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Paul – A Theologian of Joy

Weekly Devotionals

Paul – A Theologian of Joy

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

-Philippians 4:4-5

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is probably one of my favorite books of the New Testament. We see a softer side of Paul and a posture of gratitude encompasses him rather than turmoil such as what we see in his letters to the Galatians or the Corinthians. Ironically, Paul finds himself in prison and you would think someone in such circumstances would be overcome with anxiety. Instead, we find Paul filled with a great deal of joy and the letter is littered with instances where Paul makes mention of this concept of “joy.” He uses it some sixteen times throughout the letter and of the 326 occurrences of the word joy in the New Testament, 131 are found throughout Paul’s letters. Paul is undoubtedly a theologian of joy.

I am so stunned by Paul’s exuberance and utter courage to be able to look beyond his circumstances and to be filled with a sense of peace with his life. He is imprisoned and has the threat of death looming over him, yet he looks at his life and deems it successful. Is he delusional? Or is he a religious fanatic that is naïve and downright stupid? If we look at Paul from the lens of convention, then those conclusions would certainly be reasonable. However, our faith does not rest on reason, rather it rests on what God has done to bring us back from the depths of Sin and Death.

We often mistake joy with happiness and although closely related, the foundations of such emotions could not be any more different. Happiness often rests on things that happen in our lives, especially events that advance our status or position in life – job promotion, new car, exotic vacations, higher income. However, happiness is often fleeting and just as temporary as the things we often long for to feel secure. For Paul, such models of success are strikingly absent from his reasons for rejoicing. Instead, we see a
disposition of confidence that is rooted in God’s faithfulness to preserve believers.

Harassment, imprisonment or tragedy may fall on Paul, but his confidence in God enables him to put aside his personal circumstances. His trust that “The Lord is near” (v.5) provides him the hopeful joy necessary to live through his life with a sense of peace that “exceeds all understanding” (v.7).

When we are overcome with anxiety we can remember that Jesus is closer to us than we may see or feel. There is no circumstance that can separate us from God’s compassion and love for us. Jesus is what roots our emotions onto solid ground and our joy stems from what God has done for us rather than our happenings, which will never satisfy us. God may not spare us from trouble, but God will certainly spare us from anxiety ruling over us. May the peace of Christ reign in us now and forever more. Amen.