Summary: God enables rejoicing in all circumstances by teaching us to trust his sovereign care.
The Apostle wrote Philippians to be read in the church, and at just over three pages in my Bible, it takes less than 14 minutes to do so. Let us trust the Spirit of the Word to minister to our spirits through this joyful letter.
[Read Philippians 1.1-4.23. Pray.]
A man sought out a Christian counselor for help, saying, “I want to feel better quickly.”
The counselor paused for a moment before answering: “I suggest you get a case of your favorite alcoholic beverage, steal some money, and go gambling on a Caribbean island.”
The answer shocked the man; he responded: “I thought you were a Christian, but your advice does not sound very biblical.”
The counselor answered: “Neither is your purpose for coming here very Biblical. If you only want to feel better quickly, do not follow Jesus. Drunkenness, immorality, and vacations are what you want.”
In a culture awash with promises of instant gratification, we must insist that following God is not the same as doing whatever makes you happy. When the “Founding Fathers” declared the right to the “pursuit of happiness,” they meant for government no longer to restrain its citizens from doing what is good and moral, and thereby pursuing happiness. For many today, however, the pursuit of happiness means the elimination of all standards of goodness and morality, so that every desire may be chosen without individual restraint. We have no right to that happiness.
At the same time, Jesus does promises his followers happiness. John 15.11: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” And Paul’s letter to the Philippians is often called the “Epistle of Joy,” because sixteen times in four chapters appears either the Greek noun, cara, [chara] meaning, “gladness, happiness, joy” or the Greek verb, cai,rw [chairo] which means “to rejoice.”
No wonder the Puritan preacher Jeremy Taylor said, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” And C. S. Lewis wrote to a friend, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” Apparently, those who know Jesus are to be characterized by joy. But that is not the same as relief from all unpleasantness. Jesus wept; and Paul says there is a time for godly grief. What sustains hope and happiness in a fallen world with much suffering and so many problems? Can we really have joy in the midst of life? That will be our theme for this study.
Before we dig in, let us consider what we start this morning and why. Preaching verse-by-verse has been common in church history, though it is more rare in recent years. I have four reasons we should do this together:
1) This is for our good. Because the Bible is God’s word, we honor him and reward ourselves by careful and complete study. Patient perseverance through Philippians will feed our souls well. It is our good.
2) This is a real letter. People often treat the Bible like an encyclopedia – looking up articles of religious interest when we need a spiritual lift or have a “God-question.” But Paul really sat in jail and wrote a letter to his friends at Philippi. When we study it as it was written, we will hear God as he has spoken.
3) This will protect us. There will topics in this study you would rather not hear and I would rather not preach. By examining every verse, we will find God’s every lesson.
4) This will disciple us. It is possible to skim promises from some Bible texts like a farmer skims cream from the top of the milk. But many rewards await the diligent labor of a miner. Solomon taught this in Proverbs 2: “If you seek [wisdom] like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” Careful study of each verse in its place in the book extracts great rewards.
God invites us on a delightful quest to find his joy in the midst of our lives. We begin with two very brief points:
1. Authentic Joy Neither Minimizes nor is Mastered by Difficult Circumstances (Philippians 1.12-18)
You have probably met professing Christians who minimize the troubles of life. No matter how painful the problems they experience or how difficult the decisions they face, they know only one answer: “Smile, and praise Jesus more and more!” I feel guilty when around them that I am not happier about being so miserable!
This is one way the other pastors have ministered to me. When we meet or pray together, I have often felt that I should be able to “get over” my feelings of discouragement about the struggles I have in this calling. They have reminded me on several occasions that faith does not pretend that the loss is minor or the pain minimal.