According to the the Merriam-Webster dictionary, joy is defined as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”
I strive for joy. I yearn for joy. Yet when I chase after joy in the sense of its worldly definition, I’m left empty. You see, the Webster definition doesn’t exactly lend itself to the idea of having joy in all circumstances. Instead, joy is the emotion associated with being healthy, successful, fortunate, and having possession of what one desires. So what about the times when we’re unhealthy, unsuccessful, unfortunate, and devoid of our desires? What then?
The book of Philippians is saturated with the idea of sovereign joy. It is built upon the belief that joy is wrapped up in the fact that God is our deepest desire, and that because of Christ, we can truly possess communion with the One we love. It is filled to the brim with the idea of learning to have joy in every circumstance, because we know that God is sovereign, and that all He does is for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. It’s easy to just rake over the leaves of this Pauline letter without digging down deep and seeing the wonderful depths of this dramatic and incredibly applicable thematic thrust of having sovereign joy. We see also in the book of Philippians that this joy is often produced and built up through the trials and sufferings of life, rather than the happy and easy moments. This joy is most prevalent when we unashamedly pursue the mission of God, the spread of His Name and fame.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:1-2
In just the opening of the letter to the church at Philippi, we can glean where we can find joy. I love beginnings, and so I always seem to pay extra close attention to the greetings in Paul’s letters. What I’ve come to learn is that Paul would infuse even his greetings with gospel truth. In the words of John Byron, “In Paul’s hands everything, even the opening address, becomes an opportunity to remind his readers of God’s work in their lives.”
In the case of the search for joy, this greeting awakens our hearts and opens our eyes to the joy we can find in serving God and the joy we can find in being God’s.
1. Joy In Serving God
Paul refers to both himself and Timothy as ‘servants’ of Christ Jesus. In some translations the word used is ‘slaves’. The Greek word used here is ‘doulos’ which according to Strong’s Concordance means: ‘one who gives himself up to another’s will; those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing His cause among men.’
Paul found joy in submitting to God’s will and advancing the cause of the gospel, and he was willing to give his life for it. – Britton Sharp
Paul’s life was not devoid of struggles, trials, pain, or suffering. Yet we see that Paul also lived with a joy that was again founded on the sovereignty of God. Even still, his joy was multiplied by his submission to the Lord, and His commitment to advancing the cause of the gospel, no matter what the cost.
Brother or sister, there is joy to be found in serving God. There is joy to be found in advancing the Name and fame of the one who has redeemed you. There will be trials and tribulations in the journey of missional living, but there is unending joy to be found in full submission to the mission.
Consider giving yourself up as a servant of Christ. Trust His will, trust His hand, trust His heart. Find joy in the advancement of the gospel.
2. Joy In Our Position Because of Christ
Let’s not gloss over what Paul refers to the church at Philippi as. He calls them ‘saints’. Now, we know that the church at Philippi was indeed doing exceedingly well. However, they were not devoid of struggles or sins. Yet Paul knew that in the eyes of God they were considered to be saints because of Jesus Christ.
As someone who sins, it is a joyous realization that my sin doesn’t change my position before God. Because of the perfect life of Jesus Christ, I am seen as a saint. No matter what. My struggles do not change the way that God sees me.
I am more and more convinced that if we were to grasp at the heart level the truths of who we are in Christ, of what the gospel message says about us, then we would find the fountain of never-ceasing joy. This is why re-preaching the gospel to ourselves every day is so vastly important. Let us remember what the gospel says that we are.
You and I, as followers of Christ, are saints.
Find joy in the mission of Jesus Christ and in the position we have before God because of Jesus Christ.
In His Name,