Rejoicing in All Things

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 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. (Philippians 1:18b-26)

After sharing with us some of the personal challenges that he was having in prison, and likewise how he viewed those challenges, Paul repeats this common attitude at the end of verse 18 when he says, “Yes, and I will rejoice.” Paul learned, not only in whatever state that he ever found himself in to be content, he had learned to rejoice in whatever state that he was in. He overflowed with rejoicing. I think it’s just fascinating. It’s not like God has given us a biography about a man who had a lot of worldly goods, and a good, easy life, it’s not like we have a biography of a man who lived pain-free physically, who knew nothing about physical suffering, it’s not like we have that kind of biography about that kind of person that talks about joy, is it? If that was the case we could attribute his joy to his circumstances. We might say, “Of course he has joy, because he has everything else too. Money, stuff, fame, pain-free living, ease.” But what better way for us to learn about true godly joy than to see it on display in the life of a man who seemed to have no worldly goods, an extremely pressured life, and physical pain and much suffering. Paul’s life was crazy! If a guy like this, with the kind of life that God gave him, can be serious about joy, then certainly we can too! 

I don’t know about you but I want to know more about this, this kind of joy that Paul experienced even while suffering great loss of material things and great loss of fellowship with his beloved friends, great loss of his freedoms in life that he had enjoyed. He had a joy that no one, that nothing could take away, it could not be stolen by the government who imprisoned him, by his enemies, not by his friends. He had a sustained, enduring, lasting sense of joy.

He uses the word “joy” or “rejoice” over and over again in this brief letter. But even with this emphasis on joy we have seen and will continue to see, we get the impression that Paul is not writing to tell the Philippians how to have joy. He doesn’t explain how to have joy in this letter. Joy is not the main theme of this book, I don’t think, but joy is a fruit, a fruit of how we see Paul live, it is a result of thinking rightly, living obediently, loving Christ as he outlines and demonstrates for us in this book. I have said earlier and will repeat now, the theme, I believe, of this letter is not primarily about joy but about living life with a Christ-centered, Christ-saturated, Christ-controlled mind. The joy that Paul so often refers to in his own life in this book of Philippians is a joy that flows from his Christ-centered, Christ-saturated, Christ-controlled life.

I get the impression and I think you will too that Paul did not seek out happiness, primarily. He was not a secular hedonist. He was not making decisions based on his own personal gratification. He did not take one path over another for some temporary feeling of pleasure. He sought to live for the Lord, and happiness and joy found him. I think one thing he wants us to see and to learn is that happiness is a by-product, and it comes to us as we occupy ourselves with serving the Lord. It’s about living for Christ. To have our minds filled with Christ in everything, filled with Christ Jesus, occupied with Him, is the secret of real, vibrant, consistent, Christian living, it is the secret too of true godly happiness, lasting joy.

Do you, are you, struggling to be happy, to be joyful in life? I mean, right now are you struggling with that? Are you pursuing happiness and you just can’t seem to take hold of it? You get it and it doesn’t last, it is fleeting, comes and it goes? Maybe the solution is to stop pursuing that and instead start with this: with all of our heart pursue and fill our minds with Christ Jesus. And trust him with what joy He gives us.

I want to talk this morning about joy in general for a few minutes, with joy being such a prominent part of the message of this book, I think we would do well to be sure we understand what joy is from a biblical perspective. 

Joy can be defined as a “state of delight and well being that results from knowing and serving Christ.” There are a number of Greek and Hebrew words that are used to convey the ideas of joy and rejoicing. We have the same situation in English with nearly synonymous words as joy, happiness, pleasure, delight, gladness, and enjoyment. The words “joy” and “rejoice” are the words used most often to translate the Hebrew and Greek words into English. Joy is found over 150 times in the Bible. If such words as “joyous” and “joyful” are included, the number comes to over 200. The verb “rejoice” appears well over 200 times. It’s all throughout the Scripture.

Joy is the fruit of a right relationship with and understanding of God. It is not something we can create by our own efforts, though we try. We may sometimes substitute our focus that should be on Christ and the gospel with a focus on other things to obtain joy. We try all kind of things, drugs, alcohol, illicit sex, eating, sleeping, books, TV, music, social media, shopping, secluding ourselves from others, controlling people, many things that we may do or pursue in an effort to find joy. But we find that we cannot create real, sustained joy through any of these things. God didn’t create us to find joy in these things, not real joy.

The Bible distinguishes joy from pleasure. The Greek word for “pleasure” is the word from which we get our word “hedonism,” the philosophy of self-centered pleasure seeking. Paul referred to false teachers as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4). If we are loving “pleasure,” if pleasure is what we are going after, then we will not experience real joy. We would be taking God out of the picture in our lives, and replacing Him with a substitute. Instead of going after God, going after pleasure; and we would find that joy will escape us. 

