Living a Life of Joy 1) The Secret to Living a Life of Joy

The Secret to Living a Life of Joy

Text: Philippians 1:1-2

 

This morning we’re starting a new series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, called ‘Living a Life of Joy!’ The dictionary describes joy as ‘a feeling of great happiness.’ Isn’t that what we all want, to feel happy, to be happy? But the problem is that often we don’t feel happy. In fact, happiness is often hard to find, life is filled with struggles, and hurts, and grief, and pain. We want to be happy but what we often experience is a lack of joy. The question we’re going to be looking at in this series is how do you live a life of joy in the midst of difficult circumstances? And the answer is not in changing your circumstances, but in changing your perspective. You see Paul’s circumstances weren’t all that wonderful. He was in prison. Four times in chapter 1 he mentions his chains. Paul’s friends had deserted him. Apart from Timothy and Epaphroditus he was pretty much alone. And what’s more there were people who were stirring up trouble for him, as if being in prison wasn’t bad enough. And yet despite Paul’s circumstances he is filled with joy. Paul mentions the word joy, or rejoice, 16 times in Philippians, more than any other letter he wrote. Joy dances from the pages of this letter.

This morning we’re going to look at the secret to living a life of joy. To put it bluntly Paul’s situation sucked, and yet he was living a life of joy. How could Paul be filled with joy in such terrible circumstances, when we so often struggle to find joy in our circumstances? The answer to that question is Jesus Christ! And that sounds like such a rehearsed response, the answer is Jesus. But for Paul his relationship with Jesus was a source of joy that redefined his circumstances. Let me say that again, your relationship with Jesus is meant to be a source of joy that redefines your circumstances. While Paul mentions joy 16 times in this letter, he mentions Jesus over 60 times, and that’s in a letter that contains only 104 verses. Jesus is mentioned every second verse. According to Paul Jesus is the only theme worth preaching, the only person worth honouring, the only person who makes life worth living and death worth dying. There’s a connection between Jesus and joy. The first secret to living a life of joy is Jesus Christ. In our text this morning Paul unlocks how Jesus is our joy in three ways. The secret to living a life of joy is selflessly serving Jesus, realizing that we are saints in Christ, and the fact that we receive grace and peace through Jesus.

 

1) Servants of Christ Jesus

So let’s look at the first key to living a life of Joy, being servants of Christ Jesus. Paul starts his letter by introducing himself. He writes, ‘1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus… (Phil 1:1a)’ Paul could’ve introduced himself as Paul the Apostle, and in most of his letters that’s exactly what he does, but here he introduces himself as Paul the servant of Christ Jesus. There are a few different words for servant in Greek, but this is the strongest one, the one that literally means slave. Paul doesn’t just serve Jesus, he is Christ’s slave. This language of slavery is an important theme in the Bible.

a) Slaves of sin

In the ancient world there were three ways you could become a slave. Firstly, if your parents were slaves you became a slave by birth, you are born into slavery. Secondly, you could become a slave because of debt. Poor people often sold their children into slavery in order to pay a debt. Thirdly, you could become a slave by conquest, taken as spoil in battle. And it’s interesting that the Bible uses all three pictures to talk about how we are slaves to sin. The Bible teaches that we are born into sin. David writes, ‘5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Ps 51:5)’ The Bible also talks about how sin is a debt. Paul talks about how the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). The Bible also talks about how sin rules over us, how we can’t do what we know is right (Rom 7:14-25). The spiritual reality that we all face is that we are slaves to sin. We are born into to sin, we struggle with sin all our lives, and unless we are freed from sin, we will die as slaves to sin.

b) Set free by Christ

The Good News is that Jesus sets us free from our slavery to sin. In the ancient world there were three ways to free yourself from slavery. Firstly, you could buy your freedom. Secondly, you could earn your freedom. If you served well, and if your master was kindly disposed towards you, they might give you your freedom. Thirdly, someone else could purchase your freedom. But according to the Bible there’s only one way to become spiritually free. You can’t buy your salvation, and you can’t earn your salvation, but what you cannot earn and cannot buy, God will freely give through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. Paul writes, ‘23 …the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23)’ According to the Bible our salvation is a gift from God. God chooses to free us form our slavery to sin. And God does that by sending Jesus to pay the debt of our sin. Jesus purchases our freedom through his death on the cross.

c) To become a slave of Christ

But Paul’s point in our text this morning is that Christ set him free so that he could become a slave of Christ. When we put our faith in Jesus our allegiance changes, from serving our sinful desires to serving Jesus Christ. Paul says it clearly in Romans 6, ‘22 …you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God… (Rom 6:22)’ But this isn’t just exchanging one form of slavery for another. Slavery to sin leads to death, but slavery to God leads to life, and not just eternal life, but a whole new quality of life. Jesus says, ‘10 …I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (Jn 10:10b)’ A life of slavery to sin brings suffering and brokenness and ultimately death, but a life of slavery to Christ brings joy and peace and hope. Living as a slave of Christ, is living life as it’s meant to be lived. Living as Christ’s slave is living a life of joy. The first secret to living a life of joy is to serve Jesus Christ.

