May 25 – Paul: Joy in Spite of Trouble

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

Philippians 4:4

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The apostle Paul was a model believer who did not let his troubles steal His joy in the Lord.

According to today’s verse, believers should never let a negative outlook replace our joy, no matter how bad life seems to be. The apostle Paul set an example that was far different. He wrote to the Philippians that in spite of being imprisoned in Rome, he was still rejoicing. Even though Paul was restricted under trying and harsh conditions, he was glad because the gospel message was being declared, even among the prison guards. Paul was not so concerned about his own hardships but that others hear the saving good news of Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor. 9:16).

Paul saw himself as a prisoner for the sake of Christ and the gospel. Therefore, he never gave in to any temptation to indulge in self–pity but rather focused on his duty of telling others about his Lord and Savior. Some of Paul’s other letters also mention his imprisonment (see Eph. 3:1; Col. 4:10) but always positively, because the apostle never forgot that being a prisoner was merely part of the role he was called to as an ambassador for God’s kingdom.

Paul’s Roman imprisonment resulted in his joyful attitude extending out in evangelism: “My imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well–known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else” (Phil. 1:13). However, Paul’s ultimate impact on the guards and others was not just from his outward expressions of happiness. Rather, those who heard him were changed because they saw an attitude of joy and a message of truth deeply fixed in a man experiencing great trials and afflictions.

What a profound example Paul is for you and me today. For instance, we can make difficult witnessing opportunities easier by exhibiting Christlikeness and godly joy no matter how events are pressing us down. Such attitudes, so different from what people naturally expect, will give us many chances to testify of God’s grace (see 1 Peter 3:15).

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Suggestions for Prayer: Ask the Lord to help you look above and beyond your problems and focus on what He has done for you.

For Further Study: A very striking example of Paul’s rejoicing in the midst of suffering happened at the Philippian dungeon. Read Acts 16:22–34. What did he and Silas do to make the best of that trial?[1]


4:4 Turning now to the entire church, Paul repeats the favorite exhortation. The secret of his exhortation is found in the words in the Lord. No matter how dark the circumstances of life may be, it is always possible for the Christian to rejoice in the Lord.

Jowett shares his experience regarding Christian joy:

Christian joy is a mood independent of our immediate circumstances. If it were dependent on our surroundings, then, indeed, it would be as uncertain as an unprotected candle burning on a gusty night. One moment the candle burns clear and steady, the next moment the blaze leaps to the very edge of the wick, and affords little or no light. But Christian joy has no relationship to the transient setting of the life, and therefore it is not the victim of the passing day. At one time my conditions arrange themselves like a sunny day in June; a little later they rearrange themselves like a gloomy day in November. One day I am at the wedding; the next day I stand by an open grave. One day, in my ministry, I win ten converts for the Lord; and then, for a long stretch of days, I never win one. Yes, the days are as changeable as the weather, and yet the Christian joy can be persistent. Where lies the secret of its glorious persistency?

Here is the secret. “Lo! I am with you all the days.” In all the changing days, “He changeth not, neither is weary.” He is no fairweather Companion, leaving me when the year grows dark and cold. He does not choose my days of prosperous festival, though not to be found in my days of impoverishment and defeat. He does not show Himself only when I wear a garland, and hide Himself when I wear a crown of thorns. He is with me “all the days”—the prosperous days and the days of adversity; days when the funeral bell is tolling, and days when the wedding bell is ringing. “All the days.” The day of life—the day of death—the day of judgment.[2]


  1. Once again, as so often before, the apostle stresses the duty of rejoicing. He says, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. The exhortation is repeated, probably because on the surface it seems so unreasonable to rejoice in obedience to a command, and perhaps even more unreasonable to rejoice always, under all circumstances no matter how trying. Can one truly rejoice when the memory of past sins vexes the soul, when dear ones are suffering, when one is being persecuted, facing possible death? But there is Paul, who does, indeed, remember his past sins (Phil. 3:6; cf. Gal. 1:13; 1 Cor. 15:9), whose friends are really suffering (Phil. 1:29, 30), who is even now a prisoner facing possible death; yet, who rejoices and tells others to do likewise! It is evident from this that circumstances alone do not determine the condition of heart and mind. A Christian can be joyful within when without all is dark and dreary. He rejoices in the Lord, that is, because of his oneness with Christ, the fruit of whose Spirit is joy (Gal. 5:22). This is reasonable, for in and through Christ all things—also those that seem most unfavorable—work together for good (Rom. 8:28).

