Series on Philippians, Salutation, Text:1:1, 2, Title: Joy

Introduction

Paul addresses his letter To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi. In 1719 Isaac Watts wrote the famous hymn, “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come” But almost 1700 years earlier the Apostle Paul originated the theme in a letter to the church at Philippi that was a city in Macedonia, named after its founder, Philip, the Father of Alexander the Great and was located in what we call modern Turkey. In this foremost city of Macedonia Paul preached to a mostly gentile audience. Here Lydia was baptized and Paul and Silas were imprisoned and miraculously released so that the jailor in Philippi and his household were converted. In 4:4 Paul says, Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Because this is an epistle of joy many people assume the Philippian Christians were joyous, but I don’t believe they were.  They were subjected to persecution, peril, and privation. They certainly did not have any of the major defects of some other churches, but now they receive a letter that is so meaningful because it comes from a prison cell in Rome where Paul is writing. I am sure that if you transported them to our time they would be complaining about the long lines, the traffic congestion, the prices, the taxes, ill health, and anything else under the sun. Paul’s joy in prison is an embarrassment. Echoing the Old Testament Paul says that the joy of the Lord is their strength. Joy does not come from circumstances and that is why it is called the joy of the Lord. The value of this letter comes from two things. First the author, Paul has joy in jail. Secondly, he teaches them and us how to experience joy in our trials and tribulations.

I Paul’s Dedication to the Philippians

Joy begins with a purpose that is greater than ourselves. Before I was converted I had no purpose greater than myself, but after I came to know Jesus as my Savior I had a purpose outside myself. Of course, this requires humiliation. If Jesus is the center of your life, then you are not! Paul approaches the Philippian Christians as a servant. He does not mention his apostolic office and he joins his name with Timothy, a fellow worker, Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus. The word for servant in Greek is the same as slave. Slaves were marked by their masters and those marks were called stigmata. In Galatians 6:17 Paul says, I bear in my body the marks (stigmata) of the Lord Jesus. He can have joy because what happens to him is not as important as the cause of Christ. He has taken a back seat. Hallelujah. We all need to see that life holds no joy for those who are focused on themselves. Joy is found in fulfilling your destiny as a servant of the Lord. This is why we were created and we cannot escape it. Many years ago while working with the Summer Evangelistic Committee of the Presbyterian USA church I heard a dear evangelist report on a meeting between President Eisenhower and Billy Graham. As he extolled the President’s faith he said,”If it’s good enough for the President, it’s good enough for you.” Can you imagine Paul saying that? It’s not about you: It’s about God.

II Paul’s Description of the Philippians


Joy continues with putting others before ourselves. Now you notice that Paul writes to the Bishops and Deacons, or the Elders and Deacons because bishop and elder are interchangeable terms in the New Testament. They are both overseers and they are addressed here together with the deacons. In other words he writes to the officers of the church. He respects their authority as ordained leaders. This is important because in our society respect for authority is at an all time low. The reason is that we put ourselves before others. See the words of Paul in Romans 13. He writes, Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. And then he adds, Owe no one anything except to love one another. You see, even in the Emporer Nero’s evil empire, disrespect for authority is putting ourselves before others. Paul also writes to ALL the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, everyone of them. Most certainly Paul had issues with some of them. You only need to look at the book of Philippians to discern that there were problems. An example would be Paul’s extended appeal for unity found in Chapter 2: 1-4, If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

III Paul’s Determination for the Philippians

Joy is found in placing the cross at the center of your life. Paul closes with a blessing in verse 2, Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ Although this is a greeting he often used, combining the normal Greek and Hebrew words for “hello,” in Paul’s usage it means much more. Grace and peace are not just friendly greetings. They convey the blessings of the Gospel. So what Paul is saying is that he prays for them to experience the grace and peace of God. Grace is what God offers at the cross through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Peace is what Jesus made through his death on the cross. Hear Paul’s words in Ephesians 2 and Romans 5. He says, By grace you are saved through faith, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. And Therefore being justified by faith you have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. I read in Modern Reformation Magazine about user friendly churches that refuse to have a cross visible in their worship because it has a negative message. It does expose our helplessness and our need, but it is our only hope. John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Conclusion

Do you want real joy? You need a purpose outside yourself. You need to serve others, and you need to make the cross the central thing in your life. We went to see Mel Gibson’s film on the Passion of Christ and could hardly find a seat. But what difference does it make if it stays in the movie theatre on 301? It needs to become the centerpiece of your life and then, joy will abound.