Theme: Joy in Suffering (Sunday 11th October, 2020)
Series: Philippians Joy
Bible Reading: Philippians 1:1-30
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Some might say that Frank has had a run of bad luck, others might suggest that he is a victim of office politics. Frank is one of a team of 6 senior salespeople for a plastic manufacturer. His company had been growing slowly and sales have been OK, but about 12 months things took an amazing turn for the better. Frank had stumbled across another part of the business sector which they could be selling their product to. Why they had never considered selling to these companies before … no one knows, but now their selling market had grown 20 times larger. Frank became a legend in the company overnight. Business was up, Sales were up, profits were up but not everyone was happy. The other 5 senior salespeople felt a little envious. Not because they were not getting a slice of the action, they were. They were selling more and earning more … but nothing compared to Frank. You see, most of the new clients only wanted to deal with Frank … after all, he was the legend.
Then came another twist of fate. An accusation came against Frank that he was embezzling money. No-one really believed it, but in the interest of the company, Frank was suspended from the sales team and was put behind a desk in head office until it was all sorted out. The other 5 on the sales team got their big break. While Frank was “away” so to speak, they got out there and were signing up all of Franks prospective new customers to the company.
Now here is the funny bit. If you talk to Frank you might expect him to be angry or bitter or frustrated … but he is none of those. Actually, he seems happy … genuinely happy.
Sure, he would be rather talking to clients than stuck in the office but in his words, “All I am interested in is as many people using our products as possible. Maybe the other sales people are out there taking my clients out of envy or rivalry or maybe not … but it doesn’t matter because the important thing is our product is being sold and that is good for the company.” So, is Frank just as optimist who is putting a good spin on a bad situation … or does he had a good perspective on what is really important?
If you haven’t guess it yet … this is an analogy of the situation that the Apostle Paul had found himself when he started writing the book of Philippians. When it came to preaching Jesus and starting up new Churches, Paul was the legend. Paul was not the only missionary around at that time … but for some reason God was using him in a huge way compared to the others.
Then Paul finds himself in a Roman jail and the other missionaries were nearly falling over themselves to preach Jesus to the towns where Paul had not got to yet. Did Paul feel ripped off about this? No.
In Philippians 1:12-18 Paul says that what happened has helped the gospel, that the others are now more courageous with their preaching and the guards know about Jesus.
Paul acknowledges that some people are preaching Jesus out of envy or rivalry … by in verse 18 he says “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.”
Was Paul angry or bitter or frustrated? No. He was genuinely happy. Actually, the word he used at the end of that passage was rejoice. He was rejoicing. Paul was filled with joy.
For three weeks we are going to be looking at closely the book of Philippians … but to understand this book properly you need to understand the spirit that it was written in. Paul was suffering in the situation he found himself in … yet this letter of Philippians has been referred to as the book of Joy because of the irony that in the midst of his suffering, Paul was rejoicing.
As we read through this book I pray that we might be able to find the secret of finding God in the midst of life … actually more than that … in the midst of difficult times we might actually discover joy! Joy in serving and Joy in giving and most of all finding joy in our belief and faith in Jesus Christ.
Before we look at this whole issue of joy, let’s get an overview of the key people and situations in the book of Philippians. Philippians was a letter written around 61AD by the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi. Note that it is a personal letter from a church planter to his favourite congregation.
Paul first went to Philippi during his second missionary journey. We read about this in Acts 16. The first conversion at Philippi was a woman called Lydia who became the main leader in the house church. It was at Philippi were an earthquake destroyed the jail where Paul and Silas were causing the guard to believe in Jesus. Paul and Silas only stayed a few days before being kicked out of Philippi but the church grew. It met in Lydia’s home and where known for their generosity in financially supporting Paul’s missionary work. Not because they were rich, but rather they gave sacrificially.
But the church in Philippi was at a crossroad. They were a great church in the way they lived out their faith in Jesus but now they were in danger of falling into the traps which other house churches had. There were signs of disunity within the group. There were some people wavering in the face of persecution and giving up the Christian way of living. Paul wrote this letter to encourage the Philippi church to keep going. And to not worry about him, he is rejoicing amidst his suffering and if they stick with Jesus they too will experience this joy.
The underlying message of the whole letter to the Philippians is one of joy. But if we are going to be looking at joy … we need to define what joy is? Is joy:
|a fruit of the spirit||laughter|
Joy can mean different things to different people. Even in the bible, the word is used to cover a number of different emotions and situations. For example in the bible…
- King David was so excited when the ark of the covenant returned to Jerusalem that he joyfully danced … with all his might. (2 Samuel 6)
- When the temple was built (and rebuilt) they joyfully celebrated, for days on end. (I Kings 9:66 / Ezra 3:12)
- John the Baptist, when he was still in his mother womb, jumped for Joy when the pregnant Mary came near. (Luke 1:44)
- The wisemen when the found the baby Jesus entered into the house full of joy. (Mat 2:10-11)
- The disciples returning from the time when Jesus sent them out in pairs to minister to the surrounding towns returned full of joy. (Luke 10)
- The crowd when Jesus was entering Jerusalem on a donkey joyfully praised God. (Luke 19:37)
- The women, returning from the empty tomb after Jesus was raised from the dead were afraid, yet filled with … JOY. (Mat 28:8)
In many of these situations joy seems to come from great experiences … for example the opening of the temple, the raising of Jesus, the birth of the messiah. It is easy to feel joyful in the good times … but is Joy more than feeling happy or rejoicing when things are going well.
