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The Secret of Joy

Date: Jun. 28, 2020

Author: Bob Henkins

Philippians 1:12-30

Key Verse: Philippians 1:18

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,

Good morning. I hope you are doing well. If you remember, last week Mike mentioned a recent COVID-19 tracking study taken by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that this year, 2020, Americans are the unhappiest they have been in 50 years. Stress and loneliness were among the top reasons. It seems these days people endure life rather than enjoy it. Often, we think that if we could only change some aspect of our life, more money and less bills, a better job, the perfect significant other, then we’ll be happy. If we could somehow get rid of all our problems, then life would be great. But unfortunately, there are no problem free lives. However, Paul had learned the secret to joy no matter what his situation was. How did Paul do it? How did he stay joyful even in the midst of hardship, how did he remain positive even though events hadn’t turned out the way he wanted? So, in keeping with our theme of “Live Joyfully”, let’s take a look at what Paul had to say to the Philippians to learn his secret to a joyful life.

As we continue to study the book of Philippians, it’s good to understand what is going on with Paul as he writes this letter, especially given his main topic is joy. As Mike also mentioned last week, we find Paul writing this letter while he is under house arrest in Rome. A couple of questions pop up as we start our study: How did Paul end up in Rome? Why was he under house arrest? If we can answer some of these questions, it will give us a better understanding of his letter.

Our story begins back in the 20th chapter of the book of Acts where we find Paul finishing up his third missionary journey. He was coming back to Jerusalem bringing an offering for the poor that had been donated by fellow believers. However, some negative reports about him being antagonistic to the Jewish system reached Jerusalem before he did. So, in order to disarm a volatile situation, Paul agreed to submit to a ceremonial “cleansing” in the temple as was the custom for Jews who had traveled among the Gentile lands. But a false rumor quickly spread that Paul had taken some Greeks into the temple and defiled it (Acts 21), which was a capital offense. Before long, the city was whipped into a murderous frenzy by people with a mob mentality. The only reason Paul wasn’t killed was because Roman officials intervened and saved him.

Under heavy guard (470 soldiers), Paul was taken to Caesarea where he was confined in Herod’s palace. Over the next two years (A.D.57-59) Paul was subjected to a series of interrogations where he finally concluded that he was never going to get a fair trial under these circumstances. And so, he exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25).

Thus in A.D. 59, Paul began his trip to Rome. After a terrifying sea voyage, Paul finally makes it to Rome in A.D.60. However, what’s more amazing is the MANNER in which Paul entered Rome. Almost without exception, Paul endeared himself to many Roman officials and dignitaries as they came to respect him as God’s ambassador to the Gentiles. Because of this, Paul was treated kindly, not as a common criminal, which is why he was allowed to live in a rented house while under arrest. Although visitors were allowed to come and go, he was still under constant guard and bound with a chain (Acts 28, Eph. 6:20). It is generally believed that during Paul’s house arrest he wrote four letters: Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon in A.D. 60 and Philippians in A.D. 61. By gleaning data from these letters, we can learn something of Paul’s struggles during this period. While it is true that Paul was granted some rather unusual liberties as a prisoner, nonetheless, he was still a prisoner and didn’t know what was going to happen to him. After all, Nero, the infamous emperor, was ruling Rome during this time and as Paul was entering the city, Nero was beginning to spiral out of control as he killed his own mother.

It’s amazing to see how joyful Paul was in his letter to the Philippians. And I don’t know about you, but I would like to have some of his joy during the hardships in my life. Our passage starts today in the second half of chapter one. Take a look at verses 12-14. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” As I mentioned in the beginning, there are no problem free lives. Everyone has some kind of problem, maybe it’s a money problem, a love problem, a health problem, an emotional problem, or just a car problem. Even little babies have diaper and hunger problems. One thing is clear we all have problems. Therefore, having problems, isn’t the problem. Our response to our problems is what’s important, and our perspective makes all the difference in the world. Like us, Paul had his share of problems. He was under arrest and chained up but look at how he views his situation in verse 12. Even though things weren’t going as he planned, he can still see God was working on his behalf. Even while Paul was chained up and couldn’t move, the gospel was freely moving. Non-believers are hearing God’s word, and believers are being encouraged. Paul wasn’t moping around complaining about his situation, he had a good attitude and could see things from God’s perspective.

