“Christian Joy,” they tell us, “is not happiness.” It’s not all about smiles. It’s not primarily about the easy moments and the celebrations. As we complete our study of Philippians, we have an opportunity to learn about joy by looking at 12 sketches of joy drawn for us by Paul in this book.
Twelve Sketches of Joy from Philippians
Joy is the feeling you have in knowing that God is working in your Christian friends to bring them to ultimate salvation. Even when these believers are out of your sight, you know that God is working in them, and that knowledge fires your joy.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:3-6)
Joy is a reasonable reaction when you recognize that God is producing good through even the most challenging of circumstances such as imprisonment or even painful, jealous rivalry.
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel … my imprisonment is for Christ… Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. … Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Philippians 1:12-18 (Excerpts)
Joy is that fantastic experience you have when you start to grasp that Christ — the awesome, holy, eternal God, worthy of all praise, and honor, glory, and dominion! — will be honored by your life because of what you are enduring and the obedience you are living.
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. Philippians 1:18b-20
Joy is that feeling you get deep inside when you see and appreciate your Christian family agreeing with one another whether they are being encouraged in Christ, being comforted by their love for one another, or revealing the work of the Holy Spirit.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Philippians 2:1-2
When you believe that God is using you to help somebody know God more or trust Him more thoroughly (even when you feel drained by it) and marvel at it, that’s rejoicing.
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18
Joy is felt when you get to see another person who has sacrificed a lot for you and for your faith just so you and others can know the love of God.
I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all … So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. Philippians 2:25-30 (Excerpts)
Joy is that emotional response deep within you when your chest relaxes and you realize that even through the turmoil, grief, and anxiety all around you, you have God, and He is your safe place.
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Philippians 3:1
Joy also consists of realizing that anything you could ever produce, whether it is becoming a Bible expert or depending on your quiet times or your volunteering, is as valuable as sewage for getting you to God, but knowing that God is trustworthy.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:8-11
Joy can be found in the people you have poured yourself into and sacrificed for in order to help them know, experience, and love God. You rejoice when you see that they are growing in their love of God, their neighbors, and one another.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. Philippians 4:1
You feel an unspeakable weight lifted when you stop trying to prove you’re right, stop trying to carry the load yourself, start thinking of all the good God has done for you already, start knowing that you can ask God to solve your problems, and start believing He genuinely cares. This leads to rejoicing.
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:2-7
Joy radiates when God lets you experience something beautiful, and you see His fingerprints all over a moment. When you hear about a tough situation, but you know the outcome is just, fair, and pure, you are experiencing joy. You can also rejoice in wanting to be with other believers because of their example of acting just the right way in the right situation.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9
Rejoicing is that inner satisfaction you get when you understand that your friends, your family, and other Christians are sacrificing and giving for God’s glory and for the advancement of His kingdom. You know that God sees it and smiles on their gifts.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity … Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Philippians 4:10,17-18
Philippians Trains Our Hearts to Experience Joy.
John Piper has a wonderfully broad definition: “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.” Philippians gives at least twelve pictures of joy. Christian joy happens in church services and small groups as you recognize the truth of God and allow it to take root in your emotions. Christian joy also happens in the prisons of Africa and hospital beds of Raleigh.
Christian joy wells up deep within when you take the time to think on God’s goodness and see your friends enjoying God or sacrificing for His glory. God grants you joy when you hear how your friend who just had a house fire was sharing the gospel with the cleanup crew. God grants you joy when you give honor to Him because you remember that a friend who suffered a chronic illness was healed. Philippians is a tool from God that equips us for joy by teaching us where to expect it and how to look for it.
Think About It: Of these twelve pictures of joy you see in Philippians, which reminds you most of something God is doing in your life now?
All Bible excerpts are from the English Standard Version (ESV).