THE SECRET OF CONTAGIOUS JOY
Letter of Contagious Joy Series
Philippians 1:1-2 & Acts 16:6-10
We are overstocked on a lot of things in our world today: discontent, misery, grief, unhappiness, fear, anger, division, criticism, and death. But we are short of one major commodity that would make all these other things easier to bear, if not make some of them disappear completely: Joy!
Most of us can number on one hand, with a few fingers left over, how many people we know who are truly joyful. Joy and happiness are in short supply today. But people are looking!
Worldwide, people say the number one thing they are searching for is happiness. In the three hundred year storied history of Yale University, the most popular class they ever offered was on How to Find Happiness! And if you Google “happy hour,” you will find over two billion five hundred and eighty thousand options.
We are assured in our founding documents as a nation that “all men are created equal, and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Well, we’re sure pursuing it, but few are finding it.
And so, with this series and over the next several months, I am going to drop us right in the middle of this conversation. What does the Bible say about happiness? Well really, nothing. Sometimes the word “happy” shows up in translations, but it’s translating the Greek word “joy.” Happiness comes to us from an old English word that is a shortened version of “happenstance.”
Happiness has to do with circumstance. Magazine covers promise us everything from happiness with weight loss to financial happiness to happiness in remodeling your house. But they’re empty promises. Happiness is circumstantial. Circumstances change.
I want to talk to you about how to find something that remains even when your circumstances change. Some of you might say,
“I was happy but then my job was eliminated”
“I was happy but then I was diagnosed with cancer.”
“I was happy but then my wife left me.”
In other words, life has kicked the happiness right out of some of us!
So let’s stay focused on finding joy. “Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” In spite of weeping, and loss, and illness, and loneliness, we can know JOY that the world can’t give us, and, as an old song says, “the world can’t take away.” And neither can your circumstances.
Joyful Christians are contagious Christians. You will spread this “virus” of joy if you have it. There is nothing more inconsistent than a person sharing Jesus and looking like they just gargled apple cider vinegar. Get joy and then give it away! The Bible tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. If we’re short of joy, we are not connected to the source which is the Holy Spirit indwelling those who believe.
By the end of this study, I am praying that some of you who have come to believe you could never know joy will be smiling and overflowing. I want to encourage you, but more than that I want the Word of God to challenge us, change us, and drop us into a vast stockpile of joy.
Let’s start at the beginning. Philippians is one of the most-quoted, most familiar books in the New Testament. More verses in Philippians have ended up on coffee mugs, T-shirts, Facebook memes, and Christian art plaques than any other Biblical book.
“For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
“He Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
“I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”
“That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering.”
“This one thing I do, I press forward to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!”
“Do not be anxious for anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God…and the peace of God….”
THE JOYFUL APOSTLE ( v 1)
Paul was first a missionary, but also a church planter. Church planting requires people to share the Gospel with, and a harvest to build on. When Paul, and Silas, and Timothy, a young Greek, left the mainland they journeyed out to sea.
They didn’t have a travel itinerary, so as they left Derbe and Lystra they attempted to go to at least two different places where God said “no.” They continued sailing and praying, and one night God sent Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia (Greece) saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Some believe Luke was the man in the vision).
Pretty clear answer to prayer. And so they went following this vision. Paul’s clear ministry vision was “not to build on another man’s work.” He wanted to preach the Gospel where it had never been heard, and that led him to places he had never been and into experiences he had never had before. This is the first time the Gospel is proclaimed in Europe!
Now they had a plan. And that leads us to point 2:
THE JOYFUL CHURCH ( v 2)
This is the only one of Paul’s letters in the New Testament that is not corrective in nature or dealing with some divisive issue. It is a joyful letter. Obviously we can see that Paul had a deep affection for this little church. Part of his purpose was to thank them for a sacrificial gift they had given Paul while he was in prison.
Acts 16 tells us that the first person Paul preached to in Macedonia was not the man he had dreamed about. It was actually an Asian woman named Lydia, who dealt in purple cloth. She was a fashion mogul. She was wealthy; she wasn’t from Philippi, but she owned a home there, as well in her home in Thyatira. So here’s this lady, houses in New York and LA, wealthy and bright, and the Bible also adds she was “a worshiper of God.” Her foundation had been laid in Old Testament Scripture, and her heart was ready to hear the Gospel. When Paul arrived, she received Jesus and was baptized, along with her family.
Then we meet a person on the opposite end of the social spectrum. She was a slave girl. Not only was she physically possessed by men, but she was also possessed by a “python spirit;” she had the power of divination, a demonic gift that her owners exploited. She followed Paul and Silas and Timothy yelling out “these men are the servants of the most High God” until Paul could handle it no more. He cast out the demon, and she was became a believer. She was the second member of the Philippian church.
