Joy. The word is just all over in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Joy is obviously at the forefront of Paul’s mind as he writes. Which might seem ironic, given where Paul is writing from – prison, not knowing for sure whether he will live or whether he will die there. Not only that, but Paul must be tempted to be so frustrated. God has called him to be a missionary. God has used him to do amazing things, to spread the gospel to so many. And now here he is, locked up in prison, able only to communicate by letter or with those who get to see him in person. Surely Paul must have been tempted to despair. But Paul makes it clear that rather than despair, his response to his circumstances was joy. And Paul wished the same for the Philippians. He exhorts them to rejoice no matter what their circumstances, just as he himself is doing.
Why? How does it make sense to rejoice in the midst of suffering and trials?
This is not a new concept this morning. We’ve been looking at it and discussing it throughout our study this year. Kelly mentioned last week that the joy Paul is talking about is not about putting on a happy face. And yet, I think we have to fight a little to remind ourselves that what Paul is talking about here is not necessarily our common definition of joy. I know that I find myself still going back to that happy face kind of definition. Or thinking of joy as a feeling, or a sense of euphoria. Walking around unable to contain a big smile.
Webster’s Dictionary – “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires; the expression or exhibition of such emotion; a state of happiness or felicity”
If we are coming at Philippians with this understanding of joy, then if we don’t feel it, we better fake it. And seriously, that makes no sense in the midst of heartache or pain or struggle or depression or trials or PRISON. Fake a smile? No thanks.
But we know by now that this is not the joy that Paul is commanding. This is a joy found only in Christ.
I want to look very briefly at three aspects of this joy – rejoicing in the faith of others, rejoicing in whatever circumstance, and rejoicing in the presence of God.
1. Rejoicing in the faith of others.
Paul first mentions joy in 1:4. He thanks God for just being able to remember the Philippians, and prays for them joyfully. Paul gets great joy out of being bound to his brothers and sisters in Christ. He rejoices that they received the gospel. He rejoices that they are living out the gospel. He rejoices in their obedience to the Lord. He rejoices in their partnership with him, in his ministry, that the Philippian church is supporting him financially, taking care of his needs while in prison. He rejoices that the gospel is being spread. Paul takes great joy in seeing what God is doing in the lives of those he loves.
What about us? Are we rejoicing in the faith of others? Are we moved to joy by one another’s walk with the Lord? This is one of the things that I love about women’s Bible study. I LOVE hearing what the Lord is doing in your lives. I love seeing how the Word of God challenges us, changes us, moves us, encourages us, etc.
But struggles come and despair threatens to overwhelm, its not an automatic response to think about the faith of others and rejoice in it. It often is more natural to turn inside ourselves and think about our circumstances rather than about what the Lord is doing in the lives of others.
2. Rejoicing in every circumstance
Yes, every circumstance. From circumstances like Paul’s – facing death in prison, to the very best of times, and everything in between. Throughout our study this fall, I think I have been too focused on the idea of rejoicing in suffering. Don’t get me wrong, this is hugely important, and its where Paul’s emphasis lies. But what about if we’re not facing that kind of suffering right now? The past few weeks, the Lord has been reminding me over and over that I’m supposed to rejoice in EVERY circumstance. In the mundane, in the frustration, in the exhaustion, in the sick, in the happy, in the hilarious, in the quiet, in the loud, in the conflict, in the peace. In everything. Rejoice. Because the suffering will come, and I want to be practiced in the rejoicing. But more than that, because in everything there is a reason to rejoice. I am not who I was. I’ve been bought with a price. Jesus Christ, God himself shed his blood for my sins. For me, sinner that I am. Am I to be too distracted to remember that this is JOY? I am saved from the chains of sin and death. I belong in the family of the King of Kings. I know the Savior. And I will always have something to rejoice about. Oh that I would just remember this, in every circumstance!
3. Rejoicing in the presence of God
And the theme goes on throughout the Psalms.
John picks up the theme in his gospel. In John 15, Jesus tells his followers to abide in him. And in verse 11 he says, “These things I have spoken to you (about abiding in him) so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
There is joy in the presence of the Lord. It is not the joy of putting on a happy face and pretending everything is ok. I don’t think that would be possible in the presence of God. It is the joy that comes with leaning into him and knowing that he is in control. He knows everything. He’s got a plan. All of creation answers to him. And he is good. He is loving. He is faithful. He is gracious and merciful and holy and righteous and just. And we belong right there with him. In the shadow of his wing. Whatever the circumstances, there is safety in his presence, and in this we find joy.
Are you missing the joy of the Lord? Look at where you’re at. Are you in the presence of the Lord?
To be perfectly honest, I need to go through the book of Philippians over and over. I am only just beginning to take to heart this exhortation to rejoice in everything and be anxious for nothing.
But I did put this teaching into practice a few times this week.
We were out of town over the long weekend, and my daughter was awake two of the three nights from about midnight to 4. It was a great weekend, but Tuesday morning I was tired. And I was grumpy and frustrated and extremely short on patience. As I started to snap at the kids, I stopped and prayed. I asked God for patience, and then I thanked him for the weekend, for the kids, for the ability to be at home with them, and for his faithfulness is supplying me with the strength I needed for the day.
That afternoon, was another struggle. This time I turned up some of my favorite worship music and sung and worshiped and my kids laughed at my silly dancing style.
And yesterday I was harboring bitterness toward someone. I was having an inner monologue of all of the things that I would say to this person if I just got the chance. And the icky, bitter feeling, the sin feeling was building up inside me. So I stopped, and I prayed and I thanked God for this person, and I rejoiced in the good times we’ve had and I prayed that we would have them again. And I rejoiced in the fact that God is in control of this situation.
Its not suffering, and its not trials, but its life. And it can be rejoiced in when we focus our minds and hearts on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.