Summary: Discover the difference between your role and identity and how your true identity brings joy to your life.


This morning, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine, the Apostle Paul, and to the letter he wrote to the Philippian Church. The Apostle Paul was one who knew the transforming power of forgiveness, unconditional love, salvation and calling from Jesus Christ.

Some of you might remember, before he was Paul, his name was Saul. He was a zealous Jew who persecuted Christians, tearing Christian families apart by imprisonment and even execution. Then he met Christ on the road to Damascus. He got forgiven and loved by the very people, Christians, whom he persecuted and imprisoned. He then worked out his salvation with Christ working in him, and he responded to Christ’s call for him to bring the same good news he discovered to everyone else.

And so the persecutor, Saul, became the persecuted, Paul, and the hunter became hunted, and was caught and imprisoned. From his prison cell comes one of the most powerful short letters included in the New Testament, the letter to the Church at Philippi, in your Bibles, titled, "Philippians."

Paul was not writing this letter behind an executive desk sitting on a leather executive chair. He wrote this letter, and three others, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon, while chained to Roman soldiers behind house imprisonment. He was imprisoned for telling others about the favor God has upon people to grant forgiveness through the receiving of Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for our sins. This good news conflicted with the teachings of the day, creating enough public disturbance that Paul had to be imprisoned.

Letters from prison are not unique, except this short letter contains more than 14 references to the word "joy" or "rejoice," and one does not normally associate joy with prisons.

Philippians 1:1-2

This greeting is a traditional greeting of the apostles found in many of the other letters in the Bible. Timothy was Paul’s partner in ministry, his protégé. This morning, we will only look at these two verses, because great truths are not necessarily expressed with many words. We will make one side-observation and define three life-changing identities from how Paul identifies himself, Timothy and those he is addressing. The three identities Paul presents will unlock one secret to why joy can exist even inside a prison cell.

How we identify ourselves to others in our greeting says a great deal about how we perceive ourselves.

"Hi, I’m Doug, and I’m retired."

A coworker in the biotech company where I used to work introduced himself, "Hi, I’m Bob, (and that’s not his name), and I’m homosexual."

Or, "Hi, I’m Paul, and I’m a servant of Christ Jesus."

How we identify ourselves to others in our greetings says a great deal about how we perceive ourselves. Not only do we try to communicate what we feel is important and acceptable to others, we also reveal where we find our worth as a person.

Sometime ago, I was introduced to the I.R. theory. "I" stands for identity and "R" stands for role. We reduce our worth when we confuse our identity with our role. That was a much as I heard about the I.R. theory; everything else I have to say this morning may not be related to that original theory.

Let’s look at side-observation from this morning’s text. When I was reminded about the I.R. theory, I was curious to find out whether Paul was introducing himself with a role or with an actual identity.

I define role as something temporary and is performance-oriented, while identity as something permanent, only God can give or change, and is grace-oriented.

For instance, all of us have many different roles: husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, salesperson, teacher, accountant, engineer, executive assistant, pastor, elder, and retired.

Roles are all temporary. A husband can get divorced (I’m not advocating that, I’m just saying I observe this), a mother can lose her daughter either to a death or to a gorilla you now call a son-in-law. A teacher can change career. A pastor can retire, and a retired person can become a pastor. These are temporary.

Roles are also performance-oriented. If you base your self-worth or identity on your role, you can really do some harm to yourself and to others. Something that is performance oriented will measure high sometimes and measure low at other times.

For instance, if your work requires that you meet a quota, and you continuously fall short by five or ten, your boss will eventually get on you about that. Your job security is threatened, and if your identity comes from your role at work, what happens to your worth as a person? We reduce our worth when we confuse our identity with our role.

Or if you are a mother, and your child has gone off the deep end, and your identity comes from your role as a mom, what happens to your worth as a person? We reduce our worth when we confuse our identity with our role.

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