We would be like those in Haggai who were self-seeking, pleasure-seeking people. God says they were those who had “sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.” God is describing a people who were going after self-fulfillment. They so wanted happiness, but their harvest from their labor, their drink, their winter clothes on cold nights, the money they received for their work, all of it brought them nothing, it was futile. They could not say like Paul, “I will rejoice in this,” because they were looking to be satisfied and to find happiness in what cannot bring satisfaction and happiness.

It’s not that they were doing bad things in and of themselves, but if we were to read more, we would see that they chose to neglect what God told them to do and replaced that with what they wanted to do, and what they thought would bring them maximum joy. And they were wrong; it didn’t happen.

The Bible warns that self-indulgent pleasure seeking does not lead to happiness and fulfillment. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 records the sad testimony of one who sought to build his life on pleasure seeking. The search left him empty and disillusioned. Proverbs 14:13 offers insight into this way of life, “Even in laughter a heart may be sad.” Cares, riches, and pleasures rob people of the possibility of fruitful living (Luke 8:14).

Many people think that God does not want us to be happy or joyful. We often think that because we are not happy. “I’m not happy so God must not want me to be happy or joyful.” Nothing could be a bigger lie. God Himself knows joy, and He wants His people to know joy. Psalm 104:31 speaks of God Himself rejoicing in His creative works. Isaiah 65:18 speaks of God rejoicing over His redeemed people who will be to Him “a joy.” That’s us! Luke 15 is the most famous biblical reference to God’s joy. The Pharisees and scribes had criticized Jesus for receiving sinners and eating with them, then Jesus told three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The explicit theme of each parable is joy over a sinner who repents.

The joy of God came in focus in human history in Jesus Christ. This note of joy and exultation runs all throughout the entire biblical account of the coming of Christ. The joyful news of the coming of the Messiah, “good tidings of great joy,” the angel said. Jesus spoke of His own joy and of the full joy He had come to bring to others. Even as His death approached, He told His disciples that their joy would be greater as He departed and His Spirit came. In the book of Acts we see the disciples filled with joy in preaching the gospel, and spreading the word of Christ. Joy in the Christian life is in direct proportion of how believers walk with the Lord. Joy is a fruit of a Spirit-led life.

Here is where we get into trouble in this matter of joy. We get into trouble when we start believing things that are not true. We believe things like, “If I could just have a ton of money I could be joyful, all my problems would be gone. If I had 120 million dollars,” that is what the lottery sign said at the grocery store yesterday, “if I could have that, and could surround myself with a bunch of good things I would be happy.” Or maybe you aren’t that ambitious in your thinking. “If I could have enough to pay all my bills on time and just a little extra for a nice thing or two, then I would be happy.” We begin to put our hope in the trivial and if we get those things we may experience a season of happiness, but long term, no way. 

Or we get hyped up about little things. A certain desert or meal, we get all keyed up over those things as if somehow that will make everything okay. Little things. Tammy makes this incredible desert. It has dark chocolate on the top and it has layers of things, like moose, and a peanut butter filling, and cheesecake-like stuff, and dark chocolate crust. It is really, really good! And if you add a really good cup of coffee with it, wow! It’s interesting, I don’t think anyone else in our family is too crazy about it, even extended family, which works out really well for me. I’ll eat a few pieces over a few days, then Tammy will take the rest and slice it up, and freeze individual pieces, pulling one out every now and then, and if any “thing” could bring joy, it would be that for me. But if I ever get to thinking I can’t do without it, that it’s necessary for my joy, that I must have it, then I am believing a lie and even worse, I’m belittling Christ, who is to be my all in all. Isn’t that right? If we think we have to have something. Sometimes we say, “If I could just feel better, feel younger, stop aging so fast, then I would have joy.” All lies! “If I could have the relationship I’ve wanted all my life, that would do it for me.” Nope!

Here is another way we may get into trouble. We may think that joy is simply a high feeling of happiness, and that if we experience other emotions that we may think are negative, then we are not experiencing real joy. And what I mean by that is that I think joy can coincide and coexist with other emotions within us, such as sadness, grief, disappointment, or anger. They can coexist. God created us as complex emotional beings. He Himself is complex in His emotions. We don’t just have one emotion at a time necessarily. Does God love the sinner, or is he angry with the sinner? Both! There is complexity in emotion. Is His love for the unregenerate sinner the same as for the regenerate sinner? No. Again, there is complexity with God and His emotions. There is with ours too. Was Paul overjoyed that some were preaching Christ out of selfish ambition? I don’t think he was glad that they were being selfish, but he was joyful that the gospel was being preached.

Joy doesn’t have to trump all other emotions within us for it to be real joy, they can coexist. Joy in God can exist in every situation, every circumstance.

