Joy In Christ
Read Philippians 4:4-9 (ESV)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Oftentimes, we can’t change our circumstances. So what can we change to help us cope when life gets hard?
One thing is for certain—when it comes to hardships in life, it’s not a question of if, but, when. We can’t avoid difficult times and we often can’t do anything to change our circumstances. But there is one thing that we can do, and that is change our focus. We can choose if we are going to focus on our circumstances or if we are going to focus on Christ.
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul showed us just how big of a difference focusing on Christ can make. He wrote this letter from a Roman prison around 61 A.D. We know this because he alludes to soon finding out the outcome of his case (Philippians 2:23). It seems likely that this letter was written toward the end of his two-year Roman imprisonment. In that case, Paul had been confined to chains for two long years. He wasn’t sure what his fate would be. He was facing the possibility of execution. And yet, despite all of this, the overall tone of his letter to the Philippians is joyful.
Paul’s purpose for writing his letter to the Philippians was to thank them for their financial gift of support and to express his gratitude and appreciation for their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:5). It is obvious that Paul felt a great deal of affection for this church, and he expressed his prayers and confidence that God would continue to work through them and grow them spiritually.
As Paul moved on to explain the circumstances of his imprisonment, one thing that struck me was his perspective: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13). Paul was able to find joy in prison because he knew God was using his suffering to advance the Gospel. He was positive that his ordeal would turn out with his deliverance (Philippians 2:19). But did Paul mean that he was confident that he would be released from prison, or was he confident in his salvation and that he would soon be delivered from his earthly suffering by death? Regardless, Paul was sure that Christ would be exalted either in his life or his death. Rather than being fearful of death, Paul expressed that death would be better by far because he wanted to be with Christ so badly. Even so, he wanted to remain alive for their sake and the sake of his ministry (Philippians 2:23-26).
Next, Paul encouraged them to remain steadfast, obedient, and unified even in the midst of persecution and suffering. In chapter 2, he appealed to Christ’s example of servanthood, humility, and personal sacrifice for the benefit of others. He wrote: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 3:5-8).
In this letter, Paul didn’t seem to have much to say on the topic of church discipline, but he did issue a warning to the church to be on the lookout for legalism. He emphasized the fact that righteousness is not found in ourselves but “from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).
Then, Paul reminded the Philippians that those who are enemies of the cross of Christ have their eyes set on earthly things. But we can have hope in this life because “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20-21). We can have hope for the future no matter what is going on because our hope is in heaven!
Paul concluded his letter by giving the secret of peace. The secret is not despairing in our circumstances but rejoicing in the Lord instead. If we focus on our circumstances, our peace and joy will be subject to our circumstances. But if we focus on Christ, we can experience peace and joy in spite of our circumstances. That doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge that we are in pain and are suffering. It just means that when we do, we take it to the Lord in prayer. It means that we fix our eyes on Him, look beyond our circumstances for reasons to be thankful to God, and to set our hopes on the future. When we do that, we can experience the peace and joy of Christ no matter what.
Lord, sometimes the world feels so heavy. It can be overwhelming and can make me anxious. I don’t deny my pain but when I am suffering and I fix my eyes on You, my perspective shifts from the earthly and the temporary to the heavenly and eternal. Instead of despair, I have joy, peace, and hope. Thank You, Lord, for the joy I can always find in You. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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