Genuine joy has become a rare commodity in our lives today. We say we are joyful. We even portray joy sometimes. Yet we seem to be plagued by two sways of the pendulum. On the one hand, we appear joyful, but at the slightest inconvenience—like a switch—we turn to anger, annoyance, and bitterness. Or we swing in the opposite direction where we are genuinely joyful, but we acquire that joy by refusing to acknowledge when awful circumstances come into our lives or the lives of others around us. And we refuse to acknowledge the real and devastating effects these circumstances have. Our joy in this instance is fake—saturated in blissful ignorance.
The Joy that Paul and the Philippian church possessed was not momentary. It was not insincere. Nor did it stem from blissful ignorance. These saints knew full well what was going on in their lives and they were still joyful, even in the midst of terrible circumstances. Paul was in prison—suffering and afflicted. Yet with the indwelling of the Spirit of God he was still able to joyfully thank God, remember happy memories, and intercede by way of prayer for the Philippians.
These types of responses to being wrongfully imprisoned probably seem alien to us. Surely Paul was mad, or upset that he was wrongly accused wasn’t he?! From this text, it doesnt appear so. And of course I know how that sounds, absolutely unbelievable right? What Paul knew, is that true joy is not from the world but can only come by way of the Holy Spirit.
He begins His letter to the Philippians by exclaiming how he “thanks God in all” his remembrance of them. Of course this wasn’t a perfect church. None of these Philippian saints were without fault, but sitting in a jail cell, his recollections of them (from the moment he met Lydia (Acts 16) to about 10 years later) are pleasant. This is foreign to our normal way of thinking. We tend to think negatively of people—remembering the bad more than the good about them. It is to the glory of God however, to choose to focus on the good in people. Part of the beauty of true joy is the joy of recollection—that God allows us to remember and focus on the good, true, and lovely things (Philippians 4:8). This is different from blissful ignorance, because it doesn’t deny the current grievous state of affairs, but rather forgets past wrongs, and carries on loving and forgiving.
We see that the power of the gospel was never in question to Paul. His joy in the Philippians was because of their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now”. He rejoiced in their salvation, and he rejoiced in their love and help toward him. Even while in prison he gloried in their faithfulness to the gospel and its growth.
When we feel helpless and without a future vision, we lose our confidence and our hope. However God desires us to focus on Him and trust in His promises. All of Paul’s joy came from the reality and truth of God. We who are in Christ have a sure hope, not only in our justification (the past), but also in our sanctification (the future). Paul was looking to the future of what God promised He would do rather than focusing on his temporal condition and it’s uncertainty.
Paul says to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4). And by this he conveys the key to joy. The key to our joy is its source: the Lord. Because the Lord is the source of our joy, and because Christ is in you and you are in Him, and because this is not a ‘sometimes’ experience, then your reason for joy is never a ‘sometimes’ reason. Paul found himself in one of the worst situations a person could be in, and even though his circumstances were nothing to rejoice over, he was still able to rejoice in Christ and the Gospel… And so can we.
Do you lack joy? Has the gospel failed? Has God failed? In fact, quite the opposite. If you awoke with breath and another day to praise the almighty God, then you have reason to rejoice. If you have clothes on your back and food in your stomach, a church home, and brothers and sisters in the gospel to fight a common enemy and praise the risen savior with, then you have reason for joy. Do you have people praying for you? Do you have people to pray for? Then you have reason for joy. Most importantly, do you have a savior who died on a cross for you? Then, brothers and sisters, you have reason for joy.
If we nitpick and complain about every little thing then this is an indication that we lack the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit. The problem with our joy is never outside of us. It is inside. True joy produced by the Holy Spirit recollects good memories, loves to intercede on behalf of the needs of others, and rejoices in the fellowship of the saints.
If you do lack joy, begin here: recognize that true joy is produced by the Holy Spirit. Confess your sins to the Lord, yield to the Spirit of God, and let Him produce joy in you.
You, fellow Christian, have been chosen by God before the foundation of the world, and you have been given life in Christ. This is your joy. This is cause enough to be filled with unshakable, unwavering, permanent, everlasting joy.