Mixed in with the bills and advertising mailers, there it is: another wedding invitation. Addressed to you alone, no “and guest” invited.
Waiting in your Facebook newsfeed is another happy announcement, along with the photos of the sparkly ring: Another friend is happily engaged.
At the mall, you spot a former classmate — and her conspicuous baby bump. Another baby shower invitation lurks in your future.
You? You still wait. And wait.
At first, waiting is hard. Hope lurks around the corner of every new situation. But experience eventually confers a steely resignation. It doesn’t even feel good to cry anymore. Self-pity has lost its allure.
Then, the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit breaks into your grey fog of dashed hopes. In a heart filled with unexpectant apathy, these gentle words bubble up in the first moments of waking: “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”
Impossible, you think drowsily. I need to withdraw from those happy, shiny people. That’s how I manage it, this guarding my heart. Opening your eyes, anger surges over the first light of the day. God, You gave them what I want. But you haven’t given it to me. And You want me to rejoice about it? I don’t think that’s even possible.
In View of God’s Mercy
Ah, but it is possible, you know. It’s not only possible, it’s a biblical command. A command, however, that is wrapped in grace and sprinkled with hope. Far from a “grit your teeth and just do it” order from an unsympathetic superior, this directive springs from mercy.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice” is found in Romans 12. This chapter begins with a “therefore,” which draws our gaze to the preceding paragraph of praise and worship (doxology):
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36, ESV).
All things are from Him and through Him and to Him. Therefore? Yes, therefore look at life through the widescreen view of His mercy.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-3, NIV).
At first glance, this passage seems addressed primarily to men because of the limitations of English translation — “brothers.” But the Greek word there refers to siblings in a family. So, sisters, let’s apply this to ourselves. In view of God’s mercy, when the grumbling starts in the waking moments of the day, one way to rejoice with those who rejoice is not to gut it out, but to change your focus. Renew your mind by thinking on what’s right and true about God — most specifically, the jaw-dropping mercy you’ve already received as a forgiven and adopted daughter.
Rejoicing begins when we look at our situation in view of God’s mercy and with worship for His manifold perfections. Instead of holy wrath for our sins and disobedience, we’ve received mercy for our pride and rebellion. A mind conformed to this world always starts with a reference point of Me, Myself and I. But a mind transformed is one whose reference point is the character of God.
Unfortunately, we tend to wander from this truth. We’re like a toddler with her eyes fixed on a new toy or ice-cream treat. God keeps telling us to look Him in the eyes and pay attention to what He is telling us, but we’re tugging at His hand and focused elsewhere. We might cut our eyes back at Him for a second, as if to say, “Yeah, yeah, I hear You, but did You see this thing?” It’s just as hard to get our eyes on the truth of the Gospel as it is to arrest the attention of a fixated and fidgety toddler.
This is the first step in rejoicing with those who rejoice: To sit back for a moment to consider our current situation “in view of God’s mercy.”
The Many Form One Body
As the 12th chapter of Romans unfolds, we find the second step to rejoicing over the blessings of others: We’re in this together.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (Romans 12:3-5, NIV).
We should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. But isn’t that what we’re doing when we turn our gaze from the mercies of God and start coveting the blessing of another? Hey, I deserve that blessing, too! I’m good enough — I should have all that I do have and that, too! This passage goes on to note that we have each been given gifts that differ according to the grace given to us — and that these gifts are for the benefit of serving each other. There’s no need to covet someone’s gifts or abilities, because they are bestowed for the benefit of the entire body.
Even with something as personal and specific as marriage and children, this passage helps us to sit back and once again view life through the widescreen of God’s mercies. In an age when marriage is esteemed so lightly and dissolved so quickly, when so many children are aborted before they are born, when there’s so much disagreement over what marriage and family life should look like — isn’t it amazing that the Lord cuts through all this selfish and sinful clutter to provide spouses and families to any of His children?
It’s an uphill battle in our age to commit to and live out a godly marriage. Period. Yes, it would be nice if we were blessed in a similar manner, but we can rejoice that God is still providing these blessings to His people. When we can see God’s goodness in the corporate sense — the many blessings in the body — it truly is a cause for celebration.
Overcome Evil with Good
The rest of this chapter outlines the behavior that demonstrates the final command in Romans 12: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21). We are to love without hypocrisy, outdo one another in showing honor, rejoice in hope, persevere in tribulation, be devoted to prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality, and be of the same mind toward one another — meaning, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. Let love be genuine and in this manner we will overcome evil.
Let’s be honest now. It is evil when we resent others for what they have received, isn’t it? The evil is in our sinful judgment toward God and toward the happy recipient(s). The evil is in our wounded pride. The evil is in our complaining and grumbling. The evil is in our grudging participation in their celebrations. The evil is in our self-focused preoccupation with what others think of us if we don’t have what they have. We’re living radical Christianity when we eschew our own wisdom to take seriously these commands:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight (Romans 12:14-16, ESV).
The pattern of this world is to compare and complain. But when we look at life in view of God’s mercies, we are truly able to identify with others, including those who have reason to rejoice. Instead of allowing God’s good gifts and His blessings to introduce strife and selfish ambition, we overcome evil with good by being truly thankful for what others are celebrating.
Copyright 2007 Carolyn McCulley. All rights reserved.