This morning I want to discuss the 10 words Paul uses to close out his powerful letter to the Philippian Church (Philippians 4:4), “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”
Have you ever heard the term Christianese? If you haven’t, Christianese is the unique language Christians use and understand but one that is completely lost on everybody else.
Here are a few examples: washed in the blood of the Lamb, the fruit of the Spirit, being born again, guard your heart, armor-bearer, a quiet time, baby Christian, fire insurance, a hedge of protection, missional (totally different meaning in the world), the old man, ask Jesus into your heart, unequally yoked, stumbling block, or my personal favorite — I’m on fire!
Aside from these phrases, it’s also true most of the vernacular used in a church setting ends up being foreign to the majority of our culture. It’s only on rare occasions that words like justification, sanctification, propitiation, redemption, or atonement are used in everyday conversations. While the reason for this may be the length and religious connotations of these particular terms, there is one word rarely used that will totally surprise you — joy!
While everyone possesses a deep longing to be happy, the very notion of there existing an inner joy that transcends an emotional experience is an alien concept. Seriously, you will find yourself hard-pressed to even hear the word joy used in daily speech.
In fact, there is data to prove my point. Since the early 1800s, the disappearance of the word joy from our common English lexicon has been gradual but weirdly steady. Have you heard of the Google Books Ngram Viewer? Because Google has now digitalized over 15 million manuscripts dating back hundreds of years, social scientists have created an algorithm that allows you to trace the frequency of a word's usage in literature through time.
What makes the Ngram Viewer so revolutionary is the site acts as a cultural seismograph measuring the trends of society following words. Ironically, the graph it yields looks identical to that of an earthquake with a tremor, rise, peak, fall, and aftershock. As a dear friend of mine recently observed, “Language is culture!” You see the two are specifically intertwined.
For example... The word “internet” was never used until it popped onto the scene at the very end of the 1970s, was rarely used up to the ‘90s and has since taken off. The word “atomic” understandably hit a peak in the 1960s but has since tapered off accordingly.
The word “millennials” was nonexistent until its first usage in 1996, the frequency of which has become more common. The word “google” entered our lexicon in 1998. The word “microbrew” ends up being introduced in 1990 before a quick rise over the next decade.
Just three more I found interesting as it relates to the radicle changes taking place in our current culture… Since 2000, the word “Porn” has made a truly meteoric rise in our cultural lexicon. Additionally, the phrase “gay marriage”, as well as the word “transgender”, do not exist at all until the 1990s before making a dramatic jump in only 30 years.
Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how the word “joy” has been used since 1800. Here’s the graph… You’ll notice from its peak during the early part of the 19th century (which just so happens to coincide with the Second Great Awakening) the word joy has experienced a steady decline through 1980. And yet, though the decline has been real, an unexpected and perplexing shift from the low has recently taken place over the last 30 years.
So why the renewed interest in joy? Here’s my theory… I’m convinced a culture that has been afforded every license to pursue individual happiness has, in turn, created a society completely empty. Though we’ve boughten into the idea happiness is the ultimate pursuit of man, many have discovered that once the pursuit is achieved misery only ensues.
I can’t speak to bygone eras, but I can speak of today’s culture… The more I rub shoulders with secular people the more evident it is how deeply dissatisfied and miserable they are. Honestly, if you strip away the superficial, many today are lonely and utterly depressed. If we’re being real, social distancing and the resulting isolation hasn’t helped the situation.
For proof of this reality look no further than the astounding increase in the prescription of antidepressant drugs. According to a recent report posted by the American Psychological Association, 12.7% of Americans aged 12 years and older said they took an antidepressant in the last 30 days. That’s roughly 1 in 6 American adolescents and adults.
Studies have shown that between 1999 and 2014 there was a 64% rise in people taking antidepressants. To this point, the CDC reported that between 2018 and 2019, 19.2% of U.S. adults received some kind of mental health treatment with 15.8% receiving medication.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Market Watch released a report claiming anti-anxiety medication prescriptions spiked an additional 34% during the coronavirus pandemic. A survey conducted in the U.K. and published in the US National Library of Medicine found the number of people living with depression almost doubled during the pandemic.
Looking beyond the effects of the last year, we should consider why we’re seeing this particular trend? Not to get overly philosophical this morning, but I’m of the opinion the evidence suggests a culture whereby all things are presented as true ends up creating a society whereby nothing is true and life is perceived as being meaningless.
