Many of us would probably say we’re pretty good at rejoicing. When we get that job we want or when we welcome a little one into the world, when we get good news from the doctor or when life just seems to be going how we want it to, it’s a natural response to be full of rejoicing. We like rejoicing. It’s much more fun than mourning! But while this type of circumstantial “rejoicing” is good and beautiful, I would argue that it is only a glimpse of what true rejoicing looks like in a Christian’s life.
Paul writes in Romans 12:12, in the middle of his writing to the church about what it looks like to be a Christian, that we should, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” At first glance, these things seem like three separate tasks, but when we further examine them, we find that what binds them all together is Jesus. Romans 5:2-5 says, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
So then, it seems that this is a circular pattern. We first are given faith through Jesus’s grace and because of our faith we are able to rejoice. Here it is important to see exactly what we rejoice in. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. We do not simply rejoice over our new job or our new baby or our present positive circumstances. The world does that, too. No, true rejoicing runs much deeper. True rejoicing is grounded in faith given by Jesus that allows the believer to hope in things unseen, and in that, to hope and rejoice believing that God will be glorified even in circumstances that would seem rather hopeless or devoid of reason to rejoice. True rejoicing is not dependent on life’s circumstances, but is solely based on the grace of Jesus.
That is why Paul is able to continue to write that we must rejoice in our sufferings. Our rejoicing is not just a begrudging response to our pain or our loss or our grief and it in no way diminishes those things. Instead, our rejoicing is a reminder of the rich promises we hold dear to us in Christ: that in all things God will be glorified and in the end, his glory is our ultimate good. I love how Paul wraps up the circle in Romans 5. He says that we rejoice in suffering, and that this hope in God’s glory produces endurance for the suffering, which in turn produces character in us. Then that character brings us right back to the beginning again, with a deeper and richer hope knowing that while life may disappoint us, our God never will, because in him we already have all that we need: his Holy Spirit who richly pours God’s love upon us.
This is why the three tasks Paul gives us in Romans 12:12 are not separate. We rejoice in hope of God’s glory, which is secure through our faith in Jesus. This allows us to be patient in tribulation for we know that we are being sustained by Jesus to endure and see God glorified, and then prompts us to pray to Jesus, knowing that through him is greater hope and greater rejoicing produced. I think John Piper says it best when he states, “It means that for the Christian things may go really bad right now and yet not rob him of his joy. The joy is the joy of hope. Christians set their hearts in how good it will be in the age to come and in the presence of Christ after death. This is why Christians can rejoice in tribulation and not just in health and peace and security. Tribulation drives the roots of joy down into hope. The further joy streams back into the presence and lightens every load.”
I pray each day we become a people who hopes more deeply and comes to know the beauty of true rejoicing.