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.