Friday, March 9, 2007

Joyously Advance the Gospel--Despite the Circumstances Philippians 1:3-8

“Joyously Advance the Gospel”
Despite the Circumstances
Philippians 1:3-8

Scripture Introduction:

Today we will be looking at Philippians 1:3-8.

We want joy, but we do not always know how to get it. And it often seems that once we do have joy something comes along to rob it. So not only do we want to know how to have joy we also want to know how to keep it. While wrongfully accused and chained to a guard in a Roman prison for two years, Paul lets us know here in Philippians that Christians can be joyful always.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For 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. For 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 1:3-8


Sermon Introduction:

(Visually wear shackles) We all have these shackles. We all have things that are holding us down, things that are potentially robbing our joy. I want you for a brief moment to visualize what your shackles are. Try to answer this question, “if only…would happen then it would help me to be joyful”. This is your shackle.

Now as we continue to visualize our shackle(s) I want us to notice something about Paul. He wrote this letter to the Philippians while still in his chains. But this letter is also know as the “Letter of Joy” not only because Paul uses the word joy or rejoice some 20 times but because the overall feeling of the letter is one of joy and victory. And this lets us know one really important truth; you do not need to get rid of your shackles to have joy. Paul did not. I do not, and you do not. And this is because Christians can have joy beyond our circumstances. Now of course, as we mentioned last week the main theme and purpose of Philippians is to encourage the Philippians to advance the Gospel. But certainly this comes with joy—joy no matter the circumstances.

That sounds great and wonderful doesn’t it? Or maybe does it sound discouraging? My guess is that your response to that truth is much like mine. That sounds great, I know that I should have joy at all times, and that my circumstances should not matter…but…they do! The truth is that joy is a constant struggle and it is a battle but it is one that must be fought.

Paul understands this. Scripture is not ignorant of our fight and struggle for joy. Paul himself is not unaffected by this battle for joy. There are numerous times in Scripture that Paul was even despairing of life. But the truth remains the same we must be growing in our level of joy and Paul is giving us some ammunition in our fight for joy. So here in these six verses we will discover that because 3 things are true we can have joy beyond our circumstances.


The first truth is quite simple and is kind of a “duh” but it is one that we must first understand before we can move on to the “how’s” of having joy beyond our circumstances and that is:

A. Because Joy is not circumstantial Christians can have joy beyond our circumstances.

We get this point from the general background of the text. From knowing that Paul is in a prison as he is writing this letter and also from knowing some of the things that Paul has went through. By reading 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 (you do not have to turn there) we can see that Paul was:

1. Beaten times without number
2. Often in danger of death
3. 5 times received 39 lashes
4. 3 times beaten with rods
5. Once stoned to the point they thought he was dead
6. 3 times shipwrecked
7. He spent a day and a night stranded without a boat in the middle of the sea
8. Always in danger of rivers, robbers, always traveling, danger from his own countrymen, dangers from foreign people, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, on the sea, from false Christians,
9. Worked really hard
10. Many sleepless nights
11. In hunger
12. In thirst
13. Often without food
14. In cold and exposure (that means naked and cold)
15. Apart from all of the above he has daily the mental anguish of caring for churches all over the world.

So this is a person who has been beaten half to death, probably has scars all over his body. He never can really settle into a home. He hasn’t lived in one place for more than a couple years at a time (and that being rare). He did not mention that he was never able to marry. Nor did he mention that because of his being pummeled with rocks he at some point became pretty much blind. He did mention that he was shipwrecked and that he was always in danger. He had to watch out for everyone. He was hated by his fellow country men, and often those who should have been his closest friends were just impostors. He was always working really hard. He was often hungry, thirsty, naked and cold. And to add on top of all that he had the spiritual and mental anguish of caring for all of the churches.

I know what that is like. Whenever, Satan gets a hold on some of you it causes Nikki and I much anguish. We know the joys of God doing awesome things in your life but we also go through heartbreak when we see God working in your life and then suddenly you leave the church for months at a time. That breaks our heart and causes us much anguish. Paul too I am certain knew this very anguish. We can sense some of Paul’s anguish in the third chapter of Philippians verse 18, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ”. Not only was Paul in prison but his shackles were a daily reminder that many people are enemies of the cross of Christ.

So we can learn from the example of Paul, who had been through most anything that you could imagine, that there must be something in Paul that makes his joy not circumstantial. Something was allowing Paul to have joy even in the midst of suffering. And I think it is because of these next two things that Paul had joy. If we embrace these two truths I believe we too can begin to have joy that moves beyond our circumstances.

