What is authentic joy? What is true joy?
Billy Graham said in the book The Secret Of Happiness,
I once heard of a man who went to see a psychiatrist. He told the doctor that he was lonely, despondent, and miserable. He begged the doctor to help him. The psychiatrist suggested that he needed to laugh so he instructed the patient to attend the circus and watch the clown who was famous for being able to make anyone laugh. His patient looked him in the eyes and said, “But Doctor, you don’t understand! You see I am that clown!” (Billy Graham, The Secret Of Happiness, pp. 11-12)
We laugh, but we live in a society where many people are desperately consumed with looking for happiness.
The story is told of a young man who came to a renowned doctor in Paris complaining of depression. He asked what he could do to get well. The doctor thought of a well-known young man named Grimaldi, a leader of café society who cut a wide and lighthearted swath through Paris nightlife. The doctor told the young man, “Introduce yourself to Grimaldi. Let him show you how to enjoy yourself and you will get well.” The downcast young patient looked up with a sardonic smile and said, “I am Grimaldi.” (Lance Webb, How Bad Are Your Sins? James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 283.)
The world is full of people like that young man. They are pursuing happiness, coming up empty, lacking in true joy.
But it’s not just the world. Even in the church we often fail to find the joy-filled life. Billy Sunday once said, “If you have no joy in your religion, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” And Donald Hankey noted that, “For most men the world is centered in self, which is misery: to have one’s world centered in God is peace.”
We’re beginning a new series this morning in the book of Philippians. And it is my desire that we see in our study of Philippians how we can know true joy in our lives. Only in knowing the true joy of following Christ will we know true joy and contentment in our lives.
As we prepare ourselves for our study of Philippians let’s briefly examine the history of the book. There are a couple of observations about this book’s authorship and setting that will make our study more meaningful.
The author of the book of Philippians was the Apostle Paul and most conservative Bible scholars agree that it was written while he was imprisoned in Rome. Considering Paul’s circumstances while he penned this epistle makes the theme of joy even more significant. If Paul could know and write about true joy while imprisoned, then there’s hope for us that in whatever circumstances we are in, we too can know true joy.
The book of Philippians is a letter that was written to the church at Philippi. On Paul’s second missionary journey he visited the city of Philippi. In Acts 16 the conversions of Lydia and her family and the jailer and his family are recorded. They were residents of Philippi. And the local church that was established there during his second visit is the one to which Paul is addressing in this epistle. His love for them is evident and in his letter he takes the opportunity to encourage the church at Philippi to faithfulness.
Now look with me at Philippians 1:1,2.
Phil 1:1 Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The Servants
Paul begins by identifying himself and Timothy as servants of Jesus Christ. It’s interesting to note that in all of his other epistles except for 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Philemon, Paul refers to himself as an apostle. Here he simply identifies himself as a bondservant of Jesus Christ.
We tend to think of the role of bondservant as a lowly, humble position while we think of an apostle as being in a more exalted position.
I believe that by simply identifying himself as a bondservant of Jesus Christ, Paul is expressing humility. Later in our study of Philippians we’ll see the humility of Jesus but I want you to see the passage briefly now. Look for a moment at Philippians 2:5-8.
Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
By calling himself and Timothy bondservants, Paul is following the example of Christ’s own humility in coming to earth and humbling Himself and dying on the cross. Paul also models for the Philippian church an attitude of humility.
How often do we have conflict with others that robs us of our joy because we fail to show humility?
Paul knew that the Philippian church needed humility just as we need humility in the church today.
When we think too highly of ourselves, we are easily offended by others. When we think too highly of ourselves it’s easy to be petty or think of our opinions as more important than they really are. When we have the kind of humility that ought to characterize every believer then we’ll do as Paul instructs in Romans 12:10. We will love one another with brotherly love and we’ll outdo each other in showing honor.
Have you ever noticed how giving preference to others instead of selfishly demanding your own way leads to peace? Practice humility in your relationships and you’ll experience joy. Go around thinking too highly of yourself and you’ll miss out on the joy that comes with having a humble attitude.
But we need to be careful of having a false humility.