d) Is to become a servant of others

And Paul mentions this fact, because he wants us to not only find our joy in serving Christ, but also in serving others. And this was a problem in the church in Philippi, many of them were still serving their sinful nature, they were struggling with self-centredness. Three times Paul mentions interpersonal conflicts in the church. He says, ‘3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit... 4 …look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3b,4)’ And again, ‘14 Do everything without complaining or arguing. (Phil 2:14)’ And then he mentions a specific example, ‘2 I plead with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other... (Phil 4:2)’ The problem in Philippi was they were serving themselves, looking after their own interests, which lead to arguments and complaining and disagreements. Paul’s recipe for joy is to put others before yourself. That’s why Paul introduces himself the way he does. He’s basically saying look at Timothy and myself we’re servants, our lives are all about serving Jesus Christ, and serving you. Paul finds his joy in service. And that’s why he mentions overseers and deacons as well, because as leaders of the church their role is to serve the church, in fact, that’s pretty much what the word deacon means, servant. The leaders of the church find their joy in serving the church. And ultimately Paul points to Jesus Christ. He says in chapter 2, ‘5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5-8)’ Jesus came to serve us. Jesus humbled himself for us. Jesus died on the cross in order to set us free from our slavery to sin. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews talks about how Jesus ‘2 …for the joy set before him endured the cross… (Heb 12:2b)’ Jesus found joy in serving us.

Application: Living a Life of Joy starts with serving Jesus

The first secret to living a life of joy is to serve Jesus Christ and to serve others. If our joy is founded on our circumstances then our joy goes up and down with our circumstances, but when our lives are orientated towards serving Jesus and serving others then we will find true joy. A Christian is someone who finds their joy in serving Jesus Christ. Do you consider yourself a servant of Christ? Do you find joy in serving Jesus and other people? Do you find it an effort to come to church, or a joy? Do you find it hard work to love certain people, or a joy? Do you find it difficult to help people in need, or a joy? The first secret to living a life of joy is the realisation that it’s not all about you, you are not the boss, Jesus is, and you will only find true joy in serving him.

 

2) Saints in Christ Jesus

The second secret to living a life of joy is remembering that we are saints in Christ Jesus. That’s who Paul writes this letter to, ‘1 …To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi… (Phil 1:1b)’ This phrase is so important to living a life of joy that I want to pick it apart word by word.

a) To All

It starts off with ‘to all.’ Paul’s letter includes everyone in the church in Philippi. These letters weren’t written just to the leaders of the Church but to the whole congregation. So who were these people in Philippi? Most commentators think Paul wrote this letter between 60 and 65 AD, about 12 or so years after he planted the church in Acts 16. We’re not sure if any of those original believers were still part of the church, but for the sake of argument let’s say they were. In which case Paul was talking to people like Lydia. According to Acts 16 Lydia was ‘14 …a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. (Act 16:14b)’ which was code for a gentile who believed in the Jewish God. She was an outsider. But Luke writes, ‘14 …The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 [and] she and the members of her household were baptized… (Acts 16:14c,15a)’ The church in Philippi probably started in Lydia’s house. And maybe Paul was thinking about a young woman who knew all about being a slave, in fact she had once been possessed by a demon and made money by telling fortunes, until Paul freed her in the name of Jesus Christ. And then there was the Philippian jailer, the guy who was going to kill himself because he thought Paul had escaped, but Paul stopped him and ‘33 …he and all his family were baptized. 34 …he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family. (Act 16:33c,34b)’ And then of course there’s Euodia and Syntyche, the two women who couldn’t agree. When Paul is writing this letter he’s thinking of these people, and maybe others as well.

b) The Saints

And he calls these people saints. The word ‘saint’ in the Bible refers to someone who is holy, someone who is perfect, or set apart for God. When we think of saints we tend to think of people who are a lot nicer than we are, people like Paul and Mother Teresa. We probably wouldn’t usually think of people like a gentile merchant woman, an ex-demon possessed fortune teller, and a jailer, as saints. And yet that’s exactly what Paul calls them. And it’s not like they were once sinners but since becoming Christians they’re perfect. After all he includes two women whose disagreement had reached Paul all the way in Rome. Paul is more than aware of their struggles. So what does Paul mean when he calls them saints?

c) In Christ Jesus

The answer to that is found in the next words, the fact that they are ‘in Christ Jesus.’ When Paul calls us saints he’s not talking about how holy we behave, but about our new identity ‘in Christ.’ Paul uses the phrase ‘in Christ’ to describe our connection to Jesus when we put our faith in him. When we believe in Jesus, when we trust in his death on the cross, his death pays the penalty for our sins, his obedience becomes our obedience, his righteousness becomes our righteousness, his resurrection becomes our guarantee of eternal life. If we are in Christ then God considers us holy. When you put your faith in Jesus you go from sinner to saint, not because you’re no longer a sinner, but because in Christ God overlooks your sin, God sees Christ’s perfect obedience, God sees you as holy.

