Philippians Chapter 2 Recap

I hope you are enjoying our current teaching series, “The Pursuit of Joy” based on the book of Philippians. It is one of my favorite books in the Bible for several reasons. For one, there is a wonderful note of joy and thanksgiving that runs through this entire letter to the church of Philippi. Joy is somewhat of an unusual subject, since the book was written while Paul was a prisoner.

Chapter 2 of Philippians is full of rich truths. It is impossible to fully explore the depths of this chapter in a 30 minute sermon or in this blog post. I encourage you to read it every now and then. Philippians 2 encourages us to be like-minded and one in spirit, and to follow the example of Christ, who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.

Paul is suggesting that the Christian life is not a series of ups and downs. Rather, it is a process of “ins and outs.” God works in us, and we work out to further His kingdom. We cultivate the submissive mind by responding to what God wants to do in each of us. Before we move onto chapter 3 here are some general thoughts to reflect on in the days ahead.

First, each of us has tremendous untapped potential and God wants to help us fulfill that potential. When Paul says in verse 12 to “work out your salvation” he is not suggesting that you have to work for your salvation. Working out your salvation and our purpose in this life is to be more Christlike. Yes, there will be problems, but God will help us to work them out.

Second, Paul reminds us in Philippians 2 that God must work in us before He can work through us. God is more interested in you than what you are working on because if we are becoming more Christlike, our actions will also be more Christlike.

Third, joy comes from submission. The world’s philosophy is joy comes from getting what you want. You need to take on everybody that gets in your way and when you are the last man standing and you have won, then you find happiness. Jesus alone is proof that philosophy or course of action is wrong. He never used a sword or any other weapon. He defeated hatred by manifesting love; He overcame lies with truth. Because He surrendered He was victorious.

It takes faith to be a servant. We must believe God’s promises are true and they are going to work in our lives just as they worked in Paul’s life. The example comes from Christ, the energy comes from the Holy Spirit, and the result is—joy.

Discussion Questions:
1. In verse Paul says; “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Why can he say this in all sincerity?
2. According to Paul, when do Christians “shine like stars” in the sky? How are you being a light in the world? How does our role in God’s Kingdom work? That is, how do we appear as “lights in the world”? (2.13-15)
3. What does it mean to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling?” Is this a salvation issue or an expression of salvation? Explain.
4, What actions can we take to work out our salvation through humility? The Christian life should be a sacrifice if we follow Christ. Does your faith cost anything? That is, what does it mean to live a life of sacrifice? Explain

Thermometer or Thermostat?

Confused? The title needs an explanation. I was reading a church blog when the following line jumped out at me: “The trouble with him is he’s a thermometer and not a thermostat!” The person being quoted explained that a thermometer doesn’t change anything around it—it just registers the temperature. It’s always going up and down. But a thermostat regulates the surroundings and changes them when they need to be changed.”

Well, it is safe to say that The Apostle Paul was a thermostat. Instead of changing with the spiritual hills and valleys, he went right on, steadily doing his work and serving Christ. And serving Christ meant serving others. “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus…(Philippians 1:1) “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ…” (Titus 1:1)

If you want to be a thermostat, and not a thermometer, and if you want to eliminate pride, you have to love people and serve them. Serving is a core value of Northstar. Though our gifts differ, each one is needed and is multiplied when used for the common good. Some are called within the church family as teachers, and leaders, while others are uniquely gifted to reach out in missions beyond the church walls. This is not a formal process. People serve when they receive a gentle nudge from God.

Most people equate serving with church and Sundays. But in reality, serving is a 24/7/365 duty. There are many opportunities to serve God in both large and small ways outside the church and on other days than Sunday.  Serving is not always convenient and doesn’t always fit our own timetable. We are asked to serve even when our schedule is full. Even when we want to quit. Even when our heart is breaking.

And we don’t receive a pay check for our efforts either. We don’t see an immediate return for our service. The pay check—the appreciation—comes from Jesus Christ. We are serving Him. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Jesus said in Luke 22:27: “…But I am among you as one who serves.”

