It was Kin Hubbard who said, “It’s pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness; poverty and wealth have both failed.”
Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt Therapy (an existential and experiential psychotherapy that focuses on the individual’s experience in the present moment ) offered, “The three basic questions of life are; Who am I, what am I doing here, and who are all these people?”
Modern playwright, Tennessee Williams countered, “My advice to you: Don’t ask, ’Who am I, What am I doing here, Where am I going.’ Just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate”.
One more — Allan Chalmers also took a stab at happiness, “The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love and something to hope for.”
Whatever we do not know about, we surely know that Joy is some thing that everyone looks for. The world has been in search of Joy from time immemorial. Philosophers have tried to define it, Guru’s have tried to give shortcuts to it, and human kind has always been in search of it. We get a bicycle, we want a moped, we get a moped , we want a motor cycle, we get a motor cycle , we want a car etc etc. All our technology and intelligence has failed to quench the thirst for Joy. Owen Hanson contends that we haven’t produced civilization either: “After thousands of years, western civilization has advanced to where we bolt our doors and windows at night while jungle natives sleep in open huts.”
Fortunately for us Christians, 2000 years ago, one man declared that he found actual and real joy, and his findings are available to us in the Bible. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is full of joy and the word joy or rejoice appears repeatedly in this letter. So what , we may ask, the person must have been happy, he must have been blessed by God, and so he wrote about joy and happiness. The truth is he wrote this letter from a jail cell, probably a dungeon, may be chained, not very ideal conditions to write about joy and happiness. But that is what Paul did. He wrote about the Joy of knowing Christ and being with Christ. He wrote to encourage the Christians at Philippi, who were getting discouraged by the news that he is still in prison.
Let’s talk here — Nobody wants to live like Paul had to live. We all prefer to be pampered. I never had a Christian wedding, but I have heard about the vows that are taken during a Christian marriage? “Do you take her for richer and poorer, in sickness and health, for better, for worse…?” We are supposed to say , “I do.” But I am sure there are a number of us there who go by the 50-50 principle , “I will go with the “Richer, health and better” and I am sure that other 50% will be taken care of by my spouse!”
So why do we need to read the letter to the Philippians? The obvious reason is that we are in church, and we profess to be Christians, however that might not be a convincing enough answer to some of us. We need to read this letter to know how we can be joyful despite the uncertainties of this world. Most of us might not be going through the type of struggles that Paul went through, however we need to know how to handle struggles when it comes to us, and it might be a good idea for us to be reminded that struggles will come our way.
So what does the letter to the Philippians tell us about Searching and finding Joy?
Let me pick up just some of the themes today.
1. Our attitudes bring us Joy: Paul had an attitude of contentment. Phil 4:11-12.
You must have heard various sayings about attitude. You would have definitely heard the saying that your attitude determines your altitude. Chuck Swindoll wrote: “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past — we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude — I am convinced that life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it.”
Paul gives us a simple shopping list for getting the right attitude. Vs 4:8 Finally, brothers, 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.
Paul says think about such things. What we think about is very important. I have a colleague who is a PhD is neuropsychology. The basis is that the input, consideration, and output of your mind can affect your physical state. Phrases like, “That made me sick” can actually help make you sick if you dwell on it, and speak it out loud. Now, some of you know that I have a weak stomach, and it gets upset very easily and very often. However, my wife and son are convinced that this is a “mind over matter” issue. They are sure that my stomach gets upset because I am worried, either due to an important meeting coming up, when I have to preach in the church, or when I have write an exam , as I have to do recently for my PhD. That is neuropsychology. Science gives new names to what we already know isn’t it? Bible tells us in Prov 23:7 (NJKV) “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he”
So Paul asks us to think about all the good things and then be content.
Let us ask ourselves, what is our attitude towards life? Are we content with what we have or do we grumble and complain about the things that have been given to us?
2. Joy comes from depending on Jesus with confidence.
Please also note that Paul’s contentment did not come just from within, it came from his dependence on Christ He knew that this contentment came from Him who strengthens us, Vs. 4:13. Let us read vs 4: 13 again. In the original Greek version “I can do all things..” is one word, and Paul has written it twice, just to confidently confirm what he had in mind, “I can do all things, I really can”. For Paul his dependence on Jesus was complete. He had already made it clear in Vs 3:4-9, that his confidence does not lie in the flesh, but in Christ, it is interesting to note some of the words that Paul uses. The King James version (in Vs 3:8) uses the word “dung” , for the things he has lost for gaining Christ, some other versions use the terms like refuse, rubbish etc. This just shows how strong Paul felt about gaining Christ, by losing all the fleshly/ worldly things.
Now, this might come as a tall order for us in the modern world. This might not be a call for us to relinquish all the material wealth, but this sure is a call for us to put our dependence on the one who allowed himself to be crucified, and not on our own efforts, or our own lineage, or intelligence etc.
This morning let us be encouraged to ask ourselves, where do we put our confidence in?
3. Joy Comes from Fellowshipping and partnership
Paul starts this letter of Joy by thanking God for the “partnership” that the Philippians have in the gospel (Vs 1: 5). The Greek word he uses is Koinonia, and the closest translation for this word is togetherness. In Vs 2: 1-2, Paul urges them to make his joy complete by this koinonia, with God and with each other. He commends their koinonia in Vs 4:14 too.
We need to understand that this koinonia (togetherness) that Christians experience is based on the roots that they find in Christ Jesus. When we are convinced that we are accepted by God as we are because of Jesus, we are able to accept each other as they are. Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matt 18:23-35. We cannot be like that, since we are forgiven, we need to forgive and understand each other better, and thus have koinonia with each other and with God. The togetherness is better when Christians work together, pray together. It is this togetherness which draws non Christians to the Lord. I can vouch for this personally. One main reason for my curiosity in Christianity was the difference I saw in the way Christians were fellowshipping and having koinonia. And the deepest koinonia happens when the group is small. That is where the BBF is blessed. We are small, and we need to convert that into our advantage of knowing each other better, fellowshipping with each other better, and upholding each other better. Paul urges the Philippians to be united, (vs 1:27, and in 2:1-4), and care for each other
4. Joy comes in putting the word into practice
In Vs 4: 9 Paul urges the Philippians to put into practice whatever they have heard from him. Paul probably knew the modern church only too well. Paul knew about the Sunday syndrome, when we get together , sing songs, listen to a sermon, and then go and live lives the same way we used to. What the NIV translation puts as put into practice, the KJ version puts it as merely “do”. What was Paul encouraging them to do? Follow his example! He’d learned the joy of renewing his mind in Christ. It had transformed his mind (Ro 12.1,2) and he wanted the same joy for his beloved family at Philippi. To “do” or “put into practice” is an imperfect, and means “to keep on doing, again and again”. You can only be saved once, but renewal is a lifetime process. Paul was pointing at the peace of God.
In a marriage, the renewal of relationship takes place every day. If we want peace in our household there must be a continued renewal of our minds meeting in the same purpose and joys. It can’t be like the man who on his fortieth wedding anniversary was asked by his bride, “Why don’t you ever tell me you love me?” Said he, “Listen, I told you I loved you when I married you…if it ever changes I’ll let you know.”
Our relationship with God needs to be renewed through actions, and let us continue to do that.
May we be encouraged this morning to
1. re-examine our attitudes and learn from Paul’s attitude of contentment.
2. put our confidence on Jesus Christ through whom we can do everything!!
3. Continue our togetherness and fellowshipping with God and with each other as a body of Christ.
4. Put the word into action, renew ourselves totally in our service to God.
Now may God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you; to the end he may establish your heart unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. Amen
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