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.