In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul said, “I long to see you …”(Ro 1:11) Paul hoped to one visit Rome to see the church there but everything went south for him and he ended up in prison. To human eyes his trip to Rome looked impossible but little did he know God was planning his Roman itinerary. For you see, being chained to the palace guard (called the Praetorians), who were like the elite special forces of the Roman military, meant that Paul must have been considered an important prisoner, since these soldiers were the personal, elite guards of the Emperor himself. Augustus established the Praetorians and Tiberius stationed them here in Rome at their own fortress. In the time of Claudius and Nero, the Guard was expanded to about 10,000 soldiers. They were personally chosen by Caesar and given double pay and special privileges. They served 16 years instead of the normal legionnaire 20 and upon discharge were given a retirement bonus that equaled 7 years wages. So, they could return to Rome as leaders of society being some of the wealthiest people of the empire. They were going to be Paul’s ticket in. Little did Paul realize that when he had desire to preach to the people of Rome that God would open the door to fulfill that desire, by putting him in prison chained to the most influential insiders in the Empire. For there wasn’t a more strategic group that Paul could witness to if he’s going to reach the Roman empire. So, with Nero paying the bill, Paul sails to Rome free of charge and for the next two years he’s chained to a different future leader of Rome every four hours. At the end of those two years of four-hour shifts, Paul would potentially be able to witness to 4,380 different guards that had an inside route to the emperor. Think about that for a moment. Where else could he get that amount of undivided attention? As a result, the entire palace heard about Jesus. Some of Nero’s family may have even became believers. Nero had his mother, wife and children killed and there are some reports that say it may have been because they became believers. (Although I am not sure about his mother)

We know that courage and fear are contagious, and they can spread like wildfire. And according to verse 14, Paul’s courage began to catch on with other believers as they became more confident in their faith and began to take more boldly about Jesus. One secret to living joyfully is to have the right perspective of life. The perspective we need to live life can be found in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The key take point here is to know that God has a purpose behind our problems. God gives meaning to our struggles. We need to examine how we look at the problems in life. Whose perspective do you see your problems from, from your point of view or from God’s? A while back I saw this gif that showed the difference of perspectives. It was from the point of view on a train. The initial view was looking from the front of the train and right there. Everything was flying by as the train was going fast. It looked chaotic, uncontrollable and you couldn’t tell what was going on. But then as they began to zoom out looking further ahead, step by step things started to slow down until it almost looked like it was going in slow motion. It was much more stable, and you could easily pick things out and look around. This shows the importance of perspective.

We need to try to see things from God’s point of view and try to find out what he is trying to teach us through our struggles. Through prayer, we can ask the Lord for help to see the problem from his viewpoint and what he wants us to learn from the situation. Paul was a good example; he saw his life from God’s point of view. He saw that even though he was in prison, his life wasn’t over, he wasn’t defeated. In fact, just the opposite. He could see how God was using his situation to advance God’s work. The whole palace guard was able to hear the gospel because of his imprisonment. Under normal circumstances, Paul would never have been able to get to talk with these people for this amount of time because they were a different class of people. They didn’t live in the same circles of influence.

Not only that, Paul’s life of faith was for all to see. They could see that he was locked up because he spoke about Jesus. Paul wasn’t afraid to go to jail for what he believed. Paul didn’t let fear rule his life.

Another secret to joyful living is to live with the right priorities (v15-18). Take a look at verses 15-18. “15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,” When things get tough in our life, we need to be able to identify what’s important and what’s not. Because if we don’t decide what important in our life, inadvertently we’re going relinquish that control and let others decide that for us. If we don’t set our priorities, we’ll live life putting out one fire after another, going from one problem to another without being able to choose what’s important. We have the ability to live our life either based on problems or priorities.

