Philippian Joy

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One of my partners in ministry

As I sat down to study over the last few weeks one thought has raced through my mind: during this time of transition, what type of man do I want to be.  It’s not a question of what I want to do or accomplish, but who I am becoming.  After a few weeks of studying, listening, and absorbing, I have found that I want to be a giving man, a praying man, and a joyful man.  The first two are fairly easily remedied.  I should pray more and give more, but how does one become joyful?  Quoting John Ortberg: “I am joy impaired!”  So I asked the question: What gave Paul joy?

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is packed with joy, but the circumstances of the letter was not.  Paul is in prison for preaching the Gospel.  To pass the time, he picks up a pen and writes to a body of believers that understands what persecution looks and feels like.  In spite of his current condition, joy flows from his pen.  It was these very people who saw Paul and Silas beaten and thrown in prison on their first visit to Philippi.   They were also the people who heard that at midnight their songs and prayers filled the prison (Acts 16.25).  What gives a man joy that allows him to sing while in chains?  Philippians 1 gives us a glimpse.

It’s the joy of partnering with others.  Joy can be found in the people sharing the fox hole.  “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayer for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel…” (Phil 1.3-4)  The Philippian Church was a vital partner in the ministry of Paul.  So much so that he would take a rabbit trail in a letter to another church, the Church at Corinth, to brag on the Macedonian churches.  

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in the service to the saints.” (2 Cor. 8.1-4)  

The ones who are doing ministry alongside him, gives him the joy to sing.  This week I was brought joy by:

  • Watching a soccer coach pour into her athletes, so much so that they call her their ‘soccer mom’.  The love of Jesus is being shown through her life.
  • Riding with a horse trainer talking about the opportunities he has been given this summer for clinics and competitions where he will have contact with more lost people than most people do in a lifetime.
  • Eating Mexican food with a good buddy talking about his future fatherhood
  • Talking to the youth ministry students at Ozark
  • Bringing my buddy, Penny-Dog to school and watching her love the kids…she is my partner in ministry.

The joy of partnership can fade circumstances and situations into the background.  The joy that is found in partnering to advance the gospel cuts through the dark, rises above the fog, and brings clarity and freedom.  Paul tells Timothy, in 2 Timothy 1.4, “I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy”.  Partnerships are what made Paul sing.

It’s the joy of grace.  Paul continues his letter: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.” (1.7)  The greek word for joy, chara, is very similar to the greek word for grace, charis.  Over half the times the word ‘grace’ is used in the New Testament, it is by Paul in his letters.  It is a concept Paul cant communicate enough of.  These words also form the root of one of the words translated in Scripture as ‘forgive’, charizomai.  The point is that joy is not to be separated from grace and forgiveness.  Paul sings because of the grace he has been shown by God.  The gift of grace, extended to the chief of sinners, is a reason to sing.  Paul tells Timothy:

“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of who I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as a an example for those would believe on him and receive eternal life.  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever…Amen.” (1 Timothy 1.14-17)  

He ends that passage with doxology, a song.  Song flows out of the grace that he himself has been shown.  When is the last time your heart was moved to song because of a gift?  Scripture, song, and prayer have been composed in some dark places: Job’s trials, David’s retreat, Jeremiah’s tears, Jesus’ night of agony.  But song and prayer overflows in times of refuge and peace as well…”Shout for joy to the Lord all the Earth” (Ps. 100); “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” (Ps. 150).  Now Paul finds himself in the midst of both.  He is in chains but his heart is in joy.   He is drowning in persecution, but his heart is overflowing with joy.  The joy of being shown grace.

It’s the joy of being rooted in God.  Just like Nehemiah and David before him, Paul knew the source.  “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8.10)  and “…David found strength in the Lord his God.” (1 Sam. 30.6)  “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1.9-11)  Joy only comes through a relationship founded in Jesus Christ.  One of the byproducts of the Spirit, the fruits as Paul puts it in Galatians 5, is joy.  Paul’s joy is a direct result of his daily connection with God.  His joy comes through his relationship with Jesus Christ.  And he prays that the Philippian joy comes in the same way, from the same source, through the same work of Jesus.  

Joy is found despite what we are covered in, surrounded by, or in the midst of.  Paul had more things go wrong than most, still he was known by his joy.  What makes a man sing in prison, amid shipwrecks and beatings, abandonment and persecution, in a word: joy.

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Selfish Joy?

“What gives you the most joy? I think some of us feel guilty even saying those words out loud. As if perhaps it’s a selfish thing to think, ‘what gives me joy?’ As if perhaps joy is acceptable for rare moments on the weekends or glimpses of sunsets on vacation, but has no real purpose in the real world.” (Acuff, Start, 108)

It wasn’t always this way. God exists as three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, called the Godhead. Within the Godhead, they existed in perfect community, love, and joy! Joy is at the very heart of God, Himself. It was an out flowing of community, love, and joy from the Trinity that man was created. Joy is central to God’s purpose for mankind, just as it was central to his creation. So why then is Acuff spot-on in his analysis of human joy? Why does joy scare us? shame us? guilt us?

Our culture twists and distorts so many things. Intimacy trafficked for sex. Influence exchanged for celebrity. Compassion confused as pity.  Joy is often misappropriated in this culture as happiness.  Sadly, most, if given the option, would choose happiness over joy.  It was never meant to be this way. In Genesis 1-2, God created this world that was good. When humanity was added in and stirred well it was very good. God created man in His image for paradise and partnership, to rule and reign, to serve and multiply. When the sin of Genesis 3 happens (which Paul reminds us that we had a share in) everything about the Genesis 2 world was turned upside down. Since joy was central to God’s plan for humanity, everything that about it became tainted as well.

You have heard the lies as I have: “God only uses miserable, suffering people for great things!”; “Desiring joy is selfish”; “Happiness is easier to find”; “Joy is something you don’t deserve”. These are the lies that come from our sin nature…the nature we weren’t created to have. I believe Acuff is correct because we buy into the lies the world tries to sell us. I believe he is right because we often forget our true identity. We were created in the image of a joyful God, whose plan for us was joy.

Joy is something that must be manufactured, practiced, learned. But we cannot do these things if we are convinced that we are undeserving of it, shamed for desiring it, or guilted because we have it. Forget the lies, the shame, and the embarrassment that the world tries to sell you, and be the joyful creation you were always meant to be!

Joy redux

I went to bed last night unhappy with my last effort explaining joy.  I racked my brain for the last 24 hours trying to figure out why joy so often escapes my life and is seldom at the forefront of my thoughts and attitude.  Where as happiness is fleeting, joy is a constant.  Joy refuses to be dictated by circumstances.  Where does that consistency come from?  Something is unmovable only when it is attached to something else that is unmovable.  Tie a horse to a trailer or a fence and an hour later there they remain.  If you tie them to something that is unanchored, then you’re chasing your pony down the highway.  Paul’s joy was tied directly to the Father.  God, who is unchanging (James 1.17), whose mood is constant, whose nature remains the same, is the unmovable anchor that Paul’s joy and the joy of the Macedonian Church is attached too.

Joy can only be constant when the source and anchor is constant.  When we attempt to find joy in money, security, relationships, etc. we ultimately get let down by these things.  Only when our joy is tethered to that which is unmoved, can we be filled with joy that transcends circumstances.  So what needs to change for me, is my trust in the unchanging nature and character of God, the Father, and his activity in my life.  Only then will joy become central to my life.