Don’t Miss The Joy! Chapter 12

Holding on to Contagious Joy

Philippians 4:10-23

With this message, we will bring our series on Philippians to a conclusion.  It’s been a very odd time to preach on joy.  Every news headline seemed to fly in the face of the text I would be preaching the next week.

Life was normal when we started this series in February:  The coronavirus was something that barely got a news headline.  It was, at that time, happening “over there” in another world.  The economy had not upended.  We were able to gather in our church sanctuary without masks and meet in our Bible studies face-to-face.  Students were in school classrooms, not at home working from the kitchen table.  Or maybe now, YOU’RE working from the kitchen table at home and that’s your “new normal.”

But we’ve been talking about contagious joy over these months of drastic change.  In Philippians, there are 14 uses of the word JOY:

  • I always pray with JOY because of this
  • I will continue to REJOICE
  • your progress and JOY in the faith
  • your JOY in Christ Jesus
  • make my JOY complete
  • I am glad and REJOICE
  • you too should be glad and REJOICE with great JOY
  • REJOICE in the Lord!
  • my JOY and crown
  • REJOICE in the Lord always I will say it again: REJOICE!
  • I REJOICE greatly in the Lord

Now if you are tending to get down, read those fourteen verses out loud to yourself and I can almost guarantee they’ll get you in a better frame of mind.  I say that because I’ve done it!  It works, even writing them out.

If we’ve learned one thing, I hope it is that we understand joy has nothing to do with our emotions or our life circumstances.  Joy comes independently of those things, although our emotional mindset or distressing circumstances will choke our joy out if we let them.

And to a degree we must CHOOSE joy, remembering that it is not just a decision we make.  The joy that Jesus offers is something He wants to give, and we must want to receive, but there are some things we must do to hang on to it.  So, let’s hear Paul’s closing words to the Philippians today in the last 13 verses of Chapter 4.

Hanging on to joy means:

We must learn to prize contentment

Let’s remind ourselves one last time that Paul was not writing this from the deck of yacht or a cruise ship in the Caribbean.  He was in prison, either in Caesarea Philippi or Rome.  He was awaiting possible execution and chained by the wrist to a Roman guard all day long.

. . by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardship, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger . . . (2 Cor 6:4-5)

Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced . . . hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger, and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing. (2 Cor 11:25-27)

He could rightly have said, and we would have understood, that, “under the circumstances I’m doing alright.”  Now I hear some folks “catch” us when we say something like this: “Well the Christian shouldn’t live under the circumstances.  You should live OVER them.”

That is a Christian cliché.  How do you live OVER circumstances? You are IN your circumstances.  Now we shouldn’t live washed away by the pain and tribulation of life.  God never intends that.  But humanly speaking, your circumstances are where you live, and sometimes what you must endure.

A more authentic reply is, “I’m pressing on in spite of my circumstances, and learning to find victory in them.”  Joy is not about learning how to “float above” life without being affected by it.  That is what Buddhism teaches is possible.  It isn’t.  You’re going to be swamped by the waves of life sometimes.  But you don’t have to drown in them.  WE read a moment ago in verse 13 I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength.

By the way, that verse is probably one of the most misquoted verses in the New Testament.  In context, the verse is saying “after learning to be content in little and learning to be content in much, and even now sitting in a prison cell on trial for my life, I now know that Jesus is enough.”  The Stoic philosophers of Paul’s day taught the virtue of self-sufficiency.  Paul was teaching the contentment that comes with CHRIST-SUFFICIENCY!

It’s not saying “I’m going to go be a Christian athlete…I can do all things…”  It’s not saying, “I’m going to go be a brilliant and wealthy Christian businessman or woman.”  Those statements still rest a lot of the heavy lifting on you…what YOU are going to do…. what YOU are going to accomplish.  He is saying “whether my life circumstances are good or bad, high or low, rough or easy, Jesus is all I need.”  “I can do (bear) all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”  This is Christ-sufficiency.  Jesus is always enough.

Contentment, we learn here, is independent of what we are going through in the moment.  I have learned to live with plenty, and with nothing.”  Later in 1 Timothy 6 we pick up on contentment again where Paul tells those with plenty that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”

Three things that might help us:

  1. Contentment must be LEARNED.  It doesn’t just fall on you.
  2. Contentment is a SECRET.
  3. Contentment is independent of our circumstances or possessions.

Again, Christian joy and contentment do not come through what we have, or through what we lose.  Now understand, this is not about becoming stoic and phlegmatic or just learning to be self-sufficient.  It’s about becoming fully dependent upon the sufficiency of Christ, and nothing and no one else… because everything, and everyone you have…can be taken from you.

If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Tim 6:8)

We must learn to practice gratitude

A part of the motivation for the Philippian letter was to thank the church for a financial gift they sent.  By the way, your gratitude to God at some point will take the form of what you give.  Giving should never be about fund raising for the church.  It is always about worshipping as an expression of our gratitude.

They were showing their gratitude for what the Apostle had done for them.  They understood the cost he paid for starting their church.

But from this, Paul helped us understand the importance of our giving.  We never give because God needs our money.  We never give to “pay” someone’s salary.  And we don’t give so we can get our way.  We give…. get this…. because we NEED to give:

1). To overcome the grip of covetousness that money has on us.  Jesus said our life does not consist of the things we possess.   The bottom line in our bank account does not guarantee quality of life, or absence of it.

2). To demonstrate our gratitude for what God has done.  We’ve been able to help keep our mission partners moving forward by your generosity.  But God keeps the records.  “I want a gift that will be credited to your account,” Paul said.

I am incredibly grateful for your faithfulness to continued stewardship during this time of being separated and shut down by the pandemic.  It is not the case in every church.  I am encouraged and blessed that you are continuing to demonstrate mature stewardship, which partly means you don’t just give when you are here.  You give even when you can’t be.

We also need to take heart in understanding the verse that says, My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. When we give gratefully, we are saying “I believe that God will supply all my needs and will continue to do so.”

We are laying hold of that truth that our income, our possessions, our needs are not simply met because we work hard or have a great job or a great boss.  We have a great God Who owns everything!  “It is He Who gives us strength to get wealth.” If we really believe that we will not struggle with giving.

So, gratitude is not about simply being polite.  It is not just a nice habit to build into our children or into ourselves, although I really hope you are teaching that to your children.  I look at a child that is grateful and, without even knowing the parents, I think, “That child is being raised well.” Folks we are either living as grateful people, or as entitled ones.  Giving is a lifestyle choice that involves everything we have.

“When I survey the wondrous cross” contains a stanza which states,

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so Divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all. 

We must learn to prioritize community

We need each other.  We truly cannot, nor should we try, to do this alone.  Circumstances may shut us up alone; lockdowns may keep us at home to avoid illness, our groups may not be able to meet face-to-face.  But all of us have learned through these hard days that community is essential.  We need each other!   Paul mentioned “the brothers with me” and “those of Caesar’s household” in his farewell.

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