by Barry Newton
Did Paul promote a Pollyanna perspective where Christians merely pretend all is well while the wheels roll off the wagon? At first glance, it might seem that way.
Sixteen times in Philippians, Paul either mentions joy or commands rejoicing, despite being shackled awaiting a possible death sentence. Furthermore, the church to whom he wrote faced antagonistic attacks from without and quarrels within their ranks.
Neither situation inspires reason for joy or rejoicing. Yet, Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
Accordingly, was Paul proposing some form of a mental break with reality where Christians somehow are to experience good feelings washing over their hearts while drowning in problems? Are Christians being called to slap a smile on their face and a song in their heart ignoring the crises of life? To both questions, the apostolic answer is a resolute “hardly.”
Throughout Philippians, Paul deliberately intertwined personal examples, overt instruction, not to mention outright commands guiding God’s people to refocus their values and the goal driving how daily life is lived. This letter presents a powerful call to live up to the heavenly citizenship the gospel made possible for Christians.
To live worthy of their calling involves Christians making the decision to live each day with Christ being the highest priority. This perspective destroys a self-centered and self-ambitious approach to life.
No longer is one’s mind preoccupied with the myopic temptation to be overly anxious with one’s own situation, mentally rehearsing my crises, as though these were most important.
Rather, to live for Christ causes a profound love to erupt that seeks the greatest good of people. More than anything else, people need Christ. So, if Christ is being preached, if lives are being transformed to serve him, and if a Christian’s future hope burns brightly in their hearts, then there are genuine reasons to rejoice even in the midst of difficulty.
While this is all fine and good, are real problems handled with an ostrich in the sand approach? No. Rather, “in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
In fact, although Paul’s imprisonment could end with his execution, nevertheless because of prayer he anticipated the Lord to work in his situation (Philippians 1:19). Christians are to openly lay their concerns before the Lord as their minds dwell upon truth and what is praiseworthy.
Approaching life in such a manner will recognize genuine cause for rejoicing. Christians have good reason to rejoice in the Lord always.