[From The NLT – New Living Translation]
1 This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.
I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons.
2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
7 So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. 8 God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.
9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation-the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ-for this will bring much glory and praise to God.
12 And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. 13 For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. 14 And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.
15 It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. 17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. 19 For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.
Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee, are words to the hymn we just sang. And in the book of Philippians, Paul is joyful! But have you ever wondered to yourself? How can he be so joyful? How can we be so joyful in the Lord, and not just on Sunday, not just at Christmastime, but everyday!
This passage even says that Paul is in jail. How can he say he is joyful in that?
Know what an oxymoron is? It’s the joining of two words that don’t seem to go together.
For example: a giant shrimp, a deafening silence, a bold retreat, a powerful servant, a short sermon . . . you get the idea.
So when you put the words “great joy” and “great trial” together it sounds like an oxymoron. We think of joy as being something that takes place in pleasant times. Joy is found in good, not difficult times.
But we sometimes have a narrow view of joy. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul introduces us to a joy that is deeper than anything we have conceived in our minds. It is a joy that is independent of circumstances. A joy that is present in the fun and good times . . . but it is also present in the difficult and painful times.
It appears Paul is in jail in Philippi. He spent two years in Caesarea and then appealed his case to Rome. Everybody knew about Paul’s arrest and the Philippians were asking “how are things going, Paul?”
Many of us might say…”Not so great! Thanks for asking. Get me out of here!”
But he says “We can have joy because of Jesus” “Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy,” In all his prayers, he says prays for all of them always. A present tense usage of words, meaning he IS continually praying with JOY!
Joy can be seen as the theme of Philippians since the word is used fourteen different times in only four short chapters. And while the word “joy” is used throughout the book, it’s not just any joy, but joy in Christ. Jesus’ name is used seventeen times in the first chapter alone. And that’s Paul’s secret. Because he was so focused on Jesus and wanted to know Him more and more, he was able to experience joy in the midst of his trials. To be filled with the Redeemer is to be filled with unending joy in Christ!
Paul did not say “I’m just so happy with everything happening to me!” Paul says he rejoices! He has joy!
Joy is different than happiness. Happiness is often tied to circumstances. When things go well, we are happy; when they go poorly, we are unhappy. Joy, the joy Paul speaks of here, does not come from circumstances. It comes from Jesus.
Paul’s circumstances were not so great, from an outward view –
He was isolated from friends and family. They could visit but many surely stayed away. Anyone who has known someone who is very ill, or going through a divorce, or having legal problems knows that many people pull away at these times. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that seeing people you care about suffer is difficult. Some of his friends remained loyal. Others seemed to forget him. It may have been a lonely time.
He was unable to do what he loved doing. For over two years he had been kept from preaching in the synagogue and teaching in the churches. He was unable to debate the learned men of the city. This was Paul’s passion . . . it was where he really seemed to “shine”. Paul couldn’t do what he enjoyed most. It would be like a musician who couldn’t sing or couldn’t play their instrument. It was like an artist who could no longer paint. It was a frustrating time.
He had lost any sense of personal freedom. Paul was chained, by the wrist, to a Roman guard all the time. He had absolutely no privacy. Even the most private acts were witnessed by the guard. Every private word was heard by the guard.
And it wasn’t just the current situation: Paul had many of these struggles in his life. In the book of 2 Corinthians Paul tells us some of his story,
23 Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
One would think that it would also be tough for Paul to remain positive and joyful. But in spite of all that has happened, Paul continues to rejoice.
So we too should have joy and rejoice day and night in Jesus Christ!
Yeah, I know. A preacher can say…hey, “have joy and rejoice day and night in Jesus Christ”, but why and how?
First, we must remember, we share joy together as community, in community, as the Body of Christ.
We share a joy that we share a common grace. Yes, there are many things that divide us. But when we come to Christ there is a bond with others that transcends differences. That bond is God’s grace. The Bible makes it clear that we are accepted into His presence not because of the good we do but because of the mercy He extends.