The key take point here is to make a decision to focus on what really counts, on what really is important. So, we need to ask ourselves, what’s the priority in my life? What is really important to you? Can you decern what is important and should come first, second and so forth? If we look around, we can see so many people have mixed up priorities, what we might call in our ministry a wrong value system. A good example of having the right priority can be found in Proverbs 3:6, “in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” This verse teaches that when we submit to God and make him our first priority, he takes care of us. I learned this the hard way in my walk of faith. At the age of 19 I moved out of my parent’s house and became roommates with my best friend from high school. At that time, I was in college and it should have been my priority, but it wasn’t. I was more interested in partying that studying as a result my priorities were a mess and it was hard to make the right choices. As a result, I was kicked out of college twice, fired from two jobs, and kicked out of our apartment. There was no joy in that, just frustration and failure. However, through God’s word I began to set my priories on good things. Matthew 6:33 helped me with that. It says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” It showed me that when I made God my first priority, by seeking him first, he gave me the wisdom, strength, and endurance to start making good decisions in my life. Don’t get me wrong, everything didn’t become picture perfect after that, but I began a process that I could build upon for the rest of my life. And step by step I could move in the right direction toward God.

Paul knew that people do things for different motives. He knew that there were some who were doing good things for the wrong reason and in verses 15-16 we can see not only was he in prison, but people were kicking a man while he was down by attacking his ministry. These people were jealous and envious. Even other preachers became his rivals as they criticized him. If you want something to steal your joy quicker than anything else, just let other people begin to criticize you. But what’s amazing to me, is that he didn’t let people’s wrong motives get him down. He said, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…” PAUL WASN’T GOING TO LET OTHER PEOPLE STEAL HIS JOY. NOT HIS CRITICS, NOR HIS CIRCUMSTANCES. He kept his eyes upon what was most important to him, proclaiming the gospel. They couldn’t take away his joy, because the joy of the Lord was his strength. How many times have you lost your joy because you got into an argument over something small that really didn’t matter? We need to have the right priorities and focus on what really counts, on what really is important and not worry about the small things.

Another secret to living with joy is to live with God’s strength (v19-20). Take a look at verses 19-20. “for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” The longer we live life, the more we realize that we need strength to keep going. Life is not for the weak of heart because it can drain you and wear you out. And if you lose your strength, you may consider giving up. Since the quarantine we’ve been watching shows that we never seen before, one of those is “Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell & Back.” In this show Ramsay has 24 hours to turn a failing restaurant around. And in most cases, when he first gets there you can see that the owners have lost their power and have no more strength to carry on and they are almost ready to give up. But Ramsay challenges them and gives them an influx of power in the hopes they’ll have the strength to carry on. Likewise, sometimes in life we need an influx of power to help us carry on.

In verses 19 & 20, Paul says, that two things give him strength and keep him going in spite of five years of arrest. The first is the prayers of supportive people and other is the help of God’s Spirit. Because of these two things Paul has hope and hope is essential. You can’t live without hope. You’ve got to have hope to cope. Cornell University did a study of 25K POWs from WWII. They found that people can handle a tremendous amount of stress and pressure as long as they have hope, but the moment you lose hope, you’re domed. Here is an important question we have to ask ourselves, in times of difficulty, where does your hope to continue on come from? Is that source reliable? Paul said that God’s answer to our personal energy crisis is found in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Where do you get your power to live life? Do you try and live by your own power to solve your problems that pressure you? Jesus invites us to come to him, and he will give us rest -- physically, spiritually, emotionally, he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Often, we are carrying a burden that was never intended for us to carry, and Jesus wants to help. Paul said his strength came from the spirit of the Jesus and knowing people supported him and prayed for him.