Jesus did not come to be served—but to serve. He served to the uttermost, just as He loved to the uttermost. Anything that needed to be done for another, He did as naturally and as simply as He breathed. He loved people, and was interested in them, and was ready always to be helpful to them. It never mattered what the service was, whether it was the saving of a soul, the curing of a seemingly incurable sickness, or the giving of a cup of water—He did the most humble with the same grace as greatest.

If being a thermostat is changing the environment, nobody changed the world as Jesus did when He walked this world or today 2,000 years later. And He changed the world by being a servant all the way to the cross.

Discussion questions:
1. What is Paul’s warning to us in Philippians 2:3-5?
2. Can you be a leader and a servant?
3. In what areas are you serving the Body of Christ? What drew you to serve in these areas? Describe the feelings you experience when serving in these areas? What motivates you to continue serving?
4. What must you do, beginning today, to acquire an authentic heart of a servant?
5. Following the example of the Savior, believers are to function as servants who seek to minister to one another in loving and selfless service. Are you, in submission to the Lord and to others, seeking to serve, or are you seeking to be served in the pursuit of your wants? Pray and seek God’s help on becoming a servant.

United We Stand

“It’s easy to get good players. Gettin’ em to play together, that’s the hard part.”—Casey Stengel.

Many people think you need a whole bunch of superstars to make a team effective. Not necessarily. We have all seen teams that have less talent, but succeeded because they worked together as a team.

In the New Testament, the name for teamwork is “unity.” Especially in the writings of the apostle Paul, love and unity are a key focus. 1 Corinthians 1:10 is one example: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Paul knew that the one issue that could devastate the church was dissension, and that the church’s greatest potential for power was found in unity. Philippians 2 is a great passage which instructs the Christian church on how to live in unity.

Paul starts chapter 2 with: “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion.” (Philippians 2:1). Then in verse 2 he talks about benefits of a church that is unified. “…then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

Paul doesn’t instruct the church to “agree on absolutely everything.” God wants unity, not uniformity. God made all of us unique. Because we are human and we are all individuals, we’re never going to agree on everything. But, we are called to be united in love, spirit, and purpose, sharing fundamental things in common.

Look at a successful marriage. What makes them successful is not that they have the same personality types, enjoy all the same hobbies, and have the same opinions on everything. But they make a successful team when they are united in what really counts: wanting the best for one another, supporting each other to become all that God calls each one to be, and working toward common values and goals, such as raising children who love the Lord. The same can be true of business or other relationships. And the church.

As a community of believers, we should want the best for each other. Yes, we may differ on the best approach when it comes to minor issues such as the number of services or when to expand and how, or whether we need to fill out the connection card each week. We may even have a different view of which Bible translation is the best. But we have fundamental truths in common. And the chief of those is that we love Jesus Christ and our passion is to know Him and to make Him known.

Discussion Questions:
1. In your opinion, what is the difference between “unity” and “uniformity?”
2. The key to Christian unity is getting our focus off of ourselves and onto others. We still contend with our differences, pride, sin, and conflicts with one another. So how do we come together in a common purpose?
3. Acts 4:32a says, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul…” What does that tell you about the results and benefits of unity?
4. How can you as an individual strengthen the unity at Northstar?

Meet The Killjoys

In Sunday’s message, I talked about three joy-killers: disunity, pride and selfishness. And I talked about the solutions to each.

The Northstar vision is to help the whole world find and follow Jesus. We need to agree on our mission, our purpose, our future and the path to that future. In fact, we as a body of believers need to agree on a whole lot of things. To do this, the church must be united. And, for a church to be united, Paul recognizes that humility must prevail. Without humility there can be no unity, and where there is no unity, there can be no successful advancement of the gospel by a local church.

But even though unity is necessary, and even though unity is possible, unity is not automatic. Christian churches do not drift towards unity on their own. On the one hand, unity is a gift of the Spirit, but on the other hand, unity requires that we work towards being humble. If working towards humility is the key to unity, what does humility look like? Paul’s answer: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4.

