I will admit, winter is not my favorite season. Those of you that know me, know this. In fact, some of you have already heard my catch phrase for this year: every day we are “one day closer to the end of winter.”
It’s not the snow. I like snow. It is fun to play in; it’s beautiful to watch falling from the sky. It is the source of extra days off school and work.
It’s more the grey and the cold that lead me to not love winter – it may be for me not my favorite because I grew up in Syracuse, NY where there are only 60 or so full days of sun per year, and very few if ever in the winter and it is cold there – often damp cold – seemingly from end of October all the way to May sometimes. So I’m kind of done with grey and cold. I don’t like being cold. I’d rather be in the heat and humidity of Alabama than cold ANY DAY!
So, since we live in Indiana, where we don’t get a lot of sun for winter normally NOR that much snow… (albeit, this is why I enjoyed last year’s winter more than any in 10 years – I know… weird – because there was more sun and there was more snow; no I still didn’t like the cold!)… since that is the case, I am glad to report that I get a pass on being joyful throughout winter.
Oh I am seemingly not known to be the most joyful person anyway. One personality test I’ve taken says that my score for being joyful is almost non-existent – at least with how they define joy!
So you see, this winter pass that I get on being joyful is just an accentuation of what is already true about me. I don’t have a joyful personality, therefore I don’t need to worry about being joyful. And since winter is not my favorite season of the year, I especially don’t have to be concerned at all about being joyful in circumstances that I do not like.
And that is what I am here to reinforce for you today: You don’t have to be joyful, unless you want to be!
Joy is simply something you choose to experience – to possess - only if your circumstances and personality lead you to feel that emotion. It is totally subjective!
Merriam-Webster Dictionary says so:
“Joy: a feeling of great happiness,” namely, “an emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”
And so IF you don’t feel happy, don’t have success, good fortune, or possess what you want, THEN, you don’t have joy. And that’s not your fault. You just don’t have it.
Don’t you agree?
Or have some of you found differently? (Or at least heard differently.)
Have some of you found that you’ve experienced joy without good fortune? You’ve possessed joy even in failure or difficulty? You’ve expressed joy despite not possessing what you desire, or even need.
And in fact, this joy has sustained you in trying times.
I know many of you have. As have I actually.
As much as I would like to think that my personality style OR negative feelings due to circumstances that I don’t like might give me a pass on being joyful / joy-filled even, we know it isn’t true, right?
We know that joy is something that God desires of every follower of Jesus.
We understand that joy is an attribute that is meant to mark every disciple’s life.
We realize that joy is not supposed to be sourced in circumstances or personality.
How do we know these truths about joy? Because of God’s teaching in the Scriptures and there is no better place to see these truths about joy than in the letter that serves as our focus for today: Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
For it is in Philippians that we find a book for which JOY is – arguably - the primary theme – the keynote of the letter.
But here is what we may not know so well about joy that I want us to see today from Philippians. We may know God expects us to be joyful regardless of circumstances or personality, but do we realize where that joy is supposed to come from - what its source is?
And do we understand what it offers to us that makes it so important to God that we possess it?
Finally, having considered the source of joy and what it offers us that makes it so important for us to possess, we’ll consider how to cultivate that joy in our own lives.
So turn with me to the book of Philippians, in the Bibles found here at the 146th St. campus and at the Fishers campus.
· Truly one of my favorite letters in Scripture that we look at today. Numerous passages in this letter stand as life-shaping passages to my relationship with God over my life.
RE-CAP and OVERVIEW:
As you turn, let’s review our series and then consider the occasion of this letter.
Today is the final week of our Legacy: Revisited series entitled, Dear Church. Over the past several weeks we have looked at the letters Paul wrote known as Galatians, Romans, Colossians, and Ephesians. As we have shared, each letter written was occasional: meaning, they were NOT written exclusively NOR EVEN primarily as theological books in the way that we often read them. RATHER, they were written in response to the occasion at hand – to what was happening in and around each church.
