Our culture encourages us to pursue joy. We are increasingly becoming aware of the many benefits of gratitude and joy. The Bible also encourages us to pursue joy but grounds that pursuit in the reality of God. A striking example of this is in Philippians 3:1, where we see that rejoicing in the Lord is a safeguard for us. But how exactly is rejoicing a safeguard?
Rejoicing Safeguards Psychological Stability
Think with me about the apostle Paul’s context as he pens the letter to the Philippians: imprisonment, possible death, malicious ministry rivals, the threat of false teachers plaguing his churches, and ongoing sacrificial ministry. Yet, in the midst of all of this, Paul modeled stability; he stood firm in suffering and opposition. And Paul called the Philippians to stand firm (Phil. 1:27, 4:1). Now, in Philippians 3:1, Paul says that his command to rejoice in the Lord is designed to give them stability: “Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.”
But how does this work psychologically? How does rejoicing act as a safeguard? How does joy promote psychological stability?
When we rejoice in the Lord, we are strengthened by Him. Through faith, we experience the joy of the Lord being our strength (Neh. 8:10). By faith, the Holy Spirit empowers us as we rejoice in Jesus. Another aspect to this, I think, is that rejoicing inevitably displaces negative and unfruitful thoughts. To rejoice in the Lord is also a decision to not dwell on things that are untrue or unhelpful. Bible scholar Steven Runge says, “It’s like the old saying that ‘the best defense is a good offense.’ Choosing to go on the offensive by rejoicing in the midst of hardship is the single greatest defense from the things that make us turn away from God.” In other words, rejoicing in the Lord acts as an umbrella, protecting us from the rainfall of negative thoughts that might hinder our stability. Rejoicing keeps you dry in a rainstorm of unhelpful thoughts. Runge demonstrates this in the diagram below.
Think of all the things that rob you of joy: anxiety, greed, envy, bitterness, discouragement, lust, selfish ambition, grumbling, and complaining. When we choose to rejoice, we choose to turn away from these things because we simply cannot grumble and rejoice at the same time. These things are mutually exclusive: I will either grumble in my circumstances or rejoice in the Lord—but I cannot do both at the same time. Joy will inevitably displace negativity, and thus safeguard our stability.
Rejoicing in the Lord acts as a psychological safeguard because as we rejoice in the Lord we are strengthened by faith. And as we rejoice in the Lord we inevitably turn our attention away from unhelpful and fruitless thoughts towards things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable (Phil. 4:8). Rejoicing in Jesus, rather than fretting about circumstances, gives us resilience in the midst of dealing with those difficult circumstances.
But it gets even better! Rejoicing in the Lord doesn’t just safeguard psychological stability, it also safeguards social stability in the church.
Rejoicing Safeguards Relational Unity
In the cultural context of Paul’s day, appeals to rejoice demonstrated friendship love, because only true friends would share in one another’s joys and sorrows. Friends laugh and cry together; “a friend is one who shares in another’s joys and sorrows.” Thus there is a social dimension to joy; joy in the Lord is not just me praising alone in my room, it is a community celebration! As Bible scholar Walter Hansen says, “Joy in the Lord is a corporate experience, a community celebration. Paul has just informed the Philippians that he is sending Epaphroditus back home so that when they see him they may rejoice (2:28), and he has implored them to welcome him in the Lord with great joy (2:29).” The joy of the Lord holds us together.
If you are familiar with the letter to the Philippians, you will know that the church was experiencing internal relationship problems. Paul exhorted them to strive together as one (Phil. 1:27), a command that he explicitly reinforced to Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3). When our churches grapple with relational breakdown, one part of the solution is to rejoice in the Lord together. When we encounter conflict, we need to celebrate in the Lord. The joy of the Lord acts as a relational safeguard by fostering unity.
Choosing to Rejoice
One of the things that struck me from Philippians 3:1-2 is that joy has a protective function. In these verses, Paul has given us an insight into life that we simply must not miss: rejoicing is a safeguard. The joy of the Lord is our strength; the joy of the Lord holds us together.
In light of this, we would do well to ask ourselves, “What typically proceeds from my mouth (or keyboard)? Am I marked by gratitude and rejoicing? Or am I something of a Grinch, a cynic, a grumbler?” Of course, an honest appraisal would lead to all of us confessing that we tend to grumble a bit more than we rejoice.
How wonderful, then, to remember that there was someone who always said: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength” (Hab. 3:19). And for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorned its shame, and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2). Let us fix our eyes on Him! And as we fix our eyes on Him, we will find that rejoicing in the Lord acts as a safeguard for us.
Questions for Reflection
How has choosing to rejoice acted as a safeguard for you during a difficult time? What passages of Scripture can you meditate on to help turn from an attitude of grumbling to rejoicing?
 See, for example, the “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude” at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude and “A Joyful Life Supports Good Health” at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-cynthia-thaik/joy-health_b_4612156.html.
 Steven E. Runge, High Definition Commentary: Philippians (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2011), Phil. 3:1–4a.
 G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 213.
 Hansen, 214.
Kyle Johnston is a pastor and counselor at Jubilee Community Church in Cape Town, South Africa. Kyle provides leadership and oversight to the counseling ministry and serves on the preaching team at Jubilee.