This is not a case of “be humble” because Paul says so, or, “be united” because Paul says so. The reason we strive for humility is because it is the way we accomplish unity. And the reason we strive for unity, is because it enables us to carry out our mission. We should have the same mind, the same love, the same spirit, and the same purpose which is help the whole world find and follow Jesus.

Jesus is our example of humility. His demonstration of that humility should be enough incentive for every Christian in the church to “do nothing from selfishness” and to “regard one another as more important than himself.”

On the subject of selfishness. Selfishness comes naturally to most of us and God’s standard of selflessness does not. Remember Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit…” I can’t help notice the word nothing. Do you notice how much of the responsibility of obeying this verse falls on us? All of it. We can’t use Philippians 1:6 as an excuse or rationalization for our selfish tendencies. That verse says, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” So, if God wants me to be selfless He is going to have to do it. Unfortunately, it does not work that way. Part of the perfecting process God uses is our own obedience. We need to work on being more selfless every day.

Questions:
1. How important is it that a church be unified? What specific things can YOU do to encourage greater unity at Northstar? How about encouraging greater unity in your home, marriage, family, community, school, etc? What effect do you think gossip has on unity? How does it do damage? Based on this week’s message, what rights are you willing to give up?
2. Consider what Jesus gave up by humbling himself to bring eternal life to us. What thought from the Philippians passage is most precious to you? Why? Have you ever humbled yourself by giving up something that you deserved for the benefit of others? Ask God to begin to show you how you are puffed up in any area of your life right now. Pray for humility.
3. How would you describe the differences between being selfish and selfless as a member of the church? How do you apply selfless wisdom in response to the gospel? Read the following verses and ask God to make you more selfless than selfish? What do the following verses say to you: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.: (Matt. 23:12) “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:10) “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (I Peter 5:6)

The True Servant’s Heart

Every one of us knows at least one person who will do about anything possible for you. I have met many such people at Northstar. They are willing to change their plans and help you at the drop of a hat. I admire those people and wish to be like them.

But then I read Philippians 2:6 which says, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” I have read that verse many times, yet it still blows my mind. My reality, my perspective, my understanding, my awareness, my wisdom, and my discernment concerning God is too insufficient to process what the Son of God did for me. It never fails to remind me of Isaiah 55:8-9:“ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Yes, there are people that will go out of their way to help me, but Jesus was God, yet He came down to earth as a servant, humbling himself as a human. Now add verses 7 and 8 in Philippians 2 “…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! ”

How do you get your arms around that one phrase, “He made himself nothing?”

He was born in a trough for feeding animals. He was born in the likeness of men. The first day of His earthly life, He had enemies. He submitted Himself to parents, themselves by nature sinners against Him. Since He voluntarily submitted to His own Law, He obeyed His parents, “for this is right.” He was trained in a common laborer’s trade.

He had one purpose on His mind, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)  And these “many” were His enemies, haters of God and an insult to His righteousness and holiness.

He was baptized by a sinful man, John. He endured temptation and near starvation in the desert. He made Himself available to any needy individual and spent three years helping others, morning, noon, and night, when fresh, when tired, even washing people’s feet like a slave and having no place to lay His head, all the while setting His face like a flint toward the Cross.

And then there is Judas. Even though Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him, he still washed his feet. Can you imagine? I have a hard time being nice to someone who cuts me off in traffic, let alone someone who set me up to be killed.

The bottom line is this. We all should be blown away when we think about the sacrifice that Jesus paid for all of us on the cross and the ultimate servant He was on earth. It makes me want to be more like Him.  My prayer for Northstar is that we will be motivated to be more sacrificial and servant-like. That God would cultivate a heart in us that everyone we meet would characterize as a servant’s heart. Not just so that we can be seen as a servant, but so that people can see the awesome sacrifice of making Himself nothing to save unworthy sinners from their sin.

Questions:
1. How do you react to the phrase, “He made Himself nothing?”
2. Why did Christ take on the limitations of being human even though He was of the same nature as God? (2:7)
3. How is Christ the best example of humility and unselfishness for us? (2:6-8)
4. How does Christ’s example of humility challenge our natural self-centeredness?
5. Pray and ask God for the heart of a servant. What actions could you take this week to have the heart of a servant?