You see the progressive challenge to the traditional norms we’ve witnessed over the last 60 years — the pop-cultural exhortation to just do whatever you believe will feel good — a philosophy where one’s gender and sexuality are no longer based on biological realities but individual whims — coupled with the total removal of an Authoritative God has fostered a new generation seriously grappling with the very questions of meaning and purpose.
Here’s the reality… If you examine the trends of history, you will discover anytime a society exchanges absolutes for relative truths there ends up being one of three results:
(1) People become Nihilistic and give up hope — which yields an apathy ultimately ensuing in societal chaos, (2) People double down and grow Narcissistic whereby self-consumption trumps the greater good, or (3) People engage in a renewed quest for meaning.
While there is no question we see elements of Nihilism and Narcissism across our society, I’m convinced the vast majority of people are truly longing for something more — meaning we could very well be at the precipice of another Great Spiritual Awakening. It can’t be an accident for the first time in 150 years the word joy is making a resurgence!
One more word analysis to further validate this particular point… If you search the phrase “Holy Spirit” from 1800-2019 you will also notice a peak occurring during the Great Awakening of the 1830s, but you will see an interesting upswing in recent years. I really do believe the trend of the last few decades has created a moral longing within our society that just might result in a powerful move of God’s Spirit in America!
Seeing that the word joy is making a comeback for the reasons I just mentioned, we should acknowledge that while joy is very difficult to define (Is joy just an extreme version of happiness or does it somehow transcend the emotional?) it is clearly seen!
During my years at Bible College, I had the privilege of meeting many wonderful men and women, but none were more memorable than Jon and his fiancé Erin. High School sweethearts they both came to Bible College dedicating their lives to the service of Jesus.
I knew Jon because we both worked on the landscaping crew and his Wisconsin accent and red mullet made him an unforgettable figure. Sadly, following college, we lost touch, but I knew he and Erin returned home where they started a family and a life together.
Fast-forward many years to a beautiful spring evening, May 3, 2015. Around 7:30 pm Jon Stoffel with his wife Erin along with their three young children (Olivia age 11, Ezra age 7, and Selah age 5) were enjoying a stroll across the Trestle Trail Bridge in Menasha, Wisconsin.
The sun was setting on the horizon, the night was calm, the wind strong, the air crisp when out of the blue a 27-year-old man by the name of Sergio del Toro, who’d just had a fight with his girlfriend, approached the Stoffel’s and indiscriminately opened fire their direction.
Jon, Erin, and their 11-year-old daughter Olivia were immediately struck. Though in the moments that followed Erin suffered two additional gunshot wounds (one to her abdomen, hand, and leg) she proceeded to help the younger two children to safety. From her report of the incident, Jon’s final words, as his daughter Olivia lay dying in his arms, were directed to the gunman. He said, “May God forgive you.” Sergio then proceeded to take his own life.
While Erin, after a grueling 21-days in the hospital, would survive her wounds, tragically, both Jon (age 33) and their beautiful, 5th-grade daughter Olivia died before the paramedics were able to arrive. As they made plans for the memorial service, it was decided by the doctors that because of the severity of her own wounds, in order for Erin to attend, she would be taken by ambulance and wheel-chaired to the front row.
To everyone’s shock and dismay, as they were playing Jon and Olivia’s favorite worship song during the service, Erin ends up rising up out of her chair and with raised hands and through incredible sobs proceeds to worship Jesus for His continued goodness. Amazing!
What is joy? Once again… Joy is hard to define but it’s so easy to identify. Joy is what motivates a grieving wife and mother who’s experienced such an incredible tragedy, who herself is experiencing immense and excruciating pain, and who has no idea what her future looks like to passionately stand and worship her God through tears! My friend… That’s joy!
To the world, joy is a mystery. A reaction like Erin’s is unexplainable. And yet, maybe that’s the point. Joy is supposed to be otherworldly. To be radical. To transcend what is normal and natural. When we see joy manifest we all understand it to be something bubbling forth from the depths of a well much deeper than the physical. Joy, especially in the midst of grief and pain, shows out as the visible evidence of a much larger spiritual reality.
This is why, in writing to the Philippians from the dark bowels of a Roman jail cell, the Apostle Paul places such a huge emphasis on our joy and ability as Christians to “rejoice in the Lord” regardless of whatever trial or circumstance we might be presently facing. It’s why he emphatically declares, “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I will say rejoice!”
