomplishment? The family? The car?

Now, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to celebrate stuff, but in what have I truly rejoiced? I fear that I’ve rejoiced in a great deal over the years, but a good deal of it had nothing to do with the Lord.

And perhaps what really gets me is that the pattern hasn’t stopped for me as a pastor! Oh, of course, a lot of the stuff that I celebrate is veiled in religiosity and all that: high attendance, people getting saved, good offerings, successful events, excitement among the congregation, etc. But the reality is that, as good as that stuff is and sounds, none of it is the Lord.

Paul tells me to rejoice in the Lord. And I think that’s significant, particularly when all of that other stuff is conspicuously absent. In fact, that’s probably the one time when my failure on this point is most evident. See, all of this other stuff comes and goes. Or maybe it doesn’t come or go. In those moments when they are absent, do I still have cause to rejoice? Because if I rejoice in the Lord, then the answer is yes, and I will keep on rejoicing even when none of these other things are present and/or life is tough or outright bad. But if I don’t rejoice in the Lord, then the answer may well be no, and I will stop rejoicing altogether.

To be honest, this is immeasurably significant to me. I’ve often been tempted in the past to rejoice in you-name-it. And I’ve often found myself absolutely deflated when you-name-it disappears.

I need to rejoice in the Lord. Not in the stuff, the accomplishment, the family, the attendance, the conversions, the offerings, the success, the excitement, or anything else. No, because all of that stuff is transient at best. Non-existent at worst.

I need to rejoice in the Lord.

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