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.”

 

B.   The Perspectives

 

            1.   Paul’s perspective

 

a.       Paul’s irrepressible and constant joy in the face of suffer­ing is the essence of his letter to the Phiippians.

1.       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.

2.       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.

3.       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.

4.       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.

b.       The joy Paul had in his heart spilled over when he thought about the Philippians. They, were a special group of people.

1.       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, 25).

2.       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” (2:2-3).

3.       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.

4.       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).

         c.        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 of                      joy because they increase the believer’s dependence on God and remind him not to focus on circumstances.

1.       Real joy is found in the depth of a believer’s relationship to God.

2.       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).

 

2.   A contemporary psychiatrist’s perspective

a.       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).

b.       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 the body.

1.       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.

2.       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.

3.       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 supplements.

4.       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).

5.       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.

 Lesson

 Paul had the joy of recollection, intercession, participation, antici­pation, and affection.

 I.    THE JOY OF RECOLLECTION (v.3)

 “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”

 A.    The Cause of Paul’s Joy

 1.       The very memory of the Philippians brought Paul jubilant memories.

2.       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).

3.       Paul had an inventory of memories, and the Holy Spirit within him always focused him on the posi­tive ones.

4.       The Greek verb translated “thank” is euchariste. The En­glish word eucharist refers to “a service of thanksgiving.”

5.       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.

6.       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.

7.      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.

 B.   A Catalog of Paul’s Memories

 1.       Lydia

Paul 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.

 2.    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.

 

       3.    The Phillippians jailer

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.

 4.    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).     

     5.      The 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 and mem­ories.

 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.

 II. THE JOY OF INTERCESSION (v.4)

 “Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,.”

 A.    The Cause of Paul’s Joy

 The 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’s Joy

1.       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).

2.       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.

3.       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:.”

4.       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.”

5.       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).

6.       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 pride.

7.       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).

 III. THE JOY OF PARTICIPATION (v.5)

 “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;.’’

 A. Experiencing the Joy of Salvation

 Here 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

 

1.       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).

2.       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).

 C.   Helping Spread the Gospel

 

1.       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.

D. Enjoying the Fellowship of the Saints

1.       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 with me.”

2.       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.       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.

b.       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.

c.        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.

d.       A fellowship of prayer - Believers belong to a fellowship of prayer because we all come before God on each other’s behalf.

e.       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.

f.         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.

g.       A fellowship of evangelism - Christians share in spreading the gospel through preach­ing, teaching, and witnessing.

h.       A fellowship of separation - Our separation from the world and attachment to Christ marks our special fellowship with each other.

i.         A fellowship of warfare - Ours is a fellowship of warfare and conflict. We wage spiritual war side by side against a common enemy.

 

3.       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 fellowship.

a.       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.

b.       When Saul was made king, “the valiant men whose hearts God had touched went with him” (1 Sam. 10:26).

c.        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).

d.       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.

 

 

Conclusion: 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.