Summary: God offers his church the grace to rejoice.
Last year I had heated arguments with The Berry Company over the church’s Yellow Pages advertising. They confirmed, in writing, that our contract ended in June. But the small print allowed them to continue billing us if they were late publishing the new phone books. When they decided to delay printing for several months, they invoked their “right” to continue charging us even with a signed document showing our bill would be zero.
One of the letters we exchanged had Rachel Liette’s name on the bottom and the greeting line she put on every letter: “Thank you for your business. It has been a pleasure discussing your Advertising program with you.” We were not doing business, and we did not discuss our advertising program, and it was certain not a pleasure! But the greeting was stuck on every letter, regardless of whether it was sincere.
Many greetings are like that. Throwaway lines when we must write something, though it usually means nothing. The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, inspired by the Holy Spirit, greets sincerely and with deep significance. These are not wasted words, but a great greeting to encourage us with truth from the very beginning.
[Read Philippians 1.1-2. Pray.]
Philippians holds out the hope of joy in the midst of life, and Christians live out part of their lives among other believers in the church, so… the local church should be a place of great joy. Why is it sometimes not?
We could be looking for the wrong kind of happiness. Last week I told you about the man who wanted his counselor to make him feel better now. Sometimes people come to church looking for a pick-me-up, a kind of caffeine shot for the soul, and they may end up disappointed with the church, with Christians, and even with God.
But maybe more often the problem is seeking joy in the wrong way. People do attend church with agendas; we want what we want. Even if we do not say it out loud, the heart may scream: “I just want to be appreciated,” or “I just want my opinion heard.” Americans expect to be “made much of,” and if the pastor or parishioners fail to do so, disappointment follows. Like me, you have probably had times when you wanted to be congratulated for your humility, or honored for your good works. We need God to teach us the right way to happiness.
Though these first verses are “just” a greeting, they actually tell us much about the church and how it helps us find the joy of the Lord. We will see, today, four ways in which we can experience God’s joy. First…
1. We Must Be Instructed By God’s Word To Experience God’s Joy (Philippians 1.1a)
Someone observed: “People want good service, but they do not want to be good servants.”
Paul and Timothy introduce themselves then immediately point to their status as servants.
J. I. Packer comments on implications of that word: it denotes “a man who is not at his own disposal, but is his master’s purchased property. Bought to serve his master’s needs, to be at his beck and call every moment, the slave’s sole business is to do as he is told. And what work does Christ set his servants to do? The way that they serve him is by becoming the slaves of their fellow-servants and being willing to do literally anything, however costly, irksome, or undignified, in order to help them. This is what love means, as he himself showed at the Last supper when he played the slave’s part and washed the disciples’ feet. When the New Testament speaks of ministering to the saints, it means not primarily preaching to them but devoting time, trouble, and substance to giving them all the practical help possible…. Only the Holy Spirit can create in us the kind of love toward our Savior that will overflow in imaginative sympathy and practical helpfulness towards his people” (Your Father Loves You). No wonder people do not want to be servants!
So why is “servant” the first qualification mentioned? Two reasons: it points to Paul’s authority for telling us what to do, while it reminds us of his sympathy for what we must do. In this letter, Paul will tell the Philippians that for their joy, they must do things they do not want to do. To preempt any possible objections, he reminds us that as a servant, he must do what Jesus tells him to do, even when it seems unpleasant.
How discouraged Paul might have felt locked in jail. And how many people must have criticized his unwillingness to compromising just a little bit so that he could remain free to preach Jesus! But he does give in to self-pity or bitter resentment; he rejoices in his suffering while he asks God for more courage and boldness! Paul understood the cost of signing on as a servant of King Jesus. God does not always do what we want him to do.