The third person was equally unlikely as the first two. The jailer, a former Roman soldier, had been given the responsibility of keeping Paul and Silas in custody. He threw them into the inner dungeon, a dark, damp, place and “placed their feet in stocks.” This, by the way, was a means of torture, not just securing them. It was an interrogation technique to place prisoner’s feet and legs in distorted positions causing cramps and sometimes paralysis.
But at midnight, the Bible informs us, Paul and Silas began singing praise through their pain. By the way, that’s a characteristic of joy. Joy isn’t having all of your circumstances line up just the way you’d like. It transcends them. But as they sang, “the place began to shake,” and the jail doors flew open. When the guard saw all the doors unlocked, he drew his sword to kill himself for failing to do his duty.
Paul stopped him. “We are all here” he said. And the jailer fell at Paul and Silas’ feet, saying, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
The jailer…blue collar…retired Marine…and his family became part of the church at Philippi. The most unlikely group possible of people to be in the same house group; to make up the first church on the European continent!
Right here is a problem we face. Do you know how easy it is to build a church where everyone is the same age, the same nationality, the same race, from the same background? Sociologists call this “the principle of homogeneity.” Like attracts like. Most churches are that. Caucasian churches attract Caucasian people. African American churches attract AA people; Phillipino churches… Baptist churches attract…well you get the picture.
But the “picture” that presents is not the Gospel. Now here me carefully. The most joyful and powerful testimony to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not churches that all see things the same way, want things the same way, or think about life in the same way.
The picture of heaven is “every kindred, every tongue, every race,” together. Ever think about that? You will be the same race in heaven that you are on earth? Different races are not a mistake, and not a curse. There is no preferred race. They are an indication of God the artist’s love of variety!
And He wants His church to reflect that variety and that glory on earth! Now I’ll be candid here.
It would be a lot easier to pastor this church if we all were from the same generation, saw things the same way, wanted the same things, liked the same music, and had the same background. We’d get along great! And thats how some larger churches grow. Some churches are begun with the intention of catering to ONE group of people. Just run the rest of them off. Again, much easier.
But my understanding of the New Testament shows churches that do the hard work of tearing down walls between people, forgiving, and messing up and forgiving again. (Ephesians 2:14-22)
I am praying that there will come a day in Fruit Cove that we will worship each week with 30 different nationalities and people groups. As America changes, and the world keeps coming to us, I think that day is coming sooner rather than later.
THE PURPOSE OF JOY
Paul begins his address to this beloved church with the reason for their joy: “Grace and peace….” He calls them “saints.” That doesn’t mean, as we normally think, that they all had accomplished some lofty ideal of humanitarianism or were even uniquely holy or godly people. Saints aren’t made of plaster. We become saints because of the grace of God…”by grace you have been saved, through faith….” They were saints, not because of what they had done, but because of Jesus. We are saved by grace, and justified by faith. And we are made holy by the same grace.
But the outcome of our receiving grace is “peace.” Now that doesn’t mean that we will never find life and even our hearts in turmoil.
But it does mean that the most foundational issue of life, being reconciled with our Creator, has been settled.
Jesus came as our reconciler, to bring us peace with God and this joy we’re talking about. You may have it all together like Lydia. You may have nothing like the slave girl. You may just be a blue collar working man like the jailer. But we all need this grace. We all need this peace.
And we all want joy. Here’s how you get it. Here’s how it starts. We admit our need. We have sinned, and fall short of God’s glory. We need a Savior:
Only Jesus can save us.
He stands ready today with grace…and peace. It can be yours.
During a visit to Korea, two American businessmen were surprised to see a young farmer hitched to a plow that was guided by his father. Later they learned that both father and son were Christians who sold their only ox to provide money for a new church building. “What a stupendous sacrifice!” said one of the businessmen. “Not really,” replied a missionary accompanying them. “They were only sorry they had but one ox to give to the Lord’s work.”
As Americans we often give what we can afford to Kingdom work, but only infrequently (if at all) give a gift that costs us dearly. Jesus commended the widow who came and gave “all that she had to live on” to the offering at the temple. Others gave out of what they had and still had plenty. What we don’t see is the look, not of austerity and suffering, but of joy since “the Lord loves a cheerful giver.”
Those who cannot imagine smiling while giving a sacrificial gift have never given one.
There is a joyfulness in generosity that getting and keeping cannot match. But the only way to know that joy…
…is to give.