If Christian joy could be manufactured, then the above formula derived from Philippians 1:6, 14, 25 and 20 might work. Joy is something developed. Joy will grow as we grow in confidence “that He who hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6 KJV). Joy will multiply as we become confident “to speak the word without fear” (Phil. 1:14) and have confidence that every circumstance God directs for His children is for our “furtherance and joy of faith” (Phil. 1:25). Great joy will be added as we remember to magnify Christ in our “body, whether it be by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20). What else is there in our experience besides these?
We must stop thinking about self. Pride takes two avenues; one is self-aggrandizement – considering ourselves to be grander than we ought; the other self-abasement – considering ourselves less valuable than we ought. Both are simply occupation with self.
The Epistle to the Philippians, like Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, gives the practical result of the position of God’s people in His sight, and also the result of our understanding of our position and of Him. Here self has no place. Each chapter speaks of Christ, and the Christian response to that “name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Chapter 1 demonstrates Christ over life and how Christians should live. Chapter 2 displays Christ over death and how Christians should think. Chapter 3 sets Christ over glory and what Christians should aim for. Chapter 4 presents Christ over things and Christians over circumstances. Let’s consider each one.
Christ over life, and how Christians should live.
As mentioned above, we should be full of joy. Despite having the cross before Him, Christ could say, “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (Jn. 15:11). Paul wrote this epistle from jail. Despite his circumstances, he was occupied with the Lord Jesus. We may enjoy our blessings, and the comfort of our security, without enjoying Christ; but there is nothing that promotes stability and progress of the soul better than focusing on Christ.
Didn’t Peter begin to sink into the stormy water when he took his eyes off his Lord and began to focus on his surroundings (Mt. 14:28-30)? As Paul says, “Ye all are partakers of my grace” (Phil. 1:7). He was concerned with the spiritual welfare of these Christians in Philippi, not with his own bonds. And when some other preachers thought to add affliction to his bonds, he simply rejoiced that Christ was being preached (Phil. 1:16-18).
It is truly hard to think of this man as having been a Christ-hater and Christian-murderer. How wonderful is the grace of God! No wonder Paul’s attitude was, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). That is, if living wholly for Christ were to bring an early death, then it would be to his advantage because death is only the gateway to being with Christ. His confidence was that God’s will and way is the best.
Let’s examine ourselves. What are we like? Do we stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27)? Are we willing, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil. 1:29) and be joyful about it?
Christ over death, and how Christians should think.
Like-minded believers are not necessarily those who have the same opinions, but who have the mind of Christ: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). As God Himself, Jesus would not defer the task set before Him by the Father. He descended into this scene and then into the grave. He stooped twice: first from heaven’s height to become a man on this sin-filled earth; then to the depth of the cross with the lowest sinner.
He “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). Christ said, “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth” (Jn. 18:37), and in carrying out the will of God, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).
There is great joy and rejoicing in making oneself of no reputation. It characterized Paul’s heart: “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all” (Phil. 2:17). And as Paul wrote about them, it was in Timothy’s heart – “For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state” (Phil. 2:20); and in Epaphroditus’ heart – “Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me” (Phil. 2:30)
It was the Lord who said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Mt. 23:11). A servant is one of no reputation, emptied of any rights. We are to “hold such in reputation” (Phil. 2:29), with much value as dear to us, for they are like Christ.
Christ over glory, and what Christians should aim for.
If in our Christianity, we think we are splendid models of humanity, think again. Chapter 3, in contrast to the confidences in God of chapter 1, shows the folly of having any confidence in the flesh. What is our true aim? Is it merely a righteous life, or is it far more?
Paul’s pedigree is before us as an example of how one might trust in the flesh – that is, in heritage, religion, or good works: “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the Law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5-6). Yet Paul counted these things as loss, not gain, in comparison with knowing Christ.
No matter how impressed we are with ourselves, remember these four truths about flesh and blood: “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee” (Mt. 16:17); “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12); “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50); “I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:16).
Flesh and blood is foolish, for it cannot reveal the person of Christ, the wisdom of God. Flesh and blood is powerless, for it cannot hinder the will of God. Flesh and blood is worthless, for it cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Flesh and blood is needless, for it is not needed to confirm the mind of God.
While pursuing the things that glorify the flesh, we lose aim. Our aim is stated in Philippians 3:10. Paul desired to “know Him (for that is true wisdom), and the power of His resurrection (for that is true power), and the fellowship of His sufferings (for that has true value), being made conformable unto His death (for humbling is what we truly need).”
The way to get beyond the flesh is simply to forget the waste, forget the loss, forget the sin – because God has (Heb. 8:12; 10:17) – and reach forth. We should not cower from the past, but stretch ourselves toward the goal of being like Christ. The grand prize is being made like Him. So He “shall change our lowly body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). This is our aim, so that “we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 Jn. 2:28).
Christ over everything, and how Christians are above circumstances.
Therefore, since Christ is over life, death, and glory, He is over everything. And since we have our aim, and how we should think and live, we can be above our circumstances. This final chapter of Philippians concludes with our victory motto: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).
Why be overwhelmed by troubles when God is working out His plan in the lives of His children? Why complain when we are to stand firm in Christ? Don’t let quarrels compete with that stand (Phil. 4:2). Don’t be discouraged, but rejoice. Rejoice!
Rejoicing is something we must decide to do. Repentance continues after being saved, for we must repent from being discouraged or depressed, and decide to rejoice. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Prov. 17:22). Our merry hearts can be medicine for us as well as for other people.
The best method for repentance and turning our hearts to rejoicing is to think on “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
And doesn’t our Lord fit the criteria of all these things? Are we content with God’s supply for all our needs? (Phil. 4:19). Are not our spiritual needs more important than our physical? Having a merry heart, content with all the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), can cause us to rise above our circumstances, and the God of peace shall be with us (Phil. 4:9).
May we learn from this letter that joyful Christian living stems from true Christian thinking, so that we have an aim in our lives and live above the things that happen to us. May God help us see Christ over life, over death, over glory, over all things!
By Tom Steere
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org