There is no doubt Paul knew from personal experience the powerful testimony of joy. In fact, he’ll add in his closing writing in Philippians 4:22, “All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household.” You see Paul’s joy in the midst of his imprisonment was making such an impact it was reaching the nobility. Like Erin, people could see Paul’s joy. And in light of his suffering, they wanted to know how this response was even possible.
In his commentary on Philippians, David Guzik made this provocative and in many ways challenging observation about joy. He said, “It’s a duty for the Christian to exude joy. A chronic lack of joy is simply a poor witness.” At first, I’ll admit I was a bit taken back by this statement. And yet, the more I considered his point the more I’ve come to agree.
Keep in mind, this world doesn’t have a substitute for this mysterious thing we call joy. The world will do everything it can to facilitate a person’s happiness, but it can’t offer anything other than pills to numb the pain when life takes an unexpected turn.
Friend, here’s the grand challenge of this morning’s study… The evidence suggests this world is depressed and miserable. Moreover, there is a longing for something deeper than temporary happiness. Which set’s the stage… Christian, your joy in the midst of trial will be your greatest witness of Jesus because the world literally has no alternative!
With this in mind, when Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord” we need to consider how it is that we come to possess this type of radicle, alien joy? In the original language, the word “rejoice” is “chairō” which means to be glad. In a very practical sense, we’d define rejoicing as the act of demonstrating joy. Because the word “rejoice” is a verb presented in the active tense, we understand Paul is not making a suggestion to the Philippians. Rather, he is issuing a directive… “My brethren, choose to rejoice!”
While you may find it difficult to be glad in light of the present situation you’re facing… While it may be a challenge for you to be happy in lieu of your current circumstance… Neither the situations nor circumstances you face should be able to deter the inner joy you can find “in the Lord!” Paul is clear a relationship with Jesus is the basis for our joy!
What’s interesting about the word “chairō” is that it’s very similar to the Greek word “charis” which we translate as grace. In actuality, in addition to unmerited favor, Strong’s defines charis or grace as simply that which affords joy. Aside from our joy being based in a relationship with Jesus, joy is fundamentally designed to manifest in your life as you continually experience the grace of God — the fact He loves you because of Jesus.
God’s grace not only changes everything but because grace yields joy it subsequently changes the way we experience everything! This is why Paul says to “rejoice in the Lord.” The reality of Jesus and the sacrifice He made on Calvary to save you from sin should be more than enough for you to rejoice or allow joy to exude from your life.
You see God’s amazing grace establishes a much deeper and unwavering basis for joy and your rejoicing. The present life afforded to you by Jesus should place all earthly trials, struggles, difficult situations, or trying circumstances into a proper context. No temporal hardship had the power to rob Paul of his eternal perspective and joy!
Let me quickly add a caveat to all of this for clarity… The Apostle Paul isn’t commanding you to always be happy! While it’s true joy can yield happiness, the reality is that this thing we refer to as joy transcends the emotional by springing forth from the spiritual.
Think of it this way… While we obviously understand joy to be a state of being (to be glad) as opposed to an emotion (feeling glad) or an action (doing things to be glad), we should ask where does joy originate? Is joy something that magically occurs? Is it similar to an epiphany? Is joy a personality trait, a decision of the will, something we choose?
No! I don’t believe joy originates in any of these ways. Consider… If joy is the manifestation of grace… And grace is a gift given through Jesus we’re to receive — meaning it can’t be manufactured… Then it’s only logical joy must also be a gift imparted to us by God.
The reality is joy is much more than an emotion because it’s a direct manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Let me give you a few examples: Galatians 5:22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering…” Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
1 Thessalonians 1:6, “And you became followers… of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 13:52 Luke says of the disciples in Perga following Paul’s departure that they “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Scripturally, joy and the Holy Spirit come hand in hand — which subsequently makes joy something completely intrinsic to Christianity, alien to this world, and why it’s such a powerful witness of the power of God in someone’s life. Ironically, even Urban Dictionary verifies this Biblical reality presenting only two definitions for joy as either being the name of a kind woman or a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Before I take this idea any further, I want to explain why it’s so dangerous when we allow joy to be relegated to only the emotional plain. If joy, as a “fruit of the Spirit,” ends up being nothing more than emotional happiness, then subsequently the emotions of sadness, sorrow, or depression become seen as evidence of a spiritual problem.