d) Results in joy

And the point is: knowing that in Christ we are saints results in joy. Paul uses this phrase ‘in Christ,’ or ‘in the Lord,’ or ‘in him’ over 20 times in Philippians. And three of those times Paul connects it directly with joy. Paul commands us to ‘1 …rejoice in the Lord! (Phil 3:1)’ and ‘4 Rejoice in the Lord always. (Phil 4:4a)’ The fact that we are in Christ, that we are saints, should result in joy, not just when things are going well and we can see God’s blessing, but always, even when things aren’t going well. Paul’s joy flows from his personal connection with Jesus Christ. Even sitting in prison he writes, ‘10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord… (Phil 4:10a)’

Application: Living a life of joy is remembering that in Christ Jesus you are a saint

The second secret to living a life of joy is remembering that in Christ Jesus you are a saint. If you haven’t put your faith in Jesus Christ any happiness you may experience is only temporary, it’s built on shaky foundations. Only when your life is built on a personal faith in Jesus Christ, only when you are declared holy in God’s eyes, do you have an eternal reason for joy. When you are in Christ, you can experience joy even in the most difficult circumstances, because you are no longer defined by your circumstances but by who you are in Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul can say, ‘7 …whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 …I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Phil 3:7-8)’ In fact, Paul goes on to say everything else is crap compared to ‘9 …[being] found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Phil 3:9)’ Joy is found in remembering that in Jesus Christ we are saints, that we have been made right with God, that we are holy in his sight.

 

3) Grace and Peace from the Lord Jesus Christ

The third secret to living a life of joy is experiencing the grace and peace that come from Jesus Christ. Paul writes in verse 2, ‘2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:2)’ And in biblical times that was pretty much a standard greeting. The Greeks always started their letters with the word grace, and the Hebrews always greeted people with the word peace, shalom. But Paul gives these words a distinctive Christian flavour.

a) Grace

So let’s start with the word grace. For Paul grace is so much more than a greeting, rather when Paul says grace, he means God’s unmerited favour towards us in Jesus Christ. It sort of seems overkill to emphasize the fact that God’s grace is undeserved, because that’s what grace means, but to learn the secret to living a life of joy you just have to emphasize it. Because we’re sinful human beings we have a tendency to think that God is gracious to us because we’re such wonderful people, because we try really hard, because we are really sorry for our sins, because we deserve to be saved. But nothing could be more opposite to the truth. According to the Bible, ‘8 …God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:3)’ Christ died for those who didn’t deserve to be saved. Christ died for sinners. Christ came not to save the righteous, but the sick. What we deserve is hell, because of our sin we deserve to be cut off from God for all eternity. But what God gives us in Jesus Christ is heaven, to live face to face with God for all eternity. Grace is Gods unmerited and undeserved love in Jesus Christ. And it’s this grace that helps us live a life of joy. Paul writes in Romans 5, ‘1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Rom 5:1-2)’ When we truly understand just how amazing God’s grace is we can’t help but overflow with joy. God saved me a sinner, how awesome is that! God has poured his grace, his unconditional love into your lives, how awesome is that! You have a reason for joy that can never fade, no matter your circumstances.

b) Peace

But the second awesome thing is that because of God’s grace we have peace with God. Over and over the Bible talks about how, through faith in Jesus, we have been reconciled with God. Once we were enemies of God because of our sin, but in Christ our sins have been washed away and we have peace with God. One of the commentaries I was reading this week made a point of the moments in Christ’s life when peace is promised. Peace is first promised at the birth of Jesus. The angels sing, ‘14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. (Lk 2:14)’ And then just before his crucifixion Jesus promises his disciples peace, he says, ‘27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. (Jn 14:27a)’ And his first words to his disciples after his resurrection are, ‘19 …Peace be with you! (Jn 20:19d)’ It’s only in Jesus that we find peace with God. And we find that peace not just when we first put our faith in Jesus but we can experience it every day of our lives. Paul writes later in this letter to the Philippians, ‘6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)’ The secret to living a life of joy is to talk to God about anything that threatens to take your joy away, and he promises to give us peace that will guard our hearts and our minds. And that’s not some mystic feeling of peace, but the peace that comes from the fact that in Christ Jesus God is on our side, God favours us, God loves us. The secret to living a life of joy is to remember that in Christ we have experienced God’s grace and peace – a grace and peace that is available to us no matter our circumstances.

 

The secret to living a life of joy is found in the grace and peace that comes through knowing Jesus, from remembering that in Christ we are saints, we are holy in God’s sight, and from a life given in service to Jesus Christ. Do you want to live a life of joy? The answer is Jesus Christ. I want to encourage you to put your faith in him, not just at the beginning of your faith journey, but at every step along the way. Remind yourself that no matter what happens, in Christ you can experience God’s grace, in Christ you can know God’s peace, in Christ you are holy, in Christ you have been set free to become his slave, in Christ you can live a life of joy. Amen.

 

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