We share a joy that we share a common commission. Jesus has called us all to do the same thing: glorify Him in our living and testify of Him to our friends and neighbors. We agree that there is only one hope and that one hope is Jesus. We are people working together to get the message out. Does that not make you excited? It’s not a burden, it a great joy!.
We share joy in a common salvation!
A salvation that always begins with God. He makes the first move, and if he didn’t make the first move, we would make no move at all.
From John 6, 63 The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) 65 Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.”
There’s a story of a country preacher who was being examined for his ordination to the ministry. When asked how he had become a Christian, the preacher replied, “I did my part and God did his.” That sounded questionable, so the learned members of the council asked the preacher to explain “his part in salvation.” “My part was to run from God as fast as I could,” the preacher answered. “God’s part was to run after me and catch me and bring me into his family.”
It’s a perfectly biblical answer because all of us were born running from God, and unless God comes to get us, we would still be running away from him.
We are people “in the process” of salvation.. But you’ve hear the saying “please be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet.” It is so true, he’s always still working on us. We can have great joy in this!
An American couple went to Europe, to England and they were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. Both the man and the wife were connoisseurs and fanciers of pottery, antiques and China. When they came to Sussex they went into a Little China shop. Their eyes singled out a beautiful little tea cup on the top shelf. The man said, “Can I see that, that’s the most beautiful tea cup I’ve ever seen. “And as he was holding the tea cup the tea cup begins to speak.
It said, “You don’t understand, I haven’t always been a tea cup. There was a time when I was red and that I was clay. My master took me and he rolled me and he patted me over and over and over. I yelled out “Let me alone “but he only smiled and said, “Not yet”. And then I was placed on a spinning wheel, suddenly I was spun around and around and around.” Stop it I’m getting dizzy,” I said. The master only nodded and said “Not yet” Then he put me in an oven, I’d never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me and I yelled and I knocked on the door and I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips. As he nodded his head he said “not yet.” Finally the door did open “whew”, and he put me on a shelf and I began to cool. “That’s better” I said. And then suddenly he grabbed me and he brushed me and he began to paint me all over. I thought I would suffocate, I thought I would gag, the fumes were horrible. And he just smiled and said, “Not yet”. And then suddenly he put me back into an oven, not the first one but one twice as hot, and I knew that I was going to suffocate. And I begged and I screamed and I yelled, and all the time I could see him through the opening, smiling and nodding his head, “not yet, not yet. And then I knew that there was no hope, I knew that I wouldn’t make it. I was just ready to give up when the door opened and he took me out and he put me on a shelf .Then an hour later he came back and he handed me a mirror and he said “Look at yourself”. And I did. And I said, “That can’t be me, I’m beautiful!” “I want you to remember,” he then said, “I know that it hurt to be rolled and to be patted but if I would have left you, you would have dried out. And I know that it made you dizzy to spin you around and around on a spinning wheel but if I had stopped you would have crumbled. And I know that it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven but if I hadn’t put you there you would have cracked. And I know that the fumes were oh so bad when I brushed you and when I painted you all over, but you see, if I hadn’t done that you wouldn’t have hardened and there would have been no color in your life. And if I hadn’t put you in that second oven you wouldn’t have survived for very long. The hardness would not have held. But now you are a finished product. You are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”
We can have great joy that God will finish what He started. This is called the doctrine of the Perseverance of the saints, or the doctrine of Eternal Security. The Bible tells us in Romans 8 that NOTHING will separate us from Him. Jesus said in John 10,
8 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me
Do you understand what Jesus is telling us? He is saying that once we give our lives to Him He will never let us go. NEVER.
Does that give you joy? Even if things are not going so great in this life right now. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me”
Suppose you were in the middle of a big lake. You get sick and you can no longer swim. The lifeguard swims out to you and grabs onto you. He begins the process of bringing you back to shore. Sensing your anxiety he says to you, “don’t worry, I won’t let you go”. You cannot make it on your own. The only hope you have is for the lifeguard to take hold of you . . . and never let you go. You welcome his firm grip. And as the lifeguard swims closer and closer to the shore you begin to relax and feel more and more confident. With every stroke you believe that the lifeguard is true to his word . . . He will bring you home. He will not let you go.
