Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Joy
Scripture: Philippians 1:1– 4:23
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of JoyPhilippians 1-4
Sunday, June 10, 2001
Pastor Randy Smith
In his book Dangers, Toils & Snares , John Ortberg writes, "When we take our children to the shrine of the Golden Arches (you know where that is), they always lust for the meal that comes with a cheap little prize, a combination christened in a moment of marketing genius, the Happy Meal. You're not just buying fries, McNuggets, and a dinosaur stamp; you're buying happiness. Their advertisements have convinced my children they have a little McDonald-shaped vacuum in their souls: 'Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in a happy meal.' I try to buy off the kids sometimes. I tell them to order only the food and I'll give them a quarter to buy a little toy on their own. But the cry goes up, 'I want a Happy Meal.' All over the restaurant, people crane their necks to look at the tight-fisted, penny-pinching cheapskate of a parent who would deny a child the meal of great joy. The problem with the Happy Meal is that the happy wears off, and they need a new fix. No child discovers lasting happiness in just one: 'Remember that Happy Meal? What great joy I found there!' Happy Meals bring happiness only to McDonalds. You ever wonder why Ronald McDonald wears that grin? Twenty billion Happy Meals, that's why. When you get older, you don't get any smarter; your happy meals just get more expensive."
As Americans we have sought our joy in material pursuits, things, or better yet, circumstances. But all of us know that our circumstances are often unfavorable and temporal. Because of this, we find ourselves coming in and out of joy like the waves in the ocean.
However, I want you to know that there is a way you can have unceasing and unchanging joy from now into eternity. Do you want that? Worldly happiness may be based on circumstances, but true joy is based on a relationship with Jesus Christ as a fruit from the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 15, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full" (Jn. 15:11). Spiritual joy is built on the simple fact that Christians have the promise of eternal life with Christ Jesus in heaven and the assurance that everything happening here during this life on earth is for their good and the glory of God. The by-product of these is joy that is made full!
Paul clearly understood this magnificent truth. He taught that our cup filled with joy has the possibility to overflow as a result of Christian activities and not worldly enticements. Allow me to illustrate.
Paul founded the Philippian church on his second missionary journey. Later in his life he wrote a letter to that church. It's contained in our Bibles, The Book of Philippians. Some have called Philippians "The Letter of Joy," because that word occurs fifteen times in the short epistle. There can be no doubt, joy is a dominant theme. The Philippian church brought Paul great joy and Paul expressed that personal joy in this letter. However, as we often fail to realize, the great apostle composed the letter from prison.
How did Paul and how can we find such great joy in the Christian life despite unfavorable external circumstances and internal anxieties?
This morning we'll examine the first distinctive of a New Testament church, joy. The objective this morning is to see that even beyond the unsurpassed joy of salvation (our life and liberty), we can and should experience joy in seven spiritual duties of a believer as they are presented in the letter to the Philippians. They are duties that should no longer be a burden, but rather a delight which enable us to pursue our joy as it is found in our union with Christ. The title of this sermon is, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Joy".
1. JOY IN PRAYER (Phil. 1:3-8)
Even for most believers, prayer is a burden. I am not talking about sporadic, circumstantial prayer for self and loved ones. Even the pagans do that! Ambrose, the church father, said, "To pray on certain days and not on all, is the mark of one who loathes and not one who loves."
Rather, I am talking about a systematic, disciplined life that is devoted to prayer. A life that sees one's own helplessness and his or her utter dependence upon the Lord. A life like John Wesley who spent two hours daily in prayer, and commonly said, "God does nothing but in answer to prayer." Or Martin Luther who said, "If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day." Elsewhere Luther said, "I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer." These men saw their need for God accomplished through communion with God and therefore surrendered their will to God in prayer. How different is that from the results I read this week in Christianity Today which revealed that the average pastor prays only 3 minutes a day?
A life devoted to prayer clearly reveals a Christian who understands the power of prayer, but more so, he understands his beautiful relationship with the Creator. King David proclaimed, "I Love the Lord, because He hears My voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live" (Psm. 116:1-2). Should it be any surprise then that the believer finds great joy in a life dedicated to prayer? He naturally should see everything as an opportunity to commune with His spiritual Father; hence Paul's command elsewhere, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17).
