“The People of Joy” (Philippians 1:1-2 sermon)

A few weeks ago I mentioned Hudson Taylor, who began a great mission work in China in the 1800’s. While he was there, the work was difficult, and funds were getting low, but he reported to one of his friends that

“the Lord … makes our hearts so very glad in HIMSELF — not Himself plus a bank balance.”

So even in his hardship and financial shortfall, Hudson Taylor was able to “rejoice in the Lord,” just in God Himself. 

The Apostle Paul was able to do that same thing when he went to the city of Philippi in Northern Greece. That is where he first landed in Europe with his little mission team and sat down by the riverside and began speaking to some women who had assembled there, and the first person in Europe, a woman by the name of Lydia, came to Christ. And it was there a few days later that Paul & Silas were thrown into prison for sharing the gospel, and while they were in that prison, on mission in a foreign land, they sang praises to God at midnight. God shook the place and opened the doors, the jailer cried out “What shall we do to be saved?” A few days later they were released from prison, went back to Lydia’s house and encouraged the new believers there — and then left to go on to Thessalonica. But that’s how the church at Philippi, the church that Paul was writing to here, got started.  (As a side-note, we had pastor Grozdan Stoevski from Bulgaria, here last week speak to us about partnering with them for future trips to minister to unreached people groups in Bulgaria. Grozdan told me that the city of Philippi is actually only about 2 hours south of where we would be working in Bulgaria, so when we go there on mission, we would be able to take a little side trip to Philippi — which would be really interesting!) 

But here Paul is writing back to this new church of believers in Philippi, about ten years or so later, while he was prison in Rome.  And he is writing to them about the LIFE OF JOY that God has for them. That says something right there: Paul is in PRISON (again!) and in his letter to them he continually tells them to “rejoice in the Lord.” He who could sing at midnight while he was in prison in Philippi, was STILL rejoicing from prison in Rome; and he encouraged the Christians in Philippi — and us today — to find our joy in God too. As we go through this book together over the next weeks, we will see how Paul continually commands these believers (and us) to rejoice in the Lord; to find our joy in Him.

But what kind of person is able to have the joy that he talks about in this book? He shows us right off, in the letter’s opening lines:

“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons; Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We saw in our study of I Peter that “overseers,” “bishops,” and “pastors” are all the same thing; so when he says “overseeers” here he just means “pastor.” And we recognized our church deacons just a bit ago; our men who just like in the Book of Acts care for widows and others in our church. That is who deacons are. But these opening words also tell us some important things about those who can be “The People of Joy”: 


I.  People of Joy are “IN Christ Jesus”

What does that mean when he says he is writing to those in Philippi who are “in Christ Jesus”? 

Well, the Book of Ephesians tells us a lot about that. In Ephesians 1 Paul says he is writing to those who are “in Christ Jesus” who are at Ephesus. And he goes on to talk in Chapter 2 of that book, about how they used to be “dead in your trespasses and sins,” and “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air.” He says you used be “IN the world; you were “IN the devil’s control.” 

But later in Chapter 2 he says, God had mercy on you, and saved you “by grace through faith Christ Jesus.” So now, he tells the Ephesians, you are not “in the sphere and control of the world and devil” any more; you are in a new place spiritually; you are “IN Christ Jesus.” And he spends a lot of time in Ephesians 1 describing how if you are “in Christ Jesus” you have “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”: 

— we have ‘redemption through His blood” 

— and the “forgiveness of our trespasses” in Him; 

— He has shown us His will “in Him;” 

— we have an inheritance “in Him;” 

— we have the seal of the Holy Spirit in our lives when we are “in Him.”  

All these things are ours when we become “in Christ Jesus.” 

All these spiritual blessings are the possession of every Christian; those who are “in Christ Jesus.” And we can ALWAYS rejoice in them, because they can NEVER be taken away.  

There’s a lot of things on earth that we try to find our joy in, but they are uncertain sources of joy because they can all be taken away. 

— For example, many people are rejoicing because the stock market is up. Hey I’m glad it’s up too; but I don’t find my joy in it, because I know it can go right back down tomorrow! If your joy is in the stock market, your joy is very precarious; because it can be taken away in a moment.  And it’s the same with any material thing.

— Other people say, Yeah I am not going to find my joy in those material things; I’m going to find my joy in my family. Now, God wants us to love our family, but we need to realize that we can’t find our ultimate joy in them either. Because family can be taken away, can’t they? Children, parents, beloved family members can pass away. And sadly, sometimes family members that we love, turn against us and leave. And if we have placed all our joy in them, then what happens to us then? 

