by Andy Constable
So we saw last week that Paul was going through some difficult circumstances but that he doesn’t seem upset, or in despair, or angry but quite the opposite. He is a man full of joy.
Why is Paul joyful despite the circumstances he faces?
To begin with it’s important to note that joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is an emotion that depends on circumstances. We are happy when things are going well for us, when the world seems a happy place, when we are content. But as soon as a bad circumstance comes along – illness, worry, anxiety, lack of control, you lose your job, a family member dies, or any number of things from small to big our happiness is robbed of us. But Joy is a constant peace in our souls that does not depend on circumstance. One commentator writes: “Joy is not an emotion but an attitude.” And this attitude is distinctively found in those who put their trust in the Lord. This kind of joy is steadfast and remains in our souls come what may. It’s like an anchor in the water. The anchor keeps the boat in its position whether it faces calm weather or fierce.
So what is Paul’s joy based on? Three things:
Firstly Paul is joyful because he had a partnership in the gospel. He writes in chapter 1:3-5: “I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…” The word partnership means to share something in common and is often far deeper than a friendship. Think about Lord of the rings. The people that chose to complete the mission of destroying the ring were bound together by their objective. They were all different people: hobbits, goblins, elves, kings but they all swore to help Frodo destroy the ring. Yet despite many troubles and trials along the way they kept that objective in front of them. That common goal gave them a mission that fuelled their friendship.
The partnership between Paul and the Philippians was based on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gospel partnership means you are focused on this common goal of preaching and believing and defending the gospel. Paul was a man on mission who loved, and lived, and breathed the gospel of his saviour. He had one life and he wanted to use it to glorify Jesus. And here was a community who were following suit. Paul writes in verse 7: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.” The gospel was the common bond of friendship and the glue that bound them together.
As a result there is great love between these two parties. Paul says in verse 8 that he has a deep affection for these young believers. He writes: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” The word long for you can be likened to being homesick. Paul has such a great affection and love for these believers that he intensely misses them. This little congregation in turn have a great love for Paul. He mentions towards the end of the book (4:18) that he is thankful for the financial support that they have given him. Their actions display the respect and love for him even more when we know that they are a poor congregation. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 Paul writes: “ And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” This little congregation gave out of the little that they had. Paul had joy because he had a partnership based on the gospel and overflowing in love both emotionally and practically. The gospel was central.
The question is are your relationships gospel centred? When you meet with fellow Christians do you partner around the gospel? Is your church overflowing with a deep gospel conviction? So often our Christian relationships can be superficial and centred around common interests like sports. But joy abounds when our relationships are centred on preaching the gospel to each other and a lost world!
The second thing that made Paul joyful was that he knew God was in control. Paul knew that God was deliberately working through these difficult circumstances in his life. He writes in 1:6 : “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The words he began a good work are written with a tense that points to a deliberate or decisive act. There was no accident when these believers were chosen. This was a divine, planned act. They were chosen before the world even began. God was in control. And Paul had the same belief about the life that he lived. He wrote in Romans 8:28 (ESV): “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
God directs each part of our lives. Paul was someone who actually believed that and lived in it. Each circumstance he faced wasn’t a set back but a divinely ordained opportunity to preach Christ. This is how Paul lived his life. Who would have thought that looking at Paul’s life that God had his hand on him? He was having from a human point of view a crap time. But as William Hendriksen writes: “God is not like men. Men conduct experiments, but God carries out a plan.” This is what Paul knew and trusted. Paul could have joy because God was in control.
Do you trust God in the circumstances that you facing? Maybe you are going through a difficult spell in your life and your thinking where is God in all of this mess? Well we can take heart that God’s loving and sovereign hand is on our lives. He is faithful and never lets go of us. He is carrying out his plan. Let us trust him with our lives.
Finally the anchor for Paul’s joy was Jesus Christ. His life was wrapped up in Christ. In the first 12 verses of Philippians Christ is mentioned 7 times (ESV): “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus….grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ….And I am sure of this that he who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus….For God is my witness how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus….and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
The walk of joy depends on knowing Jesus. A person cannot have joy if they don’t know Christ. Without Christ people are lost, unfulfilled, stuck in their sins and spiritually dead. But in Christ, as Paul knew so well, we have the forgiveness of sins. He explains this in chapter 3:9 “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” We are sinners who have no righteousness of our own. But when we put our faith in Christ God gives us Jesus’ righteousness.The basis of Paul’s joy was the freedom of forgiveness! Paul was joyful because he no longer had to pay the penalty of sin because Jesus had paid it. Paul knew that he was free from the guilt and shame of his transgressions. Paul knew that the devil could no longer accuse him. Paul knew deep down in his soul that he was forgiven! Do you know this kind of forgiveness? Or are you constantly feeling guilty for past sins? Do you regularly feel the weight and burden of sin? Well you need to repent and know that you are forgiven like Paul. You need to walk in the freedom that Christ offers us.
Paul was joyful because of these three reasons. Are you joyful today? Are you rejoicing because you are partnering in the gospel? Are you rejoicing because you know God is in control of all things? Are you rejoicing because you are forgiven? Let us pray for this kind of joy that Paul had and show the world a different way of dealing with the troubles of life and point people to Christ!