Aside from the fact this convolution will hyper-spiritualize emotions it shouldn’t, most tragically, when this happens church life ends up becoming superficial. Instead of people being real and honest about the things they’re emotionally dealing with, people put on their happy-go-lucky Jesus-face out of fear of being perceived as less than spiritual.
Let me prove you’re likely guilty of this very approach by asking a simple question… When was the last time someone came up to you at church and asked, “How you doing brother?” and your response was, “Truthfully, life stinks right now and I’m pretty depressed about it!” I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say you’ve probably never said that.
Now I understand it’s easier to say, “I’m good man” or worse, “Bro, I’m blessed” because you don’t want to unload on someone who’s just trying to be friendly. And yet, if we’re being forthcoming, one of the other reasons you shy away from full transparency is the fact you don’t want your emotional struggle being judged as possibly a spiritual one. Sadly, it’s this misunderstanding that creates a climate where it’s safer to be fake than real.
Never forget the “fruit of the Spirit is joy” not emotional merriment! How quickly we forget the Bible says there is an appropriate and healthy time to weep and mourn — that good, Godly people can and do struggle with depression and mental health — and that it’s only natural for you to wake up on the wrong side of the bed or find yourself in a bit of a funk.
David was often troubled and in deep despair. Elijah was discouraged and weary. Job suffered incredible loss and found himself paralyzed in his devastation. Moses was gripped with bouts of inadequacy and heartache. Jeremiah struggled with loneliness and insecurity. In Isaiah 53:3, Jesus is described as being “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief!”
This week do a Bible search for the following words: “downcast, brokenhearted, troubled, miserable, despairing, and mourning” — they’re everywhere! Hopelessness and emotional struggles are all over Scripture and never once are they emblematic of a spiritual problem.
And yet, this is what’s so amazing about joy transcending these emotional states… Since joy isn’t based on the circumstantial or the emotional and instead flows from God’s grace and His Spirit, you can still possess joy and rejoice even when you feel down!
In closing, it needs to be said that it is simply inconsistent (and for that matter a poor witness) for a person who’s experienced God’s grace and been filled with the Holy Spirit to be a deeply miserable and constantly sour person. It’s contradictory!
Because joy manifests in your life through a working of God’s Spirit yielded by the grace afforded to you in Jesus, a lack of joy tends to be an indicator of one of two things: Either you’ve never experienced God’s grace and been filled with His Spirit or you’ve somehow lost sight of His grace and are failing to rely on the Spirit.
If that later describes you and you find yourself this morning, like so many people, trapped in that brutal cycle of pursuing happiness only to discover emptiness… If you find yourself depressed and down… If you’re thinking there has to be something more to this life or a better solution than medication to numb the pain… I want you to know there absolutely is!
Friend, God’s grace not only changes everything, but it’s the indwelling of His Holy Spirit that will transform how you experience everything! While Jesus never promised a life where you’d always be happy, He did promise a life full of joy — this internal spiritual reality that transcends how you’re feeling in the moment! Never forget, it’s impossible to have the joy of the Lord apart from a relationship with the Lord of joy!
And if you happen to be a miserable Christian… I must ask… Is not the incredible grace that God has already demonstrated towards you in that “while you were a sinner Christ died” to save you from sin and fill you with His Spirit such an amazing enough reality that you shouldn’t be stirred up from your sorrow, raised up through your despair, moved out of your pain and grief and even depression to your feet to rejoice and worship?
Soon after the memorial service had come and gone and once Erin’s life started to settle into a new normal with her other two children, she wrote the following on her Facebook page. She begins by quoting Elisabeth Elliot, “God will see to it that we are in circumstances best designed by His sovereign love to give us opportunities to bear fruit for Him.”
Then she writes, “Hard one to swallow sometimes when you’re in thick of it, going through the fire, feeling like you’re drowning in life’s circumstances. There were days upon days that I felt all I had was a heart’s cry and was just trying to keep doing the next thing. Yet He promises to carry you through… His promises are true.
Allow Him to shine through your brokenness. Even through the deep pain you may be experiencing, you will experience the most amazing closeness because hopefully it will draw you nearer to Him. You’re not alone. God be glorified.”
Christian, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”
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