Many years ago, in Germany, a young man was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. The cancer would spread unless the tongue was completely removed. That was an undesirable line of treatment, but it had to be done.
On the day of the surgery, a group of students gathered around the operating table to observe the procedure. Before the surgeon began, though, he bent down over the patient and said to him, “My friend, if you wish to say anything, you now have the opportunity. But I must warn you that your words will be the last words that you will ever utter. Think well about what you wish to say.”
The young man did take considerable time before speaking, and those moments of silence hung heavy in the air as the surgeon and the students waited. Finally, they heard him utter these simple words: “Thank God, Jesus Christ.” That response brought tears to their eyes.
I have to question if I would express such devotion at such a time. My last words could well have been: “Why, Lord?” or “I don’t understand, Lord.” Maybe I’m underestimating myself. Then again, maybe I’m not.
The New Testament book of Philippians is a letter the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Philippi. It is a short book, just four chapters long, but over the course of those four chapters Paul uses some variation of the word “rejoice” no less than eleven times. Furthermore, he uses the word “joy” six times. What makes these words all the more amazing is the fact that Paul wrote the letter while he was under house arrest in Rome. This explains his references to “the palace guard” (1:13) and “Caesar’s household” (4:22).
How could a man talk so much about rejoicing and joy when he was chained to a Roman soldier twenty-four hours a day? (The guards operated in six-hour shifts). How could he say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”? (Philippians 4:4) Obviously, Paul had learned that inner joy isn’t dependent upon outward circumstances. He understood that he had been granted spiritual life by Christ. He understood that his sins had all been forgiven. He understood that God could use him no matter what his circumstances were. He understood that even if Rome put him to death that would just be his promotion to heaven. This explains the joy that was bubbling out of him.
Christian, I don’t know where you find yourself in life today, but I do know that you can have joy there. Even if your earthly circumstances aren’t all that pleasant, you can focus on your eventual entrance into heaven. In that glorious place there will be no more sorrow, pain, sickness, shame, or regret. You will be eternally wedded to Christ as a part of the church, His bride. And you will surely have never-ending reason to say, as that young man in Germany chose to say, “Thank God, Jesus Christ!”