I’m Happy for You (Really!)
One night a few years ago, I was reading through Romans and stumbled upon an extraordinary command from Paul’s pen: Rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). I’d read it before, even quoted it, but something stood out this time. Struck by its simplicity and its strangeness, I considered this verse a challenge—a serious, sin-killing challenge. Something I wanted to master. How does one live out such a command? What does it look like? How can I get in on the action? From that moment I was on a mission to make other people’s joy my own. To find out how to say “I’m happy for you” and really mean it.
I started with a wedding, the epicenter of celebration. The perfect place to learn the art of co-rejoicing. Go ahead, I told myself, have some wine. Say “I do” to a good time. Follow Jesus’ lead and be a generous guest (John 2:1-12). No wallowing allowed! Abandon those selfish, sulky ways and celebrate a love that’s not your own. After all, weddings are a beautiful foretaste of that better banquet to come (Revelation 19:6-10). What more appropriate place to live out your eschatological beliefs than a wedding?
It worked. My happiness levels skyrocketed. I wanted more weddings, more ways to horn in on the happiness. So I asked myself, why else do people rejoice? Where else do people rejoice? My research took me to a variety of places: housewarmings and homecomings, baptisms and birthday parties. I met with friends to celebrate graduations, promotions and pregnancies. Sometimes even engagements, anniversaries or holidays. Results showed that, in contrast to the world’s theories, it was far easier to find happiness outside of myself. It really was possible to rejoice with those who rejoice, even in practical ways.
Of course, happiness isn’t merely a result of changed habits; it requires a changed heart. It took some good old-fashioned Bible study to understand why God wants us to find happiness outside ourselves, and to experience a lasting, inward change. Consider what happens when we choose to be happy for others:
We glorify God by obeying his commands. It’s not only the Romans that Paul asks to rejoice. In 1 Corinthians 12:26, he compares the Corinthian church to a human body, with parts working in unity, so that when one member is honored, everyone rejoices. To see this command once is remarkable, but to see it twice proves that, for Paul, joy is serious business. Indeed, a duty of delight. And we glorify God when we carry it out. Could there be a happier command?
We acknowledge all gifts are from God. Part of learning to rejoice with those who rejoice was overcoming envy. Blessings that are not mine are blessings nonetheless. I started to notice—to care about—God’s gifts to other people. James helped: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). He gave me permission to live as though other people’s joy was mine. All blessings are my blessings. And the best way to live that belief practically was to take time in prayer to thank God for other people’s gifts. I discovered there was, and is, a lot to be happy for.
We grow in Christlikeness. When we think about rejoicing with those who rejoice, we should think about Jesus, who delights to do his Father’s will. God’s people reflect the shared joy found in the community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always” because our greatest joy is God himself (Philippians 4:4). Who better to rejoice with! And get this: God rejoices with us (Zephaniah 3:17). It’s no wonder he calls us to do the same.
My journey to joy is far from over. The road is still riddled with speed bumps. But I can honestly say that, in the past few years, it’s become my pleasure to rejoice with those who rejoice. Call me a happiness opportunist, but when God calls me to rejoice, there seems little reason to delay!