Happiness, Lesson 8

June 6, 2024|Uncategorized|

“Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). This is perhaps the greatest of all the lessons that Paul has been teaching us about joy. He has saved it for last. It is assumed here that to be godly, one must be born of God. Godliness is therefore the precondition for being a happy Christian. But it is an obvious fact of life that not all Christians are happy. The missing element that, if found, would allow any Christian to be truly happy, is contentment.

Contentment is the state of a Christian’s heart when gratitude has become greater than what might otherwise disturb the peace. When a Christian is giving thanks for what has already been given, salvation in Jesus Christ being the supreme gift, and that thankfulness becomes so deep and pervasive that the things missing in life seem trite and insignificant by comparison, the Christian is in a state of contentment.

Paul was content when he gave us the last of his eight lessons on happiness:

“10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. 21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philippians 4:10-23)

Paul refers to contentment as “the secret.” The word “secret” is entirely appropriate, because how to be content is not common knowledge. There are a significant number of Christians who seem to be genuinely content. However, there do seem to be many other Christians who have an underlying restlessness. Just under the surface, there is a sense of entitlement, a gnawing feeling that they really deserve more than this. When we look out at the Christian world, it’s as if only some Christians are privy to a secret.

Have you ever played one of those group games that usually takes place around a campfire or in lodge during a “retreat” or something like that? You know, fun little group bonding games where there is some secret code that some people in the group have been given that enables them to decode what one person is indicating when he calls out seemingly random people or objects? For example, they might say a few names and those in the know are immediately able to indicate a secret person or object, even if the information wasn’t told directly. The key to games like these is knowing or figuring out the secret. Once you know the pattern or the tell or the trigger or whatever, it’s as easy to identify the answer as it would be if you were told directly. Some people know the secret. Some people don’t.

In those group games, those who have learned the secret can rest content while everyone else is wracking their brains. Without the secret knowledge, those who are not “in the know” feel a growing sense of frustration the longer the game goes on. How are these other people doing that? The room divides between those with a growing sense of frustration and those who have learned the secret of being content. Christians fall into these same two categories, the increasingly frustrated and the happily content. Life is like this game.

According to Paul, there is a dividing line between two kinds of Christians, one typified by Paul before he learned the secret and the other typified by Paul after he learned the secret. Paul said, “I have learned the secret,” and that is the key distinction. Great news, he lets the Philippians in on the secret, and in so doing, he also tells us what’s going on: “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (4:12). Now, if there is anything in the world that would cause the natural man to fret, to be riddled with frustration and worry, it would be to not know where tomorrow’s meals would be coming from. Poverty so severe that it threatens starvation would make anyone anxious! Well, anyone but Paul it seems. He knew a secret that made him content, not just generally at ease, but truly contented. What’s the secret?!

Here’s his secret: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). 

There is a reason that Christians like Tim Tebow would write this verse on their cleats. There is a reason that this verse is one of the most common to be quoted in baptism services. There is a reason this verse is among the most famous verses in the Bible. This verse is incredibly powerful. It can transform the worried heart to one of utter contentment. 

If frustration has been troubling your soul, then write down this secret. Physically write the words of Philippians 4:13 in ink on the palm of your hand! Have the secret code handy when temptation to fret tries to creep up. I’m telling you right now, if you come see me for counseling this week, feeling down and lacking the joy of the Lord, I’m not going to judge you, but the first thing I’m going to ask is to see your hand. If Philippians 4:13 isn’t written on your palm, then I’m going to ask you why not. I mean it. Take Deuteronomy 6:8 literally until contentment works its way into your heart the way ink seeps into your bloodstream. The former is worth risking the latter, but you cannot risk living your life as a Christian who lacks contentment. Write Philippians 4:13 on the palm of your hand.

In Philippians 4:13, Paul does not say that he himself can do anything. That would be to deny reality. Such thinking would not lead to contentment at all, only destruction. The ostrich with his head in the sand will get eaten by the alligator no matter how “content” he is in himself. 

