Elements of Joy – Part 1
A. The Passage
Phillippians 1:3-8 says, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: 7Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. 8For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.”
Paul’s irrepressible and constant joy in the face of suffering is the
essence of his letter to the Phiippians.
The joy that Paul or any Christian experiences is not a transient feeling
that lifts one up one moment and drops him the next. It is not dependent on
circumstances but is an unwavering constant in the Spirit-filled life. It does
not depend on external tranquillity, comfort, or safety.
It is produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit and can be maintained even
if one is sitting in prison waiting for one’s own execution as Paul was.
Paul’s joy was the result of his eternal relationship with the living
God through Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit within him. Because
he was near God, he was full of joy.
Paul experienced an inexpressible and irrepressible joy—an abiding
peace, calm, tranquillity, contentment, delight, and satisfaction that flowed
from within. It is the expression of the presence of God imprinted on the soul
and the product of a conscience void of offense toward God.
The joy Paul had in his heart spilled over when he thought about the
Philippians. They, were a special group of people.
Paul wrote of them, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,
always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all. . . . I long for
you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. . . . I know that I shall remain and
continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith” (Phil. 1:3-4, 8,
Paul instructed the Philippians to “conduct [themselves] in a manner
worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v. 27). He wrote, “Make my joy complete by
being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on
one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of
mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself”
In 4:2 it was necessary for him to write, “I urge Euodia and...
Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” Paul was not blind to their
imperfections but rejoiced at their level of spiritual commitment.
They loved the Lord. They cared for Paul with an unusual zeal— more
than any other church. They continually sent him generous gifts to meet his
needs, even though they were not particularly wealthy (2 Cor. 8:1-5). Their love
and care for him was such that he wrote, “1 have received everything in full
[from you], and have an abundance” (Phil. 4:18).
Trials don’t affect a believer’s joy if it’s the joy of a
Spirit-filled life. Instead, trials are occasions for an increase
joy because they increase the believer’s dependence on God and remind him not
to focus on circumstances.
Real joy is found in the depth of a believer’s relationship to God.
William Kelly wrote, “Think of [Paul] in prison for years, chained
between two soldiers, debarred from that work he loved, and others taking
advantage of his absence to grieve him, preaching the very gospel out of
contention and strife; and yet his heart was so running over with joy that he
was filling others up with it” (Lectures on Philippians and Colossians [Denver:
Wilson Foundation, n.d.], pp. 14-15).
A contemporary psychiatrist’s perspective
Not long ago I found a book on my desk titled The Way Up from
Down, written by Priscilla Slagle, M.D. (New York: St. Martin’s, 1988).
It is a book about how to overcome depression. Initially the author’s
theory is that depression is caused by a deficiency in certain chemicals in
A person who is depressed can be tested, and examination of his bodily
fluids may identify various chemical deficiencies. These deficiencies are
identified in the book as the chemical markers of depression. A depletion in
those various chemicals is said to result in distorted mental functioning.
The author also points out that in the brain are neurotransmitters.
They pass message impulses from one cell to the next, which is a chemical
process. When various chemicals become depleted, the ability of one cell to
communicate with another cell is impaired. That tends to create depression.
The two neurotransmitters we know about are serotonin and
norepinephrine. Depletion of those neurotransmitters tends to parallel
occurrences of depression. Thus, according to Dr. Slagle, depression can be relieved
by replacing serotonin and norepinephrine with amino acid, vitamin, and mineral
The last part of the book begins, “Even though you follow the
biochemical program, if you continue habitual negative thought patterns you will
seriously undermine this treatment” (p. 215). That caught my attention. She
continued, “Persistent negative attitudes can lead to constriction and
bondage, whereas consistent positive thoughts and expectations create expansion
and freedom. Someone has said we suffer because we don’t see things as they
are, but as we are” (p. 215). Further, “We can only learn to see differently
by wanting to see differently” (p. 216).
The Bible has a better suggestion: follow Jesus Christ and He’ll give
you His Holy Spirit and you will be full of joy. The world at its best cannot
produce joy. Dr. Slagle has suggested a convoluted attempt to produce joy, but
it will not produce anything close to the joy of those in Christ.
had the joy of recollection, intercession, participation, anticipation, and
THE JOY OF RECOLLECTION (v.3)
thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”
The Cause of Paul’s Joy
The very memory of the Philippians brought Paul jubilant memories.
Paul S. Rees wrote, “His whole soul is a carillon, and the first bell
to be struck is that of thanksgiving” (The Adequate Man: Paul in
Philippians [Westwood, N.J.: ReveIl, 1959], p. 18).
Paul had an inventory of memories, and the Holy Spirit within him always
focused him on the positive ones.
The Greek verb translated “thank” is euchariste. The English
word eucharist refers to “a service of thanksgiving.”
