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Overcoming Joy Robbers

Date: Aug. 2, 2020

Author: Bob Henkins

Philippians 4:1-9

Key Verse: Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Imagine you’re head into work (this would be pre-COVID), and you’ve had a pretty good morning thus far (traffic’s not bad, good songs on the radio) but when you walk into work and say, “Good morning,” to a co-worker and they don’t acknowledge you at all, (or they seem to counter any positive remark you make with negative comments.) Or you run into your boss, who has this strange ability to say something that immediately puts you on the defensive. Congratulations, you’ve just been hit by a joy robber. Imagine, you studied hard for an exam in school and when you get it back you find out that you aced it. You can’t wait to share the good news with someone and when you do, they respond, “Well it must have been easy.” Congratulations, you’ve just been hit by a joy robber. Imagine you’ve had a long day at work, you get home, help the kids finish their homework, went shopping, got dinner cooked, and the clothes folded, you sit down to relax happy to have had a productive day, when your spouse says, “You forgot to by shaving cream.” Congratulations, you’ve just been hit by a joy robber. joy robbing can happen anytime, anyplace and it’s not only people that can steal our joy. If we give in to stress and anxiety and let fear take over the situations of our life, our joy will be quickly taken away. If we’re continuously worrying about our family, future, or whatever it may be, we’re not going to be joyful. I remember a time, more than a decade ago, when I was worried about losing my job, the rumors were flying around the office and the anxiety and fear built up so much, that I started having chest pains at work. A lady at the office called 911 and the doctor at the hospital said that I had a cardiac episode. That wasn’t fun. There was no joy in that.

After we’ve had our joy robbed and spirit hijacked, we’re often left feeling humiliated, frustrated, depressed, angry or even lost. Which, if we’re not careful, could lead you down a road you really don’t want to go. The problem is, it’s hard to avoid joy robbers. They are always going to come; we can’t prevent them. So, the question is, what do you do when you encounter a joy robbing situation? The reality is, I’m not so sure that you can survive a joy robbing encounter unscathed. Once things are said or events happen, it’s hard, maybe impossible, to undo them. So how do we move beyond them or overcome joy robbers when they strike? Since we can’t avoid them, how we respond to the joy robber, and what we do after the encounter is very important. Maybe even critical. And so that’s the topic that were going to think about when we’re going through our passage this morning. In today’s passage Paul engages the Philippian believers on the heart level. He genuinely loves them and wants to protect them from the joy robbers that are all around us trying to steal away our happiness. He wanted to give them some practical advice to help them overcome these situations when they faced them.

Our passage starts with verse 1 which reads, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” (v1) From this verse, we can see that when Paul thought of his Philippian co-workers, he was filled with such joy when he thought about them and he genuinely loved them very deeply. They became to him like family and he longed to see them. In a spiritual sense, our church is like family because we have one heavenly father. We are spiritually connection to one another, and we should think of each other as dearly loved brothers and sisters. It shouldn’t be like sibling rivalry where we’re competing or fighting against one another, or we’re resentful, or a jealous of each other.

We need close, deep relationships with people that we trust, have fun with, appreciate, can open up to, share life with. Isolation is not good, people are social creatures, we need companionship. One thing that can steal our joy is if we are isolated and alone and have no one to share our struggles and successes with. We need a loving, caring community where we can live life together. (Point to ponder: Do you have anyone in your life that you really long to see? Do you have someone if your life that you really trust and appreciate? If not, why do you think that is?)

Paul experienced this kind of community in the church of Philippi. So much so that he called them his joy and crown. Paul meant that he was proud to know them and that life was better because he did. They were a source of joy to him especially while he was awaiting trial. The Philippians cared for him and showed it practically by sending gifts and Epaphroditus to encourage him. (Point to ponder: Do you have people in your life that you are proud to know? Or on the flip side are there people that you’re ashamed to know?) Being a part of a loving community, is a good way to overcome joy robbers.

Another thing that can zap our joy is when we fail and give in and not stand firm. Paul didn’t want his close friends and loved ones to lose that joy and closeness with one another. He didn’t want that fellowship to be broken. Friendships can be fragile things. They are to be treasured. Paul didn’t want the devil to find a crack, get in and destroy their relationships so he encouraged them to STAND FIRM. When I think of standing firm, what comes to my mind is a soldier that holds their position to keep the battle line from breaking. It’s important to stand firm, because if just one soldier breaks and the enemy punches through the line, now everyone is vulnerable because your back is exposed. So, Paul exhorted them to stand firm in the Lord when joy robbers attack. Peter said something similar, but he gave deeper insight as he pointed out who the enemy is by connecting it to the devil. Peter said, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith,...” (1 Pe 5:8-9a) Our struggle is not against people, but against the devil and the powers of evil. (Eph 6:12) Paul didn’t want to give the devil an opportunity to get a foothold and break their fellowship. We need to stand firm, hold the line and not let the enemy through. In order to do that, we need to have safe and secure relationships, where we can tell each other difficult things without breaking our friendship. We need to be able to talk and communicate is a safe and respectable manner. We need to protect and love one another.

