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TOO BLESSED TO BE DISTRESSED

I can't think of much to be happy about in prison. That's what makes the statement found in the New Testament in Philippians 4:4 so amazing, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" The man who wrote those words had not just won the state lottery or found out that he inherited a million dollars or discovered he didn't have cancer after all. Those words were penned by the apostle Paul while in prison, almost certainly in Rome. Carefully read Philippians 1:13-16 and at least three times Paul mentions "my chains." His chains are "in Christ" – that is, on account of Christ. Paul's stand for Christ had not won him friends in high places or gained him a load of perks and privileges. Instead his preaching and teaching had landed him in prison. Read on through verses 20-23 and it is clear Paul is not sure whether he is going to live or die. But even if he does die, he declares in verse 21 another amazing mindset: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." It is in this context that we later read in chapter 4 verse 4: "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" As far as Paul was concerned, no child of God on earth has a reason for a joyless existence. When life becomes a pressure-cooker of problems and pain, when the sun disappears and the clouds roll in, when we find ourselves locked behind prison bars made of fear and worry and anxiety, when we face unkind people and uncontrollable circumstances and an uncertain future, the apostle Paul insists, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" Paul's message is simple but profound. Nothing that is true for us in the Lord can ever be changed by anything that happens to us out of the Lord. Anything that I have and enjoy in the Lord while I am young is still true when I get old. Anything that I can rejoice in the Lord about when I have plenty of money is still cause for rejoicing when I feel a financial pinch. If there is reason to rejoice in the Lord when I am in good health, Paul insists there is still reason to rejoice in the Lord when I get sick. And if I die, well, then, according to Paul's theology, even that cannot steal joy in the Lord, for "to depart and be with Christ is far better" (Philippians 1:23b).

These words from Philippians remind me of a message I saw on a church marquee sign: "I'm too - blessed to be distressed." For more than thirty years I have preached "Rejoice in the Lord always" while practicing "Rejoice in the Lord sometimes." The challenge is to practice what we preach – "Rejoice in the Lord always." In the Lord we are truly blessed even if we are distressed by things out of the Lord.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