Rather, Paul has become content because he is completely surrendered to the will of Jesus Christ. He is convinced that even if he dies, then that must be Christ’s will. And more than that, He is content because He has gotten so much out of life already that for life to end at this time would not be a disappointment. Even if he gets nothing else, he already has Christ! So, anything that Christ leaves him here to do he will be able to do through the power Christ supplies. That’s how Paul thinks, and when you learn to think like that, you will have learned the secret of contentment. 

When Paul closes Philippians with the blessing, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he is speaking over the Philippians what he himself has been experiencing. The entire letter was written to confer the joy of the Lord to the spirits of individual Philippian believers. And still today, believers who set their minds on Jesus Christ, who discipline their minds to be thankful for what Christ has already given, will be content. 

So practice contentment. Write down the things you have to be thankful for. Spend as much time as necessary giving thanks (Philippians 4:6). And preach to yourself the timeless truth, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Godliness with contentment is great gain.

With Joy in Christ,

Pastor Jeff

Happiness, Lesson 7

May 30, 2024|Uncategorized|

The church at Philippi was troubled by some contentious women—Euodia and Syntyche. 

The temptation to contentiousness, which finds its expression in nagging, fault-finding, chastising, complaining, emoting and the like, is a particularly strong temptation for women. The Bible does not contain a counterpart referring to men when it comes to the book of Proverbs, where, in verses 21:19, 25:24, and 27:15, those addressed repeatedly are contentious women. Now, men are specifically singled out in the Bible in a warning about “anger and quarreling” (1 Timothy 2:8), the masculine temptation here to be avoided being the desire to punch one another, which is why men need to lift holy hands to God, as opposed to doing that. Moreover, men are not exempt from any biblical warnings against any such things (Titus 3:9-11), but the biblical warnings about contentiousness do more often concern women when they are expressed specifically about one sex or the other. 

Our passage today (Philippians 4) refers to two contentious women—Euodia and Synthyche. Contentiousness is an especially strong temptation for women, and particularly in the home and in the church, where women are told to submit to masculine authority (Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Timothy 2:11-15). 

It is not against nature that when boys are playing basketball and one of them complains too much about getting fouled, or when he argues every call, or when he blames teammates, or when he flops like Lebron James, the other boys will say, “stop acting like a girl.” Boys have said this while playing sports since long before the invention of basketball. We said it when I was growing up. When I was a missionary in the inner city, the boys would say, “stop girling.” And I even hear it in the men’s basketball leagues amongst guys in their 40’s and up, although more unsavory language is usually employed to communicate the same idea. It’s everywhere, and, without these crass expressions of the concept, it is entirely biblical! Boys should tell their contentious comrades to “act like men.” If you don’t believe me, then look it up in 1 Corinthians 16:13. And if you don’t like that, don’t complain to me; God wrote it.

Women are prone to contentiousness, not because of any inherent fault in the sex, but precisely because God designed there to be two sexes. After the fall (Genesis 3), sin twists and perverts the very things that God designed to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 

The average man is 40% muscle; the average woman is 20% muscle. That 20% of herself is spread across what is already a smaller frame. So, on average, men have more than double the muscle mass that women have. This difference is not a product of the fall, but part of God’s good design. Conversely, the average woman experiences more than twice the emotion than the average man experiences. This is not symptomatic of the fall, because emotion is not categorically bad. Rather, differences between men and women reflect God’s good design for the different roles men and women are to occupy. In the home, God has designed for the man to be the head (1 Corinthians 11:3). But the woman is the heart of the home! Her God-given emotion is essential for the proper rearing of children (1 Timothy 2:15). A man’s muscle is fitting to him in his role as the head of the home, because he must provide and protect, and a woman’s emotion is fitting to her in her role as the heart of the home, because she must nurture and care.

Enter sin. Even before the fall, because women are the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7), they have less control. Less control and more emotion…this combination wouldn’t be a problem at all, if there were no sin in the world. But in a fallen world, dangers abound. Where dangers abound, there will be fear, and fear can be the strongest emotion of all. Moreover, the men who God calls to lead are now themselves fallen creatures, each one being prone to err. And when erring, rather than being open to correction, men will tend to be prone to self justification, rationalization, and the like,  more cerebral manifestations of sin. Men tend to be dismissive of anyone who corrects them. So, the fallen world can be a place of danger and frustration for women. Since women are built to be emotional, it will be very hard for her not to become contentious. 

