Welcoming smiles. Homemade desserts. Fresh flowers. Laughter.
Don’t you just love a church family celebration? Whether it’s rejoicing over a baptism, celebrating a wedding, or showering a mother-to-be, we do a good job celebrating the goodness of God in our lives.
Except for when we don’t.
Rejoice with Rejoicers
“Rejoice with those who rejoice,” Paul exhorts (Rom. 12:15). “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). These admonitions aren’t just nice things to do; they concern our unity in Christ and our unity with one another.
Through faith in Christ’s redeeming work, we’re united to him. And unity with him unites us to one another. Though we come to Christ as individuals, upon salvation we’re immediately joined to all the members of God’s family. We’re connected to believers past, present, and future, from all over the world. This family is different from one comprising blood relatives; it’s a family born of Christ’s blood. Our unity is eternal.
That’s why Paul could say we’re to rejoice with those who rejoice. In our union, their joy is our joy.
When Rejoicing Stings
At first glance, Paul’s instruction seems simple. It means we buy the wedding shower gift, bring the new mom a meal, and sing “Happy Birthday” to the fellow church member. Right? Yes, but it means even more. It means we cultivate genuine joy for what God is doing in another’s life.
But sometimes joy for another is hard, especially when the blessing in his or her life reminds us of a blessing missing in our own. When God provides for our brother in Christ, answers his prayer, or blesses him in some way, our first response isn’t always to rejoice.
- Imagine a brother who shares about his success in pastoral ministry. Your ministry has struggled, your membership is dwindling, and those who remain have taken sides. Is your first response to rejoice?
- What if a couple announces their engagement? You’ve longed to get married, but instead rent another bridesmaid dress. Do you rejoice or feel bitter at their news?
- Or what if your friend’s child gets into the university of her choice while yours barely gets into the local community college? Can you be glad for your friend?
There are countless scenarios in which fellow Christians are blessed and we struggle to rejoice. Sure, we may attend the celebrations, sign the birthday or anniversary cards, or smile at their good news. But inside, in the depths of our heart, we shout, It’s not fair! Why not me? We begrudge them. We don’t rejoice at what God is doing. Instead, we compare our lives to theirs and find ours lacking.
It’s the sin of envy.
Envy vs. Contentment
Jonathan Edwards defined envy like this:
A spirit of dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the prosperity and happiness of others as compared with our own. . . . When we dislike and are opposed to another’s honor or prosperity, because, in general, it is greater than our own, or because, in particular, they have some honor or enjoyment that we have not.
Or as John Calvin simply put it, “Not to regard with joy the happiness of a brother is envy.” At the heart of envy is seeking contentment outside of Jesus.
As redeemed saints and children of the living God, we’re to seek fulfillment in Christ, not in what we do or don’t have. In him we have all we need. In him we find meaning and purpose. In him we find our identity as those who’ve been rescued from sin and adopted into God’s family. All our longings are ultimately met in him; he is our hearts’ true treasure.
Content in Christ, our brother or sister’s joy is our joy. United in Christ, the good that happens in their lives is our good.
In fact, we ought to go beyond merely rejoicing with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Paul goes so far as to write, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). We should brag about them, go out of our way to honor them, and not only attend a celebration but even host it. We should share their good news with others as though it’s our good news.
Because in truth, it is.