Follow along with me in Philippians 1:3-4. "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all." Paul's love for the Philippians brought him great joy. Every time the Lord brought to remembrance that church, the natural overflow of Paul's heart was joyous prayer. You almost get the impression that Paul couldn't think of them without praying for them. Prayer was a delight and not a chore.
You may be wondering, how can I find this great joy in prayer? First of all, is your focus heavenward? Do you realize the power of prayer to praise God and offer supplications? Do you delight in the things above, realizing they are inextricably linked with God? Do you realize that Christ indwells us, whereby we should not be motivated by our own heart, but rather moved by the heart of Christ?
Second of all, do you love people? Look at verse 7, "For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:7-8). Paul had an enlarged heart for people. It was not the Stoic belief that teaches us to be cool and avoid being vulnerable. Rather the Bible calls for a selfless devotion that binds one's mind, will and emotions up in the betterment of another. Without a heavenward focus and love for people, prayer will be nothing more that a programmed, religious duty stemming from a legalistic heart, burdensome to the individual and dishonoring in the sight of God.
Paul increased his joy through prayer. God wants us also to have great joy in prayer! Jesus said, "Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full " (Jn. 16:24).
2. JOY IN THE GOSPEL (Phil. 1:12-18)
In addition to prayer, Paul also discovered great joy in the gospel. Paul realized the priceless value of the gospel so much that everything in his life was devoted to the proclamation of that message, despite the difficulties he faced. Paul exclaimed that he endured all things for the sake of those chosen (2 Ti. 2:10). We are well aware of his missionary campaigns that brought the gospel to the outermost points of the Roman world resulting in extreme hardship and persecution.
But now in Philippians the situation was different. Paul's freedom was restricted as he was bound to a guard under Roman imprisonment. Would his imprisonment frustrate the spread of the gospel? Would the great missionary called to preach to the Gentiles question his current incarceration? Would Paul still have great joy in the gospel?
In verse 12 Paul remarkably said, "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel" (Phil. 1:12). We can imagine Paul saying, "I actually thank God for my imprisonment because this detention (now on its second year) has actually helped to advance the gospel. I have so much joy in the gospel that I am willing to be dealt any unfavorable circumstance (even death) if it serves a greater progress for the glorious gospel. My life is of little value to myself, because my entire goal is wrapped up in the proclamation of this message!"
Paul knew that God's plans cannot be frustrated, and Paul wanted to make sure his Philippian converts understood that his circumstances (though quite unfavorable) could not steal his joy or hinder the progress of the gospel.
The question we all beg to ask is how can an apostle behind bars actually serve for the betterment of the gospel? The text gives us two reasons: First in verse 13, "So that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else." The Praetorian Guard was an elite troop in the Emperor's palace consisting of 9 cohorts, each of 1,000 men. The customary procedure was to rotate custody of the prisoner every 4 hours. Do you think Paul was silent with these men as they and he sat a few feet apart connected by a chain? Do you think these Roman men saw Paul as an extraordinary "criminal," imprisoned solely for the message of Christ? Do you think Paul's stories circulated quickly amongst the ranks? Instead of doing what I would have probably done, protesting my innocence, he spent his time talking about a Jew called Jesus, who had been crucified for the sins of the world. Would we find such great joy in the proclamation of the gospel despite our circumstances?
Another reason why his imprisonment furthered the gospel is found in the following verse. "And that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear" (Phil. 1:14). Though it was a risky thing to preach the gospel in Rome, the believers saw Paul's courageous imprisonment for the sake of Christ which enabled them to shake off any fear and preach the Word with enthusiasm, boldness and zeal. D.A. Carson once rightly said, "A whiff of persecution sometimes puts a backbone in other timid Christians."