(Paul expected that God would give him the courage he needed at the time he needed it. Also, the end result whether in life or in death, didn’t matter as long as Jesus was exalted. This reminded me of this story in Daniel 3. Their courage was amazing. “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”” )

The last secret to joyful living it to have a purpose to live for (v21-26). Take a look at verses 21-26. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.” At this point in Paul’s life, he’s old and tired and been in prison for five years. He’s ready to go on to heaven. They’ve taken everything from him, his friends, ministry, freedom, privacy. Even though they’ve tried to take everything from him, there was at least one thing that they couldn’t take away, his purpose for living. And this gave him determination and strength. He wasn’t afraid of dying, to him, death meant going on to better things. He wasn’t suicidal and obsessed with dying, but he was keenly aware of his situation and death was definitely a possibility. So, he was prepared for it, in case it happened. But he didn’t let the fear of death control his life. Everybody wants to live a long life, but why? Life is not judged by its length but by its quality, by what you put into it and into the lives of other people around you. We all need a purpose to live for. Can you sum up the purpose of your life in a single sentence? How would you answer this question, “For me to live is …what? What do you live for? Is it pleasure, power, position, prestige, popularity, partying? What fulfills you or gives you satisfaction? So many people give first class allegiance to second class causes and those causes end up betraying them. People climb the ladder of success only to get to the top and wonder, “Is that all there is?” The problem with pleasure, power, position, prestige, popularity, and partying is that they don’t last. Not a lifetime, much less an eternity. There isn’t ultimate fulfillment. Why does God leave us on earth after we’ve become a Christian? Once we are his child why does he leave us here? It’s for the benefit of other people. To tell those who don’t know the Lord the good news and encourage each other.

I think ones of the reasons there is so much unhappiness, with discouraged and depressed people, in our world today, is because our society is consumed with ourselves. What’s best for me? What will make me happy? What can I get out of it? It’s the ME culture.

When you learn to have a greater purpose in your life than just yourself, you will have joy more than you can handle. There is no such thing as problem free living. When you base your life on the kinds of values that are going to last, then problems just aren’t as significant. So, what that things haven’t worked out as I’ve planned. God has a purpose that is bigger than my problems.

Summing everything up we come to the conclusion that the secret to joy is living a life worthy of the gospel (v27-30). Take a look at verses 27-30. “27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” Paul didn’t change the way he lived when his situation changed, he kept his standards and didn’t let others bring him down. When Paul stood firm in his faith, he had joy and conviction. Paul also had faith that other believers stood with him against opposition.

When we have the right perspective on life by looking from God’s point of view, trusting that he works for the good of those who love him, when we live with proper priorities by seeking God first, when our power source is God, by believing that we can do all things through him who gives us strength, and when we have the right purpose of life, by loving God and loving others, then we are living a life worthy of the gospel. A life worthy of the Gospel includes all these aspects. Real joy comes from different places, it’s multi-faceted, not simple, or shallow.

When we have the right perspective, we that see Christ is the root or foundation of it all. Everything connects to Jesus and we find Christ in every aspect of a joyful life. Then trusting God brings you joy, seeking Jesus first brings you joy, tackling challenges through Jesus brings you joy, and loving God and others brings you joy. So even though Paul has been locked up for quite a while, 2 years in Jerusalem, a year of travel, 2 more years in Rome, maybe 5 years under arrest without knowing when he was going to get a trial, and yet he is still serving the gospel and he’s happy. When we live for Christ, we have joy in the things we do for Jesus, no matter what it is.

As the Covid-19 study found, people are stressed and lonely, more and more people are turning to places like Dispensary 33 to seek relief from the stress and problems of life. But Paul is happy because the gospel is being spread, and what is the gospel, it is good news for everyone. How much news is good for all people? The gospel is our redemption, our peace, our salvation, our joy. We are given this wonderful relationship with God our creator and with other believers to help, encourage and love one another. When we have this genuine community, love and joy can abound.

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