When Scripture Gets Hard
Written by Kellye Schiffner Carver (First 5 Ministries)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand…”
Sometimes Scripture says things I don’t want to hear.
Today’s passage is a great example. In poetic irony, Paul left his discussion on handling conflict (Philippians 4:2-3) to revisit joy – an important theme throughout the book. (Philippians 2:18; 3:1) And here’s where Scripture gets hard: Paul instructed us to rejoice in the Lord “always”(Philippians 4:4).
I hear you Paul, but I don’t always want to rejoice. Sometimes I’m distressed, angry, overwhelmed or just busy. Understanding Paul’s original language and context is critical here. He’s not talking about constantly being happy and breaking into song.
First, what does it mean to rejoice? Used here, it means being glad or delighting in God’s grace; intentionally celebrating His goodness; feeling confident in His character and provision. It doesn’t mean earthly happiness, satisfaction or celebration.
“Always” means… well… always, at all times. We should remember God’s faithfulness always, not only in the good times, not only when we happen to think about it, not only when it’s convenient and not only with other believers.
Rejoice always. That includes rejoicing when I am experiencing confusion, frustration, ambivalence, exhaustion or yes, even suffering.
This is when Scripture gets especially hard for me. Can you relate? How does one feel joy in suffering? I’m supposed to rejoice in the cancer diagnosis? The miscarriage? The lost job? The wayward family member? The financial woes? How does one feel delight or confidence in God during severe challenges?
Paul helps us here, too. Rejoice “in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4).
Paul isn’t being trite. We’re not simply rejoicing in the joy of knowing Jesus (although that’s important). Paul’s words convey a deeper meaning. We’re not rejoicing about the Lord but in the Lord. Theologian Alexander MacLaren describes believers in deep union with their Savior, describing them as drawing on a profound supernatural relationship. When we live knowing Jesus as Lord, even in the midst of earthly grief and struggle, we can experience a deep satisfaction in our relationship with Him.
This connection changes everything because God works all things together for good to make us more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29) Suddenly, problems have purpose. Trials bring transformation. And His presence brings peace through everything.
This is the joy Paul calls us to live in.
Paul repeats himself to emphasize this point. (Philippians 4:4) He also writes in present, imperative, active tense in Greek. An imperative is a fancy word for a command, and present tense means it’s ongoing or repeated. He seems pretty insistent.
But there’s more! Besides delighting in the Lord at all times and in all circumstances, Paul says to show reasonableness (gentleness, moderation or graciousness, depending on your translation). This Greek word, epieikes, has no English equivalent. It means being mature, level-headed, fair and steady. In practice, that’s checking angry or unhelpful reactions, being willing to forgive, and showing humility and Christ-like consideration. (Not hard at all, right?)
God is our ultimate example here; He doesn’t give what we deserve, but stands ever ready with compassion and forgiveness.
One more reason to rejoice always.
So yes, this Scripture is hard, but it’s also full of healing and hope. It challenges us to show the world where we find true joy – in Christ alone.