Didn’t God know this? Of course He did. When He said to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16), the context was not one of blessing. This was to be the result of sin in the world. Just 15 verses later God will use the same exact Hebrew constructions to say that sin’s desire is “for you,” that is, a desire to control you, and “you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). 

According to Genesis 3:16, when sin entered the world, women became fearful of male headship, that is, fearful of men being in control and fearful of the feeling of being out of control. She will have to control her fearful emotions rather than trying to control her head. This is why when Peter gives instruction to women, he says, “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6). Notice that Peter understands that it is fear that makes a woman contentious toward her husband.

Perfectly in keeping with Peter’s instruction, Paul, in Philippians 4:4-7, gives what has become his most famous teaching on joy. The context (Philippians 4:2-3) is about the pastor of the church being called to help two contentious women in the church to be more agreeable. But Paul’s prescription is needed by men and women alike:

“4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 4:4-7

First read Philippians 4:2-3 to apprehend that the context of this injunction is the contentiousness of two women. Then, the reader can make a key connection, one that applies especially but not exclusively to women. It is that the great enemy of joy is the emotion of fear. 

The two—joy and fear—are incompatible. Each displaces the other when it arrives. When Philippians 4:6 says, “do not be anxious,” it means don’t be afraid. More than that, it means don’t be even a little bit afraid. Instead, “Rejoice in the Lord” (4:4).

Anxiety is like a toxin in your bloodstream that saps your strength. Anxiety pulls the joy right out of your life. Anxiety makes a person unreasonable, contentious, and quarrelsome. That is why Paul says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone” (4:5).

Euodia and Synthyche were the particular contentious women that Paul was addressing in Philippians 4:2-7. But all women should give careful heed to this passage, listening as if God were speaking directly to them. And men need to hear this too.

Develop the habit of identifying the things that are causing anxiety. Perhaps write them down. Then bring them to the Lord! “Let your requests be made known to God” indicates that we are to consecrate a dedicated prayer time. We are to lay all our concerns at God’s feet. This is our only hope of not carrying them ourselves. This is the only bloodletting that will get anxiety out of the bloodstream. 

Men usually do not struggle with anxiety to the same level that women do. But men do struggle with it, and on the flip side, a masculine confidence can manifest in an ungodly lack of concern. This too can lead to prayerlessness! Overconfidence makes a lot of guys unconcerned, feeling no need to pray.

So, Philippians 4:4-7 was written to both sexes, even if Paul was making an immediate application to two contentious women. Understanding the fall, it is easy to see how a nasty cycle of contentiousness and dismissiveness can develop between women and men. We’re all prone to wander; Lord, we feel it. The root of all this disfunction is sin.

This is now the seventh of eight installments on this series on joy. If you have not yet entered the joy of the Lord, then time is running out. Next week’s lesson will be the last. But here again, the seventh section of Philippians (3:12-4:9) makes “joy” a central theme. Are you taking time to really hear the Word of the Lord? Are you listening carefully to what God says about joy? Paul speaks by the Holy Spirit when he calls his brothers at Philippi his “joy and crown” (4:1). Paul experiences joy while trampling on fear (2 Timothy 1:7). Paul speaks for God when he tells us that we should be like he is (Philippians 3:17). Are you like Paul? Is your life characterized by joy?

Joy is the reward promised to those who obey the Word of the Lord. God promises a “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” That’s more than calm and quiet in the soul; it is joy in the soul. This kind of peace and joy will “guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” when we pray with great regularity, always bringing our requests and always expressing thanks to God for the good things He has given us. The married should thank God especially for their spouses. The singles should thank God for this season, even while making request for a spouse. In all circumstances, we all need to pray.

When we pray for unity in our church (Ephesians 4:3), we are praying against a spirit of contentiousness, against a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:7-9). When you pray for Cornerstone, pray for the joy of the Lord, which is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). 

All Christians should thank God daily for the gift of His Son, by whose stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5), and “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Prayer with thanksgiving is crucial for our joy.

Happiness, Lesson 6

May 23, 2024|Uncategorized|

There can be almost as much joy in the anticipation of a good thing as there is in the experience of the thing itself. 

Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, tells about his family’s yearly summer vacation. Each year, Jim and his wife take the boys camping. But the trip is preceded by months of anticipation. The family looks at maps of the areas where they intend to hike. They look for waterfalls, lookouts, interesting places. The actual camping experience only lasts a week, but the anticipation of the camping week builds for several months. As the trip approaches, it increasingly becomes the dominant topic of their family conversations. And the family experiences deep joy in that anticipation, almost as much as in the trip itself.

The Psalmist David wrote, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7). Because David knew his Father’s heart, David knew that God had great things stored up for him. Even when he was not experiencing those pleasant things, which the context of Psalm 4 indicates he was not, David was still able to find joy in the anticipation of those things.

Paul also had this ability to find joy in the anticipation of future blessings. Notice from Philippians 3:1-11 that Paul begins with a rejoinder to “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1) and even notes that he is being intentionally repetitive in telling the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord.” The section ends with Paul’s anticipation of a great day to come, “the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:11):

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Jim Elliot famously wrote in his journal, years before he gave his life as a martyr, that “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot had learned the Christian secret to a happy life. He knew what allowed both David and Paul to face suffering without losing joy. More than that, he knew why these men even experienced increased joy in a time of suffering! 

Undoubtedly there are many who have been reading this 8-part series on happiness who are not experiencing any increase in their happiness. But some of you are learning the secret to joy. The “mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to the saints” (Colossians 1:26) is nothing more and nothing less than “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27).

When Christ becomes your hope, joy pervades your life. Hope is the future-oriented aspect of faith. No one hopes for what He already has. People hope for good things to come in the future. Those who not only have present faith in Christ but have also learned to hope in His future grace are actually able to experience present joy. The mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This is the Christian secret to the happy life.

In Philippians 3:8, Paul claims to value Christ so highly that everything else appears as rubbish by comparison. “The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” has completely swamped the joy-draining power of present difficulties. The key to understanding how this could be the case is to have both faith and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is one thing to believe that Jesus has died to atone for my sins; it is another thing to consider the future grace that will be mine on account of His shed blood.

Set your mind on what is to come, not on the passing circumstances of today. Teach your soul to hope in God (Psalm 42:5). Then you too will experience what David, Paul, and Jim Elliot experienced, which is the joy of the Lord. “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). 

This is now the sixth of eight exhortations to joy, and it is no trouble to say the same things again and again. It is a safeguard to me each time that I write it and a safeguard to you each time that you read. We need to be reminded again and again, until we learn to hope in God.

With Joy In Christ,

Pastor Jeff

Happiness, Lesson 5

May 16, 2024|Uncategorized|

Preachers have made much about the difference between joy and happiness. They say that joy is a steady inner condition of the heart, whereas happiness is an up-and-down response to conditions on the ground. “Nothing can steal your joy, but happiness depends on circumstances,” sayeth the preacher. 

But what does the word of God say?

Philippians 2:19-30 “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. 25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”

The popular distinction between joy and happiness that many preachers emphasize just doesn’t seem to be present in Paul’s thinking. There certainly isn’t a sharp distinction between the two. It may be helpful to say that there is a certain source of joy that no outward circumstances can take from us. Even when things are going badly, we still have our salvation. Nothing can touch that, so nothing can steal our joy associated with our salvation. Granted. But notice how Paul thinks:

  1. He wants to be “cheered” by receiving good news (2:19)
  2. Anxiety over the Philippians having received bad news has caused distress (2:26)
  3. The death of a loved one would result in “sorrow upon sorrow” (2:27)
  4. There is an eagerness to send good news that will cause joy—“rejoicing” (2:28a)
  5. The author of this letter about joy is himself experiencing anxiety (2:28b)
  6. The Philippians are encouraged to have joy when they receive the messenger (2:29)
  7. A fitting sense of honor for those who work in the Lord is connected to joy (2:30)

Notice that Paul appears to be completely unfamiliar with the pietistic concept that our joy is divested from outer circumstances. In each of the seven examples above, joy is explicitly connected to circumstances. Paul feels no need to be pious about this. He is human!