Paul said his thanksgiving went to “my God,” which reflects the
intimate communion he enjoyed with God. It is a phrase we find elsewhere in
Paul’s letters (1 Cor. 1:4; Philem. 4). Paul was on an intimate basis with
God—a condition that should also be true of us.
The Philippian church wasn’t perfect. There may have been disunity in
the church, since Paul focused significantly on unity in his letter (cf. 1:27;
2:1-4; 4:2). But the Philippians still brought him joy.
All churches fall
short. All believers in this life struggle with sin. Yet the Spirit caused
Paul to dwell only on those memories of the Philippians that brought him joy.
A Catalog of Paul’s Memories
would surely have remembered the Sabbath day that he went to the riverside
outside Phiippi and found some women at a place of prayer. There the Lord opened
the heart of a lady named Lydia, and she and her entire household were saved.
Lydia was the first convert in Europe. She showed hospitality to Paul and Silas
before and after their imprisonment, and the church probably met at her house.
The demon-possessed girl
Paul would also have
remembered the slave girl whom he cleansed of demons by the Spirit’s power.
Perhaps she, too, was born again and became part of the Philippian church.
Paul could not have
forgotten being thrown into the Philippians jail and put in stocks after he had
been stripped and beaten to a bloody pulp. But because of that experience, the
jailer and his household were converted to Christ and showed compassion to
Paul and Silas by caring for their wounds and feeding them.
Past Philippian gifts
Paul remembered the
many times when the Philippians sent money to help him. Those times are
mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, where it is said that the Macedonian churches
sent generous gifts out of their deep poverty (Philippi was in Macedonia). Their
gifts were given from loving hearts and went beyond Paul’s needs. Their gifts
told Paul where their hearts were. And Paul knew God would supply their needs
according to His riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:10-19).
present Philippian gift
The Philippians’ most
recent gift, delivered by Epaphroditus (and even consisting of Epaphroditus),
would also have filled Paul with loving thoughts of the Philippian Christians.
Though his present condition was difficult— physically, legally, and
spiritually—his heart was unaffected and still filled with sweet thoughts
6. A key to
joy in the Christian life is the ability to recall the goodness of people—to
look past imperfections to capture broader and sweeter realities. A heart
dominated by the joy of the Holy Spirit remembers the sweet things in life
without dwelling on the distressing things. It savors thoughts of another’s
goodness, kindness, love, compassion, gentleness, sacrifice, and care. It
forgives the rest.
7. A heart that the Spirit of God does not control tends to focus
on unkindness, ingratitude, and faults in others. Such a heart must learn to
walk in the Spirit. Bitterness, unforgiveness, and constant dwelling on evil
are works of the flesh. Paul’s joy was expressed in pleasant memories.
THE JOY OF INTERCESSION (v.4)
in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,.”
The Cause of Paul’s Joy
joy of intercession is something no believer should miss. When the Spirit of God
controls your life and you’re living in obedience to God’s Word, you will
delight in praying for others. The Greek word translated “prayer” contains
the idea of petition for another—asking God for something for someone else. He
who possesses the joy of the Holy Spirit is not consumed with his own needs but
prays that God would pour out His blessing on others.
B. The Circumstances of
Paul was a prisoner—a negative circumstance both physically and in
terms of ministry. He had been criticized unfairly by rival preachers who bore
animosity toward him (Phil. 1:15-17).
But those negative circumstances did not affect his joy. Paul’s joy
was Spirit-produced, so he was wrapped up in the delight of praying for the
needs of others, even when he had needs that were far greater.
Often our prayers for others are made in painful circumstances. In
Philippians 3:17-18 Paul says, “ “ “Brethren,
be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an
ensample. 18(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now
tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:.”
But Paul’s joy was expressed in love, and even in the midst of pain and
difficult circumstances, he joyfully asked for blessing for others. As he says
in Philippians 2:4, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests,
but also for the interests of others.”
Paul’s prayers for the Philippians were especially joyous because he
knew that the spiritual state of those he prayed for was positive. Even the two
women who were a problem in Philippi (4:2-3) couldn’t steal Paul’s joy.
After mentioning them, Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will
say, rejoice!” (v. 4) and, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly” (v. 10).
Few Christians seem to know the authentic joy that the Holy Spirit gives
to a fully obedient Christian. Their lack of joy shows up in two ways: negative
thoughts toward others and lack of delight in praying for others. They are
self-centered and hold grudges when offended. All those things are the result of
William Barclay quotes George Reindrop from his book No Common Task,
regarding a nurse who really knew how to pray: “Much of her daily
duties were done with her hands, and she used her hand as a scheme of prayer.
Each finger stood for someone. Her thumb was nearest to her, and it reminded her
to pray for those who were closest and dearest to her. The index finger was
used for pointing and stood for all her teachers in school and the hospital. The
third finger was the tallest and it stood for the V.LP.s, the leaders in every
sphere of life. The fourth finger was the weakest, and it stood for those who
were in trouble and in pain. The little finger was the smallest and the least
important, and to the nurse it stood for herself” (The Letters to the
Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, rev. ed. [Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1975], pp. 13-14).
THE JOY OF PARTICIPATION (v.5)
your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;.’’
Experiencing the Joy of Salvation
Paul uses the Greek word which can be translated “participation,”
“partnership,” or “fellowship.” Paul rejoiced over the participation of
the Philippians in the gospel. In a general sense, Paul was referring to their
salvation, and was grateful that they were believers. That partnership had
been “from the first day [of their conversion] until now.”
B. Contributing to
the Needs of Others
Koinnia is also used in the New Testament to refer to monetary
contributions. In Romans 12:13 it speaks of contributing to the needs of the
saints. A gift to meet the needs of a brother or sister in Christ is an
expression of unity, partnership, and love (cf. Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:13;
1 Tim. 6:18; Heb. 13:16).
The Philippians were Paul’s partners in the spreading of the gospel
through their gifts. Therefore he said, “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. 4:15-16).
Helping Spread the Gospel
Also, the Philippians had cooperated with Paul in the development,
growth, support, and spreading of the gospel. That partnership with Paul existed
from the beginning of the church in Philippi.
Enjoying the Fellowship of the Saints
A person in whom the Spirit of God has produced joy rejoices in the
fellowship of believers. He loves to be with Christians, and his heart reaches
out and says, “I bless you for your participation, fellowship, and ministry
William Hendriksen wrote an exceptional section on the fellowship of
believers in his commentary on Philippians (Exposition of Philippians [Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1962], pp. 51-52). Distilled and supplemented, his thoughts give
the partnership of believers’ poignant definition.
A fellowship of
grace - It is a
fellowship of grace—not a natural, platonic, or man-made partnership. The
church is a divine fellowship, effected by God in Christ through the Spirit by
grace. Apart from the work of the triune God, the fellowship of believers
would be nonexistent. It would be impossible to create on a human level, because
it transcends time and space and will endure forever.
A fellowship of
life - The
partnership of believers is a fellowship of life. We all share the same common
eternal life that was made ours in Christ. We are one with the Lord Jesus
Christ, the Father, the Spirit, and each other.
A fellowship of
faith - Believers
share a fellowship of faith. Just as the Father draws the sinner near to Christ
(John 6:44), the sinner draws near to God in living faith. We participate in a
fellowship of faith in that we believe in the same God and agree with the same
truths found in His Word.
A fellowship of
prayer - Believers
belong to a fellowship of prayer because we all come before God on each
A fellowship of
praise, thanksgiving, and love - We participate in a fellowship of praise,
thanksgiving, and love. It is natural for us to enshrine other Christians in our
hearts and desire the best for them out of love.
A fellowship of
service - Christians
share a fellowship of service. We together shoulder the work of the ministry and
contribute to each other’s needs.
A fellowship of
evangelism - Christians share in spreading the gospel through preaching,
teaching, and witnessing.
A fellowship of
separation - Our separation from the world and attachment to Christ marks our
special fellowship with each other.
A fellowship of
warfare - Ours is a fellowship of warfare and conflict. We wage spiritual war side
by side against a common enemy.
A person filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit rejoices in Christian
fellowship. In fact, nothing in the world is as wonderful as Christian
Those in the church who demonstrate an absence of spiritual joy need to
consider the partnership they have—the people who pray for them, enable them
to serve Christ, care for them, meet their needs, work with their children and
family, and nurture them in spiritual truth. If a Christian can’t rejoice in
that, the problem is not on the outside—it’s on the inside.
When Saul was made king, “the valiant men whose hearts God had touched
went with him” (1 Sam. 10:26).
When Nahash the Ammonite came to injure the people of Jabeshgilead, the
Holy Spirit came mightily upon Saul. In response to Saul’s strong message to
join him in the fight, “the dread of the Lord fell on the people, and they
came out as one man” (1 Sam. 11:7).
The Philippians and Paul had that same unity of spirit. God had touched
their hearts from the first day, and through the years they had become like one
man in heart.
Is joy abounding in your heart? You may be wondering how to obtain the joy of
the Lord. Start by recognizing that it is produced only by the Holy Spirit. That
means you must deal with sin in your life by confessing it to the Lord. You must
be yielded to the Spirit of God so that He can produce joy in your life. And you
must consider who you are in Christ—chosen by God to salvation before the
foundation of the world. You’ve been given glorious life in Christ, the
privilege of intercessory prayer, and access to God at any time. All those
things should cause you to be constantly filled with joy. If you don’t have
joy, don’t blame your circumstances. The issue is not what’s happening on
the outside but what’s happening on the inside.