If Paul was able to have joy beyond his circumstances, and I can have that joy too I want it. I want to know how I can have joy on cloudy days. I want to know that I can have joy when people wrong me. I want to know that I can have joy even whenever I have messed up. I want to know that I can have joy beyond my circumstances, and God lets us know that:

B. Because joy is found in the community of the gospel Christians can have joy beyond circumstances.

In verse 5, where it says, “in view of your participation” or if you are using the NIV where it says, “because of your partnership” the word translated “participation” or “partnership” is the Greek word KOINONIA. (Pronounced koy-no-knee-uh). I want you to say that out loud with me. This is a very important word in the Bible and Paul uses one that is really close to it in verse 7 when he says “you are all partakers”.
What the word means is simply “fellowship”. It is also used of a marriage relationship, it means an intimate bonding. You may have heard the church announce an event by saying something like “FOOD, FUN, and FELLOWSHIP”. Well we really are not conveying the proper meaning of the word. Biblical fellowship is more intimate. D.A. Carson helps us understand this quite well when he says;

In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invited a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

It moves outside the walls of the church. When you are in KOINONIA (fellowship) with someone whenever they hurt, you hurt. You are united by a common bond and a common goal. As a church our KOINONIA comes from the Holy Spirit inside of each of us. Carson defines KOINONIA well when he refers to it as, “self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision”.

Perhaps we can see it more clearly by using some paper clips and a magnet.

Here are three paper clips. We will call them Maude, Claude, and Chuck. Now Maude is a 74 year old grandmother of 16. She likes canning fruit, long walks on the beach, and knitting. Her biggest pet peeves are those young kids with their rock-n-roll and people who are wealthy. She goes to the Christian church down the street but has never really accepted Jesus. But then something happens, she gets drawn to Christ. He calls her to Himself and she comes. She is now in FELLOWSHIP (KOINONIA) with God, meaning that she is in Fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So now the Holy Spirit actually lives in her.
Now what about Claude? Claude is 34 is un-happily married and has two children he abuses. He likes the St. Louis Cardinals, he works at a factory where he hates his job but it takes all of his time. When he does come home he typically gets drunk and passes out before the 10:00 news. His biggest pet peeves are old ladies, those “snot nosed punks”, and most of all anything to do with God. But then one day, after his wife threatens to leave him if he doesn’t get help, Claude finds himself getting counseling from a minister. Before you know it Jesus has drawn Claude to himself. He calls Claude to Himself and he comes. Now he too is in FELLOWSIP (KOINONIA) with God.
Now we come to Chuck. Chuck is 15, loves rock-n-roll music in fact he hopes to be a drummer. Chuck also likes hanging out with his friends and his girlfriend who he just can’t seem to take his hands off of. His biggest pet peeves are youth ministers who tell him to not hold his girlfriend so tight, people who like country music, and anyone above the age of 25. Unfortunately, Claude’s home life is not all that great so he spends most of his time outside the home, where you can find him doing some sort of foreign substance or doing inappropriate things with his girlfriend. After he “accidentally” gets his girlfriend pregnant he finds himself in a church not knowing what to do. He is considering talking his girlfriend into an abortion but is not sure what to do. He remembers going to this church when he was little so he decides to step in the doors and talk to God. The next thing you know he finds himself crying out for mercy. What had happened is that Jesus Christ drew Chuck to Himself and Chuck came. So now Chuck is in FELLOWSHIP (KOINONIA) with God.
So these 3 the granny who hates rock-n-roll, the ex-drunk who has a hard time relating to younger people, and the little drummer boy find themselves in FELLOWSHIP with God. But what happens when they are in Fellowship with God? They also end up being in FELLOWSHIP with each other.

What has happened is this:
God’s purpose has always been to bring glory to Himself one way that He does this is by loving sinners like myself. So once He draws me to Himself I become united with Him and slowly but surely His purpose becomes my purpose so that we both have the same purpose of Glorifying God by enjoying (catch the word joy) Him forever. Now what happens whenever all these other paper clips who are so much different than me a drawn into fellowship with God? We share a common bond. We too become united with one common purpose. So therefore, we too share an intimate oneness. Both with God and now with our fellow-Christians. This is why it says in 1 John that if we do not love our brothers and sisters in Christ then we must not be in fellowship with God; because fellowship with God means fellowship with other Christians. Granny can now see Jesus Christ in Chuck and Chuck can see past Granny’s distaste for rock-n-roll and love her as his own grandmother because both have the Holy Spirit inside of them.

So how does all of this relate to our joy? How does being united with Christ and other Christians bring about our joy? There are numerous reasons that we can give but I will just give the simplest one. Remember that we said that joy springs from an infinitely joyous God. And God’s purpose is that we might glorify Him by ENJOYING Him forever. Whenever we are connected to God we are connected to JOY itself. That is how our being united with Christ gives joy. The way that our being united with other Christians brings joy has to deal with being united with others for a greater cause. You can see that perhaps your suffering might help out another brother or sister in Christ. Or they can help you. As Christians we are to bear one another’s burdens, we are not to go at it alone. This increases our joy, because God has wired us for fellowship; fellowship with Him and fellowship with other Christians.