Philippians, Paul And Your Pastor

Philippians is about Christ in our life, Christ as our goal, Christ as our strength, and joy through suffering. It was written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, about thirty years after Christ’s ascension.

You may be wondering why I chose Philippians to be one of the two teaching series where we use a more expository method to work our way through the book. Since my first reading of Philippians, now many years ago, I have always loved this particular letter. When I read it I sense Paul’s joy, and now, as your pastor – his joy and love for the church is something I aspire to emulate.

This letter talks about things that are close to me, not the least of which is the gospel itself. It also reflects something that is near and dear to me, the love of the local church. The Philippians Christians were not perfect, but they did serve a perfect God. Paul loved them, gave praise for them, but wanted more for them.

In chapter one of Philippians, we see that Paul’s obstacles in ministry did not diminish his love for the church. In chapter 1, verses 3-6, we see that Paul continued to have the church in his thoughts. In verses 7-8, we see that Paul continued to have the church in his heart. In verses 9-11, we see that Paul continued to have the church in his prayers.

Philippians teaches me that even in our bleakest days of ministry, we must never lose our love for the local church. Paul didn’t. Even chained to Roman soldiers while sitting in a dungeon, his love for the church was still clear, Paul, who is suffering in prison, pleads with the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (verse 6). Paul is also an optimist. Paul is convinced in God’s ability to work powerfully and effectively within individual people, and within the church. And he is convinced that God’s work will be accomplished.

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago says. “when the love of God flows through us to others in our church family, masks come off, conversations get deep, hearts get vulnerable, lives are shared, accountability is invited and tenderness grows. In a church where this kind of love abounds, people become like brothers and sisters. They gather to share from their hearts on the deepest levels. They walk compassionately with each other through life’s problems and pain. Churches where members tap into this source of love are happy, joyful places.”

That is the church we strive for at Northstar and another reason I chose Philippians as the book for this series. Working hard to be the kind of church where we can find Jesus and then experience abundant, joyful life.

Today, we are a pretty good church, maybe not always and in every circumstance, but certainly on most days. That is a reflection of God’s grace and the faithful commitment of our members and regular attenders. And as I was preparing this series, I too was “thanking my God in all my remembrance of you.” And like Paul, I want more for all of us as we serve Him faithfully here.

My prayer matches what Paul said in Philippians 1:10 (MSG) “that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.”

Questions:
1. How do you define love for the church?
2. Who is God calling you to love?
3. How well do you keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to demonstrate love to people you meet at work, at church, or in your neighborhood?
4. Is joy a necessary component of loving the church?
5. Pray for the church that God will continue to bless our ministries. Pray for the church leadership. And pray that God will show you where you can serve in the church.

Distractions? Or Opportunities?

MEH. That’s urban slang for indifference or lack of enthusiasm; to be used when one doesn’t seem to care. Sometimes life is “meh,” when circumstances and distractions are invading every part of your life. And the distractions are becoming more difficult to deal with because my guardrails no longer fend them off. The distractions can be family troubles, difficulties at work, economic misfortunes, health problems, etc. Suddenly I feel like a dog chasing its tail. It is so meh because my joy just left left town with my normal life.

Of course, I know that as a Christian, my life should not be meh. I know that we have been given new life in Him and that my life is part of a bigger picture, a grander story, the beautiful story of redemption, love, and eternal glory. I guess I am just in the sad distracted chapter of my story right now.

Life can be challenging, and if we are not careful, it can rob us of our joy. So think about and answer this one question: What is your barrier, your distraction to joy? Many people answer that question with two words, “if only…” If only I had more time, if only I made a little more money, or I made that big sale, or the kids behaved a little better, or my son got that college scholarship, or my wife stopped making her meat loaf.

