Finding Joy in Christ
Paul’s friends in Philippi faced significant internal and external threats. Externally, they were confronted by opponents who threatened their lives. Paul himself was chained at the time of writing his letter to the Philippians in Rome, awaiting the emperor’s decision on his life. In Philippi, meanwhile, the Christians were engaged in a conflict much like they had seen when in their congregation was first planted. Internally, individuals were more focused on their own agendas, which threatened to jeopardize the church's unity, along with the joy and peace they had together in Christ (Phil. 1:27-30).
The Apostle Paul’s prescription to both issues was for Christians to focus on Christ. Paul taught them from his example. He also spoke about self-centeredness in the congregation and its effect on the church's unity there (2:1-4).
As Paul draws his epistle to a close, he shares about his friendship and offers thanksgiving. He also reasserts his call to courage and unity in the church, summoning every Christian to stand firm in the Lord. Further, he urges reconciliation among two influential people in the church (Phil. 4:1-3). In Philippians 4:4-9, Paul continues sharing a last-minute list of things he wants to focus on with the Philippians: Rejoice, be gentle, don’t worry, pray, think biblical thoughts, and do good deeds.
Two Ways to Deal with Life
Paul’s words at the end of his epistle illustrate two ways to handle the stress of life. One approach tries to work from the natural hard drive of our hearts; the other works from the radical change of heart that only comes through the new birth. The first approach is rooted in the idea that we are sufficient to control our lives through our diligence and hard work. But the Apostle Paul undermines this approach by commending to the Philippians (and modern Christians) the joy found through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From this joy flows gentleness, thankfulness, Christlikeness, and God-given peace amid the worries of the world.
Paul was a theologian, but he was also a pastor, and personally experienced much suffering. His advice is therefore both reliable and vital. Paul mentions the Lord who has loved (and continues to love) His people through Christ:
“Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4).
“The Lord is at hand” (4:5).
“Let your requests be made known to God” (4:6).
“The peace of God … will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7).
Even “what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” (4:9) is the gospel, which is “preaching Christ” (1:15–18).
And finally, “The God of peace will be with you” (4:9).
Paul wants his readers to understand that, just as we address sickness when we take medicine, we address anxiety when we understand how deeply the Lord is at work in our life. At every turn, Paul shows the compassion of our Creator and Redeemer, whether in regard to emotional distress (4:4), conflict and rejection (4:5), petitioning the Father (4:6–7), or cultivating Christ-centered “habits of the heart” (4:8) and patterns of behavior (4:9).
Why Anxiety Reveals Our Hearts Misplaced Trust
Paul’s answer to anxiety is not to offer a band-aid solution of coping mechanisms, but to reveal misplaced trust. Anxiety uncovers our fears and desperations. There is something we are terrified to lose, or something that we refuse to let go. And yet that “something” cannot bear the load that we attach to it. Even the good things of our lives, such as love, family, knowledge, and success, cannot last through thick and thin, because we are finite creatures, and God is infinite. He knows our needs and knows we need Him at all times.
Only those who trust in Christ can face every threat and every situation with hope and joy. This is because only those who belong to the Lord know that nothing in our world can take us from our Lord. As Paul says in Romans 8:35-39, absolutely nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” By refocusing on the Lord, treasuring Him, and with His grace as your life’s foundation, you can find joy in Christ. You will also find genuine biblical gentleness through abiding in Jesus, enabling you to combat worry through praying with gratitude, focusing on the character of Christ, and growing in the grace of God.
Finding Joy in Christ in All of Life
Perhaps today you find yourself sucked into the endless pit of anxiety and worry. Our world offers many remedies, from medicines to books, but these are temporary and fleeting. Your Creator has a cure: it is finding peace in Christ, and understanding that God Himself is your Friend, Father, and ever-present Protector. Christ is sufficient for the worries of the day and the terrors of the night.
Fix your gaze on the joy that is yours in Christ. Fix your hope on the coming of the Lord Jesus, and you will find the strength to react to hostility with humility rather than retaliation. Set your heart on Jesus so when you wallow in worry, you know to rehearse the good gifts of God that come from your Heavenly Father. Instead of exhausting yourself on the endless mental treadmill of rethinking negative thoughts repeatedly and rehearsing them in your mind, please bring those thoughts and your struggles to your Father in prayer. Focus your heart and thoughts on the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy Son of God Jesus Christ, who loved you and gave Himself for you.
Then you’ll discover the joy Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:4-7, the eternal joy that Christians know both now and forever.
Dave Jenkins (MAR, MDiv, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the executive editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It. You can follow him on Twitter (@davejjenkins), Facebook (Dave Jenkins SOG), and Instagram.
Philippians: Joy in Christ, with John Currie, Ray Ortlund, and Philip Ryken
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“The Joy of Justification” by Nick Batzig
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