A biblical and personal reflection based on Philippians 4.4-13.
“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I will say, rejoice!”
Whenever I think of Paul’s words to the Christian community in Philippi, almost immediately and almost every time the anthem of the great English composer Henry Purcell comes to mind. Purcell, with his spirited interplay of symphony and solo and choral voices, beautifully captures Paul’s spirit of rejoicing.
And whenever I think of these words of Paul and reflect on his life as revealed in his New Testament epistles, I wonder…
Yes, he knew joy. In one stellar passage, Paul speaks of a beatific vision in which he was “caught up to the third heaven.”
Yet, too, he knew sorrow. Deep, deepest sorrow. In one passage, he confessed his “fear and trembling” and “being utterly and unbearingly crushed.” In another, he “despaired of life itself.” In still another, Paul, reciting a litany of woe, recounted being near death through imprisonments, floggings, stonings, sleepless nights of hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness.
As one who leans more toward shadow than light, Paul, though my namesake, befuddles me. How did he, how could he, no matter his circumstances, especially when his sufferings were so constant and great, have joy and rejoicing as the unmistakable features, the inextricable fixtures of his life and outlook?
Hmmm, I shall ask him…