Those of us above the age of 40 may remember a time when there was no such thing as email, text messaging, cell phones, or cheap long-distance rates. If you wanted to communicate over long distances, you wrote what was called a “letter.”
The book of Philippians is a love letter from Paul—who was imprisoned in Rome—to the Christians in Philippi, Greece.
In it, he expressed his gratitude for these dear believers whom he had met 10 years earlier, and he gave them fatherly guidance about the problems they were facing. But above all, Paul explained in this letter how to experience joy in any situation.
Let’s examine Philippians 1:3–11 to see four principles for how we can maintain outrageous joy no matter what happens.
Gratitude for God’s Blessings
Paul began, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (1:3). Paul mentioned “remember” or “think about” 16 times in this letter. He also mentioned “joy” or “rejoice” 16 times. This did not happen by coincidence. There is a correlation between what we think about and our level of joy.
God is working all things together right now for that great climax in history when Jesus Christ returns.
Confidence in God’s Purpose
Paul continued, “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6). God is working all things together right now for that great climax in history when Jesus Christ returns. But God is also working out four things in your life right now—things He has done, is doing, or will do.
He is working out your justification. God declared you “not guilty” the moment you trusted in Christ as your Savior.
He is working out your manifestation. God the Spirit is showing Himself to other people through your love and good works.
He is working out your sanctification. Right now, God is shaping you into the image of Jesus Christ.
He is working out your glorification. At the Rapture, God is going to take your old, worn-out, sinful body and transform it into a brand-new body.
Fellowship with God’s People
Paul explained, “It is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:7–8).
Even though they were separated by 800 miles, Paul and the Philippian Christians remained in one another’s thoughts and prayers. And that helped Paul maintain his joy. You will never be able to maintain consistent joy without being connected to other believers in a local church. If you are a Christian but remain disconnected from other Christians, then eventually your spiritual life is going to deteriorate. Satan’s favorite tactic is to isolate you and then attack.
Desire for God’s Approval
Paul said, “This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (1:9). That word “abound” means to overflow.
Imagine placing a bucket under Niagara Falls. Paul prayed that the Philippians’ love would cascade over—not so they could experience a case of spiritual goosebumps, but so they would have “real knowledge and all discernment.” What was the purpose of this knowledge and discernment? “So that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (1:10). The word “sincere” means to be without sin or moral pollutant. And the Greek word for “blameless” refers to an animal trap on which bait was attached to deceive the animal.
Paul wanted his life—and the Philippians’ lives—to be lived in such a way that it did not cause other Christians to stumble.
And for what end? Paul said, “Until the day of Christ” (1:10). That is a reference to the Rapture. In other words, Paul lived in anticipation of the day he would meet Jesus face-to-face. “Having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (1:11). Above everything else after he died, Paul wanted to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” His purpose for living was Christ’s approval. That gave him a whole new perspective on suffering.
Paul knew that as long as he had God’s approval, nothing else mattered.
The Final Goal
Paul eventually got out of jail. But a few years later, he was imprisoned again. This time, he was declared an enemy of Rome and sentenced to death. Before his execution, he wrote these words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7–8).
Joy is not an emotion. Joy is a choice that you make. A choice to be grateful for God’s blessings in your life. A choice to be confident in God’s plan for your life. A choice to connect to fellowship with other believers in the Church. And a choice—above all—to live your life for God’s approval.