Now let’s talk about Philippians specifically:
· Church at city of Philippi
o eastern Macedonia (THEN); eastern Greece (NOW)
o though a small city, it was a key Roman city:
§ on connecting road between Rome and the East
§ Prominent because it was a military outpost
o Citizens - Romans, Greeks, Jews alike – were all VERY PROUD of their city and citizenship.
Philippi fit with Paul’s pattern for choosing prominent cities of strategic location and reputation from which the gospel of the kingdom might be proclaimed. One might accurately call Philippi a “Gateway City” to the world – namely the European world in Paul’s day.
In terms of the Scriptures, we read about the beginning of the Philippian church in Acts 16, where a prominent woman named Lydia is the first convert of what becomes a thriving church.
…Galatians is like a late night email rant…
…Romans is like a theological treatise
…Ephesians is like a sermon written down to pass from city to city
…Colossians is like a philosophical defense of Jesus’ supremacy
…Philippians is a letter to a friend.
It is truly the most personal of all Paul’s letters to churches and it shows that this church at Philippi was one of Paul’s favorites if not his favorite – the ones he was personally closest to. It is clear that he has a warmth – yes Paul being warm – for these people. Notice his start in vs. 1:3-5:
READ Phil. 1:3-5
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now
Later in the letter he calls them his “joy” whom he “loves and longs for” (4:1). This church has partnered with Paul in his work and that has bonded them relationally.
And the tone of the letter is uplifting and encouraging. There is little to no rebuke; the exhortations at the end of the letter are even pastoral. And joy pervades the letter!
But frankly that emphasis on joy is somewhat unexpected given Paul’s circumstances. Why? Because Paul is in prison when this letter is written. Now certainly being in prison can and would make you long for loved ones. You would probably even want to let them know how you are, which certainly seems to be part of the occasion of Paul’s writing here.
But one would also expect that such a letter from prison – and unjustly in prison I might add – might be filled with complaint, anger, OR at least defensiveness towards the injustice committed.
Yet this is not what we hear and see. Rather, as mentioned previously, JOY is his overriding theme.
If you were to summarize Philippians in a sentence based on the occasion and purpose of the letter, Paul’s writing is to exhort this church that he loves to live their faith in unity with great joy – the latter being the distinguishing mark from other letters. Philippians, among all of Paul’s letters, is marked by this exhortation that living one’s faith in unity is to be done with great joy.
And knowing Paul’s circumstances, we recognize that this joy he is expressing and calling the church to cannot be the same as that of Merriam-Webster’s definition. Paul, of all people here, is depleted of well-being, success, good fortune, and possessing what he desires. He’s in jail!
Yet here it is that he is marked by joy and calls the Philippians to be marked by joy. So we need a different definition of joy, one that matches up to Paul’s experience here – one that actually comes from what Paul shares in the letter to these beloved friends – let’s try this:
Joy is the life-sustaining emotion evoked, regardless of one’s circumstances OR personality, by the reality of knowing Jesus Christ.
Paul’s admonishment to joy – to “rejoice in the Lord” – is exemplified in his personal example of joy in the Lord.
This is the source of Paul’s joy! The reality of knowing Jesus Christ.
Let me show you what I mean. Look at chapter 1:20:
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Early here in the letter, though the word is not specifically mentioned, Paul implies of the reality of joy in his relationship with Jesus. Vs. 21 in particular – “to live is Christ”… “to die is gain”… to die is even better. And “I desire” it, he says!
How many of us would honestly say this? That to die truly is gain because of the joy we have in knowing Jesus? The joy because of our relationship with Jesus?
The source of Paul’s joy is Christ.
The strength of this conviction that joy is in Christ grows as we come to chapter 3, verse 7 for more:
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
The key part of this passage is in vs. 7-8. The source of Paul’s life-sustaining joy is his relationship with Jesus because NOTHING compares to that experience of knowing Jesus.
Oh that we would all love and live this passage!
Everything is loss compared to the surpassing worth – surpassing greatness in some translations – of knowing Christ Jesus! That word knowing is not intellectual knowledge. It is the knowledge that comes through experience.
And for Paul, everything else is garbage. Anything and everything else that could be the source of his joy, is rubbish. Actually that is not a strong enough word. Everything else that he might boast about – find joy in – is dung.