One of the most difficult funerals that I have done was my grandfather’s funeral. In many ways my grandfather was like a dad to me, and I think he thought of me a lot like a son. He didn’t have a son, and I was his only grandson, and I think that made our relationship extra special, we really just enjoyed each other. In fact, the week before he died, he and I were building a fence together. We enjoyed working together, playing together, and just visiting with each other. One of the things we loved doing was getting up really early and sitting on the back porch drinking coffee together and just talking. My grandfather died very suddenly. He was in good health, and strong, but he died suddenly from a head injury. He had fallen and hit his head on some concrete and shortly after was on life support, with no detectable brain activity and a lot of bleeding in the brain. 

At his funeral, I knew it was my job to do two things: first and most important, it was my job to exalt Christ. But also, to comfort his family, my family, and friends. As I began preparing for his funeral I spent a lot of time just sitting back in my chair, thinking, praying, and trying to imagine what he was experiencing at that moment. He was a believer, so I spent time thinking of his joy, his happiness, his freedom from the remnants of sin, his excitement, all that he had at that moment. I chose to think about his joy and not so much about my sorrow. I began to experience real joy in Christ, because of Christ. Joy in Christ. Did I still experience sorrow? Yes. Even now as I share it with you. Was I overcome by sorrow? No. My grandfather had died, but Christ was still Lord, He was still at work, He was caring for my grandfather and me, caring for the family. And because of Christ our separation was temporary, because all the eternal truths remained. Sorrow, yes, joy, yes. They can and often do coexist.

If you are sorrowful, grieving, struggling with sin, failing in a relationship, hurting with physical pain, disappointed over someone’s choices, God’s eternal truths remain, they are steadfast, His love endures forever. You can be like Paul and rejoice in the work of God in your life in His promises, in your security in Him, in His goodness, these things are solid and sure, they do not fade, they do not breakdown, they are forever true.

I love the determination in Paul’s statement, because I think we just need to say this sometimes, “Yes, I will rejoice!” There’s some determination there, an act of the will. I will think on, meditate on, consider, who Christ is, what He’s done, what He’s doing even now, what He’ll continue to do. I will rejoice in this, I will focus on my Savior, I will see all things through His eyes and the lens of Scripture. “I will rejoice.”

You could say it this way: I will live in a “state of delight and well being that results from knowing and serving God.”

Will you, can you, rejoice today, with all that’s going on in your life? Will you choose to view the world and circumstances in light of who God is and what He is doing for us, and promised for us? Will we keep our eyes on Him and trust him in everything?

Absolutely nothing could steal Paul’s joy. What would it be like if the one big thing that brought us the greatest possible joy, a state of delight and well being, if that source could not be taken from us? Then joy never goes away, does it? Things can be taken from us. My in-laws and my dad both had their houses flooded, severely flooded within a two month span. Both houses were unlivable for months. Most everything, the house and possessions in them, were ruined. Those things can be taken away, houses can be taken away. Are you healthy today? You may not be tomorrow; if that is where you find happiness, it may not last. Spouses and other loved ones can die. If you have money today, you may not tomorrow; this economy is crazy and unpredictable isn’t it? Are you mentally strong today and capable? That too can be gone, very easily, through illness or an accident. But in Christ, if our joy is found in our relationship with Christ, when is that going away? It’s not! It doesn’t go away. Who He is, what He has done, what He’s doing, His faithfulness, and His commitment to our good, that cannot be taken, no one can take that away. 

Paul’s joy could not be taken. Paul was expendable, but the gospel wasn’t. His own privacy and freedom were incidental, he could have them or not, and he cared nothing for personal recognition or credit. Neither the painful chains of Rome nor the even more painful criticism of fellow Christians could keep him from rejoicing.

I think what Paul shows us, and this is a a great lesson for us – and you may struggle with this statement, but think about it with me – Paul’s life shows us that the worse the circumstances are, the greater joy can be. I know this seems backwards to us. But isn’t this what happens? When what we perceive to be the secure things in life are taken away, when they collapse, when suffering and sorrow increase, then believers like you and me should be drawn into an ever-deepening relationship with Christ, and it is in that ever-deepening relationship with Christ where we experience what? More joy. Real joy, godly joy, a joy that far exceeds fleeting circumstantial happiness. It’s what we see in Paul’s life, and it’s what we can see in our lives as well.

So I guess the question for us is, “Are we on a road to greater joy?” We are if we are pursuing an ever-deepening relationship with Christ, if we’re glorying in Him, serving Him in all that we do out of a growing love for Him. If we have chosen another path, a path other than that, then we will be disappointed.

So what’s the message? Pursue Christ, live in Him, love Him. That is my encouragement to each of us this morning.

Paul says, he indicates, that despite all the craziness around him, all the pain and suffering, all the hard circumstances, all the junk in his life, “Yes, and I will rejoice.”

Next week we will look more at this emotion of joy and Paul’s lasting, enduring, embracing of joy in his life.