Andrew Murray said, “The humble man feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can bear to hear others praised while he is forgotten because…he has received the spirit of Jesus, who pleased not Himself, and who sought not His own honor. Therefore, in putting on the Lord Jesus Christ he has put on the heart of compassion, kindness, meekness, longsuffering, and humility.” Humble people are not conscious of being humble. As Dr. M. R. De Haan used to say, “Humility is something we should constantly pray for, yet never thank God that we have.”
It’s easy to get puffed up with our own importance and we can do that while appearing humble at the same time and when we do that we lose sight of our real purpose, which is to glorify God. If we’re going to glorify God as we should then we need to have a proper and humble view of ourselves. What is important is to exalt the Lord not ourselves.
The word translated bondservant conveys the idea of one who willingly gives himself up to serve. They weren’t just bondservants. They were bondservants of Jesus Christ. As one commentator points out this serves two purposes. It takes away attention from Paul and Timothy and directs it toward Jesus Christ. Also Paul was a prisoner of Rome. The Roman emperor was worshipped by many of his citizens but Paul draws attention to the fact that his real Master is the Lord Jesus Christ. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Philippians, p. 45)
Like Paul we need to point others to our real Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. The Saints
After identifying himself and Timothy as servants, Paul moves on to address to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi (v1). He is addressing everyone in the church not just a select few.
Spurgeon once said…
“You can buy complete sets of all the flowers of the Alpine district at the hotel near the foot of the Rosenlaui glacier, very neatly pressed and enclosed in cases. Some of the flowers are very common, but they must be included, or the flora would not be completely represented. The botanist is as careful to see that the common ones are there as he is to note that the rarer specimens are not excluded.
Our blessed Lord will be sure to make a perfect collection of the flowers of his field, and even the ordinary believer, the everyday worker, the common convert, will not be forgotten. To Jesus’ eye, there is beauty in all his plants, and each one is needed to perfect the flora of Paradise. May I be found among his flowers, if only as one out of myriad daisies, who with sweet simplicity shall look up and wonder at his love forever.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)
Paul is addressing his letter to every believer in the church at Philippi even as Spurgeon would say, “the ordinary believer, the everyday worker, the common convert,” are included in Paul’s address. We tend to think of saints as a special class of people. We say things like “that woman is a saint” and we’re usually referring to upstanding conduct.
But what exactly is meant by the term “saint?” The Greek word for saint doesn’t mean sinless but it means “those set apart.” When Paul addresses “all the saints” in Philippi, he is speaking to every believer in the church at Philippi.
The term saint applies to every believer and isn’t based on some sort of special status. If you are a believer you are a saint. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect but certainly if you have been set apart by faith in Jesus Christ, then you will grow in Christ-likeness.
Another key to understanding the word saint is to notice the phrase immediately following, To all the saints. The essential phrase, in Christ Jesus, follows, To all the saints. That is the only way you can become a saint. You must be in Christ Jesus. It’s nothing you do that gives you the status of being a saint but it’s what Christ Jesus has done for you and the simple act of placing your faith and trust in Jesus Christ makes you a saint. It isn’t about any special kind of works you’ve done but it’s all about the relationship you have with Jesus Christ.
Paul is addressing every believer at Philippi. His words are intended for each and every person who is in Christ Jesus. The words Paul wrote that were applicable to every believer in the church at Philippi also apply to us today and that’s why we’ll be taking our time as we study through the book of Philippians to learn the truth it contains and how we are to apply it to our lives today.
After addressing all the saints, Paul goes on to mention the bishops and deacons. In the NASB, bishops is translated overseers. The bishops or overseers were also called elders and were responsible for shepherding or pastoring the flock. The deacons were leaders in the church that had special service responsibilities. So we see that Paul is also addressing the leadership at Philippi.
There has been speculation why Paul specifically mentions the leaders here in his greeting. This is not something he does in other greetings he wrote. Some think it’s because these leaders were responsible for sending gifts sent to Paul by the Philippian church. Others think Paul is suggesting that these leaders need to see to it that his instructions are carried out in the church at Philippi. Still others think by mentioning them, Paul is endorsing their authority. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Philippians, p.49) It’s not clear from the text why he addresses them but it is clear that he does address the leaders as well. Certainly it is important that leaders in any church are just as diligent in applying God’s Word as they are in teaching it.