Vs. 10 expresses the passionate emotion of Paul, “I want to know Christ!” – such passion that he is willing even to know Him in His sufferings as well as resurrection.
Again Paul’s gives evidence that the source of his joy is knowing Jesus!
And he encapsulates this sentiment in this well-known expression: look at chapter 4 -
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
The key here is his phrase “in the Lord.” It is used in other places in the book and certainly in other letters of Paul, as a reference to the closeness of relationship one has who is “in the Lord”. It is a phrase of incorporation - incorporation into something where one becomes apart of the other - such closeness of union with Jesus in relationship that expresses a reality of relational trust and commitment.
So call to rejoice isn’t a call to indulge superficial gladness found in well-being, good fortune, and success. The call isn’t to happiness. Rather, it is to something much deeper: REJOICE IN THE REALITY OF THE EXPERIENCE OF A TRUSTING, COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP WITH THE ONE TRUE GOD OF THE UNIVERSE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.
And it comes from Paul to his beloved Philippians because of his own personal experience of joy found in his relationship to Jesus.
The exceedingly great reality of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord was the source of Paul’s joy! And it was meant to be the same for the Philippians.
And this joy offered Paul something – as it did in his mind to those at Philippi.
Joy as the emotion evoked / aroused because of the reality of knowing Jesus Christ is joy that is life-sustaining!
Think back to what we just read from chapter 1:
· 1:20-21 – to live is Christ… in chains, persecuted, awaiting who knows what, living is found in Christ (similar theological implications of “in Christ” as “in the Lord”)
Paul is in chains in prison and what sustained him was his joy in the Lord!
And I believe Paul… I believe him because it was my grandpa’s experience as well – joy in the Lord sustained him in prison:
o Grandpa’s Daily Light
But prison wasn’t Paul’s only experience where joy sustained him. Turn over to chapter 4 verse 10:
· 4:10-13 – contentment – from the man who had especially experienced “want”
READ Phil. 4:10-13
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
To know what it is to be in need? That was Paul! One of his later letters recounts a list of experiences where Paul was in “need”:
o 2 Cor. 11 list (vs. 23b-29)
§ Prison multiple times
§ Flogged multiple times
§ 5x 39 lashes
§ 3x beaten with rods
§ 3x shipwrecked
§ Stoned once
§ A night and a day in the open sea
§ Danger from bandits, his own people, Gentiles, in the city, the country, at sea, from false believers
§ Gone without sleep, without food, drink, clothes
Joy sustained Paul so that he could be content in all circumstances!
We saw a living example last week:
o Kara Tippetts from last week
Joy is sustaining Kara as she seeks to be freed from the chains of cancer – from the myriad of difficult circumstances that surround one who is dying!
Joy is the life-sustaining emotion evoked, regardless of one’s circumstances OR personality, by the reality of knowing Jesus Christ.
To take it one step further beyond emotion:
True joy is the life-sustaining possession of all who know the reality of relationship with Jesus Christ.
It is what Paul possessed so that he could say that he was truly content no matter the circumstance. It is what Paul possessed regardless of his personality, because frankly, when you read Paul and about Paul, joy – being joyful - is not necessarily the first characteristic that comes to mind (at least not for me).
For Paul, joy Paul transcended personality. Joy sustained him in circumstance.
And that is what he was saying to the church that he loved so much: rejoice in the Lord, I will say it again, rejoice!
Possess joy – that life-sustaining emotion for all who know the reality of relationship with Jesus Christ. The joy that comes to one who experiences relationship with Jesus.
Do you possess that kind of life-sustaining joy?
We sometimes, in the church, call that joy of knowing the reality of relationship with Jesus Christ “the joy of our salvation”.
Do you possess – what we sometimes call in the church - the joy of your salvation?
If so, how do you keep it?
If you’ve lost it, how do you get it back?
How does one come to possess that life-sustaining joy?
If the source of life-sustaining joy is knowing Jesus, as Paul has shared, then very simply, you possess joy – you keep it, cultivate it, get it back if necessary - by knowing Jesus.