Paul rejoiced that the gospel went forth despite his detainment. Elsewhere he said, "Remember Jesus Christ…according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned" (2 Ti. 2:8). And even though some misunderstood the rationale behind his arrest or preached the gospel out of envy and strife seeking to make him jealous and elevate their name while he sat in that Philippian jail (Phil. 1:15ff), Paul was encouraged that the message went forth. The "how" was irrelevant; the "fact" was Paul's only concern. Verse 18, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed ; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice."
One day an aging Christian said to John Paton (the great missionary who brought the gospel to the New Hebrides), "'You will be eaten by cannibals!' Paton replied, 'Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me if I am eaten by Cannibals or worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.'" "Only one life, 'twill soon be passed, only what's done for Christ will last." May we rejoice in the proclamation of the gospel corporately as we see it go forth from the lips of the church body, but also individually as we see it go forth from our own.
We've seen joy in prayer and joy in the gospel; now joy in life or death.
3. JOY IN LIFE OR DEATH (Phil. 1:21-26)
For a man who found so much joy in future eternity with God in heaven and likewise the ministry entrusted to his care here on earth, you can naturally see that nothing would rob him of his joy of living or his joy of dying. In verse 21 Paul said, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). What does a Roman persecutor do with an individual who rejoices in life, rejoices in death and doubly rejoices for being considered worthy to suffer for the name of Christ?
Continuing in verse 22, "But if I am to live on in the flesh (his earthly body), this will mean fruitful labor for me (It was Paul's goal was to reap spiritual fruit and continue his Christ-centered, Christ-empowered ministry); and I do not know which to choose (It is not that Paul had a choice in God's decision, but both sides of life and death had certain attractions). But I am hard-pressed (Literally, "Hemmed in on both sides") from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; (Paul's existence was life with Christ, death would bring no cessation, but enhance that experience) yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake (Despite what he personally wanted, he would find great joy in being released for the sake of others and the work still at hand). And convinced of this (that his remaining with be best for the church in seeing their need for an apostolic witness), I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, (here's the purpose) so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again (What is his ultimate purpose for desiring to continue life? That in his coming to them there will be ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus)" (Phil. 1:22-26). Paul had great joy in living and great joy in dying.
Moody Monthly recorded this ancient quote as a third-century man was anticipating death: "It's a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy, which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians-and I am one of them."
Are you one of them? If you are, have you experienced a great joy in living this life? It is not a joy derived from circumstances or materialism as the world provides, but a joy in trusting a sovereign God to accomplish all things for your good and His glory? It is a joy that sees God's hand at work as He uses you to build His eternal kingdom? It is a joy that sees this life only as a means to the end, the end being eternity with Christ and freedom from sin in heaven. If the call were up to you, how would you choose? Would you desire to depart and be with Christ? According to Paul, that is "gain" and "very much better," or would you choose to remain, not for your own selfishly motivated reasons, but rather agreeing with Paul that to live is Christ? Are you living for Christ? Has God made others dependent on your ministry like He did Paul's ministry? Do you find great joy in that, serving them with the love of Christ?
With the short time you have left remaining on this planet, are you finding true joy in living for Christ? C.S. Lewis rightly said, "Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
4. JOY IN RIGHTEOUSNESS (Phil. 2:1-4)
The Apostle Paul also took great joy in seeing fellow believers walk in righteousness. Another Apostle once said, "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth" (3 Jn. 1:4).
The discipline of our children in desiring them to pursue righteous living can be a tiresome task. The process often entails around the clock correction calling for godly attitudes from both the parent and the child. Few would deny that shepherding your child's heart is a full time occupation that requires diligence, patience and endurance. Yet as parents, our reward comes when we see the child manifest fruit in their lives. That fruit brings us great joy. That fruit makes the process worthwhile.
The Philippian church also needed some correction from Paul, their spiritual father on earth. Specifically, they struggled with divisiveness and disunity. Some scholars even believe this was a major issue in contributing to Paul's writing of this epistle.
In Philippians 2, Paul tackles this problem head-on. In 2:1 he says, "If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, (these are rhetorical questions regarding essential tools we have in the Christian community to preserve our unity among people with different temperaments and backgrounds) make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose" (Phil. 2:1-2 ).
