Joyful, Not Self-Absorbed
As we continue to see how Paul’s relationship with this church gave him joy, consider the following verses.
Philippians 1:3-5 I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
Philippians 1:7 Indeed, it is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
I love that Paul is sitting in a jail cell but is still able to talk about what he is thankful for. He is so thankful for this group of people that he can lift his eyes from his difficulty and thank God for them. It’s so easy is it to become self-absorbed in the middle of our suffering. But here we see the Spirit of God enables us to be thankful for the way God is working in people.
Now we know these people weren’t perfect. Paul addresses that in chapter 4 but he doesn’t let tNow we know these people weren’t perfect. Paul addresses that in chapter 4 but he doesn’t let the problems crush gratitude. My church finds itself in a difficult season, but the way that we as a church are coming together is going is producing genuine thanksgiving to God for each other. As time goes on we are going to be able to begin thanking God for the specific things he is doing in each one of our lives in this season.
Look For Joy In The Trial
I know this part of Philippians feels like a usual greeting that often gets skipped over, but when we think through the context of what was going on in Paul’s life it paints a picture of what the church can be in our lives. It shows us that the relationships we have with other believers are meant to be a source of thanksgiving because every believer is an individual that God is at work in. I’m sure not every memory of Paul’s about the beginning of this church was a happy one. Getting illegally beaten and thrown into prison without a trial was not something he enjoyed. But the beauty is Paul didn’t let the bad keep him from giving thanks for the good work God was doing through those circumstances.
Let me encourage you to take some time to reflect on the journey that God has brought you on. Sure there is pain. But think about how God has faithfully gotten you through that pain. Consider the way God has carried you in His loving faithfulness. Look for the ways that God is working in your life. And think about the people that God has used in your life to accomplish that work. Take some time this week to thank God for the people in your church and the impact they have made on you. And as you do that watch as the Holy Spirit of God fills your heart with thanksgiving and joy.
Thank God For Your Relationships
Paul says in verse four that he joyfully prays for these people in his every prayer. He is so full of triumphant joy at the thought of this church he has his own little thanksgiving service every time he prays. Such joy is a fruit of the Spirit that only God can produce. But it’s not this elusive thing only the elite Christian can experience. It’s not a feeling that is dependent on favorable circumstances. It runs so much deeper. It rests on our unchanging relationship with God. Spiritual joy is not an emotional response dependent on chance or circumstances. It is a deep and abiding confidence that, regardless of one’s circumstances in life, all is well between them and the Lord.
“Joy is not an emotional response, it’s an attitude. This is why it can be and is commanded.“
Fellowship Equals Mission, Which Brings Joy
The source of joy is outside itself. It’s “in Christ.” It can be commanded because we are in him and he gives us this joy through the Holy Spirit, his Word, and his body. Now, Philippians is not simply a book about joy but fearlessly advancing the gospel with joy. It’s about working together as a family in hardship to advance the kingdom of God. The fact that they were in Christ provided for their fellowship with unity and others-focus that directed them away from self-interest towards the interest of the partnership.
Now the word that is used to describe this in verse 5 is “partnership,” or more literally translated – participation. It is most often translate in the New Testament as “fellowship.”1 You could say “it’s friendship on a mission.”
When a church locks arms to advance the kingdom of God, its relationships become a well-spring of God-given joy. This happens because they aren’t hung up on themselves. They are working for the betterment of others! We see how deeply this was rooted in verse 7 when he says “you were partners with me in grace,…grace was the rooting…both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
Mission Equals Sacrifice
The word partners has the same root word in the Greek here in verse seven. You can see how this fellowship, this partnering, drove them into sacrificial action for God. This wasn’t simply they had a good time hanging out talking about their favorite sports teams. They were working together, suffering together, striving together to advance the gospel. The grace mentioned here in verse 7 is not simply saving grace. It’s also suffering grace, sacrificial grace, struggling for the gospel grace.
“The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing togetherness for the sake of God’s mission.”
The way God was using his grace to produce this type of fellowship was sustaining their affections. Even though Paul was chained to a Roman guard, his heart could rejoice because of these relationships. And so can we. Joy-giving relationships are built on the gospel of Jesus.