“Rejoice in the Lord at all times. Let me say it again, Rejoice. May everyone understand that you are always ready to listen. The Lord is close at hand.”
Joy is a central motif in the Christian faith. Since faith is an active reality it needs to express itself clearly so people will understand what it involves. In this section of his letter (4:4-6) Paul describes a lifestyle that pleases and honors God. New converts to the faith need to grasp the fact that they have taken a major step out of darkness into the glorious light of God. The joyless rituals of yesterday are replaced with new and fresh experiences of a God of love. Paul wants his readers to understand that rejoicing, regardless of the situation in which they find themselves, is what God expects of them. In case they hadn’t fully grasped what he said, Paul tells his readers once again, “Rejoice in the Lord.”
The absolute centrality of joy in the Christian needs to be understood and put into practice throughout the believing world. While not denying the difficulties of living in a way at odds with the current culture, the believer is to rejoice wherever he is and whatever the situation might be. We could cite a score of reasons why rejoicing could be out of place at the moment, but Paul would tell us that such reluctance is unacceptable. Pantote, “always, at all times,” leaves no wiggle room. Even in a time of despair, rejoicing need not cease because God is involved in everything in our life. He will not allow his plans for a jubilant life-style to be thwarted by such trivialities as misery or discouragement?
In addition to rejoicing, believers are to let their “graciousness” (NIV) be widely known. My translation, “ready to listen,” attempts to express from context the idea that Paul wanted to convey. Other translations read, “show a gentle attitude” (TĚ̌V), “let your good sense be obvious” (NJB). The expression pictures a thoughtful and kind response to some concern within the church – a gentle openness that listens to all sides of a difficulty.
Problems, by definition, involve varying views. The answer does not lie in a noisy presentation by one whose mind is closed to a workable solution. A much better approach would be to discover common ground and work toward an acceptable conclusion. I would call it Christian bipartisanship.