As we consider this passage my primary focus will be Paul’s telling words in verse 4 (read in context).
(3) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
“Joy”, the possession of it, or the scarcity of it, or even the total absence of it is a God given barometer of spiritual health. The word “rejoice” simply means to express “joy.” Of course you can’t rejoice unless you posses joy.
One commentator (the Lutheran Bengel [1687 – 1752]) wrote: “The sum of this letter is, ‘I rejoice, rejoice ye.”’ The proof of his statement is found in the following verses. Joy appeared like “sprinkles” on a homemade cup cake.
A. Let’s taste some of the joy sprinkles mentioned in this letter of Philippians.
Php 1:25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
Php 2:2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Php 2:17-19 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. (18) Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (19) I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.
Php 2:28-29 I am the more eager to send him (Epaphroditus), therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. (29) So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,
Php 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Php 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
And next to last this often quoted verse….
Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
And the last…..
Php 4:10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.
Wow! It’s evident Paul derived much joy from his relationship to the Christians of Philippi. I can’t help to derive joy just knowing Paul derived joy from those saints. Joy in Christ can be very contagious.
2. Other Churches
As I looked at the evidence of joy in this letter a curiosity sprung up in my mind as to how much joy Paul may or may not have derived from his relationship and service to other believing communities. It’s a fair question. On the surface the letters to the new covenant communities of Corinth and Thessalonica appear to have contributed more or less to Paul’s joy in Christ. The fact is, Corinth had also supplied a good deal of sorrow for Paul as did the Galatians. There is far less evidence of Paul having derived joy from the other believing communities. That’s not to say he didn’t derive joy from them. It’s just not always mentioned in his letters and given how Paul loved to trade in it (joy), it is telling.
I’m not including Paul’s letters to Timothy, Titus or Philemon because they were addressed to individuals and not new covenant communities.
In the following sampling of various letters and verses note how Paul either encourages joy or how he has derived joy.
(Rom 14:17) For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (encouraged joy)
(Rom 15:13) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (encouraged joy)
(Rom 15:32) so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. (encouraged joy)
(2Co 1:24) Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (encouraged joy)
(2Co 2:3) And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. (mutual joy encouraged)
(2Co 7:4) I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. (derived joy)
(2Co 7:13) Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. (derived joy)
(2 Co 8:1-2) We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, (2) for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (derived joy through the saints in Macedonia)
(Gal 5:22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (encouraged joy)
(Col 1:11) May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, (encouraged joy)
(1Th 1:6) And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, (derived joy)
(1Th 2:19) For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? (derived joy)
(1Th 2:20) For you are our glory and joy. (derived joy)
(1Th 3:9) For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, (derived joy)
3. Why is this a big deal?
Why was joy so important to Paul? Of equal importance why should the possession of “Joy” be important to you and me?
Listen up! It’s because, Love for God and one another and the derived Joy we have and share in Christ, is the sure evidence of a work of God the Spirit within this church and upon your collective hearts.
A. Joy is born out of our love for God. It is the good fruit of the Spirit who indwells the people of God.
Love and joy are the product and sure evidence of the Holy Spirit’s activity and presence in the life of a new covenant community of believers. Without evidence of the Spirit’s activity we cannot determine whether the community is born of God or a fortress of the enemy. The absence of this love brought God’s indictment upon the church at Ephesus.
Rev 2: 4But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
4. Joy sparks or gives animation to our prayers for others before God.
The evidence of Joy encouraged Paul’s high opinion and rejoicing in what God wrought in and through the saints of Philippi.
Almost everything about that believing New Covenant community served to give him joy. It would appear that nothing they did brought him sorrow. Perhaps they were exceptional. Yet, even when Paul did not derive joy from those for whom he labored and suffered it did not deter him from working for their joy in Christ. He did not give up on any except those who turned him away.
13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
32so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.
