Biblical scholars all agree that the theme of Paul's letter to the Philippians is joy. The letter speaks of joy over and over and thus has encouraged many a Christian down through the ages to rejoice in Christ their Lord. I thought about this joy again as I read Philippians lat weekend.
What keeps the Christian going day-in and day-out? When your days are filled with sadness and grief, what sustains you? The answer may surprise you but it is plainly joy. Finding this real joy is not a cliche nor is it a simple thing. Only those who know Jesus deeply and personally know this kind of joy. Heartfelt joy, the true gift of God, comes to those who seek and know Jesus as the living center of their life. This is why Paul can say that whether he lives, or dies, he can face today and tomorrow, because he has joy.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about Christian joy. Joy is a quality of delight and happiness which is ultimately grounded in the work of the Trinity. There is joy that comes from God and there is joy that is in God. Joy is experienced naturally in many human circumstances, precisely because God is good to all that he has made. Life must be filled with this joy or it becomes intolerable. But Godly joy, Christ-centered joy, is the joy that flows out of the deep passions of our lives when they are linked to the purposes of God and the experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Paul writes that he prays with joy (Philippians 1:6) and is filled with joy when Christ is being preached, even if the human motives are not right (Philippians 1:18). He also rejoices in the progress believers made in the gospel (Philippians 1:25). He then encouraged his friends in this congregation to imitate Christ's patten of humility and thereby to make "his joy complete" (Philippians 2:2). He tells them that even if his life is lost in the work of the gospel they should have joy with him since he is filled with joy too (Philippians 2:17-18). Then chapter three begins (3:1) with the well-known word: "Rejoice in the Lord!" And in 4:4, as if the Philippians might miss it, he adds, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say it: Rejoice!"
Nehemiah 8:10 says, "The joy of the Lord is my strength." No one more understood this truth than the apostle to the Gentiles.
Paul concludes this wonderful letter by saying: "I can do all things through him who gives me strength" (4:13). Yes, by the power of deep joy, the kind of settled joy that God gives to those who truly abide in his Son, we can find the strength for all circumstances. This is what keeps me going every day. What gives you the strength to live?