All Roads Lead to Jesus - Philippians

Philippians – Jesus is the Joy of Our Life
Reading: Philippians 2
A few years ago, I preached a sermon series from the book of Philippians called, “Impossible Joy.” The idea for the title and theme was born from the context in which Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi. Paul had been faithful to Jesus ever since he was met with the beauty and grandeur of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Since that life-changing day, the Apostle set his mind on running a race motivated by the depth of grace he had been shown that day no matter what it might cost him. As Paul ran the race he suffered through many trials and losses. He lost friends. He lost respect. He lost his career. And now, as he wrote to the Philippians, he had lost his freedom.

From the very opening words of his letter until the very last punctuation, one cannot miss the underlying joy that Paul possesses in Philippians. What makes this joy so impossible is that Paul was writing from prison. Once again, Paul was suffering for the sake of Jesus. Paul wrote to the church that everything that had happened to him had served to advance the Gospel. Because of his imprisonment, the church had become emboldened to preach louder. Because of his position in prison, many in the Imperial Guard had been introduced to and now followed Jesus. In the middle of great pain, suffering, loss, and injustice, Paul possessed an impossible joy.

What is the source of impossible joy? Paul says with great confidence and deep-seated peace, “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. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The secret of Paul’s joy is that no matter what the day might bring, so long as he is serving Jesus, even a loss is gain.

This means that if the day is a good day and everything seems to fall his way Paul can remain joyful because he is serving Jesus in those gains. If he were to be set free, he would rejoice because he would continue to serve Jesus throughout the region and into unknown lands. In this way, to live is to Christ.

But impossible joy also means that even if he should suffer the ultimate punishment on this earth for his faithfulness to Jesus and lose his life as a martyr, that he still considers the day full of joy. Even the loss of his life is to be considered a gain for he would be with Jesus and like Jesus. In this way, to die is gain.

Jesus is the joy of Paul’s life. Jesus is the ultimate prize. Jesus is the only explanation for the impossible joy Paul exudes throughout his letter from jail to the people he loves in Philippi. In the same way, we see that from Paul’s letter to the Philippians that Jesus is the joy of our life.  

At the time of this writing, our country and the world are suffering through a once-in-a-generation pandemic. As of the day before today, 400,000 Americans had died of a raging virus. Just two weeks ago an angry mob flooded into the doors of the Capitol building where Congress was set to verify the results of a free and fair election of the next President in an effort to stop the work of democracy. Tomorrow, a new president will be inaugurated while the last President refuses to attend the peaceful transfer of power (only the second president in our history not to be present at the successor’s inauguration). These are only a few of the problems that our world is facing today. Additionally, each of us has our own personal issues and struggles that we must battle in the context of these generational challenges.

I am getting older. My body is breaking down. I will have my first visit with a cardiologist in a few weeks in order to figure out what kind of damage the pandemic has done to my heart and lungs. My kids are getting older and I feel like time is slipping through my fingers. Have I done enough to teach them the love of Christ? Will they choose to follow Jesus or some other gods or no gods at all? Am I loving my wife the way Christ loved His church and gave himself up for her? Am I pastoring well and doing what God has called me to do with faithfulness? Why can’t I stay in shape? Why are my eyes failing me? I have bills to pay. I’ve got things to do. I’ve got stress!

And yet, I possess the same Spirit of Christ that Paul possessed as he faced the possibility of death as he wrote from a prison cell. If I possess that same Spirit, then I also have the capability of experiencing the joy that seems out of reach given the circumstances of today’s troubles.

Joy was a choice for Paul, and it is a choice for us. Paul tells the church how to make the choice of joy no matter what victories or losses lay ahead for them. Paul urged the church to choose joy by focusing their attention on Jesus Christ who is the ultimate prize. He writes,

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Now there is so much in these words to examine but maybe we just need to read them again and meditate on them.

The secret to Paul’s joy in great misery is that the goal is Christ. Paul decided to press on toward Jesus no matter how the world may have fallen apart around him. Paul never considered that God was done with him so long as there was breath in his lungs. He knew that he had not obtained the glory of Christ in full until his last breath. He told the church that if they wanted the same kind of impossible joy that he possessed then they must imitate him as much as he imitates Christ.  Further, they must remember the promises that lie ahead.

Jesus is coming back to make all things new where there are no pandemics, corrupt politicians, riots, broken relationships, debts, prisons, injustice, or bodies that break down. Jesus is coming back to transform our broken bodies to be like his unbroken body. Jesus is subjecting all the broken things to himself and he is making them new again. These promises and the accomplished work of Jesus are the sources of Paul’s and our impossible joy.

Paul made joy a choice by returning to his faith in Jesus day in and day out.  He believed that Jesus not only did what the Gospels said he did but that Jesus would do what he promised to do. If we want to experience that same impossible joy no matter what trouble is set before us, then we must consider Christ who is our ultimate prize, and the root of our impossible joy.

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