It is the same with our salvation. We are joyful in God’s promise because we know that without it we would inevitably drift away. We are helpless without Him. If our salvation depended on our ability to stay the course, get it right and save ourselves, we would certainly flounder and drown for sure.
It’s that firm confidence in the Lord, no matter what, that brings true Joy!
There was a man who had fretted for 15 years over his work. He had built his business from nothing into a rather sizable operation. In fact, he had a large plant that covered several acres. With growth and success, however, came ever-increasing demands. Each new day brought a whole new list of responsibilities. Weary of the worry, the stress, and the fear, he finally decided to give it ALL over to God. With a smile of quiet contentment, he prayed, “Lord God, my business is Yours. All the worry, the stress, and the fears I release to You and Your sovereign will. From this day forward, Lord, You own this business.” That night he went to bed earlier than he had since he started the business and for the first time in years, slept like a baby that is until in the middle of the night the phone rang and woke im up. When he picked up the receiver the man on the other end, in a panicked voice yelled, “Fire! The entire plant is going up in smoke!” The man calmly dressed, got into his car and drove to the plant. With his hands in his pockets he stood there and watched, smiling slightly. One of his employees hurried to his side and said, “What in the world are you smiling about? How can you be so calm? Everything’s on fire!” The man answered, “Yesterday afternoon I gave this business to God. I told Him it was His. If He wants to burn it up, that’ s His business.”
Now, this kind of thinking may seem a bit crazy but it is actually one of the greatest pieces of sound theology we can embrace. Firm confidence means every moment of our lives is in God’s hands. He who started all, will bring forth the results exactly as He planned for His greater glory.
Nehemiah 8:10: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Perhaps, we are tired of fighting for our relationships. We’re fed up with our spouse. Our friends don’t love us anymore. We feel like we are ready to throw in the towel.
Maybe we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. We have been sick for so long that we don’t remember what it’s like to be healthy. At one time, we battled the sickness, but the sickness seems to be winning. So we think, “what’s the use? I might as well accept this sickness and learn to live with it. I’m never going to get well.”
We might be having trouble with our children, our finances, the satellite TV that keeps going out, or the weather that never seems to cooperate with our plans. All these things drain the joy right out of us. But again, we are trying to derive our joy from circumstance.
We might say, “I don’t feel like rejoicing.” God didn’t say, “Rejoice, only if you feel like it.” He said, “Rejoice in the Lord, always.”
God knows that we don’t feel like rejoicing always. But James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” No, you won’t be happy, but you can find joy in Lord. Turn to him and rejoice!
I love the verse in Habakkuk 3 starting at Verse 17 “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crops fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls…”
“Yet…(can you guess the next verse?)
Verse 18 says, “Yet I will REJOICE IN THE LORD, I will be JOYFUL IN GOD MY SAVIOR”
He is going to REJOICE because in verse 19, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights”.
This kind of joy is sometimes called having “an attitude of gratitude”. This is the kind of attitude that this prophet had. Even though nothing good was happening in his life–no fruit, no crops, no sheep, no cattle–yet he rejoiced.
In our modern world, Habakkuk might have said it this way:
“Though there is no food in the refrigerator, and there is no money in the account, though the sickness gets worse, and the pain persist, though my children are on drugs, and my spouse does not appreciate me, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Regardless of the circumstances, you can rejoice!
This is a season associated with great joy.
As we enter advent and move toward Christmas, let us have the true joy that is of Christ Jesus.
A shared joy confident in a shared grace, a shared commission, a shared salvation promised and fulfilled by our God who doesn’t give up on us, comes to get us when we run, and holds us closely into eternity.
©2008 Timothy Henry