Reasonable Rejoicing

Jacob Tanner

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On July 6, 1415, at the Council of Constance in what is now modern-day Germany, psalms could be heard as they were sung aloud. What made this psalm-singing so highly unusual, though, was that it came from the lips of a man burning at the stake.

John Huss was a forerunner of Martin Luther and famously predicted that his death would not be the end of Rome’s troubles; like Huss, more individuals would be sent by God to usher in a genuine reformation of the church and revival of true Christian teaching and doctrine. So, even as he was unjustly burned as a heretic, Huss sang praises to the Lord. As flames devoured his flesh, his lips praised God with Psalms.

Huss does not stand alone in the long history of Christian martyrs who praised God as they died. Many Christians, from various ages and places, have praised God as they suffered for their faith. Some have sung hymns, others psalms, but all, to some degree, have worshiped God even as they breathed their final breath.

Of course, not every Christian has faced or will face martyrdom, but all Christians will suffer to some degree or another, and some will suffer extraordinarily. Yet, the unwavering testimony of the Church through the ages is that the saints have joyfully praised God through even their fiercest trials. Many of the psalms themselves bear testament to this reality, as men like David penned words of worship to the Lord, even as they were chased by their enemies, mocked by former friends, and battled temptation and sin.

How did they do this, though? How, in the midst of great pain, searing loss, and fearsome trials, did the saints of the past praise the Lord? And is it even reasonable to suggest that we might do the same today?

Yes, as it so happens, it is the most reasonable thing that a Christian can do.

A Commandment to Rejoice

In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul is bringing his short letter of joy to a conclusion when he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:4–5). According to this passage, we ought to rejoice always, regardless of our circumstances. If things are going well, then we must rejoice in God. If they’re going awfully, then we must rejoice in God. The situations in which we find ourselves have no bearing on whether or not God is worthy of our praise. Because God is the object of our rejoicing, and God does not change (Heb 13:8), so our rejoicing in Him must not change either.

Our rejoicing in Christ must be as continually constant as our prayers. If there is any doubt that this is what Paul meant in the first half of Philippians 4:4, all doubt is eradicated by the second half of the verse: “Again I will say, rejoice.” Paul was not content to simply command us to rejoice in the Lord continually, though the first half of the verse would have sufficed by itself. Rather, knowing our sinful condition and tendencies to excuse ourselves from commandments, he doubles down on it. For the second time, he commands us to rejoice in the Lord, after having just commanded us to rejoice in God always and forever.

Why does Paul ascribe such importance to this rejoicing? For two reasons according to verse 5—One, it’s the most reasonable thing we can possibly do, and second, the Lord is at hand.

At this point, the reader may flinch a bit and start to wonder: Is it really reasonable to praise God all the time? What about in the case of natural disasters, or when bad news comes, or in the case of a nuclear war? Surely, there must be certainoccasions where it is actually reasonable to not rejoice in the Lord, right?

Apparently not, for even the lament of the Christian is never without worship of God (cf. Ps 88). Even our deepest lamentations are colored by hope in Jesus. When Job lost much of what he had, he still rejoiced in God and declared, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Job would even state his irrevocable trust in God when he said, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him” (Job 13:15). David, when the Lord had punished his sin by sending a plague on the land, would then purchase goods, prepare a sacrifice, and worship the Lord as he “built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings” (2 Sam 24:25).

Paul, like Job, David, and other saints, knew what he was writing about firsthand. From an outsider’s perspective, there was really no reason for Paul to rejoice in the Lord or worship God. After all, he’d been preparing this epistle from a dank prison cell, possibly even looking through cell bars to an outside where he was likely going to be executed. And, yet, he had continued to praise God throughout the epistle, and then called the Philippians to do the same. He may have been imprisoned for his preaching of the gospel, but that was no reason to doubt the goodness of God. On the contrary, it was all the more reason to rejoice, because for Paul “to live is Christ, but to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). He saw suffering as an opportunity for rejoicing, precisely because it was granted to him by God to suffer for the sake and cause of the gospel of Christ (Phil 1:29). Do we view our suffering in the same way? We need to; it’s the key to rejoicing always.

The Most Reasonable Thing to Do

The most reasonable thing for the Christian to do is to always rejoice in God, because to fail to rejoice in God is to lie about who God is. God is the source of truth, goodness, and beauty. He is both the source and cause of our deepest joy, for our Triune God saved us from our sins. While we were yet sinners, the Father planned our salvation from eternity past, the Son purchased our salvation by offering himself upon the cross for our sins, and the Holy Spirit drew us to Christ and applied salvation to us at the time appointed by the Father. We have been adopted into the family of God (Gal 4:4–5), lavished with the love of God, and now declared to be children of God (1 John 3:1). And, wonderfully, there’s nothing in all of creation that could ever possibly separate us from Christ and these truths (Rom 8:31–39). We, who have been set free by the Son, are free indeed (John 8:36)!

Ultimately, then, it’s reasonable to rejoice no matter our circumstances, because while our circumstances may change, our position in Christ never will. Times and seasons may change, but God never will. Our feelings may change, but God’s Word and promises never will. The most reasonable thing for you to do, both today and always, is rejoice in the Lord!

What does this rejoicing in Christ look like? Romans 12:1 gives us the answer: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Interestingly enough, the New King James Version says that this is our “reasonable service.” Presenting ourselves before the Lord, obeying all he has commanded, and acknowledging the Lordship of Christ over every area of our lives is our reasonable service and our reasonable rejoicing in him.

But that’s not all. We’re not only commanded to worship God because of how reasonable it is to rejoice in the Lord. We are also commanded to worship God and rejoice in Christ continually because the Lord is at hand.

Rejoicing in Christ’s Return

Christ is at hand. He is going to come back. When he ascended into Heaven, the disciples were assured of this very truth by angels (Acts 1:10–11). In the same way he ascended, so he will return for his bride, the Church.

If something is at hand, it is close, nearby, and about to happen. While it is true these words were penned by Paul nearly two thousand years ago, this only means that Jesus’s return is two thousand years closer than it was when he wrote these words. We have, effectively, been living in the last days since Jesus ascended into Heaven. But he has not forgotten his promises; like a master builder, Christ is building his church, and he will place every brick where it is to be laid (Eph 2:19–22). When the last of the elect have been drawn into the Kingdom and have been laid in their eternally planned places, then Jesus will return in triumphant glory (2 Pet 3:9). Is this not reason to rejoice? 

Some have put it this way: The return of Jesus is imminent always and impossible never. This is good news, because when Jesus returns to this earth, he is coming back for his people. The dead in Christ, who have patiently been waiting in the intermediate state in Heaven in Christ’s presence, will return to this earth with him to experience the reuniting of soul with resurrected, glorified bodies. Those still living will be caught up to meet him in the sky, also receiving resurrected and glorified bodies. He will conquer his enemies, swallow up death itself, and make all things new. Then, having judged the living and the dead, King Jesus will reign in our midst forevermore.

This is reason for rejoicing! This is reason for worship of the King. The return of Jesus not only adds an even greater and compelling weight to our reasonable worship of God, but adds to our joy, strengthening our rejoicing.

Paul knew this. Job knew this. David knew this. Huss knew this. We must grasp this as well. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.”

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Jacob Tanner

Pastor Christ Keystone Church

Jacob Tanner is pastor of Christ Keystone Church, a Reformed Baptist church plant in Central Pennsylvania. He lives with his wife and two sons and is the author of Union with Christ: The Joy of the Christian’s Assurance in the Doctrines of Grace.