It was not unreasonable for Paul to exhort the Philippians to rejoice, for the disposition of joy can be and should be cultivated. This can be done, as the apostle indicates in the context (see verse 8), by meditating on the proper subjects, that is, by taking account of the things that should stand out in our consciousness. For Paul such reasons for joy, the joy unspeakable and full of glory, were the following: that he was a saved individual whose purpose was in his entire person to magnify Christ (1:19, 20); that this Savior, in whose cross, crown, and coming again he glories (2:5–11; 3:20, 21; 4:5), was able and willing to supply his every need (4:11–13, 19, 20); that others, too, were being saved (1:6; 2:17, 18), the apostle himself being used by God for this glorious purpose; that he had many friends and helpers in the gospel-cause, who together formed a glorious fellowship in the Lord (1:5; 2:19–30; 4:1, 10); that God was causing all things, even bonds, to work together for good (1:12–18; cf. Rom. 8:28), so that even death is gain when life is Christ (1:21, 23); and that at all times he has freedom of access to the throne of grace (4:6). Let the Philippians meditate on these things and rejoice, yes rejoice always.[3]


Maintaining a Spirit of Joy

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (4:4)

This verse expresses the theme of the book of Philippians, that believers are to rejoice in the Lord always (cf. 3:1). Joy is such a vitally important factor in believers’ spiritual stability that Paul repeats his command for emphasis: again I will say, rejoice! This repetition presupposes the reality that it was not easy to be joyful. The Philippians needed to rise above their circumstances.

Some, wrongly identifying joy as a purely human emotion, find Paul’s twice-repeated command to rejoice puzzling. How, they ask, can people be commanded to produce an emotion? But joy is not a feeling; it is the deep-down confidence that God is in control of everything for the believer’s good and His own glory, and thus all is well no matter what the circumstances. Chairete (rejoice) is a present imperative, calling believers to the continual, habitual practice of rejoicing. Neither Paul’s imprisonment nor the Philippians’ trials should eclipse their joy.

It is true that believers often cannot find reason to rejoice in their specific circumstances. Certainly the general wickedness, sorrow, misery, and death in the world evoke no joy. Nor are people a reliable source of joy, since they can change, hurt, and disappoint. The only sure, reliable, unwavering, unchanging source of joy is God. That is why Paul commands believers to rejoice in the Lord. The phrase in the Lord introduces an important principle: Spiritual stability is directly related to how a person thinks about God. No one has stated that truth more clearly than A. W. Tozer. In his classic book on the attributes of God, The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer wrote,

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.

Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. (Reprint; New York: Harper & Row, 1975, 9)

Knowledge of God is the key to rejoicing. Those who know the great truths about God find it easy to rejoice; those with little knowledge of Him find it difficult to rejoice. God gave the Psalms to Israel in poetic form so they could be easily memorized and set to music. The first three verses of the book of Psalms promise blessings to those who meditate on Scripture:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. (Ps. 1:1–3)

It is from that knowledge of God and repeated recitation and singing of His nature and attributes that believers’ joy flows. So deep was the apostles’ knowledge of God’s character and purposes that even suffering for Jesus Christ was a cause of joy: “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

Moses’ father-in-law Jethro “rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Ex. 18:9; cf. Deut. 26:11). After the dedication of the temple, Solomon “sent the people to their tents, rejoicing and happy of heart because of the goodness that the Lord had shown to David and to Solomon and to His people Israel” (2 Chron. 7:10).

Believers rejoice in the contemplation of God’s redemption. In 1 Samuel 2:1, “Hannah prayed and said, ‘My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord, my mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.’ ” In Psalm 13:5 David confidently asserted, “I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation” (cf. Pss. 21:1; 35:9; 40:16; Isa. 61:10; Hab. 3:18). In Psalm 71:23 the psalmist exulted, “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You; and my soul, which You have redeemed.”

Another reason for believers to rejoice is that God has promised to supply all their needs. Paul reminded the Philippians, “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). In the Old Testament counterpart to that promise, the psalmist wrote, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus Christ made God’s promise to provide for believers’ needs unmistakably clear:

Why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:28–33)

Paul rejoiced because of the privilege of serving God. To Timothy he wrote, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service” (1 Tim. 1:12). He also rejoiced when God’s truth was proclaimed (Phil. 1:18). Paul’s declaration to the Philippians earlier in this epistle, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21), reveals that even the prospect of death could not quench his joy. The confidence “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39) produces both deep-seated joy and spiritual stability.[4]


4 The conclusion to the letter begins in 4:4. Paul’s letter endings vary widely and lack any formal pattern, but he usually concludes with a battery of ethical imperatives. Here he begins by repeating the call to “rejoice in the Lord.” Since joy is commanded, it is not a feeling like happiness. It is a mental attitude, a life stance. Whereas happiness depends on what happens, joy does not. Joy derives from a conviction that, despite present circumstances, God is in control and will save those who belong to Christ. Joy derives from the Philippians’ union with Christ, the promise of the resurrection, and their partnership with one another.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1978). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Philippians (Vol. 5, pp. 192–193). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 273–276). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 252). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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