Wherever we stand in relationship to Jesus, in order to experience the joy of your salvation – you must pursue your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And you do that by communing with Him!
To get a bit old school, you need to find your secret, quiet place – get your Bible, your journal, your coffee / tea or other preferred beverage, and do your devotions –commune with God in solitude & silence, prayer, reading of Scripture (and not just to study it, but to allow the Scriptures to study you!), confession, thanksgiving, maybe even a little fasting!
And you’ve got to be in a space of corporate worship not one time a month or every six weeks, but consistently, where you come in and you might not be feeling joyful – you might be struggling to be joy-filled – but the joy of others worshipping Jesus lifts you up out of your circumstances, setting your focus instead on your pursuit of God.
We possess life-sustaining joy through our pursuit of Jesus by making the time to commune with Him.
Now let me describe that pursuit with three words:
· Pursue knowing Jesus humbly
· Pursue knowing Jesus boldly
· Pursue knowing Jesus gratefully
For the first two descriptors of pursuit that lead to life-sustaining joy, let me take you to the passage where that phrase, “joy of my salvation” comes from: Ps. 51 – written by David after his sin with Bathsheba.
1. Pursue knowing Jesus humbly (humble posture before Him)
Psalm 51:1-3, 17
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. […] 17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
The first action step to life-sustaining joy – to the restoring of the joy of your salvation – is humble pursuit of God. It is to seek God from a posture of humility. Just look at David’s words:
· “Have mercy…”
· “I know my transgressions… my sin is always before me…”
· “My sacrifice…is a broken spirit…”
Pursue God humbly.
2. Pursue knowing Jesus boldly (boldly ask of Him)
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Out of a posture of humility, David pursues God with a bold ask – bold prayer. A prayer for the supernatural touch of God to restore his joy, to make him steadfast in faith.
The cultivation of life-sustaining joy in the Lord – in Jesus – is found through our humble and bold pursuit of through Jesus Christ.
And the third descriptor to cultivate life-sustaining joy is to pursue your relationship with Jesus gratefully.
3. Pursue knowing Jesus gratefully
· Why? Because gratefulness leads us to deep joy
· Ann Voskamp explains it this way in her book, One Thousand Gifts: (pg. 32-33)
“Euchristeo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds the Greek word, chara, meaning ‘joy.’ That might be what the quest for more is all about. Joy. But where can I seize this holy grail of joy? Was this the clue to the quest of all most important? Deep joy is found only at the table of thanksgiving? …is it that simple? Is the height of my joy dependent on the depths of my thanks?”
Yes… yes it is Ann goes on to communicate.
Gratitude leads to joy! Gratitude cultivates joy.
This was the journey my wife, Betsie, took three years ago. Frustrated with herself because she felt she had lost joy – incidently her middle name and always her distinguishing characteristic in my estimation – she came across Ann’s book and took this journey through gratitude to find renewed joy in the Lord! And it is how she pursues God when she finds life’s circumstances crashing in seeking to steal her joy away.
Gratitude leads to life-sustaining joy.
Frankly it is what we see in Paul throughout Philippians – gratitude for so many gifts: gratitude for the Philippians themselves, for their faith and their joy in the Lord, for their sending of support both in the form of people and money. Gratitude feeding Paul’s joy as each gift is seen to be a gift from God.
How do you keep, cultivate, get life-sustaining joy?
By pursuing your relationship with Jesus humbly, boldly, and gratefully.
Pursue knowing Jesus to possess life-sustaining joy!
So can we go back to those joy definitions one more time? Let me as you a question: which kind of joy do you want to possess? Merriam-Webster’s definition OR the one I think we learn from Paul?
Joy – the emotion evoked by well-being, success, good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires
· (and therefore I might add: insufficient, empty, even fickle, unpredictable, and inconsistent).
Joy – the life-sustaining emotion – possession even - evoked, regardless of one’s circumstances OR personality, by the reality of knowing Jesus Christ.
· (and therefore I might add: all-sufficient, full, faithful and true)
Which will be life-giving for the life you live?
Which will you be satisfied with possessing?
Which will you choose?
Pursue knowing Jesus to possess life-sustaining joy!