3. The Source
After addressing all the saints and the bishops (or overseers) and deacons, Paul moves on in verse 2 with the greeting, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I want you to understand that God is the sole source of grace and peace.
Grace is the unmerited favor of God that He gives to us through His gift of salvation. We are all born sinners deserving of death and eternal punishment but because of God’s grace, salvation has been made available to us.
Ephesians 2:8,9 speaks of this grace,
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
God offers to us what we don’t deserve. He offers salvation through the death of His Son Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. Grace has been described as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Spurgeon called grace “God’s unmerited favor.”
On the evening of April 25, 1958, a young Korean exchange student, a leader in student Christian affairs in the University of Pennsylvania, left his flat and went to the corner to [mail] a letter to his parents in Pusan (Fu·san). Turning from the mailbox he stepped into the path of eleven leather-jacketed teenage boys. Without a word they attacked him, beating him with a blackjack, a lead pipe and with their shoes and fists. Later, when the police found him in the gutter, he was dead. All Philadelphia cried out for vengeance. The district attorney secured legal authority to try the boys as adults so that those found guilty could be given the death penalty. Then a letter arrived from Korea that made everyone stop and think. It was signed by the parents and by twenty other relatives of the murdered boy. It read in part:
“Our family has met together and we have decided to petition that the most generous treatment possible within the laws of your government be given to those who have committed this criminal action .In order to give evidence of our sincere hope contained in this petition, we have decided to save money to start a fund to be used for the religious, educational, vocational, and social guidance of the boys when they are released .We have dared to express our hope with a spirit received from the gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins.” (A. Leonard Griffith, Beneath the Cross of Jesus — James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 213-214.)
We don’t deserve God’s grace. And we aren’t saved by our works or efforts but through God’s grace—through the price Jesus paid for us on the cross. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, God imparts His grace and gives us eternal life.
Along with the grace that God bestows on those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, He gives us peace. When we are saved we have peace with God. We have peace that the world doesn’t give and can’t take away. It’s a peace that is ours even in the midst of war or conflict on this earth. It’s a lasting peace. It’s a peace that will last for eternity. It’s also a peace we maintain by faithful obedience to God. Erwin W. Lutzer, Pastor of Moody Church said, “Emotional peace and calm come after doing God’s will and not before.“
How can a follower of Christ that experiences the difficulty and heartache that often come with living on this earth experience peace? Sometimes the peace God gives is hard to explain. Even Paul in Philippians 4:7 describes the peace of God being beyond what our humans minds can understand.
But what tremendous blessings we enjoy in God’s grace and peace. L. Thomas Holdcroft said, “There may be those on earth who dress better or eat better, but those who enjoy the peace of God sleep better.“ The source of these blessings is God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only through God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that we can experience grace and peace.
As we study further in the book of Philippians we’ll see that true joy is found through a relationship with Jesus Christ and is bestowed on us by our Heavenly Father.
Maybe you are lacking in grace and peace today because you’ve never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior. John 3:16 holds the wonderful message of what God has done for us.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
You can trust Jesus today and receive the gift of eternal life. Romans 10:9 says, that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
If you have never done this, you can confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart today. When you are saved you become a saint. If you confess Jesus as Lord and believe in Him, you can have the grace and peace in your life that Paul speaks of. Grace and peace is only available through God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. They are the source of true peace and joy.
Nothing this world offers can compare to the riches that are available in Jesus Christ. The riches of this world are fleeting and will one day be gone, but the riches Our Heavenly Father gives us through Jesus Christ His Son will last for eternity.
This morning can you say with Paul and Timothy, “I am a servant of Jesus Christ?” Do you have a willing desire to serve the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you have humility that seeks to exalt Christ and not yourself?
Can you be named with the saints? Have you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior? That’s all that’s necessary to be a saint.
Do you recognize the Source of grace and peace? Is your heart full of thankfulness for the grace and peace that has been given to you by God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?
Let’s pray that God will challenge each of our hearts as we study the book of Philippians and we’ll grow in our understanding of His Word and how it applies to our lives and this church and that the Lord will have His way with us.
by Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church