So, for Paul, as it is for us, outer circumstances are connected with our joy.

Does that mean that we are destined to live as emotional yo-yos? Are we supposed to be up one moment and down the next, yanked around by the good news and bad news we receive? Of course not. We have already said that the good news of Jesus Christ—the Gospel of Jesus Christ—is a steady source of joy that cannot be taken from us. We are always those “whom [God] took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to [us], “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off” (Isaiah 41:9). We have been lifted up in the most important way, and  God will never let us down. Like Mary who chose the better part, what we have in Christ will never be taken from us (Luke 10:42). So there is a certain joy that transcends circumstances.

Still we are human. And the principle that Paul delivers in Philippians 2:19-30 is that good news and bad news actually do affect our emotions, and that being the case, we ought to labor for the things that yield joy (2:19, 28-29), not those things that result in “distress” (2:26), “sorrow upon sorrow” (2:27), or anxiety (2:28). Notice how Paul does that. 

Paul is extremely active in procuring good news. The Philippians are anxious because their beloved Epaphras might be dead, so Paul is driving hard to get Epaphras (who actually has recovered from the illness) back to them to relieve them of their anxiety. Epaphras is worried about them worrying about him, so this also increases the urgency to send him back right away (2:25). Paul is very anxious about the state of the Philippian church, so he is making all kinds of arrangements to get workers to them (first Epaphras, then Timothy, then he himself). Passive Christians rarely receive good news, but active Christians receive good news often. 

In the same way that Paul worked hard to procure good news, we can invest in our own future joy. For example, when we made strong efforts to get resources to the Cornerstone Safe House Orphanage in Malawi, or sent visitors to bring good news to them and return good news to us, then we sowed seed for our own joy. How much joy have we received from the investments we’ve made in Hamilton’s ministry? This Sunday morning, we’ll show another picture of the progress of the Safe House. How much joy did we receive from hearing Gary Camlin relate what is happening in Portugal? How much joy do we get from hearing good news from people we love?

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6). When we work to make disciples, to baptize new believers,  or to build space for more worshippers, we are sowing for future good news. 

Good news is what makes us humans happy. Active Christians regularly receive good news. Passive Christians not so much. When we have many logs on the fire, there is plenty of warmth in the room.

Happiness, Lesson 4

May 9, 2024|Uncategorized|

The theme of JOY is more prevalent in the book of Philippians than any other book in the Bible. The book can be divided into eight major sections and each one contains a key statement on the subject of joy. The first section (1:1-11) teaches us that when Christians invest themselves in partnership with other Christians, joy is the eventual return. The second section (1:12-18) teaches us that joy goes to the runner who is obsessed with advancing the gospel. When effective evangelism and discipleship has become a person’s passion, happiness is the reward. The third section (1:19-26) teaches us that to live is Christ and to die is gain, which makes our joy invincible. Here is the fourth section (1:27-2:18), which ends with yet another statement on joy:

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

chapter 2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

In this passage, the kenosis (emptying) of Christ is the supreme example of selflessness, of looking out for your brother’s interest ahead of one’s own. To humble oneself seems to the world to be a path to misery, but in fact, it is part of the path to joy. 

Notice that the passage concludes with Paul taking on the same posture as he observed in Jesus. Learning from Jesus, now Paul is willing “to be poured out like a drink offering” (2:17). As Jesus sacrificed Himself, Paul is willing to do likewise. He is willing to sacrifice his body. And his willingness to suffer is for the good of others; his sacrifice is “upon the sacrificial offering of your faith.” This phrase is tricky. It means that Paul’s sacrifice is not in order that the Philippians will live the high life. There will be sacrifices and service that come from their faith too. What Jesus modeled for all of us, Paul is here modeling for the Philippians, and he expects them to follow suit. Christians need to make real sacrifices for each other.

Paul concludes by asserting what is absolutely counterintuitive. By sacrificing for other Christians, and by inspiring other Christians to sacrifice for one another, Paul says, “I am glad and rejoice with you all.” And he is not only talking about his own internal state; he is teaching a transcendent principle, because he goes on to conclude, “Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” It is not by hoarding our time, talent and treasure that a Christian finds joy, but by sacrificing our time, talent and treasure for the good of other Christians that a Christian finds joy.

