Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The first time I saw Hamlet I was surprised how familiar the text was, even though I’d never read the play; reading Philippians can be a bit like that, as you suddenly find you’re reading a text you’ve frequently sung. This passage inspired two entries in Rejoice and Sing - 286 (Rejoice in the Lord always) is probably more familiar, but 516 (We Praise You Lord For All That’s True and Pure) is definitely worth a look. I am fond of the anthem attributed to John Redford - you can hear the Cambridge Singers’ recording here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQ1cyLvdBc4
It is striking that in the closing section of a letter he might have expected to be his last, Paul’s instruction is to rejoice in the Lord - rather than to regret his imprisonment, repent, or prepare for the end times, for example. What does that mean for us? Some of us may be a little hesitant to do too much rejoicing, lest our worship seem triumphalist, insensitive to members of our community who aren’t feeling there is much to celebrate in their lives, or that we suggest the church is a cosy, self-satisfied club. But it is surely vital to communicate the joy of the Gospel, and not just the responsibilities of service and living a holy life. After all, as our fore-runners in the faith put it in the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
“What is the chief end of [humanity]?
[Humanity]’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever”
It may feel a tricky balance to strike, but let’s make sure we make space for rejoicing in our lives and the lives of our churches. Rejoice with parents welcoming a longed-for child; rejoice with those falling in love; rejoice with those succeeding in work or study; rejoice with those making a new commitment to God; Rejoice in the Lord!
Lord, we rejoice in the gift of life, and the opportunities of each day;
in the way we live our lives today, may we show we are rejoicing in you.
Open our eyes to the textures of life, the rough and the smooth;
help us recognise our blessings, even at the times we struggle.
And each in our own way, may we rejoice,
and know your peace in our hearts and in our minds.