When we remain in the world of “if only,” hanging on to a self-proclaimed barrier to joy, we fool ourselves into thinking joy depends on our circumstances. The Bible is clear that it does not. Our joy is simply to be found and completed in the knowledge of God’s grace and our salvation as John 15:11 tells us: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

The only barrier to joy, therefore, is believing there is one. Those barriers or distractions are opportunities, not obstacles. Although distractions can be difficult, we can find joy if we trust in God and His plan.

The secret to finding joy in “any and every situation” is found in anchoring our hopes in something that is so large and unshakeable that it towers over every miserable situation or experience in this life.

If you are a believer, there have been times you see God’s hand in a situation and you are like, “Wow, God did that!” And you feel joy. Or looking up at the stars or at creation and you suddenly feel so small compared to God who created everything. That too is joy. Or if are singing a worship song and you sense God’s presence and His tender love and compassion for you and your heart begins to be full of praise. That is joy too. We need to remember that the bumps in the road, the distractions, the trials and the distractions are from God and for His purpose. That too, should give us joy.

Discussion Questions:
1. What are some of the places you have looked for joy?
2. Which distractions need to change to have joy in your life?
3. Is joy essential to bearing’s life’s circumstances?
4. Is anything currently hindering you in your relationship your God? What are some of the things that divide your affection for God?
5. When do distractions turn into opportunities?

Choose Joy

“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” C.S. Lewis

Are you enjoying the journey of your life? Is it meaningful? Is it an abundant life? Is it purpose-driven? Is it a joyful life?

All too often we choose to have too little joy in our life. That’s because we start to major on the minors. We focus on what is not important rather than what is. It is easy to let uncontrolled circumstances dictate our emotions. Fear, anxiety, anger can be in charge for seconds, minutes even months and years of our lives. When that happens, we are giving away our joy, nobody is stealing it.

Have you ever felt like that? Most of us have. We relinquish the power God gave us. He gave us joy when He gave us the Holy Spirit. John 14:15-17 says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” Unfortunately, we are not using what we already possess.

When we understand and embrace that truth it can be a game changer. But first, we need to choose to allow joy to be the byproduct in our moment-by-moment living.

My prayer is that the Pursuit Of Joy teaching series will enable that “a-ha” moment in your life that you can live differently. It is my prayer that you choose joy over fear. Joy over anger. Joy over anxiety and worry. No matter the circumstances.

When our spirit lines up with God’s Word and I begin to choose to exhibit joy because of what God through His Son did for me on the cross, my emotions will get in line and my circumstances become less important.

You can feel happiness even though our days are far from perfect. You can experience delight just because we are alive and we are the children of God. All the other stuff will just fade into the background because you began to choose the joy that is always available to all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ.

Let me make a bold prediction. The more you choose joy, the more joy you will experience despite your circumstances. And it will get easier and easier as you go along.

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” – Isaiah 55:12

Discussion questions:
1. Do you believe joy is a feeling or a choice?
2. Take a piece of paper and jot down some examples of God’s faithfulness to you, no matter the circumstances. Stop at 10. Does that list impact your trust and confidence in God?
3. In your prayer time, say “thank you” before you jump directly into your list of wants and needs, no matter how pressing those may seem. Thank God for his faithful love, the daily help of his Holy Spirit, and his provision for you.
4. Remind yourself of the importance of rejoicing by searching the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—for God’s instructions in this area. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us it’s God’s will that we “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances.”
5. Ask God for His help if you struggle showing joy. It’s not all up to us; God’s there, waiting to give us joy. John 10:10 (AMP). It says, “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).

Happiness Vs. Joy

Is there that much difference between happiness and joy? I heard somewhere that the word “happiness” in ancient times meant lucky, chance or turning out well. So logic would suggest that happiness is based upon you being fortunate or opportunistic. It would make sense that if events turn out well, then you’re happy.

But joy is something else entirely. Because even when you have achieved or received, accomplished or obtained everything you wanted, your happiness could be short lived. Why? Because happiness tends to be dependent. It is dependent upon good luck, dependent upon our circumstances, dependent upon other people, dependent upon our moods, dependent upon our emotions, and dependent on how fortunate we are.

Let’s look at the difference between joy and happiness as we talked about in Sunday’s message.

