I want to underline the great truth that Christian joy does not die when sorrows abound. Joy and sorrow in the Christian life are not sequential, but simultaneous. We are called to rejoice always, and yet sorrow breaks like waves over our lives.
Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning,” which is sequential. I am aware of that. I don’t think it is a contradiction, though, because there is a kind of joy that is pain-free, sorrow-free, and without tears. God does that all the time for us. We’re not experiencing the pain because something happened to take away that pain in the morning. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Even that night before when the weeping is abounding, joy has not gone. It hasn’t died.
Paul commands us, “Finally, brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble for me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:1–2). He didn’t say, “Rejoice, and then stop rejoicing and deal with the conflict.” No. “Rejoice in the Lord . . . and watch out for the dogs.” This is simultaneous.
In Philippians 3:18, Paul describes these folks again: They are enemies of the cross of which I have told you before and now tell you again with tears. Paul is modeling weeping over the dogs and evil workers, even as he commands us to rejoice in the midst of the conflict. Just a few verses later, in chapter 4, he says (and repeats, lest we miss the point), “Rejoice always, and again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). The repetition says: Yes, I did mean to say always, because I have already modeled for you how you rejoice and weep at the same time.
And the key to this kind of joy in the circumstances where we are prone to murmur or grumble or cry is found in the sovereignty of Christ and the sweetness of Christ.
Even in Trials, You Rejoice
Maybe it would be helpful if I give you a couple of other examples from the Bible that support this simultaneous experience of sorrow and joy — not sequentially, but simultaneously:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:3–6)
There’s no sequence there. “In this you rejoice, though you are grieved” are simultaneous experiences. That’s the nature of the Christian life. Second Corinthians 6:10 simply says, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” These are simultaneous events for followers of Jesus. Therefore, when sorrows break over our lives as Christians, which they do and will regularly under our Father’s providential and disciplinary care, our joy does not die.
The Day My Mom Died
When I was 28, my mother was killed. I remember just where I was standing when the phone call came. My brother-in-law said, “Johnny, I have bad news. Your mother was just killed in a bus accident and we don’t know if your dad is going to make it.” I went back and knelt down in the bedroom, by my bed, and cried for two hours.
And as I cried over the loss of one of the most important people in my life, I was overwhelmed with joy. I was overwhelmed with joy that she was a great mom. Secondly, God had given her to me for twenty-eight years. Third, we had wonderfully reconciled from ways I treated her as a child. Fourth, she didn’t suffer for a long time. It was instant, in a moment. Last, I was overwhelmed with joy because she was with Jesus.
Alongside loss, massive — painful, heart-wrenching, tear-flowing loss — was joy, joy, joy. Christian joy is not meant to be killed by the breaking of sorrows.
Sadness and Sweetness
For another example, about three weeks ago I spoke to my older sister, my only sibling. God has been good to us over the last few years to give us a renewed, sweeter, deeper relationship. I only see her once a year or so. She lives 1,100 miles away. We were on the phone and talked mainly about sadnesses in our lives. We were sharing our sadness and both of us were taken totally off guard by the emotions of those moments. When I hung up, I said to my wife, “That is the best conversation I have ever had with my sister.”
What was that? The conversation was totally dominated with tears — with sadness — but something else was happening. There was an emotional and bonding sweetness between us. My point is that Christian joy in Christ is not killed in sadness. It doesn’t die when sorrows abound.
A Call to Joy
Let me leave you with this personal exhortation from Philippians. Receive it as though the inspired apostle Paul, and even Christ himself, is speaking it to you.
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Don’t be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7)