At first glance, this challenge may seem like a contradiction, at least in an article addressed to seniors. Such an invitation would be more appropriate for those with life ahead of them. For someone who is already “over the hill,” what would be the reason to rejoice?
Paul saw this from a different perspective. Not only did he choose joy, but he also invites others to rejoice. If you read his letters, sooner or later he talks about joy. For example, in 2 Corinthians 7:4, he writes, “I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.” The ESV translation expresses it this way, “I am overflowing with joy.” Despite the most difficult circumstances and adversities, he found reasons to rejoice. What might these reasons have been? If we take a closer look at his letters, we find he repeatedly references these. Let’s take a look at Philippians to see what Paul was rejoicing about. Why don’t you get your Bible and open it up. Let’s do a little Bible study to answer the following question: What was the cause of the Apostle Paul’s joy?
Philippians 1:3 – His relationship with God
Immediately following the greeting, he brings God into the picture, calling Him “his God.” He has a relationship with the living God, the God “Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). He not only knows something about God but knows Him on a very personal basis. In addition, this God is also called the “Father” Who knows about the needs of His “children” before they ask Him, and He provides for them.
Philippians 1:12-14 – God’s guidance in his life
Paul refers to “the things which happened to me” in verse 12 and subsequently speaks of his “chains.” His condition would certainly have given him reason enough to sing a lament. But he does the exact opposite and writes to the brethren of God’s leading in his life and how God is using even this difficult situation to further the gospel. And as long as Christ is preached, he rejoices (verse 18). He declares that “his God” knows what He is doing – even in his life.
Philippians 1:21a – The connection to the Son of God, Jesus Christ
We have access to the Father through His Son Jesus Christ. The dividing wall of sin separating us from God was removed by the death of Jesus. This makes it possible for us to have fellowship with God. Repeatedly in the New Testament, we come across the words “through Him,” or rather, “through His Son.” Consequently, Paul gives the Lord Jesus Christ a place of honor in his letters. In Philippians, for example, he mentions Him over 40 times. He underlines it by writing, “For me to live is Christ” (1:21). Similarly, he gives Him pre-eminence in chapter 3:7-8.
Philippians 1:21b – His hope for the future
“To die is gain.” He does not cling desperately to life on earth. If you look at his life, you find it was filled with many tribulations and hardships. He was all about spreading the Gospel, or, as he calls it, “bearing fruit” (1:22). It is said he traveled some 21,000 km on his missionary journeys, during a time when there were neither cars, trains, nor airplanes. Dying would have ended all difficulties. But that was not the crucial reason for his statement. He knew that when he closed his eyes here, he would be in heaven with Jesus. In the interim, his earthly and mortal body, the old, slowly decaying body, would transform into a resurrection body and live henceforth without infirmity. His heart’s desire was: “If, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (3:11). He repeatedly associates the thought of dying with the Second Coming of the Lord and thus the end of all suffering on earth.
Philippians 3:12-14 – The victory prize before him
Not yet having reached his goal, he speaks of this overwhelming longing to be there. You can literally sense it when he uses words like “press on” and “reaching forward.” In the same context, he mentions: “forgetting those things which are behind.” He could say this because his past was in order; thus, he writes: “although I was…but no longer.” With the goal of victory before him, he makes every effort to reach the prize.
Philippians 4:13 – His peace in the Lord
Paul had experienced the peaks and valleys of life; consequently, he speaks of “being in need and having plenty…well fed or hungry, having abundance and suffering need” (4:12). He had learned to accept and deal with every situation. He also lets us know how he accomplished that. The peace he found in Jesus Christ made him strong. With Christ, he could face and handle any situation.
Philippians 4:6 – The power of prayer
He directs the readers of his letter not to worry but to pray in all situations. “Let your requests be made known to God” was his recommendation. No doubt he was speaking from experience. Praying was a matter of course for Paul. When he was helpless, afraid, imprisoned, despondent, or in turmoil, he simply gave his worries to the Lord. Through prayer, he found help and encouragement and was strengthened and received direction for the next step.
In summary, Paul found his joy not in circumstances or material things but in his relationship with the Lord. Pardoned and blessed, he lived with and for Him. He waited for His return, sustained by the hope of being with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:17b).
In Philippians 4:4, he also urges the recipients of the letter to rejoice: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” The defining words are “in the Lord.” For us, this means, “though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). In plain language, even if despair and doom is everywhere, no one can take away our inner joy.
The Lord bless you as you reflect on the rich blessings of God. Rejoice. Again and always, choose joy!