Joy and hardship are not opposites

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.

(1)This isn’t a church without trouble.  There’s trouble outside the church, with those who’re teaching that the believers need to add the law and circumcision to the gospel.  It’s in that context that Paul says they must “stand firm”.  They mustn’t give ground to the gospel+ movement.  They mustn’t compromise on the gospel but contend for it.  They may be under attack, the gospel may be under attack, but they must stand firm on Jesus alone as the only means of salvation.

And there’s conflict in the church.  Two gospel co-workers of Paul’s have fallen out(2-3).  And, as many of us have seen, that’s dangerous for the church, conflict is like gangrene it multiplies poison and pus and spreads it and compromises the gospel and compromises the church.  And so the church needs to put into practice what Paul taught in ch2v1-11.  They need to help these women “be of the same mind in the Lord.” To think like Jesus, prepared to go down, to humble themselves, just like Jesus did.

The church in Philippi isn’t an ideal church, it’s not a church without pressures and problems.  But it’s in the context of those pressures and strains that Paul gives his next instruction; “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again rejoice.”  And it’s a repeat of what he  said in 3v1.  He keeps on repeating it because this is vital and people are slow to learn.  He wants the church to be able to rejoice in the Lord no matter what circumstances they’re facing because no matter what circumstances they’re facing the Lord doesn’t change.  

Our progress isn’t meant to be joyless, ministry isn’t meant to be joyless.  Following Jesus isn’t meant to be joyless, because look at all that is ours in Jesus; a citizenship in heaven which because it is in Christ can’t be revoked, the Saviours certain return, and our totally transformation of body, mind, spirit.

But too often our joy is situational or circumstantial.  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.

It’s a joy that is founded on all that Jesus has done and is doing and will do.  It’s a joy that loves him as Saviour and knows that as he’s for us nothing can stand against us.  That knows no matter what the situation God will work it for good..  That trusts in our adoption through Christ and realises that therefore all the riches of Christ are ours, and that in him we have every spiritual blessing.  It’s a joy that treasures above everything who he is, who we are in him, and his presence with us by his Spirit as he leads us to certain future and counts everything else as dung!

It is a joy unshakeable and unbreakable that steadies us in the currents of life and ministry.   How’s your joy?

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