Speaking of loving one another, that led Paul to mention a couple of women from the Philippian church that were having some problems. Take a look at verses 2 & 3. “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Apparently, the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche was serious enough to be mentioned in a letter that would have been read publicly. (How would you like your problems with another coworker aired in public?) We don’t know what the dispute was about, but Paul was pleading with both women so that they would reconcile and put away their differences and be like minded. This was an important matter for the small church. Not only would the joy between these two women be robbed, but there was a danger that the whole fellowship’s joy could be stolen. The way to protect themselves is if these two women could resolve their conflict. Maybe this conflict was an open secret, the proverbial “elephant in the room” type of situation where everyone knew about it, but no one wanted to talk about it. This could cause fractures within the church if not resolved. However, Paul addressed the issue head on and brought it out into the open so that the healing could begin, because the healing process can’t start if you don’t acknowledge there’s a problem. But Paul was very tactful in dealing with the issue; he didn’t take sides but encourages those who were closer to the situation (“my true companion”) to work toward reconciliation. Paul didn’t point the finger or blame anyone because they were his good friends and coworkers. He valued them for they worked hard together and suffered serving the same mission. A bond forms between those who either work hard on a project or go through some suffering together. We should not fight with our co-workers, but value them because God values them. Verse three points out that their names are written in the book of life just like ours. (Imagine having to spend eternity with someone you’re fighting with, do you want to grumble every time you see each other in heaven because we’ve been so petty and couldn’t resolve our issues?) Paul was pleading for unity within the church at Philippi because he knew that if you are in conflict, you don’t have unity, most likely you will not have peace or joy for every time the community gathered there would be tension. Conflicts will arise, there’s no way around those, we’re all sinful people with the ability to rub each other the wrong way, but the way to overcome these joy robbers is through peaceful resolution.

Next Paul comes to the main point, maybe the climax to the whole letter in verses 4-7. Let’s take a look, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Here is Paul’s repeated proclamation to always rejoice. But someone may ask, how can we rejoice when we don’t feel like it? How can we rejoice when we’ve encountered a joy robber? A lot of the things that steal our joy either have their root in anxiety, or in some way we can be linked back to anxiety. For example, when people say things that take our joy, it can cause just enough doubt to make us anxious. And anxiety unchecked can lead to an overwhelming fear. So, Paul wants to help the Philippians to understand this so that they can respond to it in a healthy way. Because remember, these situations are always going to come up, it’s how we respond that’s important.

One thing we have to understand is being joyful is a decision that we can make. We should not let others, or our situation, drive our future. If we do, we’re in for a rough ride. We have to realize that we can determine our state of mind. That’s kind of what Paul is getting at here. We need to DECIDE to rejoice. “But it’s hard, I can’t,” you might say. We know it’s hard that’s why a lot of people fail at it, that’s why Paul is going to show us how.

First, he says, Rejoice IN THE LORD. The Lord is the only one that never changes. He is constant, the same yesterday, today and forever. (Heb 13:8) Not only is God constant, his LOVE is constant, his love endures forever. (Ps 136) And the one who made you, who knit you together in your mother’s womb (Ps 139:13) cares so much for you, SO MUCH SO, that he gave his life for you. And it’s comforting to know that he is very near to you. (v5) This is the gospel, the good news that is for everyone who believes. So, we should celebrate God every day and be thankful for what God has done. Is there anything, some significant event, or achievement in your life that you can thank God for? Then do it, do it loud and proud so that everyone can hear. And if we don’t have something, just knowing that God is almighty, and no situation is beyond his control is a cause for celebration. We need to rejoice in the Lord by not looking at our situation but look at the Lord and all the good he has done.

Next, Paul says that we need to act in gentleness. This means that when we encounter joy robbers, we shouldn’t burst into fits of rage (either publicly or privately) just because we don’t like what someone did. Paul encourages us to maintain our composure, not lose control, and respond with gentleness so that people can see how calm, cool and collected we are. Here, gentleness has the context of yielding to other people and not insisting on having our own way. If you are joyful, you don’t have to force your will over others. But it’s hard to have joy when you are selfish and always in conflict with others.

