Joy In Spite of Troubles
A stdy in the Book of Philippians
by John Dugas
13 May 2018
Presented at Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
(I am using a transcribe program. Would you like to edit and clean up the text? If you would like to make notes on the outline, please post a comment below.)
Joy In Spite of Troubles
We often look for joy in the wrong places. A woman may look for joy in being a wife or a mother. But in time, she realizes that those relationships can bring heartache, disappointment and grief. Sure, there are usually good times in there, but they will fail to satisfy. A man may look for joy in being a husband or father. But he finds out too that these will not satisfy.
Our problem with missing out on joy isn’t with relationships. We ought to know better than look to relationships to be the foundation for our joy. Relationships are made up of sinners and so they are often messy. Our joy problem isn’t with relationships. Our problem is with our thinking.
Taking several weeks to examine Phil 1:12-26, we are learning from Paul’s example:
- New ways of thinking about circumstances (12-14)
- New ways of thinking about opposition or bad motives (15-18a)
- New ways of thinking about living and dying (18b-26)
Learn to think in new ways about opposition and bad motives. When we look more closely at Paul’s experience in Rome with believers who were seeking to cause him distress while he is in chains, we see three evidences which together illustrate his new thinking. Since he calls on believers to imitate his example, we can rightly apply these to ourselves. We should lament bad motives in others, appreciate good motives in others and then settle on a conviction to rejoice.
I. Lament bad motives in others (15-17). [read 15a]
So are these people with bad motives believers or unbelievers? Some commentators do think that they are unbelievers but I don’t think so. While Paul is honest about their bad motives, he acknowledges that they are indeed preaching Christ. There doesn’t seem to be the legalistic theology of those in Galatia who were polluting the gospel. Three times here, he says that they are preaching Christ and he makes no comment about bad theology. So, these are believers who are preaching Christ, but doing so with mixed motives. They are not “sincere” with unmixed motives as in v. 10.
In v. 15 Paul comments that both groups are operating from or “out of” certain inner drives. These terms form the grounds of their motivation. Of the first group, they are motivated by envy and strife. These two terms cause commentators problems because in Gal 5:20-21 and Rom 1:29 they refer to people who will not inherit the kingdom of God. These are deeds of the flesh. In 1 Tim 6:4 these terms refer to false teachers. So how can these people be believers?
In Galatians, Romans and 1 Timothy, those people are characterized by envy and strife. It should be obvious to us all that we can become jealous at times but may not be normally a jealous person. Keep in mind that the present context is what carries the most weight in determining the meaning of words. Paul reserves his harshest condemnation for those who pollute the true Gospel.
Paul is in chains and these people are emboldened to preach Christ to cause Paul pain. They do this out of envy. They are jealous of him and see this as their opportunity to surpass him. They also seek to cause strife. They see themselves as rivals to Paul. Look now at v. 17 [read].
They are also motivated by selfish ambition. They seek some gain for themselves. We don’t know what their intended gain was. Likely it had to do with advancing themselves. They think that they can cause Paul distress in his chains. They hoped their preaching would be like those heavy chains rubbing Paul’s wrists and ankles day and night, causing constant irritation. They may have suggested that he was in chains because he was being chastised by God for sin. At any rate, they sought to make his imprisonment more painful so that they could gain some ground against Paul.
So, for Paul, if he loses some ground in other people’s eyes that is no problem since the Gospel is being preached. Paul would definitely feel the strife caused by these people, but his joy is increased because God is working through them to preach Christ!
II. Appreciate good motives in others (15-17)
Other believers see this as an opportunity to step in for Paul who is not free to move about in Rome to preach the Gospel. He longed to come to Rome to preach the Gospel, but now he can’t. They are operating from good will toward Paul. Their thinking pattern is to think the best about Paul.
Paul goes on to say that these are preaching Christ from the motivation of love toward him. Out of love for him, they desired to carry on his ministry in his place. They sought to step in and fill his shoes to the best of their ability. This is transformed thinking. Instead of thinking, “one of our main leaders has been imprisoned for the Gospel and that makes it too frightening for us to even try”, they instead were emboldened by love. Remember that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18).
It was the knowledge that Paul was appointed for the defense of the gospel that gave rise to their love. How? They knew what he was called to do, so they stepped in the gap and took over for him. The term for appointed was used when a soldier was put on duty (like those Paul was chained to). Paul is on trial by God’s will in order to defend the Gospel. So others pitched in to help.
III. Settle on a conviction to rejoice (18a)
So Paul asks the question that each of us must ask when we face unpleasant circumstances: What then? That is, “What then am I going to do? What then am I going to think?” Our failure is often at this very point. We don’t ask ourselves what we are going to do or think. We let what’s left of our fallen nature decide for us. Is it any wonder that we end up unhappy and miserable?
This is an important step in taking charge of your soul and instructing it in the ways of God. This is a critical step in choosing joy instead of misery. Rejoicing is a choice. We must choose to obey.
Most likely, long ago, when bad things happened or when good things didn’t happen, you made the decision to be miserable or gloomy or otherwise unpleasant. Over time it became your habit and thus your default setting. And so as new unpleasant situations arise, you just go with that default and choose to be miserable. When you are miserable, you choose to be miserable.
But you have the mind of Christ. You are to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). And then you are to do what Paul did here and you are to do it each time. Sit your soul down and ask it, “What then? What are you going to do? I’ll tell you what you are going to do. You are going to do what Paul did. You are going to obey the word of God when it commands you to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). Soul, listen to me. We are going to rejoice!”
And Paul goes on to talk about what is reality. He acknowledges again that there are some who do cause him grief. Joy and grief can co-exist, but joy and misery can’t. He faces the fact that there can be good circumstances and bad circumstances—often both at the same time. Paul is honest. But for him, they are in a category of those things which don’t impact his joy. You see, for Paul, when it comes to joy, there are two categories of things:
- Things that impact my joy Things that have no impact on my joy
- The Lord Good things that happen
- What the Lord is doing Bad things that happen
And so, Paul admits that some believers in Rome were preaching Christ in pretense. They pretended to be doing it with good motives, but their motives were bad. They sought to cause Paul pain. Others were preaching Christ in truth, that is, from genuine, honest motives. They preached because they loved Paul and sought to do him good by taking up his cause when he couldn’t.
And so when Paul sees God doing a good thing through hateful people, Paul rejoices. When Paul sees God doing a good thing through loving people, Paul rejoices. While circumstances can be the occasion for our joy (people are preaching Christ), circumstances must never be the ground for our joy. Only God and what He is doing is to be the ground for our joy.
Here is the reason why Paul rejoices: Christ is proclaimed! He isn’t joyful because he’s in chains or because other people are causing him grief. He rejoices in what God is doing in both groups of believers in Rome. Those who love Paul and those who want to hurt him are both preaching Christ.
Again, sit your soul down and ask it, “What then? What are you going to do? You are going to obey the word of God and start rejoicing.” Once you have brought yourself to the conviction to obey God’s word, you can state this fact with Paul, “in this I rejoice!”
His rejoicing is present tense, “in this I am rejoicing”. His settled conviction is no longer misery. His settled conviction is joy! [Note 18b “yes, and I will rejoice” goes with vv. 19ff]
What then? What then will you do and think when you face opposition or bad motives by other believers in your family or church family? Will you choose joy or misery? To rejoice is to obey God. To be miserable is to disobey God. What then will you do?