Everybody likes a party, and for those so inclined Luke 15 might rank as their favorite chapter of the Bible. Here we learn of the rejoicing of the shepherd who finds his lost sheep (Lk 15:6), the woman who finds her missing silver coin (Lk 15:9), and the father whose prodigal son returns (Lk 15:22-24). Furthermore, Luke 15:7 and 15:10 remind us that times of rejoicing take place in heaven whenever a sinner comes to repentance.
What can we learn about celebrations from Luke 15? Two obvious points come to mind: 1) smiling providences merit rejoicing, and 2) there must be a gathering of people in order to have a party. I believe it is likely that Paul had Jesus’ words in mind when he commanded Christians to rejoice with one another (Rom 12:15; 1 Cor 12:26). Indeed, he certainly would have considered gatherings for rejoicing as one of the ways Christians could obey these imperatives.
In this essay I would like you to consider what it means to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” First, what are the implications of the command to rejoice with another? Second, what does rejoicing with others look like in our day? The first of these questions deals with our knowledge and the second with our actions.
The Implications of Rejoicing. The meaning of rejoicing with others is plain enough—we have an obligation to be joyful with and in the presence of our Christian brothers and sisters. But what does it mean to be joyful? One theologian has defined joy as “theistic optimism,” which should be distinguished from the concept of “happiness.” While happiness is often a byproduct of joy, it is not a synonym, for one can rejoice in God even in the midst of suffering (2 Cor 6:10: “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”). But even if we understand that joy and rejoicing are not precise synonyms for happiness, the contexts of Romans 12:15 and 1 Corinthians 12:26 certainly point us toward a more positive emphasis in regard to the joy we are to share with our Christian friends. In both verses Paul contrasts rejoicing with weeping and suffering. Certainly, he wants us to encourage our fellow Christians by seeking to join them in emotions and affections that are opposite sorrow and sadness, i.e. to share with them in happiness and merrymaking. At these times of rejoicing we can encourage Christian compatriots to direct their affections toward a greater optimism in God—a greater joy.
Several ideas flow from these parallel commands to rejoice. First, this rejoicing is part of the “one another” texts that call believers to be involved in relationships with others. Some folks love to be around people; for these types, spending time with others invigorates and encourages. On the other hand, those more introverted may find such commands difficult and personally draining, even burdensome or laborious. But regardless of your preferences, remember that you have an advocate who experienced the same temptations to isolation that you face (Heb 4:15), and He will help you to be victorious just as He was. Rejoicing with others requires relationships.
Second, these commands indicate that we direct our focus outward rather than inward. Jesus made this point when He washed His disciples’ feet in John 13. Rather than focusing on our own needs, Jesus shows that we need to “wash one another’s feet” (13:14). This teaching is reaffirmed in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Both Jesus and Paul recognized that we naturally think of ourselves first, and this is why they encourage believers to look away from themselves to the needs (and joys) of others.
Third, it is impossible to have a party if no one shows up. When we hear about opportunities for rejoicing with others, we ought to make every effort to attend the event. Of course, life circumstances will make it impossible to go to every announced party. But the call to rejoice with others calls for active participation in these happenings unless providentially hindered. We should not permit such excuses as fatigue, disinterest, or busyness to interfere with the call to celebrate with others.
Fourth, an aspect often missed in regard to these commands is the need for those who are rejoicing to share the news of their joy with others. Oftentimes, such news is easily disseminated through general invitations to public celebrations such as graduation parties, baby showers, or wedding receptions. But sometimes people fail to get the word out to their brothers and sisters who would love to rejoice with them. Have you purchased a new home, received a job promotion, learned of a pregnancy, or experienced other noteworthy situations? How many people have you informed about your time of rejoicing? Indeed, it is difficult to obey these imperatives if people remain in the dark about your joy. In Luke 15 the shepherd and the woman had no difficulty informing their friends about their joy in finding a lost sheep or a lost coin. We need to be equally alert to opportunities to share our times of happiness with others who would like to rejoice with us.
The Indications of Rejoicing. Now that we have considered the meaning of rejoicing with one another, we need to think about the kinds of activities in which fellow rejoicers might participate. Here are a few ideas.
- Gatherings that mark special events, such as graduation parties, wedding and bridal showers, and significant birthdays or anniversaries.
- Special services at church such as annual graduation celebrations, installation of new staff, send-offs for missionaries, and milestones in the history of the church (individual or corporate).
- Weddings or wedding receptions.
- On a smaller scale, a job promotion, a new job, the purchase of a new house, or the announcement of a pregnancy.
These ideas relate to invitations made by those who have experienced a sweet providence from God and who desire that others join them to celebrate. But rejoicing with others may also be expressed by throwing a party for the one who is rejoicing. While the shepherd and the woman in Luke 15 were the ones who called others to party with them, we can also rejoice by calling the shepherds and women among us to a party that we arrange in their honor.
Finally, we can obey these commands to rejoice with others by giving gifts or cards or other tokens of happiness to those experiencing joyous occurrences.
Solomon reminds us that God certainly brings times of laughter and dancing into our lives (Eccl 3:4). Yes, they are balanced by occurrences of weeping and mourning. But when those showers of blessing fall upon the heads of our fellow brothers and sisters, we dare not miss the ensuing party. Indeed, these times of rejoicing are but a foretaste of the far greater time of rejoicing that will commence with the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7). And that will just be the beginning. No wonder John proclaimed, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
This essay is by Jon Pratt, Vice President of Academics and Professor of New Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Songs of Sorrow or of Praise?
It is finished! Shall we raise
Songs of sorrow or of praise?
Mourn to see the Savior die,
Or proclaim His victory?
If of Calvary we tell,
How can songs of triumph swell?
If of man redeemed from woe,
How shall notes of mourning flow?
Ours the guilt which pierced His side;
Ours the sin for which He died;
But the blood which flowed that day,
Washed our sin and guilt away.
Lamb of God, Thy death hath given
Pardon, peace, and hope of heaven.
It is finished! Let us raise
Songs of thankfulness and praise!