Happiness, Lesson 3

April 25, 2024|Uncategorized|

There are few things in life that are invincible. The mightiest nation might still be conquered, whether by an enemy’s resolve or by an internal rotting away of what made that nation strong in the first place. The best sports team is sometimes only one injury away from becoming one of the worst. There are countless people who can testify that they once sat upon a mountain of wealth but now sit upon the cold hard ground of homelessness or in a cold jail cell. Few things in life are invincible.

It seems that unfettered joy is therefore unattainable, since everything is vulnerable. How could any Christian ever enter into a place of absolute joy when the frailties of life make everything uncertain? How can someone be truly happy when they might be thriving today and suffering tomorrow? How can we find joy when the circumstances of our lives are so fragile? 

Let’s learn from Paul,

“for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

Paul is in the lowest of circumstances when he writes this joyful outburst of optimism. And it’s almost as if being so far down is part of what helps Him keep His eyes looking up. He knows His God will not leave him in the pit forever. This suffering is only a short-lived stop on the journey, not the destination. Paul’s view of God makes it unthinkable that such suffering would be the final destination. He doesn’t suspect things will get better; he knows it. Says Paul, “for I know…this will turn out” well. The final result of his present suffering will be a great “deliverance” (1:19), a deliverance that vindicates him (he will not be ashamed, 1:20) and glorifies Christ (Christ will be honored, 1:21). Paul’s theology has no place for the final suffering of the believer. The end result of suffering is certain to be the future joy of the believer and the greater glory ascribed to God. Suffering is achieving this (2 Corinthians 4:17), so it cannot touch Paul’s joy.

Well then, here is something truly invincible! Paul has found it. The Christian’s joy cannot be defeated! Sure, in practice, we endure seasons where we don’t experience the joy of the Lord in full measure, unaffected by our present sufferings. Even Paul hit a rough patch when he was in Asia that was so severe that he was “so utterly burdened beyond [his] strength that [he] despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). It may have seemed in those moments that Paul’s joy would be snuffed out altogether. But the Christian’s joy cannot die.

Later in life, when writing Philippians, Paul’s joy is soaring high, even in the depths of the dungeon. What has Paul learned? Or better, what is Paul remembering? Surely he already knew these things when he despaired of life in Asia, but here he is holding them in his mind. It is that, “whether by life or death” (1:20), Christ is going to receive His glory and Paul is going to be delivered.

Paul’s joy is therefore invincible, at least in this moment, while Paul is thinking this way. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21). With that thought at the forefront of his mind, nothing can stop his joy. He is in a win-win situation. Living through the imprisonment to go back out would be a joyful eventuality, since “that means fruitful labor for me” (1:22). Dying in prison and going to be with Jesus, well, “that is far better” (1:23). It’s a win either way. Paul’s joy is invincible at this point.

Paul knows the heart of the Lord very well, so he can predict with pretty certain confidence what Jesus has chosen for him. He even says, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all” (1:25). That must be a prophetic word, because it is not ordinarily given unto man to know these things (Ecclesiastes 8:8). But notice that the reason Paul was given this insider information was that other Christians needed to experience the same “joy in the faith” (1:25) that Paul was experiencing. That referred to the Philippians, but no less to us. Paul was allowed to know that he was going to live through his prison ordeal “for [our] progress and joy in the faith” (1:25). Our joy must be pretty important to God.

Our joy in the faith is very important to God. He wants us not only to have some joy, experiencing it from time to time, but He wants our joy to be like Paul’s. He wants our joy to be invincible.

Why? The last thought in this section underscores what we have been saying all along. As the the famous Piperism goes, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Or to use Paul’s language, his expected deliverance was so that “you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus” (1:26). That is why our joy is so important. The Westminster Confession got it right when it said that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. These are two sides of the same coin.

So, write “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21) on your heart. Or if you can’t write it on your heart, then at least write it on your hand. Then, perhaps the truth of it will seep in and reach your heart like the ink on your skin seeps into your bloodstream and makes it way to the pump. But however you learn it, let this thought dominate your heart today, that to live is Christ and to die is gain, which makes our joy invincible.