Neither group receiving these words could possibly have expected them.
The one was listening to Nehemiah, the other was reading from Paul. These two peoples had never met, no more than the two leaders. They lived in different centuries and continents.
Nor were there situations the same. One was a huge gathering of Jews who had heard the razor sharp truth of the Law and were convicted to tears. Having come face to face with their sin, they were shattered, and as one large body they cried.
The other was a congregation reading a strange letter. The writing told them of the apostle's imprisonment and of harsh criticism from those who should have been his friends. Surrounded as well by their own set of difficulties, these believers could not have predicted the contents of the epistle.
But both peoples were in great anxiety and needed encouragement. The builder had spoken in the Old Testament; the evangelist had written in the New.
Yet their message was the same: Be joyful! Be strong!
In that order.
In the case of Nehemiah, we see the immediate effect on the people. After repentance, they obeyed and were invigorated as a result. In Paul's situation we are not given the response of the Phillipians, but are allowed to see the truth worked out in his own life. He first speaks of rejoicing in everything and then pens the famous verse, "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me."
The key is in the joy.
We often think of joy as a gift from God, and it is.
But it is much more than that. It is more than just a passive virtue, something that merely comes to us. According to Scripture, there is an active, transitive, energetic, and powerful aspect of joy. It is easier to see if we switch the noun into its verb form, as Paul did.
In other words, "Rejoice!” Or, "Have joy!” Or, "Be joyful!"
Christian joy (is there any other kind?) is a potent force that is every believer's privilege.
Do I want to be spiritually strong? Do I long for power in my war against sin? Would I like to see victory in the battles of my mind?
One missing ingredient may be simply a change of attitude. Repentance is necessary, but so is the joy that should follow on its heels! Some never get past the sadness of their sin.
God loves to hear His people rejoice. It speaks of confidence, of faith, of wisdom!
One of the greatest military victories ever won by a Jewish king came to Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. A multinational, bloodthirsty horde of enemies invaded from the east and Judah was facing swift extermination. But the king humbled himself before the Lord and obeyed His very odd instructions. As they headed out to the battle site they began to rejoice. A choir made up of two Levite families started singing and praising God.
For some unknown reason an argument started between the enemy factions. It turned ugly and ended up with them slaughtering each other. A secular observer would say, “Coincidence.”
We know better.
Who of us doesn't face things that threaten to discourage us and flatten our hopes? Maybe we're spending too much time letting the difficulty rule our thinking. What if God has not changed and sometimes He's just waiting for us to shift our focus and start rejoicing?
Dear Father, to choose joy when the going is rough and complicated is never my natural choice. Remind me quickly and help me throw off my sour attitudes. Amen.