Here Paul is thanking the Philippians for the partnership in the Gospel. While being constantly chained to a guard in a place that is not his home Paul still can have joy because he is not only chained to a Roman guard but he is also intimately eternally linked to an infinitely joyous God. And he can also have joy because he realizes that even though he is in prison his fellow-workers the Philippians are also carrying on this shared vision of spreading the Gospel of the Joyful God who gives of Himself for us sinners so that we can turn our eyes from fleeting pleasures to infinite joy.

And Paul is overflowing with joy when he says his next statement in verse 6. “For I am confident that (the God who drew you to Himself) He who began a good work in you is going to carry it on to completion” which leads us to the second great truth that will lead us into having joy beyond our circumstances.

C. Because God is in control Christians can have joy beyond circumstances

What Paul is saying in verse 3-8 is that even though he is in prison whenever he thinks about the Philippian giving, and their overall partnership in the gospel he breaks forth in praise to God. I believe it is because he is seeing the grand picture—God’s work of advancing the gospel is not going to be thwarted. It cannot be stopped by Paul’s prison stay or even his death. The truth is that the advance of the gospel is not tied down to any one of us. God will be glorified and the gospel will prevail. God is in control.

As Paul is looking at the Philippians and joyously thanking God for their partnership from the first day of their salvation until now, he then in verse 6 focuses on the sovereignty of God and that beautiful principle that God always finishes what he starts. Now, it is worth noting that the good work that Paul is speaking of is not referring to the Philippians individual salvation. That good work is their partnership in advancing the gospel. So, what Paul is saying is that God has begun this work in you, and God is going to continue this great work of advancing the gospel until Christ returns.

God is in control! The Gospel IS going to advance! The glory of God IS going to spread to the nations! God WILL ultimately be glorified! These things are definitely 100% going to happen. God and His gospel will not be thwarted. As Job declared, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted”.

What we have seen so far is that joy is not circumstantial. If Paul can have joy after numerous beatings, and even still in prison then it is possible for anybody to have joy. Paul is human just like you and I. Men and women of God have modeled this throughout the centuries. Christians can have joy beyond their circumstances. Furthermore, Christians have joy in the partnership of the gospel. And a further anchor to our joy is the fact that God is in control.

Perhaps you take that last point to mean—because God is in control nothing bad is going to happen to you. Let me be blunt. You’re not the center of the universe. You’re happiness is not why God created you, it is not why He saved you, it is not why He is still keeping you alive. It’s about Him and His glory. Does that bring us happiness? Yes. Is our greatest joy found in the advancement of God’s glory and His gospel? Yes. Does that mean that God is always going to do things that make you feel happy and comfortable and never bring things in your life that are hard? Absolutely not. You know that is ludicrous by experience and by your reason.

The simple truth is this; a Christian can have joy beyond circumstances because a Christian is not living in their circumstances. A Christian’s joy is not tied up to this world. Paul was able to have joy because his joy was not penned up in what happened to him. His shackles did not matter to him. What mattered to Paul and what should matter to all who call themselves followers of Christ Jesus is that Jesus Christ is honored.

Perhaps you should ask yourself these questions. Does the fact that the gospel is going to advance to the nations give me joy? Does the fact that God and His will is not going to be thwarted cause me great joy? Do I leap for joy at the advance of the gospel in the lives of other Christians? When I hear of people coming to Christ do I have joy beyond my circumstances? Is my joy tied up in what happens to me or is my joy tied up in the unstoppable gospel of God’s glory?

If you honestly cannot say that the advance of the gospel brings you joy…If you are consistently brought down by circumstances and you have a difficult time enjoying what God is doing…If you are indifferent to the spread of the gospel…Then you have a problem. First of all, you are not going to have joy beyond circumstances. Because the truth is, your joy is wrapped up in your circumstances. You will have joy when things are going good (which is actually not joy but happiness) and you will be miserable and depressed when you do not get your way.

Yet the word of God is clear, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice”. Why is this a command? Why is joy a commandment? Because it is a reflection of your heart, your passion, and your focus. If you are living for yourself and for the advancement of your kingdom then you will never be able to “rejoice in the Lord always”. But if you are living for the advancement of the kingdom of God, then you will realize that joy is not circumstantial, you will have joy in the advancement of the gospel, and you will relish in the fact that God is in control and His will is not going to be thwarted.

Perhaps tonight you realize that you are living for yourself. Maybe it is because you do not know Jesus Christ. Perhaps it is because you are not actually in fellowship with Him. Maybe you do not have joy because you are not intimately connected to the God of Joy! In that case you must repent. Repent of your self-centeredness. Repent of your sinfulness, turn from yourself and run to Jesus. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Perhaps you need to know more fully what that means then I urge you to come and talk to me after the service.

Perhaps you are a Christian but you have lost your focused. My exhortation to you is simple. Get over yourself and turn your eyes upon Jesus. Trust in Him, and bow before His sovereignty. Live for Him and not for yourself. Make your life’s ambition to be a part of the advancement of the gospel, the advancement of the kingdom of God and not the advancement of your own.

[1] Carson, D.A., Basics for Believers, p.16


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