D.L. Moody once said…
Happiness is caused by things that happen around me, and circumstances will mar it; but joy flows right on through trouble; joy flows on through the dark; joy flows in the night as well as in the day; joy flows all through persecution and opposition. It is an unceasing fountain bubbling up in the heart; a secret spring the world can't see and doesn't know anything about. The Lord gives his people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to him.
D.L. Moody and Oswald Chambers were in agreement on this. Oswald Chambers said, “Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not.”
Paul knew the kind of joy the Lord gives to those who walk in obedience to Him. We find the theme of joy resonating in Paul’s epistle to the Church at Philippi. The joy captured in his words was a real joy that he experienced as a result of his obedience to the Lord.
It’s one thing to say that Paul knew the joy that comes to those who live in obedience to the Lord. We can declare with D.L. Moody, “The Lord gives his people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to him.” But I think we do ourselves and others we wish to experience true joy a disservice when we say, “be obedient to God and He’ll take care of the rest” and just leave it at that.
What would be helpful is to have some instructions for living the obedient life. I believe we’ll find helpful instructions when we examine our passage together today in Philippians about experiencing real joy.
I believe there are four keys to Paul’s joy revealed in these four verses. If we follow Paul’s example, we too can have the same joy that characterized Paul.
Let’s continue in our study of the book of Philippians by looking at Philippians 1:3-6.
3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
Paul penned these words while in captivity, but you wouldn’t know it by the spirit of joy he expressed. He truly understood that having joy didn’t depend on his circumstances. These are not the words of a depressed or unhappy prisoner but the words of a man who knew true joy.
I want you to see the first key to joy Paul expressed in verse three.
Paul found Joy Through Thanksgiving (v 3)
Paul expresses here his thankfulness for the Philippian believers. As he thought about them and remembered them it was with a thankful heart. It’s important to note that Paul was thinking about others. He was remembering the Philippian believers. What if he hadn’t been thinking about them and had only been concerned about himself? He could easily sit in captivity feeling sorry for himself and consumed with his circumstances and focused on his own misery.
But that’s not what we see. He wasn’t sitting around thinking only of himself and feeling sorry for himself. He was thinking of others. He was remembering the church at Philippi.
A sure way to misery and unhappiness is to think only of self. If your thoughts are focused on you instead of others, it’s very easy to be discouraged and lacking joy.
This past week during the coverage of Ronald Reagan’s death there were many tributes paid to his optimistic outlook on life. One story I heard during the coverage related how he had spilled some water while he was in the hospital after the assassination attempt. A staff member walked into his room and found him on his hands and knees wiping up the spill. When asked why he hadn’t left it for someone else he explained that he didn’t want his nurse to get in trouble.
Another story related how he kept personal checks in his desk in the Oval Office but was always running out because he frequently wrote checks to needy people. One such needy woman after receiving his bank statement he realized had not cashed the check he sent her. So he called her to find out why the check hadn’t been cashed. The woman replied, “I framed it.” His reply was, “I'll send you another check—you keep the one you framed but make sure you cash this one.”
Its no surprise President Reagan would be an upbeat person when you consider his inclination for thinking of others.
Paul knew the kind of joy one has when having an outward focus that is concerned with others instead of an inward focus that is consumed with self. It was with a grateful heart that Paul thought of the Philippian believers. He was thankful for them. John MacArthur points out,
…a person who constantly focuses on the negatives, faults, shortcomings, and slights of others is a person not controlled by the Holy Spirit, and is perhaps an unbeliever. Bitterness, resentment, a critical spirit, holding grudges, and the like are works of the flesh, not of the Spirit. (MacArthur, J. F. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (electronic ed.) (Php 1:9))
If you’re a bitter, resentful and critical person, you’re going to be lacking in joy. But true joy is yours when you appreciate others and are thankful for them.
Paul wasn’t only expressing his thankfulness to them but he was making it clear that he thanked God for them. When he remembered them he thanked God.
And don’t miss that important two-letter word before God. He doesn’t just say, I thank God upon every remembrance of you. He says I thank my God. This is Paul’s God with whom he has an intimate relationship. Paul knew whom to thank. God was real to Him and he had a personal and intimate relationship with God.
Is He your God?
If you have trusted Christ as Savior and have a personal relationship with the Lord, you can have the joy that Paul had when he thanked God for the believers at Philippi.
How? Take time to express your thankfulness to God for your fellow believers who uplift and encourage you. And be careful you don’t become a person hung up on pettiness who’s always finding fault with others.
If there’s something that will ruin your joy in life it’s what I consider the opposite of giving thanks for others and that’s having a tendency to find fault in others.
What about this blank sheet of paper? What do you see? A blank sheet of paper? Now what do you see? A dot? A black spot?
Imagine this blank paper is a person, and the small black spot you see is their biggest fault. The white surrounding the dot represents all of this person's worthwhile qualities, which we so easily fail to see.
Often a fault seems bigger than it really is and we allow it to distract us from seeing the many positive aspects of that person's personality. And this kind of an outlook on life and view of others will ruin your joy.
Don’t do it. Be a thankful person like Paul. That is a key to joy. Thank God for those he brings into your life.
The second key to joy is found in verse four.
Paul found Joy Through Prayer (v 4)
Paul was praying for the believers at Philippi. He wasn’t just praying for a select few either. He was praying for all of them. He says in verse 4, making request for you all.
Not just a handful or a few of his closest friends but for you all. He wasn’t picking any favorites, there’s no room for that in the church. In the series we just recently wrapped up, Loving God, Loving People, we learned the importance of loving all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, even the ones who are not as easy to like.
