Summary: The Christian life is a life filled with joy no matter what the circumstances or "happenings" around us. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is an encouragement to us as to what that life looks like or could look like.
PURE AND SIMPLE JOY
In the midst of our hectic schedules and frantic efforts to finish our tasks, do you ever stop and wonder if something is missing in your life? When you take stock of what you are doing does it ever occur to you that you are not happy?
You may feel unfulfilled in your job; it’s just a job. Your marriage lacks the spark of when you first married. You students may wonder what the purpose of all this education is and where it’s leading. Circumstances like these can get you down and you begin to wonder, “What’s missing?”
Where is the joy? Do you have joy in your life? I am not talking about “happiness.” The word “happiness” actually comes from the word “happenings.” Our happiness is then connected to our happenings, what is happening around us. If our happenings are miserable we are not going to be happy. When an acquaintance you haven’t seen for a while walks up and asks “What’s happening? What’s new?” normally they don’t want to hear the bad stuff; they want to know what’s making you happy so they can walk away with a smile. Often I don’t know what to say when people ask me this.
Joy is so different from happiness. Where happiness depends on what is happening, with joy it doesn’t matter what’s happening. While happiness is greatly affected by circumstance, joy is rooted deep within. I read this definition the other day: joy is a deep, enduring confidence in God. It doesn’t matter what’s happening when I have the joy of the Lord. Isn’t that something? Do you want this joy?
I am very excited about this series we are starting today. Philippians is a letter Paul wrote that largely speaks of the joy we Christians are supposed to have. I sense from others here too that you are looking forward to an upbeat series from this letter. Paul really spent a lot of time correcting the churches under his care. With Philippi he shared a really significant element of our faith: JOY. As we begin these lessons together we are going to discover the life of joy.
1. Foundations for Spiritual Joy
a) Paul and Timothy – To understand the irony of Paul’s joy in this letter we need to understand where he was. If it isn’t ironic it certainly is paradoxical since he really needn’t have felt joy where he was. Where was Paul?
It is clear that he was in chains when he wrote to the church at Philippi (1:13-14). Worse yet, we gain the impression that he is nearing the end of his life. It may be that he was facing execution at this point as he said in 2:17 that he was being poured out like a drink offering, a reference to sacrifice and thus to death. Tradition tells us that he was imprisoned for two years without trial when he wrote.
Where were Paul and Timothy? Paul was imprisoned four times in his lifetime: once each in Philippi, Caesarea, Jerusalem and Rome. Obviously he was writing to Philippi so he wasn’t there, and without boring you about the details, scholars tells us that he was most likely in Rome. That means that Paul’s premonition was correct: his life was coming to an end.
So here is Paul, chained up to a guard, under house arrest, facing execution, and he is writing about joy. He has limited movement though he can entertain some guests. He can’t go on preaching and visiting the churches like he would like to. He may have grown despondent as he was preaching about the Deliverer, Jesus Christ, but now abandoned to a prison. Yet he speaks of joy…and he gladly begins, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus…”
b) To the Saints… - This gets crazier yet. Paul remains content to be a servant of Jesus though he is in prison. Then he writes his address, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi…”
He does not write to the community or to the city of Philippi. Paul specifically writes to the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi. What does he mean by “saints”? Paul means for his letter to be read by those who are “separate in Christ Jesus” and living in Philippi. The word “saint” comes from the root word “holy.” God is holy, meaning he is separate from all others because of His goodness and rightness. And God tells his people, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2). So those who are in Christ Jesus are holy, they are separate, they are saints.
What is really at the heart of the matter is this: to be a saint is not a reaction to our world but a response to it; to be a saint is not a determination to be different from the world, but to be like God. And when we become like God we will just naturally be different. God is joy so to be like God is to be joyful. That will cut like a bright light in a despondent world.