Intro: A couple of weeks ago we began with the question, “Is God the center of your life?” We concluded from a Biblical perspective that putting God in the center of our life is the key to overcoming anxiety and worry. As a corollary to that thought I want to discuss the subject of joy in the life of the Christian.
Paul commanded Christians in 1 Thess. 5:16 -” Rejoice always…” Are you joyful? Do you see reasons to rejoice today? How can a Christian be joyful when our world is changing for the worse right before our eyes?
- Paul’s letter to the Philippians is often described as the epistle of joy, or rejoicing. Paul mentions joy and commands rejoicing numerous times in this letter. As has often been pointed out, Paul wrote this epistle while a prisoner of Rome. Yet, He encourages the Christians at Philippi to rejoice even under the most difficult circumstances.
Some preliminary thoughts on Joy:
1) Joy is a sign of spiritual maturity. We will all be happy in heaven, but can we be joyful on the journey? How is that possible?
2) Sin is the real killjoy. Even though God wants and provides for our happiness and true joy, our choice to sin can ruin it. John started his 1st Epistle by pointing to Jesus as the answer to sin. If anyone sins we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. He stated in 1 John 1:4 that he was writing so that our joy might be full. “The only certain cause for loss of joy in a believer’s life is sin, which corrupts his fellowship with the Lord, who is the source of joy. Such sinful attitudes as dissatisfaction, bitterness, sullenness, doubt, fear, and negativism cause joy to be forfeited. Consequently, the only way to restore lost joy is to repent and return to proper worship of and obedience to God.” (from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary)
3) But anything other than sin–no matter how difficult, painful, or disappointing–need not take away the believer’s joy in the journey of life. Yet we often allow these other circumstances to disrupt our joy. In this we become vulnerable to Satan’s other advances. They become resentful & ungrateful.
4) Paul is the true example for us in this matter. His life as a Christian and apostle was punctuated with serious hardships of every sort.
- Although he was not writing this epistle from a dungeon but a private residence (Acts 28:16, 30), Paul was chained night and day to a Roman soldier. He had no privacy at all.
- Yet for a period of two years this very lack of privacy made it impossible for the Roman soldiers guarding him to avoid hearing the gospel and witnessing Paul’s remarkable Christ-likeness.
- This apparently led some of them to salvation (Phil 1:13-14, 4:22– brethren of Caesar’s household).
I. Joy in spite of the Obstacles… Read Philippians 1:12-26 reveal four elements of Paul’s joy in his ministry for Christ. He provides a comprehensive definition of true joy. It is not circumstantial, but relational. Though circumstances may change and oppose our happiness, true joy transcends the circumstances. Paul was joyful in spite of things that attempted to rob him of his joy.
A. He was joyful in spite of trouble, as long as Christ’s cause progressed (vv. 12-14) Phil 1:12-14 – But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
1. Paul lived passionately for the progress of the gospel. Acts 20:22-24 22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (NIV) Everything else in Paul’s life had importance only to the degree that it affected the progress of the gospel.
a. The word for “progress” here describes an explorer or pioneer cutting a path through the wilderness, overcoming numerous obstacles.
b. Resistance is therefore inherent to progress, and no one knew better than Paul the extent of that resistance. To the Thessalonians he wrote: “After we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition” (1 Thess 2:2). He encouraged Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:8-10 – “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory”
c. Paul was joyful despite his personal troubles because he recognized what God was doing. The lost were hearing the word, and the church was being emboldened to speak to the world.
B. He was joyful in spite of detractors, as long as Christ was Preached (vv. 15-18); Phil 1:15-18 15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
1. The pain runs deep when one’s ministry is slandered, misrepresented, and unjustly criticized by fellow preachers and teachers of the gospel. There were some who were preaching the gospel in order to oppose Paul personally because they were envious of him. These preachers were not heretics, who preached another gospel, but their motives were askew, and Paul knew it.
2. Some preachers can become competitive and act out of envy and strife. Others preach from love and goodwill.
3. God’s Word is always powerful, no matter what the motives of the one who proclaims it. Even though the prophet Jonah had a bad attitude the message he gave from God produced repentance in spite of his ill intentions. Even a preacher or teacher who is envious, jealous, and selfish can be used by God when his message is true to the Word. God always honors His Word, and His Word always bears fruit.
4. We can find joy in the power of the preaching of Christ’s message if we see the bigger picture and get over ourselves. Absolutely nothing could steal Paul’s God-given joy. He was expendable; the gospel was not. His own privacy and freedom were incidental, and he cared nothing for personal recognition or credit. His unselfishness was a key to his joy, even when he was being attacked.
C. He was joyful in spite of death, as long as Christ was glorified (vv. 19-21) Phil 1:19-21 – 19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
1. The “deliverance” that Paul was certain of was probably his eternal deliverance from sin through Christ. He seems to indicate later that he does not know or care whether he is released from prison of put to death. He is confident – How can he be?
a. Because of the prayers of the Philippians and the “supply of the Spirit of Christ” (v. 19). Paul saw the different elements working together for his spiritual preservation. He had developed an “earnest expectation” and a hope that God would not forsake him or cause him to be ashamed of his obedience. Have you developed this confidence or do the circumstances of life shake your expectations? Do you wonder if you are going to heaven?
b. What did Paul expect? – That whether he lived or died Christ would be magnified in his body. 2 Cor 4:7-11 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed — 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
c. So to Paul to live was Christ; to die was gain.
D. He was joyful in spite of being in the flesh, as long as the church was benefited (vv. 22-26) Phil 1:22-26 – 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.
1. Paul surmises that if he continues to live this will mean he can bring fruit to his labor. Paul was able to evaluate his life in view of the spiritual work that God had placed before him. How much do you do that? This may be a real key to our joy. (not my will, but your will be done)
2. What would I choose? Paul was “hard-pressed” to decide between life and death. This is a true sign of spirituality, because the spiritual person recognizes what Paul voices here –
a. to “depart and be with Christ is far better.”
b. But to remain in the flesh was needful for the church. (The term needful means necessary; Paul used this word to describe the initial preaching of the gospel to the Jews. (Acts 13:46) Paul was confident that God would allow him to fulfill this necessary work.
c. “for your progress and joy of faith” – Paul found joy in spite of his fleshly problems because his purpose and goals agreed precisely with God’s. He wanted the Philippians to move through their obstacles and find joy in their faith. We can find joy the same way.
d. Let’s put our efforts into doing what God finds needful (necessary) and look to bringing joy to others.
Conclusion: Notice how Paul’s Joy flowed from his work in the cause of Christ. In spite of the tough circumstances and obstacles, Paul experienced real joy through his relationship with Jesus. When one is in Christ, Satan is powerless to rob him of his joy. Are you in Christ?