My point is not unity of the church, but rather Paul's joy in seeing his converts walk in righteousness. Do we take joy in the righteous living of others? Moreover, do we realize that others, like Paul take joy in our righteous living? The Scriptures say, "Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor. 13:6).
More than ever the 21st century evangelical church has blended in with society. The values of the world have become the values of the church. Gossip is exalted at the expense of truth; unholy entertainment is exalted at the expense of that which is proper; outward appearance is exalted at the expense of a godly heart; cockiness is exalted at the expense of humility; cliques are exalted at the expense of including the lowly; "coolness" is exalted at the expense of godliness.
Our calling expects us to see things through the eyes of God. It goes beyond merely pointing out what is wrong; it extends to rejoicing in what is right. Ask God today to give you a heart that esteems what He esteems, a heart that rejoices in the truth, a heart that rejoices in righteousness.
5. JOY IN MINISTRY (Phil. 2:17-18)
Our fifth point is joy in ministry.
The thought of ministering to others in a church environment all for another's glory would drive most individuals insane: Long hours, no monetary reward and weekend commitments. Forget it! We would expect this attitude from unbelievers, but unfortunately many Christians have adopted the same sentiments. Studies reveal that most who attend a church are not actively involved in ministry; they are simply ignoring their God-given spiritual gifts for the building up of the body of Christ and expecting others to serve them. Their spirit is, "Ask not what I can do for the church, but ask what can the church do for ME." Most pastors call it the 80-20 rule, 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. The Bible simply calls it disobedience.
Is it that they don't see themselves with the ability to contribute? Possibly. Is it that they don't know where to get involved? Possibly. But I believe the answer is they are pursuing their joy among other avenues. Everybody is in the pursuit of joy. God wants you to pursue your joy. Yet the purpose of this entire message is that as a Christian, our pursuit of joy should be in the things of God and not the things of the world. I've seen people in this church that would rather contribute to the work of Christ on their day-off, than spend a sunny afternoon reclining at the beach. The reason for such "insanity" is because they are filled with the Spirit of Christ. Furthermore, they know that if Christ were here, He too would have chosen ministry over basking in the sun. If we could just experience the joy of ministry, we would pursue it with zealous delight!
Paul had such zealous delight in ministry. Listen for the words joy and rejoice in these two verses. "But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me" (Phil. 2:17-18). Paul did not say, "Rejoice with me in the addition I put on to my beach house or rejoice with me in lowering my golf handicap or rejoice with me in my new DVD system." Rather he said, "Rejoice in my ministry to you. Even though my life is being poured out as a drink offering, I rejoice and I want you to rejoice with me. My ministry is not in vain. And Philippians, as long as I can see fruit from my ministry in your life, I rejoice despite the personal cost to myself!"
One commentator said, "For Paul, joy is more than a mood or emotion. Joy is an understanding of existence that encompasses both elation and depression that can accept with creative submission events, which bring delight or dismay because joy allows one to see beyond any particular event to the sovereign Lord who stands above all events and ultimately has control over them. Joy to be sure includes within itself a readiness for martyrdom, but equally the opportunity to go on living and serving."
6. JOY IN FELLOWSHIP (Phil. 2:28-30)
Paul also found joy in fellowship.
In 2:28 he said, "Therefore I have sent him (Epaphroditus) all the more eagerly in order that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Therefore receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me" (Phil. 2:28-30). The Philippian church had great love for their founder, the Apostle Paul. As with any manifestation of Christian love, it is demonstrated tangibly through action. Since the whole church could not visit Paul in prison (they were deficient in that service), they sent one of their own, a gentlemen by the name of Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus came to minister to Paul on behalf of the church.
Epaphroditus brought financial assistance (as we will discuss shortly), but also the fellowship and companionship that Paul desperately needed. Unfortunately, the rigors of ministry paid a toll on this beloved saint. We read in verse 27 that Epaphroditus was sick to the point of death. Epaphroditus' illness greatly grieved both Paul and his home church back in Philippi. To ease both their concerns, Paul sent Epaphroditus along with the Philippian letter we have been reading from today back to Philippi. His purpose, verse 28, "That when you see him again you may rejoice." Verse 29, "Therefore receive him in the Lord with all joy."
