Life is difficult; there is no doubt about that. We all hear of friends going through hard times. Perhaps as you read this, you may even find yourself going through difficult times. But life is not without hope, and even in the midst of suffering, life is not without joy.
When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he sought to encourage them with words of hope and words of joy. Paul knew much about suffering. Throughout his ministry, he was plagued by some kind of chronic illness, which he called his “thorn in his side.” Many scholars think that he was going blind. We do not know for sure. On top of whatever ailed him physically, he found himself imprisoned numerous times for witnessing his faith in the gospel of Christ. By all accounts, Paul should have been defeated. Paul should have despaired. And yet, even from his own suffering, what was his message to the churches he both founded and nurtured? Joy.
Paul could preach the joy of the gospel because he knew that even in his greatest suffering he had confidence that Christ not only dwelled within him but that he dwelled in Christ. For Paul, his hope was rooted not in confidence in earthly things, but in the heavenly reality that even though he made many mistakes in his old life, even though his body might be wearing out, even though he might face death, Christ had come into this life to dwell with him, to join in his suffering, that he might partake of Christ’s divine joy.
This is why Paul proclaims, even in the midst of his own suffering, even in the midst of conflict in the community, “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say, rejoice!” The pain is real, but it is not greater than the love of God for us in Christ. It is not greater than Christ’s compassion and his joy in us, and so even when difficult times fall upon us, if we are in Christ, we can have confidence that we are not alone. Jesus is with us and Jesus has claimed us as his own. In this, even in the midst of suffering, there is much joy to be found.