2 Corinthians 1:24
24Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
5. The absence of joy should be worrisome to God’s shepherds and the people of God.
Consider the following passages from 2 Corinthians followed by another from Galatians;
2 Corinthians 2:1-4
For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
Here’s another example from Paul’s letter to the Galatians;
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– (7) not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
A primary reason church leaders and the people of God suffer discouragement and sorrow in their service to one another is simply this: those whom they love and care for in Christ have neglected their care and love for each another. God’s love is his warmth. The absence of God’s love brings a cold chill and if left unchecked it eventually becomes a deep freeze. So then, love of God and one another is directly connected to the Joy we exhibit as a community.
6. The absence of joy brings sorrow.
It is equally true when our leaders do not model the love and joy of Christ as did Paul that they neglect those saints whom God has placed in their care. Believing communities are deeply affected and suffer when they are neglected by their leaders.
They (pastors, teachers) neglect God’s saints when they fail to work for the Joy of God’s children!!!
What is the evidence of such neglect? If in our public and private lives Christ is imaged before others as a bitter, complaining, quarrelsome, divisive, joyless despicable person, condemned, burdened by sin and the terrors of the law covenant and holy wrath then we are to be most pitied. If we image Christ to one another in such a manner then we will have much to answer for when we stand before the great Liberating King Jesus.
If we are guilty of communicating to God’s children that the sins of their flesh will always be their master then we encourage the language and expectations of a defeated people. If we preach to God’s blood washed and Spirit filled community in the same manner we communicate God’s word to those who remain fast bound in their sins then shame on us. Jesus’ little lambs are not Satan’s goats.
If we be image bearers of Christ we cannot at the same time be image bearers of those who still live under the weight of their sin and guilt. Who in their right mind would want to know the God of such a person who would claim Jesus Christ to be their liberating King and Saviour when by all appearances they still look like they need saving. To that person God’s word says, You must be born again!”
Never give up on God’s redeemed community!
Unlike many of us Paul did not give up on furthering the joy of those for whom Christ died. Even though some have like the Galatians appeared to abandon the New Covenant of Christ to return to the Law covenant or like the Corinthians who did fall into all sorts of sins of the flesh Paul never gave up on them. He continued to work relentlessly for their joy even though it is evident he derived joy from some believing communities while from others like Corinth he derived much heartache and sorrow. Paul was under orders, orders given by the Great Commander in Chief, “Feed my Sheep!”
Feed on Christ!
7. Return to Philippians 1
Up to this point I have prepared the stage for us so we can work towards increasing our shared joy in our Lord so let’s now return to Philippians 1 where we will consider additional thoughts.
In verse 3 and 4 Paul writes:
(3) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,
Why was his prayer seasoned with joy for these saints? The evidence is in verses 5 through 11.
(5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (6) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (7) It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
Two telling keywords are “partnership” & “partakers”.
Paul’s joy filled response is evident in his testimony of their mutual – and abounding – and growing love in and through Jesus Christ. Picking up at verse 8….
(8) For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (9) And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, (10) so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (11) filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
A key phrase: “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He’s not content that they already know and experience the love God as community, he wants it to continue growing and maturing as it is combined with true knowledge and Spirit given discernment. In other words, sincere and pure love that’s grounded in truth. Now that’s a formula for Spirit filled dynamite!
Within the New Covenant believing community you have saints whom the Holy Spirit has appointed to serve as community leaders (officially or not). I would hope they serve because they love you and have your best interest in Christ at heart. I also hope and pray that there’s a collective desire to see your joy multiplied in Christ. I would hope that’s why your leaders answered the call of the Spirit of God to serve.
Do you want to encourage those whom God has called to serve you?
I want all of you, each and every one of you, to consider how you can increase one another’s joy? You can do this by shepherding one another in the love of Christ. I would also hope that is why you joined yourself to the New Covenant community. I’ll tell you where to start. It’s quite simple. Get back to square one.
