I was thinking that over the next number of blogs I’d like us to consider the importance of having a biblically grounded mental health perspective on all the bad news that we are daily bombarded with. I’d like us to look carefully at the passage that I consider to be one of the most important mental health passages that Paul ever composed. From verses 4 through 9 of Philippians 4 Paul gives us some very helpful insights into how we are to be thinking in these dark times. We read, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say rejoice”, (Phil. 4:4 NASB). Most of us find it very easy to rejoice and give thanks to God when things in our lives are running along smoothly and we’re going through a good stretch of time where everything seems to be working out as we planned. Surely Paul, when he wrote these words, must have been at such a point in his life. Well, we certainly know that that was not what was happening in Paul’s life when he wrote this rather profound portion of Scripture. In fact, Paul was writing these words from a Roman prison where he had been sent to stand trial for his supposed disruption of the Jewish religion. He talks about being chained to a Roman jailer (Phil.1:13). Besides Paul’s difficult situation in prison, he is also dealing with a difficult situation with the church in Philippi.
In the first 3 verses of chapter 4, Paul discusses a conflict that was taking place between two women in the Philippian church. This conflict was not only disrupting the life of the church, but it is probably one of the main reasons Paul wrote this epistle. These two ladies, Euodia and Synyche, had a falling out, over what we know not, but it was disrupting the life of the congregation. Both women, who had faithfully ministered alongside Paul, were now having a difficult time getting along with each other. Conflict in the church has been a great hindrance to kingdom work in every age. I am reminded of this short anonymous poem I had written in the leaflet of my first Bible which read: To live above with the saints we love; oh, that will be the glory! But to live below with the saints we know; now that’s a different story! Learning how to disagree agreeably is one of the most important skills we can develop in our Christian walk because we certainly aren’t going to agree on every point of ministry.
So those are the background issues that bring us to, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice”. It doesn’t seem like a very appropriate statement given Paul’s problems that we just discussed. Paul, however, would teach us and model for us that it is our duty and privilege to rejoice “in Christ” and to rejoice “in Him” always. At times we will go difficult conditions or experience aloneness, maybe possibly suffering for Christ, but Jesus Christ as the one in whom this spirit of rejoicing is to take place. Certainly, there are many circumstances in life in which a Christian cannot be happy, but we can always rejoice in the Lord. I’m currently not very happy about not being able to see my mom, who I haven’t seen in over a month, due to the deep isolation at her assisted living facility, but I can “rejoice in the Lord” in the fact that this isolation is keeping mom safe and that she’s being cared for at that place. Paul is an excellent example and model of one who had a deep inner joy despite external circumstances. The word “rejoice” in this passage is in the present active imperative- this represents an order or command that has a continuous or repeated application in the present tense. It highlights the fact that in spite of discouragement and problems we are to continually look for reasons to “rejoice in the Lord”. Paul’s just talked about the conflict in the church, but if we focus our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ, we take our eyes off the conflict.
This joy intoxicated man could not stress too much the importance of “rejoicing in the Lord”, even in the midst of crisis we can draw closer to the Lord Jesus Christ and God can work to change our priorities. In the Chinese figure language “crisis” is symbolized by two different symbols – danger and opportunity. Every crisis is an opportunity for us to grow closer to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul doesn’t say we should be happy in all things or we should ignore our problems or responsibilities, but there’s a difference between happiness and joy. Joy doesn’t depend on good circumstances or happy feelings, it’s a deep satisfaction that comes from belonging to Christ and being united with His love and purpose.
In our current situation I find myself enjoying more fully my morning devotions and trying some new things that add depth to my experience with the Lord Jesus Christ each morning. I’m taking the quietness and planning a 14-part series on “The Problem of Suffering” that will weave together of the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastics. I never envisioned the time where I would be so locked in and not be able to do the things that I love to do as a pastor. So, I am also using the phone, texting and email to stay in touch with our church family. I’m rejoicing in the Lord for those that have stepped up to bring streaming ministry into the life of NDC, that is already bringing delightful fruitfulness as people are being stretched out of their comfort zones. I’m trusting God to bring great fruitfulness out of our new dilemma and praying for fresh vision for NDC in the days that lie ahead. Five years ago, we had hosting meetings entitled “Vision 2020”, and many of the things we discussed have gotten done, but none of us could have envisioned what 2020 has come to look like and what it will be remembered for. But God has called us to shine the light of the Lord Jesus Christ into our present situation and we should “rejoice in the Lord” as we do so.
Rejoicing in the Savior,
Pastor Rich Sivo