Author: Ron Graham
Our text is Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always, And again I say, Rejoice!"
That text is often quoted, but I notice that in many cases it is much misunderstood. The text is sometimes used to make people feel guilty who are downhearted, sorrowful, grieving, depressed —as if they need that burden of guilt on top of their other unhappiness! This passage certainly does say we should rejoice always. However it does not say we should rejoice only. This verse does not forbid sorrow. If it did, then it would condemn Jesus, because he was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3).
Whilst God gives us many reasons for joy, he does not yet wipe away every tear or take away every pain. That will not happen until we reach heaven "and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death, or mourning, or crying, or pain..." (Revelation 21:4).
The knowledge expressed in that verse (Revelation 21:4) gives us very mixed feelings when we have sorrows. Those confusing mixed feelings are perfectly proper and normal. Otherwise why would Peter speak of joy "inexpressible", and Paul of groanings "too deep for words"? (1Peter 1:8, Romans 8:26).
There is an idea that joy and sorrow are mutually exclusive and that if you are feeling sorrow there is something wrong with your joy and it is less than full. On the other hand if your sorrow is somewhat mitigated by your joy, and you "do not grieve like those who have no hope" (1Thessalonians 4:13), people think that there is something wrong with you psychologically or that you are not a genuine person. The reason for such misunderstandings is that people think you only have one cup, and if that cup is full of joy then there is no room for sorrowing, or if that cup is full of sorrow then there is no room for joy. But really you have...
We all hold these two cups while we are in this world.
No matter what sorrows we suffer, our cup of joy can still be always full. One of the passages we mentioned before says, "Though you have not seen Jesus Christ, you love him, and though you do not see him now, but believe in him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1Peter 1:8). Now this is true for the firm believer no matter what sorrow or misery might come the believer’s way.
A person who has just lost a loved one, or had a leg amputated, or whose house has just burned down, has every reason to be sorrowful. Yet they don't stop believing in Jesus or loving him, nor do they do so any less for their sorrow. Therefore, whilst they have great sorrow, they also retain all their joy in Jesus, and that faith, love, and joy, helps them immensely to cope with their great sorrow.
There is joy always, and that joy is always full (1John 1:4).
I'd like to end this lesson on the note that has sounded throughout our study. There is both sorrow and joy in this world, and both cups together can be full to overflowing. However, if we are in Christ, the joy will be everlasting whilst the sorrow will be only temporary. So our cup of joy in Jesus Christ will one day break our cup of sorrows in this world. Just as the joy of Jesus overcame his sorrows and suffering (Acts 2:24-28), so will it overcome ours and "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).
Therefore we endure trials, and we overcome (1Pet 4:12-16, Romans 8:35-39). We conclude our lesson with these words of Jesus, which seem to sum up the lesson so well: "You will weep and lament... but your grief will be turned into joy" (John 16:20-22).