Yes, when you are happy, you can also be joyful … but can you be joyful when you are feeling sad, or stress, or burdened, or grieving? The bible’s answer for that is yes. Look at some of these verses.
- Psalm 94:19 – When anxiety was great within me, your comfort brought joy to my soul.
- 2 Cor 7:4 – … in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds
- James 1:2 – Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds …
Isn’t that Paul was saying in our bible reading for today? Even through he was in jail, even through his life was threatened, even though he could not be doing his missionary work … he rejoiced. How can you have joy in the midst of trouble? I think joy is more than a current emotion. Joy is an inner assurance, a knowing on the inside that God is in charge of any situation and that brings you joy … even if you are not happy.
It is easy to be happy when things are going well. But when life is hard, your soul has been wounded, your life lacks meaning … you normally are not happy because happiness is dependant on the current circumstances. But joy is when you are able to thank and praise God no matter what the circumstances. It is when you can still smile on the inside, even though the smile is fading fast on the outside. Joy is when after a terrible day you can still rejoice because of what God has done and is doing. It is like one member of the worship team said, “Joy is knowing that I have Jesus and no situation or no person can take him away from me.”
That is why the women at the tomb when the angels told them that Jesus was not there, they ran away, read it in Mat 28:8, afraid, yet filled with joy. Their surface emotion was that of fear, but deep down the idea that this was not the end but just the beginning, was filling them with joy.
Joy is a wonderful gift from God. It can give us hope and strength when we need it, it keeps us keeping on. And it joy that is keeping Paul going and what he is saying will help the church at Philippi going.
We are supposed to be focusing on chapter 1, so I better spend a few minutes on it … but let’s look at this in relation to joy.
After Paul usually greeting at the beginning of the book, in chapter 1 verse 3 Paul says that his prayers are full of joy because of the church at Philippi. Why is he joyous? verse 6
Because he can see that God has started a work in them which he will carry on to completion.
And in a sense, because Paul has committed to walk this journey with them (in a spiritual sense because he can’t be there physically), he gets to celebrate with them as God becomes more and more real to them. And not just them, in verses 12-18 as I talked about earlier, Paul is rejoicing because even though he is in jail, there are many missionaries out there telling people about Jesus. Whether their motives are good or not … doesn’t matter, as long as Jesus is being preached he will rejoice.
And in verse 18 he says he will continue to rejoice because he hopes that his current circumstances in which he is suffering will in some way exalt Jesus.
Paul might be an optimist but he is also a realist. He acknowledges that the situation he is in is hard. In verse 20 he hopes he will have enough courage to stand for Jesus in life or in death. But it is hard. Paul honestly says that he would prefer just to die and go to heaven, because in death he would gain so much. No more suffering, no more pain, no more worries … and he gains by being with Jesus. But he knows that in living God can use him to help other people. He feels torn between the two. He desires to be with Jesus in heaven and be released from the suffering, but knows that he must remain, even though it is hard. Yet he still finds joy in that.
Listen to his words in verse 25,26. “I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and your joy in the faith.” He is doing this so that those at Philippi might continue to grow in Jesus and find joy in Jesus. But the reward for Paul is that as he walks the journey with the Philippians their joy overflows onto him.
OK, what does this all mean for us? Has anyone of us been through a difficult time lately? Are any of us in the midst of what we might call “a time of trial”? Yes. I know – I have heard some of your stories. Some people are struggling with physical issues or health problems that keep hanging around. Some people are doing it tough emotionally – whether it is grief, or anxiety or the memories of things have happened which keep replaying over and over in their mind. People are suffering … and I would assume that you may not feeling very joyful about it.
But how do we find hope in all this hurt? Can we find like Paul a reason to keep going in the midst of all the suffering? Can we find joy – the inner assurance that Jesus is still there and that no one or no situation can take him away. That in the midst of everything, can we rejoice because of what God has done and is doing? I guess that is the real question, and one we probably can’t answer adequately today but might become clearer as we keep working through this book of joy – the letter to the Philippians.
Two words which really jumped out to me in this first chapter of Philippians is the first two words of verse 27, “Whatever happens”. Whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. The “whatever happens” in implying a separation of our response to our circumstances. It is saying, it does not matter what is happening, this is our response.
Horatio Spafford wrote an old hymn called “It is well with my soul”. In a manner of months his business was destroyed by fire and then all four of his daughters were killed in a boat accident. He was suffering, yet wrote these words.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, You has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
I don’t know how we could write that. But then you think about it, he didn’t say it is well with my mind, because I am sure it wasn’t. His mind was probably running at 100 miles an hour with questions, fears, doubts and anxieties … yet deep down, in his soul, he was able to say … “God whatever happens, I’m OK with it because I know that you are here with me and in some weird way that I can not understand, you still are in control.”
I think if we are able to do that, then we are on the way to discovering how we can find joy in the midst of suffering.