- Stop pointing your accusing finger at others. Get rid of that measuring stick that you measure others by. It is Christ Jesus we want to see in each other. We are all saved by His grace. This takes repenting. We must stop sinning. Can we do that? “…be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Look to the Spirit of God for your help. After you have repented and recovered, work for the Joy of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
- You might also have to do this. Look in the mirror. Point your finger at your reflection and say “I repent of you!”, I’m tired of looking at that all too familiar face. “I want to see Jesus!”, “I want to look like Jesus.” I want to bring Joy to you my Jesus! I want to be your delight. After you have repented and recovered, work for the Joy of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Actively affirm each other in Christ, even the unlovely like yourself, by partnering with them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It will work towards increasing your mutual joy in Christ.
Partner with your leaders. Their joy will rebound to you for your good and the good of your assembly just as it did for Paul.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (4) always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
It needs repeating. How can you bring joy to your wife, husband, family members, fellow Christians? Stop sinning and affirm your fellow saints by partnering with them in their service to your God and Savior. It’s that simple. With God’s help you can do it! And never forget who you were apart from Christ. Never forget what your God still puts up with, yes, with you. True enough, but also don’t forget that he delights in and sings over you, each and every one of you in Christ.
One last thing to encourage your joy in Christ.
Turn with me to Zephania 3:17 where it reads;
Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)
17 The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.
Did you hear that? He rejoices over you, he has joy in abundance that can never be humanly measured, OVER YOU! Yes you, dear one in Christ!
On this passage, John Piper writes,
God does not do you good out of some constraint or coercion. He is free! And in his freedom he overflows in joy to do you good. He exults over you with loud singing. Can you imagine what it would be like if you could hear God singing? Remember that it was merely a spoken word that brought the universe into existence. What would happen if God lifted up his voice and not only spoke but sang! Perhaps a new heaven and a new earth would be created. God says something almost just to that effect in Isaiah 65:17-18,
Behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth …
I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
When God spoke at the beginning, the heavens and the earth were created; perhaps at the end, the new heavens and the new earth will be created when God exults over his people with loud singing.
When I think of the voice of God singing, I hear the booming of Niagara Falls mingled with the trickle of a mossy mountain stream. I hear the blast of Mt. St. Helens mingled with a kitten’s purr. I hear the power of an East Coast hurricane and the barely audible puff of a night snow in the woods. And I hear the unimaginable roar of the sun 865,000 miles thick, one million three hundred thousand times bigger than the earth, and nothing but fire, 1,000,000 degrees centigrade, on the cooler surface of the corona. But I hear this unimaginable roar mingled with the tender, warm crackling of the living room logs on a cozy winter’s night.
And when I hear this singing I stand dumbfounded, staggered, speechless that he is singing over me. He is rejoicing over my good with all his heart and with all his soul (cf. Jeremiah 32:41)!
Of this same passage, C.H. Spurgeon said:
“I can understand a minister rejoicing over a soul that he has brought to Christ; I can also understand believers rejoicing to see others saved from sin and hell; but what shall I say of the infinitely happy and eternally-blessed God finding, as it were, a new joy in souls redeemed? This is another of those great wonders that cluster around the work of divine grace! … The Lord takes pleasure in them that fear him, imperfect though they be. He sees them as they are to be, and so he rejoices over them, even when they cannot rejoice in themselves. When your face is blurred with tears, your eyes red with weeping, and your heart heavy with sorrow for sin, the great Father is rejoicing over you. The prodigal son wept in his Father’s bosom, but the Father rejoiced over his son. We are questioning, doubting, sorrowing, trembling; and all the while he who sees the end from the beginning knows what will come out of the present disquietude, and therefore rejoices. Let us rise in faith to share the joy of God.” (sermons from 1837, #1990)
My brothers and sisters, imagine for just a moment, Your God, our God, the God of the blood soaked Cross, singing over YOU. Now if that does not bring joy to your heart I have news for you,,,, you are as good as dead!
The day is coming when he will no longer rebuke you.
Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice