Living a Life of Joy 4) Making Our Joy Complete

Making Your Joy Complete

Text: Philippians 2:1-11

 

I’m actually going to focus on just verse 1-4 this morning, and our text is the first few words of verse 2, where Paul says, ‘2 …make my joy complete… (Phil 2:2a)’ This is the fourth sermon in our series on Living a Life of Joy. We’ve looked at how Christian joy is not found in our circumstances but how it is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, in fact in serving Jesus Christ, in praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in proclaiming Christ. This morning we’re going to look at how we can make our joy complete.

But before we look at the how I want to look at that phrase ‘making my joy complete.’ Firstly, it’s a command. In fact, it’s the only command in this whole passage. Paul commands the Christians in Philippi to make his joy complete. Secondly, the idea that they can make his joy complete, implies that his joy isn’t complete, there’s something that’s hindering the fullness of his joy. He’s not saying he has no joy, in fact this letter is pretty much Paul explaining how much joy he has, but it’s not quite complete. This morning we’re going to look at our source of joy, what begins the process of filling up our joy, and then how we can make it complete, how we can fill our joy right up. Thirdly, when Paul says ‘make my joy complete,’ he isn’t just speaking about his personal desires, rather he’s speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When Paul says this will complete his joy, he also means this is what will complete Christ’s joy. This is not just what will make Paul happy, this is what makes God happy. Finally, when Paul says ‘make my joy complete,’ we get an insight into how a Christian ought to think. What makes Paul’s joy complete is what will make our joy complete, hence the title of this sermon.

 

1) What brings Joy

So Paul starts with what brings joy. His joy isn’t complete, but to be honest, it’s right up there. His joy is pretty full as we’ve already seen so far in this series. Paul finds joy in serving Christ, in praying for his brothers and sisters in Christ, and in proclaiming Christ. That’s a lot of joy! But Paul reminds us that there are things that ought to bring us joy as well, and here he gives us four.

a) The Encouragement of Christ

The first thing that should fill us with joy is the encouragement of Christ. Paul starts, ‘1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ… (Phil 2:1a)’ When Paul says ‘if’ the ‘if’ isn’t whether Christ is encouraging, but whether you are a Christian or not, because if you are a Christian then you know the encouragement of Christ. But if you aren’t a Christian then you don’t know the encouragement of Christ. So for us Christians there is nothing uncertain about this, you have experienced encouragement in Christ. So what is this encouragement in Christ? Because we are united with Christ we receive all these spiritual benefits. Because we are united with Christ all our sins have been forgiven – that’s pretty encouraging. Because we are united with Christ we have been reconciled with God – that’s pretty encouraging. Because we are united with Christ we have received eternal life – that’s pretty encouraging. Because we are united with Christ his Spirit lives in us, through his Spirit Jesus is always with us – that’s pretty encouraging. And I could go on and on. The truth is if you are in Christ there are so many things that should encourage you, that should give you strength, that should give you hope, that should fill you with joy. If you are in Christ then you should be greatly encouraged.

b) The comfort of love

Secondly, Paul mentions the comfort of love. The NIV puts it like this, ‘1 …if any comfort from his love… (Phil 2:1b)’ In the Greek there’s no personal pronoun, it’s just ‘if any comfort from love.’ Commentators are divided over whose love it is. The NIV presumes that it’s Jesus’ love for us displayed on the cross, and so they translate it as ‘his love.’ But other commentators think Paul is referring to ‘God’s love.’ One of the reasons is because Paul mentions the encouragement of Jesus and the fellowship of the Spirit, God’s love would make it very Trinitarian. And there’s something in that. Paul finishes his second letter to the Corinthians with that very formula, ‘14 ’ In that same letter Paul calls God, ‘3 4 ’ Either way, Paul is referring to the love that we have received from God through Jesus Christ. Paul’s point is that we find comfort in the fact that God loves us. We find comfort in the fact that God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die in our place on the cross. We find comfort in the fact that God has poured out his Spirit, the Comforter, into our lives. We find comfort in the fact that God is working out all things for the good of those who love him. We find comfort in the fact that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Paul’s point is that if you know God’s love you should be greatly comforted.

c) The fellowship of the Spirit

The third thing that should fill us with joy is the fellowship of the Spirit. It’s interesting that over and over the Bible associates joy with the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us that Jesus was ‘21 ’ And that ‘52 ’ Paul writes that, ‘17 ’ And Paul mentions that the Christians in Thessalonica ‘6 ’ In fact, joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). The fact that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit should fill us with joy. We get to do life with the Holy Spirit – his power, his presence, his fellowship.

d) Tenderness and Compassion

The final reason we should be filled with joy is that as followers of Christ we are the recipients of tenderness and compassion. The word tenderness is the same word the NIV translates as ‘affection’ in 1:8, where Paul talks about ‘’ Remember I talked about how Jesus loves us with all his guts. We often think of God’s love for us in Christ in terms of what he did for us on the cross, and there’s nothing wrong with that, that is the pinnacle of how God displays his love for us. But what we often don’t do is think of God’s love in terms of how he feels about us. God doesn’t just act loving towards us, he feels loving towards us. In Christ God feels genuine warmth towards you. That’s why the Bible refers to God as a Father, because that’s how God feels about us, he loves us like a father loves his children. If you are a Christian then God is tender, or affectionate, towards you.

And Paul adds God’s compassion towards us. Because God loves us he is merciful with us, he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. James tells us that ‘11 ’ And we see that over and over in the life of Jesus as well, 5 times we read about Jesus’ compassion for people (Mt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mk 1:41). As Christians we are the recipients of God’s tender mercies, of his loving compassion.

Have you noticed the little joy metre going up on the right hand side of the screen? These are the things that ought to fill us with joy – the fact that in Christ we are encouraged, that God loves us, that the Spirit lives in us, that we have experienced God’s tender mercies. That’s the foundation of our joy. That forms the wellspring of joy in our hearts. And that’s the base that Paul builds his main point on this morning.

 

2) What completes Joy - unity

You see all these things are true in Paul’s life. Paul finds his joy in the encouragement he has in Christ and the love he has received from God, and the fellowship he experiences with the Spirit, and God’s tenderness and compassion in his life, but despite all that his joy isn’t complete. So what is it that completes Paul’s joy? What is it that we need that will make our joy complete? The simple answer to that is unity. What would make Paul’s joy complete is if the Christians in Philippi were united. What would make God’s joy complete and our joy complete is if we were united. Paul talks about four things that should unite us. In verse 2 he says, ‘2 ’ Looking at the structure of that verse is actually helpful. In the Greek it looks like this:

A – the same attitude

B – the same love having

B’ – harmonious

A’ – the one attitude

This sort of structure is common in Jewish literature, and they do it to make a point, and the point is either in the first and last idea, or it’s found in the centre. In this case it’s found in both, which is why I’m going to group it into two points.

a) Having the same attitude

Firstly, the thing that should unite us is our attitude. In the Greek it’s the word phroneō. We are to be like-minded, or think about things in the same way. The thing that should unite us as Christians is our belief in the truth. Doctrine, the things that we believe, is meant to be the very thing that unites us. Now you’re probably thinking that doctrine is the thing that usually divides Christianity, but that’s not how it’s meant to be. Part of the problem is that our understanding of the truth is limited. Even Paul admits that he hasn’t yet attained perfection in such things, but is still on the journey. In fact, he says all mature believers should have that attitude, there’s that word phroneō again. In fact, Paul says, ‘15 …if on some point you think differently (there’s our word phroneō again), that too God will make clear to you. (Phil 3:15b)’ We need to hold those two ideas in tension. What should unite us are the essentials of the gospel, and as for the non-essentials we should keep studying God’s word together in the expectation that God will bring our minds into unity. What should unite all Christians is our faith in Jesus Christ. What unites us is our belief in the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What unites us is the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, the fact that Jesus died in our place to reconcile us with God. What unites us is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, his ascension and his second coming. What unites us is our hope in eternal life. What should unite us is our desire to see Jesus Christ proclaimed. And the rest we just have to keep working on until God brings unity of mind.

b) Having the same love

The second thing that should unite us as Christians is our love for one another. According to Paul we should have the same love for each other. The word love here is the same word he used for God’s love back in verse 1. We should have the same love for each other that that God showed us in Jesus Christ. The second phrase he uses is an extremely rare word in Greek, sympsychos, which is only used here in Philippians 2. The NIV translates it as ‘’ Basically it means living in harmony with one another. But probably the closest English word would be ‘soul-mates.’ Paul’s point is that it’s not enough to just agree with one another theologically; God actually wants you to care for each deeply. We aren’t just to be united in our doctrine, but we are to be united in love. The idea is that our souls are so bound to one another that even our differences can’t pull us apart. It’s such a sad reflection on human nature that we can allow difference of opinion to ruin our relationships, or that we can even agree on almost every detail or doctrine and yet still not get along with each other.

The unity that fills Paul’s heart and, more importantly, Jesus’ heart with joy certainly includes our common belief in biblical truth, but it goes beyond just our convictions and includes our deep affection and sacrificial love for one another. Paul’s point is that you can know Christ’s encouragement and God’s love and the Spirit’s fellowship, and tenderness and compassion, but if you don’t have unity, if you don’t have the same attitude and the same love, if you aren’t one in mind and purpose, then his joy won’t be complete, and Christ’s joy won’t be complete, and your joy won’t be complete. If we are going to find complete joy we need to be united in both our attitude, how we think, and our love for one another.

 

3) What makes Joy possible

So what makes this joy possible? How do you create this unity that completes our joy? Paul doesn’t have to look far to find the things that cause disunity. He doesn’t even have to look outside the church, because the most insidious enemy of Christian unity is found in our hearts. Paul compares the things that destroy unity and therefore our joy, with the attitudes that cultivate unity and promote joy.

a) Attitudes that destroy our unity and joy

So firstly, let’s look at the attitudes that destroy both our Christian unity and our joy. Paul writes, ‘3 4 ’ Paul highlights three negative attitudes.

i) Selfish ambition

Firstly, he mentions selfish ambitions. This is the same word Paul used to describe those in chapter 1 who ‘15 ’ This desire for popularity, of being more important, or admired, kills unity. Instead of creating a culture of loving care it creates a culture of competitiveness.

ii) Self-glory

Secondly, he mentions self-glory. The NIV uses the phrase ‘vain conceit.’ In the Greek it’s literally empty-glory. For Paul the pursuit of personal prestige and honour is hollow and empty because it is self-focused. It’s interesting that Paul uses both of these words in the second half of our text this morning. Firstly, Christ ‘7 ’ Literally, ‘Christ emptied himself.’ And because Christ emptied himself God exalted him and gave him a name about every other name, all ultimately ‘11 ’ According to Paul self-centred ambition is the road to empty-glory, whereas self-emptying service is the road to real glory.

iii) Self-interest

Thirdly, Paul talks about self-interest. He says, ‘look not only to your own interests.’ Paul isn’t saying we can’t look to our own interests, but just that we can’t only do that. The issue in all three of this attitudes is they are completely self-focused, they are totally self-centred. The biggest killer of unity is selfishness. You can’t have us when it’s all about you.

Paul is challenging us to look at our motivations, and ask: Am I being driven by self-centred motives? Do I want to be noticed and receive recognition for the things that I do? Do I become resentful when my efforts or ideas are ignored? Am I being selfish? One of the easiest ways to work out how selfish you are is to count how often you say ‘I,’ compared to ‘you.’ I feel this… I think this… I want this…’ as opposed to ‘how do you feel… what do you think… what do you need.’

b) Attitudes that promote unity and joy

Next, Paul turns to the attitudes that promote unity and joy. The rest of verse 3 and 4 say, ‘3 4 ’ That looks like 2 phrases but in the Greek Paul contrasts the three negative phrases with three positive ones.

i) Think low of yourself

The first positive attitude that builds unity is to think low of yourself. That’s literally what the Greek word translated as humility means ‘to be lowly of mind.’ Elsewhere Paul says, ‘3 …Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment… (Rom 12:3b)’ Paul isn’t suggesting that we develop an inferiority complex, because the whole, ‘I’m a loser, I’m a nobody,’ thing is pretty much as self-centred as the ‘I’m so awesome, the world revolves around me’ thing. Rather what Paul is suggesting is that we are so other-focused we just don’t think of our selves.  Again Paul uses Jesus as an example. He says, ‘8 ’ Jesus didn’t have a low opinion of himself, after all he went around calling himself the Son of God, rather Jesus was so focused on us that he put us before himself.

ii) Think highly of others

In fact, Paul says we are to think highly of others, we are to consider others better, or more highly, than ourselves. What that means is that their needs are more important than our needs, their good is more important than our good. And again it was for our good that Jesus gave up his life on the cross. Instead of thinking highly of ourselves we are to think highly of others.

iii) Think of others

And if you haven’t got Paul says it again, it’s only when we think of others that we build unity. We can’t look just to our own interests, we also need to look to the interests of others. Don’t just look to yourself, look to others. Don’t just think of yourself, think of others. That might mean stopping what you’re doing in order to listen to someone else, without looking at your watch, sighing impatiently, and reorganizing your schedule in the back of your head. It might mean letting someone else get the glory even though you did most of the work. It might mean listening to someone’s viewpoint even if you don’t agree with it, it might even mean deferring to their preference instead of yours.

 

The secret to making your joy complete is remembering that your joy is in the encouragement you have received in Christ and the love you have received from God, and the fellowship you have experienced with the Spirit, and God’s tenderness and compassion displayed in your life. Those things are the foundation of our joy as Christians. But to make our joy complete Paul encourages us to have the same attitude towards biblical truth (to agree on the essentials and to grow in the non-essentials), and the same love for each other that God has for us in Christ Jesus. And the only way you can build that sort of unity is by thinking less of yourself and more of others. My prayer for you this weak is that you will make my joy complete ‘’ Amen.

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