Happiness is external while joy is internal. Physical and material things may make us happy, but joy comes from the heart. Happiness comes and goes, but joy, on the other hand, can stay with you for the long haul. The reason? Real joy is from God. And because it comes from God, joy lasts even in the midst of the trials of life. Joy isn’t dependent on circumstances. Joy is strength. Joy is internal. Even in the darkest days, when sadness, grief, and loss may threaten to overwhelm you, God’s joy is there. Joy is not an act of will-power, but a spontaneous, emotional response of the heart for all that God has done for us.

Happiness is based on circumstances while joy is based on Christ. Happiness is based on circumstances, but Joy is rooted in substance. Happiness may be about things. Joy is about Christ. Because joy is based on Christ, it cannot be taken away. Oh, you might think that it’s gone—that circumstances have robbed you of it—but it’s not. As believers, we are promised the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. We are promised His joy. Jesus’ words in John 15:11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Acts 13:52 says, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Christian joy is not superficial and flimsy. Real joy is deep and firm because it is rooted in Christ Jesus.

Happiness is based on chance and joy is based on a choice. Happiness is based on luck, chance or accident. Joy is a decision. A determination of the will. We need to choose joy over bitterness, anger, and sorrow. Make a decision to choose joy every day. No matter what. Look at these great examples in Scripture: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” (2 Corinthians 8:2). “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Questions
1. Are you looking for happiness today? What do you think will bring you happiness…a marriage, an accomplishment, a material object?
2. Have you ever accomplished what you thought will lead to happiness, only to be still looking for happiness or something to satisfy and fulfill you?
3. Do you want to have happiness or joy in your life? And Why?
4. Do you know the difference between happiness and joy? Knowing the difference, would you choose joy?

Finding Joy In Every Circumstance

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for fighting for a cause he believed in. Mandela, met external prosecution with internal character, indomitable will and stoic sacrifice. Jailed for 27 years, he spent his time learning and teaching, even mastering the language of his oppressors to be able to communicate with them.

Paul knew a few things about suffering as well, which makes the book of Philippians all the more remarkable. In 2 Corinthians 11: 25-27, we read part of the list of those sufferings: “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul talks about “a thorn in the flesh ”Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” We don’t what the affliction was although people have speculated things such as a chronic eye problem, malaria, migraines, epilepsy, and a speech disability. We don’t know what it was, but it was a source of real pain in the apostle’s life.

No one likes to live in pain. Paul sought the Lord three times to remove this source of pain from him (2 Corinthians 12:8). He probably had many good reasons why he should be pain-free: he could have a more effective ministry; he could reach more people with the gospel; he could glorify God even more. But the Lord was more concerned with building Paul’s character and preventing pride. Instead of removing the problem, whatever it was, God gave Paul more overwhelming grace and more compensating strength. Paul learned that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9).

God is not in the rating and ranking of Christians business, but Paul may have been the greatest christian in history. He has probably done more to further Christianity than anyone living or dead. Paul wrote much of the New Testament. He still had more than his fair share of bad circumstances, yet in found joy in all of them.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This is the very first thing James writes in his letter after his salutation. Why? Because it is that important. Many Christians think once they’ve made that decision for Christ that everything will fall into place and life will be that proverbial bowl of cherries. And when trials and tough times come upon them or continue, they begin to question, “why?” It is difficult to find joy in the midst of all the junk, hardships, and painful circumstances?

As pastor, I have talked to many Christians who have faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, mountains of medical bills, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. But amidst all that, God’s joy really is there. You can consider each trial joy, you can greatly rejoice even when you feel like you did a face plant into a mud puddle. In this series, we hope that whatever circumstances you are facing, you realize that God is all you need to have real joy in your life.

Questions.

1. What does it mean to you to rejoice in all things?
2. Sometimes short-term pain can bring about long-term joy and peace. Have you ever felt the pain you went through was worth it because of the end result?
3. Are you willing to endure short-term trials knowing there is long-term joy coming in the future?
4. Pray and ask God to empower you in a way that you feel joy no matter what is happening around you.