Paul was praying for all of them. And he prayed for them with joy. Intercession is no burden to carry but an opportunity to carry another’s burden with joy. Praying for others is a privilege and should be a joy to us as believers. It’s not something we should grudgingly check off our to-do list each day but something we should delight in and enjoy.
Joni Eareckson Tada says,
Like art, like music, like so many other disciplines, prayer can only be appreciated when you actually spend time in it. Spending time with the Master will elevate your thinking. The more you pray, the more will be revealed. You will understand. You will smile and nod your head as you identify with others who fight long battles and find great joy on their knees.
If prayer is lacking in your life, true joy will be lacking too. But if you obey 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and pray without ceasing, you’ll experience the joy from obedience in prayer. Paul was a man of prayer. He didn’t allow his imprisonment to serve as an excuse for not serving the Lord. Rather he used his imprisonment as an opportunity to intercede on behalf of others.
It’s all too easy to spend more time praying about our own needs and our own concerns than we do about others needs and concerns. As John MacArthur says,
Faithful intercessors are more preoccupied with the needs and welfare of others than their own and ask God to pour out His divine blessing on them. An infallible test of godly joy is the degree to which a believer prays more earnestly for the benefit and blessing of others than for his own. (MacArthur, J. F., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (electronic ed.) (Php 1:9).)
Paul knew true joy because he was faithful in praying for others. It was an act he did with joy. Are you faithful in praying for your fellow believers? Do you spend more time praying for yourself or for others? Practice the privilege of interceding for your brothers and sisters in Christ. A key to true joy is praying for others.
Another key to joy is found in verse five.
Paul found Joy Through Fellowship (v 5)
Paul could be joyful because of the fellowship in the Gospel he had with the Philippian believers. We see the word “fellowship” and we tend to think of a pleasant conversation over coffee. The Greek word, koinonia that is translated “fellowship” in the NKJV is translated “participation” in the NASB and “partners” in the NLT.
I think these words give us a clearer understanding of what Paul is expressing here. He treasured and found great joy in the participation and partnership of the believers at Philippi.
As believers we participate together in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. We aren’t to sit and watch others do the work. We are not called to be spectators. We are called to be partners. We are to be actively involved, partnering with other believers in spreading the Gospel. The Philippians had been active in participating in Paul’s ministry.
Do you want to be a joy filled believer? Don’t just come and soak it all in. Be a participant! Partner with your fellow believers in sharing the good news that Jesus Christ came to save sinners!
Leonardo da Vinci said, “An arch consists of two weaknesses, which leaning against one another make a strength.” (Leonardo da Vinci, quoted by Jane A. Rubietta in Marriage Partnership, Vol. 12, no. 2.)
That’s the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:9 where it says “Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor.” And that’s the beauty of the church as God meant it to be. When we come together as the church properly functioning we compliment and complete one another. What one is unable to accomplish another is gifted at. And in this coming together and obedience to Jesus Christ we experience true joy.
As you get involved in fellowship—when you truly partner with other believers in bringing others to Christ, you will not only be a source of joy and delight to them but you will experience the joy that comes through fellowship. Experience true Koinonia—true fellowship is a partnership with other believers. Be faithful in partnering with other believers in the work God has given us to do. It will be a source of joy in your life.
The keys to joy we see here are found through thanksgiving, prayer, fellowship and the fourth key to joy is found in verse six.
Paul found Joy Through Confidence (6)
v6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
Paul was joyful because he was confident. Paul could sit in confinement and remain confident because he knew whom to trust. He knew that what God starts He finishes. We can be confident like Paul when we understand that God is working in us and He will complete what He has started.
We might get discouraged when we fail or sin. But if we have trusted Christ as Savior we can be confident like Paul that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. We aren’t sinless when we are saved but we are forgiven of our sins. And there is a day when our salvation will be complete.
This phrase in verse 6, will complete it tells us so. The Christian life is over the long hall – it’s not a sprint, a flash—it is a marathon. Kellie Kutkey shared this in Today’s Christian Woman magazine.
We live in a small house, so even little messes seem big. Recently, I looked at my sewing projects and thought, If my child left this mess, I'd be mad. Then I realized I wasn't angry at myself because, in my eyes, I could see the finished product–to me it wasn't a mess at all! I'm thankful God looks at me the same way. He sees in me the righteousness of Jesus–and I can be confident that "He who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6). (Kellie Kutkey, Vancouver, WA. Today's Christian Woman, "Heart to Heart.")
We can have that same confidence. God will complete the work He has started in our lives. Instead of getting discouraged and disheartened when we falter, we can be confident knowing that God is working on us. He is using all of the sorrows and joys and trials in our life to conform us to the image of His dear Son.
Are you confident of what the Lord will do for you? If you have the confidence that Paul had, it’s a source of joy, knowing that one day the work that has begun in you will be complete.
We sometimes sing the chorus in our Sunday School opening, “He’s Still Working On Me”. Until He calls us home or Christ returns, He’s still working on us. We can be confident like Paul that He will complete the work He has begun.
Has the good work begun in you? That is, have you ever trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior? Maybe you don’t have the confidence that Paul had because you’ve never asked Jesus to be your Savior.
If you have trusted Christ then you can confidently rest in the knowledge that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. That confidence should stir your heart to joy.
Paul’s words are joyful words that he writes to the Philippian Church in these verses. The keys to his joy were found in his thanksgiving, his prayer, his fellowship and his confidence. Do you want to be a joyful Christian?
Then you need to be thankful for your brothers and sisters in Christ. You need to be faithful in praying for other believers. You need to be actively fellowshipping —partnering with other believers in sharing the Gospel message? Are you confident this morning that God will complete the work He has begun in you?