The Book of Philippians is one of the most positive books in Scripture. Its theme is joy. One of the best books on Philippians at a popular level is the one penned by Dr. Warren Wiersbe titled, Be Joyful.
Wiersbe presents Philippians as a book about joy and suggests that Paul identifies four thieves of joy: circumstances, people, material things, and worry. Weirsbe then suggests that Paul offers a solution to neutralize each thief of joy: the single mind (Philippians 1), the submissive mind (Philippians 2), the spiritual mind (Philippians 3), and the secure mind (Philippians 4).
Real joy comes from rich meaning; as Christians, we possess tremendous meaning if we live to glorify God. But this meaning needs to surface and affect the way we think. We can either aim to win by the world’s standards, or aim to win by God’s standards. If we try to do both, we will fail on both counts. Obviously, I advocate the second choice!
By eavesdropping on Paul’s conversation to the Philippians, we can easily perceive his victorious and joyful spiritual mindset. We can summarize it by means of four assertions evident in Philippians 3:12-14.
First, Paul was not satisfied with his relationship to God
In 3:12, he writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect” (NIV).
What was it that Paul had not yet attained? Joseph Benson comments that Paul was pursuing “complete knowledge of Christ, of the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, and conformity to his death just mentioned,” as the context implies.
Other than Jesus Himself, it is questionable whether anyone on planet earth lived a godlier life with a deeper understanding of—and relationship to—God than Paul. Yet it is that same active, constant pursuit of God that brings joy to our lives. If we are weak on joy, there is a good chance that we are not actively pursuing God. Later on, near the end of his life, Paul could look back with satisfaction:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:7-8)
Second, Paul had a purpose
It is difficult to reach your life’s goal if you do not have one! God wants His children to live for this purpose: To glorify Him in our daily lives (I Corinthians 10:31). What purpose have you identified for your life? In 12b, he writes, ” … but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” For what reasons did Jesus Christ lay hold of you? God has common purposes and responsibilities to which He calls all believers, but He also calls us to a specific set of niches.
We need to aim for spiritual goals we have not yet attained. God beckons us to opportunities that will develop us, demand more of us than we can give and require us to stretch and trust God. Life is meant to be a purposeful adventure, but modern versions of the faith often reduce it to an amusement.
When we become satisfied with our own mediocrity, we become narrow in vision and limit ourselves. David Guzik illustrates:
When Spain led the world (in the 15th century), their coins reflected their national arrogance and were inscribed Ne Plus Ultra, which meant “Nothing Further,” meaning that Spain was the ultimate in all the world. After the discovery of the New World, they realized that they were not the “end of the world.” They changed the inscription on their coinage to Plus Ultra, meaning “More Beyond.” Which motto better expresses your Christian life—“Nothing Further” or “More Beyond”?*
Third, Paul refused to be a “has been”
In verse 13, he writes, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind …”
Paul is not talking about taking an occasional stroll down memory lane; he is talking about refusing to cower in the past. We have all known people who do this. If you ask them what they are doing for the Lord, they’ll tell you stories about what they did 20 years ago. We can understand this when Christians are struggling with their health or limited by old age. Sadly, this is often not the case.
One of the frustrations of ministry occurs when people expect the pastor to turn back the clock. They will say things like, “Youth used to be this way” or “Parents used to discipline their children; now the kids run the families.” Although often sadly true, one gift the Lord has not given pastors or board members is the ability to bring back the past. The past forever remains in the past. Our concern has to be how to help today’s people—not bemoan how inferior they are to yesterday’s lot. Others will talk about a favorite pastor in their past, and how much more they enjoyed his ministry.
Incidentally, pastors do the same thing. We talk about how much better church members used to be years ago (although we do not get specific). Pastors can find fault with church members just like church members find fault with pastors. Such nit-picking is a diversion from present opportunities. The past is gone—period. We all need to get over it.
Fourth, Paul lunged into the future with boldness
Verse 14 reads, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
I occasionally get discouraged with ministry. The same problems recycle. The faces and names change, but the problems or issues are familiar. On the other hand, years of experience have been a great asset, so I can handle them better than I once did. Still, it is difficult not to get bogged down in the cycles of ministry. The same is true with life.
Maybe you have become fatigued with your family life, your job, you church life, and—most commonly—your walk with the Lord. If such is the case, you need to ask yourself why you are serving. God wants us to serve Him with boldness, not passively nor reservedly.
People without joy refuse to seek the true source of joy, a deepening relationship with God. That joy can only be had if we put God first, even above our own families. Jesus said,
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:37-39)
Quitters and the chronically unhappy probably do not really believe a deepening relationship with God can make that much difference. They believe that the process of surrendering their lives to the Lord and disciplining themselves to study the Word and pray will make them even more unhappy. Thus they are trapped in a vicious circle. They do not believe that the only escape from that circle is a life of surrender, so they just keep cycling around.
Paul did not have an easy life; he experienced many times of misery and heartache, conflict and disappointment. But he had the joy that comes from meaning—a rich purpose. It was not the more familiar “what’s in it for me or my family?” joy, but the real condition. It was about serving and knowing the Lord.
So check the spark plugs in your joy engine. If they are misfiring, you might look into a spiritual tune-up.
* http://www.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=php&chapter=003, punctuation altered.
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.