Summary: God gives joy through the true faith.
Part of the job description for pastors and elders requires that we warn God’s people of danger and admonish you to pursue godliness in doctrine and practice.
John Owen explained the need for this work: “The hearts of believers are like gardens, wherein there are not only flowers, but weeds also; and as the former must be watered and cherished, so the latter must be curbed and nipped.”
Paul nips at some weeds in Philippi. False teachers are stealing joy from these folks by leading them away from Christ, and Pastor Paul is concerned. Two things especially to note as we hear this portion of God’s word. First, Paul’s words may sound to us a bit harsh. Not that Paul is unkind, but the threat is serious, and (first principle) great danger dictates fierce protection of those whom we love. Second, the topic has been addressed before, showing that (second principle) critical matters must be covered frequently. It should please God’s people for their pastor to speak often of the doctrines of the gospel, the necessity of the new birth, the imperative of joy, the dangers of legalism and hypocrisy, and other key Bible truths.
John Calvin: “There can be no doubt that he had often told them how much they ought to be on their guard against such pests. Yet he does not weary of repeating these things, because danger threatened the Philippians if he were silent. And, unquestionably, it is the part of a good pastor, not merely to supply the flock with pasture, and to rule the sheep by his guidance, but to drive away the wolves when they threaten to attack the fold; and not just once, but to be constantly on the watch, and to be indefatigable…. What excuse will the pastor have if, after courageously repelling them several times, he gives way at the ninth or tenth attack?”
The subject is basic, but intended to strengthen our faith and to restore us again to a deep love for the sufficiency of Christ. May God do so and more as we hear Philippians 3.1-7.
[Read Philippians 3.1-7. Pray.]
John Gwyn-Thomas pastored for years in Cambridge, where his faithful teaching influenced many toward Biblical truth. In 1961, he presented a lecture to the Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference which J. I. Packer described as “celebrating the Puritan emphasis on rejoicing in God as a privilege, a duty, and a task…” (“A Memoir,” in Rejoice… Always!, xiv).
John Gwyn-Thomas, The Puritan Doctrine of Joy: “One of the controlling principles of Puritan preaching was ‘the primacy of the intellect.’ Man is a rational being, and God moves man by addressing truth to his mind. As we consider the direction given by pastors such as Howe, Baxter, and Sibbes we must observe their emphatic insistence that joy is the only rational state of the Christian in view of the truth about his spiritual condition (i.e., that he has been saved from the miseries of hell for the glory and joy of heaven). For Christians to lack joy is utterly irrational. The state of joy is a reasonable state: it has the best of foundations for it ultimately rests on the gracious nature and being of God.”
In spite of its rationality, we do not always feel or exhibit that kind of joy, do we? In fact, another influential pastor, Doug Wilson, has rebuked some in our tradition for a dour disposition by calling us, “Glass Chewing Presbyterians.” What threatens to steal your joy?
For the Philippians it was theological error: a return to the law and a relationship with God by works. We may face other threats. But be sure of this: the principles for restoring and retaining the joy of the Lord apply to any problem. God’s solution applies to every loss of joy. And he says, first…
1. We Must Rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 3.1)
It might seem silly to say to someone who has lost their joy that they must rejoice. But Paul begins precisely there. In fact, of all the New Testament books, Philippians speaks most of our duty to delight in God. Sixteen times in four chapters Paul uses either the Greek noun or verb meaning gladness or happiness or joy (noun: (Greek Word), [chara]; verb: (Greek Word) [chairo]). As C. S. Lewis once wrote a friend, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” Remember that God commands our joy!
Charles Spurgeon: “I want you to notice, dear friends, that this rejoicing is commanded. It is not a matter that is left to your option; it is not set before you as a desirable thing which you can do without, but it is a positive precept of the Holy Spirit to all who are in the Lord. We ought to obey this precept because joy in the Lord makes us like God. He is the happy God; ineffable bliss is the atmosphere in which he lives, and he would have his people to be happy.”