The apostle Paul could rejoice while everything crumbled. So can you.
The last two years have been, to say the least, a bit much. A global pandemic cut short millions of lives and wrought innumerable other hardships whose scope and damage we cannot yet quantify. A climate in crisis whose degrees of alarm range from disturbing dismissal to unhinged panic. A European war that’s featured unspeakable atrocities, displaced millions, and set the world on edge with the looming threat that it could spiral into something far worse.
These are just the issues that have affected everyone. They don’t count the suffering and difficulty we each face at a personal level, multiplied 7 billion times over.
So when we come to a verse like Philippians 3:1, it can understandably ring hollow. How can one rejoice when the world seems to be falling apart?
A glimpse at the context, however, reveals that the Christians at Philippi who received this exhortation lived under similar world-falling-apart circumstances: The imprisonment of the apostle Paul, author of this letter and planter of the Philippian church (and many others). A Roman empire growing more tyrannical and beginning to see this new Christian movement as a threat. A religious tradition, Judaism, out of which this new movement had arisen, that resented and sought to destroy it and its devotees. A cultural setting rife with idolatry, promiscuity, and barbarism.
When these words were penned, roughly 30 years after Christ’s earthly life, the Christian movement was akin to a small raft bobbing along in a thrashing sea. It isn’t difficult to envision these believers feeling a visceral sense of threat. They didn’t have the hindsight of history; the possibility that their movement would be stamped out, and the dread and despair that would accompany such a danger, would have been powerful and real.
Into this context Paul writes, “rejoice in the Lord.”
What? From where did he receive the audacity to make such a pronouncement?
He gives us a glimpse in verses 10 and 11: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.”
Christ’s resurrection changed the game. Suffering, particularly persecution, meant deeper identification with Christ; an opportunity to know him more closely. Imprisonment—or any “setback” Paul or any believer might endure—would only result in advancing the gospel (Philippians 1:12). Even death itself would only be a shortcut to the glorious presence of Christ and our future resurrection. All sources of unspeakable joy.
The resurrection was proof that the movement would endure, death would be turned to life, and that God was powerful and loving enough to turn any evil into a good.
This is still true today. So we can stare in the face of dire world circumstances and whatever personal hardships arise and dance with joy. God is good, he is for us, and he is in control. No matter what.
The resurrection is our surefire certainty of this, our ace in the hole.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Not only are they sufficient for my forgiveness and salvation, they are irrevocable proof of your ultimate victory and your ongoing work to bring good out of even the worst situations I face. Help me to rejoice in you in the midst of the hardships I’ll encounter today, so that I might have increased hope and opportunities to offer that hope to those around me. Amen.
Throughout This Day: What hardships and stressors burden you today? Take a few moments to bring them before God in prayer and make a conscious choice to rejoice—in God’s redemptive work in their midst, in the growth in you they will produce, in how they help you identify more with Jesus, in the future resurrection in whose shadow these hardships will seem so distant. What may be other sources of joy in their midst?
Photo Credit: Fares Hamouche on Unsplash