Page 157 was a Sunday and I was privileged to preach at the North Wayne Mennonite Church this morning. I generally preach there on the first Sunday of each month and today I finished a 4-sermon series through the book of Philippians . Today’s message covered the fourth chapter of Philippians and the sermon title was, “A NOTE of Joy”. Nearly all of my sermons for the past few years have used a word of the title as an acrostic outline, but this series was unique in that the series itself also had an acrostic outline. The series title ended up being “A PLAN of Joy” with the individual messages being, “A PRAYER of Joy”, “A LIFE of Joy”, “An ACT of Joy”, and “A NOTE of Joy”.
Today’s message as we looked at Paul’s note of joy to the Philippians began by addressing a Need for joy. Paul not only named names in urging two women in the church to get along, he also asked those in the church to help them overcome whatever their conflict was. Conflict will always rob us of joy so it is imperative that we not only recognize when conflict exists, but that we join in the task of being peacemakers. I believe one of the most overlooked tools in resolving conflict is prayer. Not only does praying for one another tend to soften our attitudes about each other, but our communication with God is the only place we will find the wisdom necessary to mediate long-term conflict.
In addition to a Need for joy that will only be met when we deal with conflict in a godly manner, Paul also made the Philippians aware of an Opportunity for joy. For not only does conflict steal our joy, so does a negative attitude. Our opportunity for joy increases as we set our mind on the things of God rather than fixing our thoughts on the things of the world. When we take Paul’s advice and think about things that are pure, that are noble, that are admirable, that are trustworthy, things that are right and just, we set ourselves up for a greater opportunity to experience the joy that God’s Spirit should be producing in our life. When our thought life is filled with the things that honor Christ then our actions will be such that we can echo the words of Paul as he tells the Philippians to put into practice anything they have seen or heard from him.
Not only did Paul share a Need for joy and an Opportunity for joy, but he also shared a Teaching of joy. As Paul thanked the Philippians for their joyful giving, it would be easy to think that the teaching I refer to is about giving with joy. While we do need to practice that, I believe that just as joy is a by-product of giving with the right attitude, giving is also a by-product of living a life filled with godly joy! I believe the teaching of joy that Paul shares in this fourth chapter of Philippians has more to do with learning contentment than anything else. When we learn the secret of being content in any and all circumstances, then we will learn how to keep discontentment from stealing our joy. While most people are reluctant to admit they have “plenty” and believe they would be content if they did have “plenty”, the truth is that the elusive “plenty” is usually more difficult for people to have contentment with than to be in need. It seems that the more we have, the less we rely on God to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory. Paul’s secret to contentment was a recognition that He was God’s child and that there was nothing impossible for God regardless of his circumstances. If you want a more joyful life, start by learning a contentment that says, “If I have God, I have enough.”
Finally, this NOTE of joy not only included a Need of joy, an Opportunity of joy, and a Teaching of Joy, it includes an Expression of joy. As is the case with most of Paul’s letters, he ends this one with some greetings of his own and some greetings that he passes along from those who are with him. He does so with great joy and often makes sure that he expresses the joy that he as for them. But he also want to encourage the Philippians in their joy that the joyful giving that they have done in meeting Paul’s needs was not in vain. Paul’s focus in making his way to Rome, even if it meant doing so in chains, was to be able to present Christ to everyone he would meet — even to the household of Caesar and Caesar himself. As Paul closes this letter, he passes along greetings from the saints that are with him, including those who are of the household of Caesar! This expression of joy seems to be saying to the Philippians that their partnership was not in vain. Their support of Paul was bearing lasting fruit for the kingdom. It is important as we consider the joy that God fills us with, to be faithful in expressing that joy to the people around us. Our lives ought to express a joy and gratitude toward those who have helped plant the seeds of faith in our life and to those who have walked the path of faith with us to make sure the seeds were watered and growing into maturity.
Our NOTE of Joy that we share with the world ought to be evident in everything we do. Jesus said that if He were lifted up, He would draw all men to Himself. His immediate reference was to Him being lifted up on a cross, but I believe it also applies to the work we do, or don’t do, to lift up Christ on a daily basis wherever we are. One way that we can add effectiveness to our efforts in lifting up Christ is to live life with a greater understanding and practice of joy.
After the church service, we came home and eventually made it to the riverwalk for an evening stroll. During our walk, we stopped in the middle of one of the footbridges and as we stood there, a great number of geese that were out on the river began to deliberately swim our way. While I am fairly certain they have been trained to do this by people feeding them from off the bridge, our presence was enough to draw them to us. As we live for Christ, the joy of His presence in us ought to be enough for people to be drawn to Him as we lift Him up with a joy-filled life.
I pray that you and I would realize the need for joy to be present in our lives and in the life of the church. I pray that we would understand the great need for God’s wisdom in dealing with conflict that robs us of joy. I pray that we would keep our thoughts pure with a deliberate plan to think on the things of God. I pray that we would be satisfied with God’s presence in our life, knowing that He is enough. I pray that we would express our joy to those who have been influential in guiding us on the path of righteousness. I pray that we would lift up Christ, and Him alone, as we desire all people to come to know Him.