“Rejoice in the Lord always, And again I say, Rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4
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).
While 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”? (1 Peter 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” (1 Thessalonians 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 two cups. One is a cup of joy, and that cup should always be full and overflowing in Christ. The other is a cup of sorrow, and from time to time in this life it can be anywhere from empty to overflowing. 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” (1 Peter 1:8). Now this is true for the firm believer no matter what sorrow or misery might come the believer’s way.
This week, we lost our friend Jay, and we have every reason to be sorrowful. Yet we can’t stop believing in Jesus or loving him, nor can we do so any less for our sorrow. Therefore, while we have great sorrow, we also retain all our joy in Jesus, and that faith, love, and joy, helps us immensely to cope with our great sorrow.
This week has been a very emotional week. Usually when someone says that, they mean that it has been a bad week. They usually only mean that it has been a week of sorrowful emotions. In my case, I mean that there were many different emotions. The week began with intense emotions of worry. I had already heard from Jay that he was contemplating ending his life. I worried for my friend. I was also anxious to hear the results of my phone interview from the week before. Anxiety brings forth the emotions of fear and doubt. Occasionally, I could overcome it by telling myself that the interview went well and I had to be patient. Then the news came that we had lost Jay, and I was filled with intense sorrow. When I received the call from the interview asking me to come up for an onsite visit, I was ecstatic. I was so happy and so thrilled. I’d made it past another hurdle. Once the initial excitement and joy subsided a bit, I was getting mixed emotions from all of my friends and family. Some were just so very happy that I had this opportunity, some had mixed emotions about the possibility of me moving. Needless to say, it has been an emotion filled week.
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 just have to believe that God will bring us through those times of grief and will lead us to times of joy. Remember what Jesus told his disciples before the crucifixion, “You will weep and lament… but your grief will be turned into joy” (John 16:20-22).