Third, Paul says don’t be anxious about ANYTHING. (ANYTHING) This seems like a very tall order, to not be anxious about anything, how is that even possible. What I think Paul means is that we shouldn’t be overcome by anxiety to the point we can’t function. Anxiety is something that happens in normal life. It’s kind of like a warning sign for us. Anxiety is a natural biological response where our bodies are telling us that something is happening that we need to pay attention to. If we encounter a bear in the woods, it’s a perfectly normal response to be anxious and concerned. But if we become so overwhelmed that we cease to function then there is a problem. Giving in to anxiety and letting fear overcome us reveals a lack of faith. Anxiety like that is counterproductive and self-centered and a sign of a lack of faith. Some signs of anxiety could be unwanted thoughts, can’t sleep, always tired, can’t focus, can’t eat or overeating, hard to breath. Instead, Paul says that a better response is to bring everything to God in prayer. We need to bring it to God, then he can give us peace so that we don’t focus on the negative. And when we pray, we need to believe that nothing is too hard for God when we bring it to him. (Mk 11:24, Mt 21:22) We need to have the attitude of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they faced anxiety inducing situation, they said, “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. 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.” (Dan 3) We need to bring our prayer to God with FAITH IN GOD.

Jesus was anxious in the garden of Gethsemane about he upcoming death, so much so, his sweat was like drops of blood. But after his prayer, he was resolute. (Heb – 12:2) He had joy even in the face of the cross. That joy comes from hope in the resurrection, he made peace with men, reconciliation, now we have peace with God. We will always have that promise and hope, it can never be taken away or lose it.

On the other hand, it doesn’t mean we act aloof without a care in the world either. There should be a balance. We can show concern, but instead of bursting out into fear, bring it to God in prayer. (Think Mat 6:24-33) We need to bring our concerns to God and let him know what’s troubling us.

And when we DO bring our requests to God, attitude matters, we should do it with thanksgiving. We need an attitude of gratitude when we approach our heavenly Father.

When we bring all our issues to God, before you know it, those worries will melt away as a sense of peace washes over us. (My story about the roofing project start up – Higher Ground) Most likely, our situation won’t change immediately, (it might not change at all, but God changes us, he gives us peace, we might not need what we think we need. Sometimes we need to go through hardship so that we can grow stronger and closer to God) but it’s remarkable how God calms our heart and slows things down, so that we can reassess the situation with a clearer head. It’s hard to explain the phrase, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” unless you’ve experienced it. It’s something that you don’t forget so easily.

Why does God do this for us? According to verse 7, so that our heart and minds will be guarded. God wants to help us, he doesn’t want us to fall, he loves his children and he wants to guard our heart. (reminds me of the song – Who am I? by Casting Crowns) I am thankful that God guards our hearts from the things that try and steal our joy. (Points to ponder: Are you worried about anything right now? School, family issues, work, loved ones, health, the future?)

Lastly Paul gives practical guidance for directing our mind take a look at 8-9. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Paul understood the influence of our thoughts upon our lives. What you allow to occupy your mind will sooner or later drive your speech and actions. That’s why it’s good to focus your mind on things that are wholesome with good qualities. Your mind is the rudder for your ship of life. It guides and directs your life. So, we need to be able to discipline and focus our mind. This takes time and effort to discipline our thought world and bring it under your control. Often our minds wander. But its good to think about things that: On the truth – truthfulness, dependable. On what’s noble – worthy of respect and honor. On righteous things. On that which is pure – holy. On beautiful and lovely things. On admirable/honorable things. On excellent things – high quality. On praiseworthy things.

He also says that we should learn from one another in verse 9. We shouldn’t pick apart each other’s faults but find something good about each person and respect them for it. When we focus on the good and sincerely love and respect each other, God grants us the peace we seek in our hearts. Otherwise, if we focus on the bad only remembering the mistakes we’ve experienced, we become critical of each other and hold grudges against each other. Without peace, we are miserable.

I don’t think it means we just forget about mistakes, because that doesn’t really help for there is no resolution. The mistake can be repeated or even get worse. We need to be able to talk about the issue without offending one another to that it can be resolved and we’re able to move forward.

Now a days, anxiety seems to be a part of life. There is more than enough anxiety to go around. Millions don’t have jobs, etc. People freak out about everything. We need to hear this message.

With a normal thief, we can protect ourselves by installing locks, and alarms, but what can we  do about joy robbers, how can you protect yourself from joy robbers? You can’t build a wall around our joy. (There are some people who abstain from joy, because they’ve had it taken from them so many times, they would rather live in a world of meh, rather than to have it stolen from them again. How sad it would be to live like that.

Paul reminds us that there is a better way. And that way is Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. (Jn 14:6) Jesus said that the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus came to give life to the full. (John 10:10) The devil is the thief. We have a lot of trouble because of the sin and the fall, our sin can also be the reason that our joy is taken from us. The devil is the grand accuser and he likes to use our sins against us and accuse us. Jesus said ““I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”” (Jn 16:33) So, take heart and trust in Jesus for he wants to guard our hearts and minds and give us peace. And that peace of God is able to protect us from joy robbers.

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