We need to notice from this account, the love that believers have for each other. We need to notice from this account the encouragement believers derive from each other. We need to notice from this account the joy believers inherit in spiritual fellowship.
The expectation is simple. We are to agape love each other to the extent that we are loved by God. Paul said elsewhere, "And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma" (Eph. 5:2). We need to realize that Jesus Christ didn't just lay down His life for me; He laid down His life for the church. The love that God has poured out upon us in Christ should spread to fellow believers so that we like Epaphroditus, would joyously give of ourselves in Christlike service to each other because we enjoy being together.
One obvious manifestation of this principle is fellowship. We are all inextricably linked through the blood of Christ. Through Him we compose His spiritual body; men and women, young and old, short and tall, healthy and ill, different races, different incomes, different degrees of education and different personalities. We are people who would never associate in a million years, but now have become brothers and sisters in Christ. We have Christian fellowship with each other. We have joy in that fellowship (Phil. 4:1).
7. JOY IN GIVING (Phil. 4:10-20)
We've looked at joy in: prayer, the gospel, life and death, righteousness, ministry, and fellowship. Finally, I'd like to examine joy in giving, financial giving. Of the six points thus far, for many this may be the toughest pill to swallow. Martin Luther said, "There are three conversions, the conversion of the heart, mind and purse." Despite what many may think, giving to the Lord's work should be an avenue to increase our joy.
Paul commended the Philippian church for their financial help. In 4:10 he said, "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity" (Phil. 4:10). Verse 14, "Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. And you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs" (Phil. 4:14-16). Elsewhere in the Bible, Paul boasted of the Philippians financial generosity. "Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia (The region where the church of Philippi was located), that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God" (2 Cor. 8:1-5). The Philippian church was financially generous to support the Lord's work in Paul. They gave with great joy!
When we consider our money, we need to realize two things: All that we have belongs to God, and the chief end of our finances is to further His kingdom. We are never blessed financially to be a cul-de-sac. We are blessed to be a conduit. The money entrusted to us from God is ultimately intended for His purposes for the furtherance of His glory and our joy! Happiness is not gained when we save or spend apart from the will of God.
John W. Rockefeller said, "I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness." John Jacob Astor said, "I am the most miserable man on earth." "I was happier when doing a mechanic's job," said Henry Ford. Andrew Carnegie, "Millionaires seldom smile."
The joy in money comes from giving, specifically, giving to do the work of God's kingdom. Even Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than receive" (Ac. 20:35). As we have mentioned before, if our only desire is for His kingdom, won't we find greater satisfaction in seeing our money contributed toward spiritual pursuits than material pursuits?. Augustine put it well, "Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure; Where your treasure is, there is your heart; Where your heart is, there is your happiness."
Let me give you a second reason why money can increase our joy. For several reasons, Paul did not make it a habit to collect from his converts. Look at 4:11, "Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." But in this case he accepted the money. Why? 4:17, "Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account." Matthew 6 states that every time we give we are storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven. Paul rejoiced that the Philippians were financially showing their love, but also because they were making an investment which was waiting for them in heaven.
It's been said there are three levels of giving: you have to (law), you ought to (obligation), you want to (grace). May giving not be that ugly word in our midst, but rather may it be one that we rejoice in as we give out of the overflow of joy in our hearts as a result of the love of Christ and his work on the cross.
There's no doubt that Paul and His beloved converts at Philippi found great joy in the Christian life. Beyond the joy of salvation and a God that is intimately involved in our lives, they found great joy in every aspect of the Christian life. Though the world thinks we're nuts, as believers we should rejoice in prayer, evangelism, life and death, righteousness, ministry, fellowship and giving. We should pursue these duties to glorify God and increase our joy. Is it any wonder that Paul repeatedly told and commanded the Philippian believers to, "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, rejoice" (Phil. 4:4)!