Gerald F. Hawthorne wrote the article on The Letter to the Philippians in the IVP Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. At the end of the article he writes on the theme of joy in the letter, a section I really appreciate (and makes me want to read more of his stuff):
Finally, the theme of joy that runs throughout Philippians has had a profound influence on Christians through the centuries, drawing them back to this letter again and again. Here one learns that joy is not so much a feeling as it is a settled state of mind characterized by peace, an attitude that views life – including all of its ups and downs – with equanimity. It is a confident way of looking at life that is rooted in faith in the living Lord of the church (1:25; 3:1; 4:4, 10). For Paul joy is an understanding of existence that makes it possible for one to accept both elation and depression, to accept with creative submission events that bring either delight or dismay, because joy allows one to see beyond any particular event to the sovereign Lord who stands above all events (713).
So joy is not a feeling so much as it is a “settled state of mind.” Notice it doesn’t have anyting necesarily to do with being a happy go lucky kind of person. This is really helpful to me because if you met me you might get confused as to if I was a joyful person or not – I often joke how I could be sometimes confused with Puddleglum of the Narnia series – always too serious.
But thank God joy is not based on outward appearances but on the inward state of a person’s heart. Different people reflect this sort of thing differently and I remember hearing Gordon Fee teaching on this very thing. At the time it was a tremendously freeing thing to know being joyful had nothing to do necessarily with being outwardly happy all the time, necessarily, but rather it has to do with “settled state of mind” that comes with being forgiven by God, and therefore “in Christ.”
This is especially important to given that a major theme in Philippians and in Paul’s theology is that of suffering – if you are a Christian, you will face suffering either through persecution from those who do not follow Christ or from other asepcts such as harrassment from various spiritual powers that seek to destroy us and our faith and relationship with the Lord.
But Paul teaches us the proper response to suffering is “Rejoice in the Lord always, and I will say it again, Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). Why? Because as Hawthorne notes, “joy allows one to see beyond any particular event” (i.e., suffering or persecution) “to the sovereign LORD who stands above all events!’
So, rejoice in the Lord always!
Be blessed and be joyful! Seriously! 😉