We can so easily find ourselves rejoicing in certain events or happenings rather than in Jesus. We can even find ourselves thinking joy is what will come when everything in ministry is sorted. When we’ve got our eldership team, assistant pastor, and women’s worker all in place and everything’s functioning as it should in the church. But Paul is calling the church to a deeper joy that is grounded in Jesus. That has sunk it’s foundations so deeply into Jesus that circumstances can’t shake it.
If we want to step off the rollercoaster we need to change where we are putting our joy. We need to change how we think about joy. So often we think of joy wrongly. We think joy cannot co-exist with hardship. That the two are mortal enemies and only one can exist at any one time.
But Paul writes to the church in Philippi because he wants them to know the very real joy of the gospel as they follow Jesus in every day life. Not because hardship and struggle are absent, but joy in the midst of hardship, struggle and conflict, because they know whose they are, what they are part of building, who they’re being transformed into the image of, and where ultimately their hope is, and his presence with them now is just a tiny foretaste of what will be.
Philippi is a church birthed with joy in the midst of hardship. Paul and Silas preach and see conversions by the river in Acts 16 but then are thrown into prison for liberating the spirit oppressed slave, but rather than grumbling and complaining about the injustice of it, or the potential harm it’ll do to the gospel, they sing hymns and pray to God, and after a prison break we see the church grow again as the jailor asks ‘What must I do to be saved?’
A riot and a stint in prison aren’t exactly ideal church planting conditions are they? They’re not the ideal soil to leave a young church in. But Paul doesn’t create a siege mentality, he doesn’t make it us against them in this letter. He rejoices as he prays for them(1v4) “because of their partnership in the gospel”. And in his continuing ministry with them his aim is to see them make progress and grow in their joy in the faith(1v25). And his letter is written so they follow Jesus fuelled by joy.
This isn’t just a letter about keeping going. It’s imperatives are important but it’s not get your head down and slog through, it’s follow Jesus fuelled by the joy of being in him.