No, our ultimate joy, the Bible says, has to be in something greater. In one of my favorite verses in Psalms, Psalm 4:7, David says “You have put gladness in my heart, MORE than when their grain and new wine abound” — in other words, he says God has given him a joy that is based on MORE than just pleasant circumstances. It is a joy in the Lord; in his eternal blessings like Ephesians 1 talks about.  A Christian person can lose their money; they can lose their home; their possessions; they can lose their job, their health, and even their family — or like the Apostle Paul even their freedom — and still have joy. A believer can always turn to Ephesians 1, or quote Ephesians 1, and say “I am in Christ Jesus; I have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; I have the forgiveness of my transgressions; I have the knowledge of God’s will; I have an eternal, imperishable inheritance in heaven; I have God’s own Holy Spirit in my heart — and NOTHING can take these spiritual blessings away from me!” A genuine Christian, who is “in Christ Jesus” like Paul talks about here, can rejoice in any circumstance, because he has all these blessings “in Christ Jesus.” 

But remember how we come to BE “in Christ Jesus”: Paul goes on here in Philippians 1 to say we have received “grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  It is by GRACE that we come to be in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2 says “It is by grace that you are saved, through faith.” It is “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  HOW are you saved; HOW do you come to be “in Christ Jesus”? It is NOT “by works;” it is NOT by going to church and giving money and doing good, religious things; but by putting your FAITH in what Jesus did on the cross for you.  When you admit your sin to God, and ask Him to save you because of what Jesus did for you, He transfers you spiritually from being “dead in sins” and “in the control of Satan,” to being “IN Christ Jesus.” And as we saw, when you know you are really “in Christ Jesus” you always have so many reasons to  rejoice. 

So Christian person, find your joy, in every situation, from being “in Christ Jesus.” Memorize those blessings of Ephesians 1; quote them when you are tempted to be discouraged. Those blessings you have in Him can never be taken away. And if you have never been saved, ask God to save you today, and place you “in Christ Jesus” and give you that joy.  People of joy are first of all, “in Christ Jesus.” 


II.  People of Joy are “slaves” of Christ Jesus.

Paul said about himself and Timothy here in :1, that they were “bond-servants of Christ Jesus.”  The word “bond-servants” here is the Bible word “doulos,” which literally means “slaves; someone who belongs to someone else.” Elsewhere in the New Testament we see that it applies not only to Paul & Timothy, but also to all Christians: 

— Jesus said in Matthew 20:27 if you want to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, you have to become a “slave.” 

— In Galatians 5:13 God commands us “through love, serve one another.” The word “serve” there is from that same word “doulos,” meaning to serve as a slave.  ALL of us as God’s people are to have the attitude that we are to serve as slaves of Jesus Christ. Having the attitude that you are a slave means several things: 

 — First of all, to be a slave means you realize that you don’t belong to yourself; you belong to someone else. I Corinthians 6:19 says “What, know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom ye have from God, and YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN. For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” If you are a Christian, Paul says, “you are not your own;” you have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ, and you are His servant, His slave.  

— To be a slave also means you must do whatever your master commands you to do.  The centurion in Matthew 8:9 said to Jesus that he tells his slave, “‘Do this!’ and he does it.”  That is what slaves DO: they belong to someone else and they do what they tell them. 

That is exactly how it is to be with us and the Lord. If you are a Christian, it means you have been bought by Jesus Christ, and you are committed to obey Him as your Lord, and do whatever He says. Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord, but do not do what I say?” He’s saying when someone is your Master, it is inherent in the nature of the case that you OBEY them; you do what they say. That is what it means to be a slave. A real Christian is someone who has made Jesus their “Lord.” Remember Romans 10 says “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  When you become a Christian, you confess Jesus is your “LORD.” The word “Lord” means “Master, boss,” and that means you are His servant, His slave. Being a Christian does not just mean that you want to go to heaven and have prayed a prayer and filled out a card. Being a real Christian means that “you confess with your mouth that Jesus is (your) LORD” — and that you are committed to OBEY Jesus Christ.  

Unfortunately, many of us who would say we are Christians do not realize this. Perhaps we have never been taught it; or maybe for some reason it just hasn’t caught on with us. Or maybe we’ve just been so immersed in the teaching and attitudes of the world around us that we reflect those worldly attitudes in our lives. But this is one of our biggest problems as Christians today, which leads to so many of our bad attitudes, and robs us and others of so much joy: we don’t realize that we are slaves of Jesus Christ. Like the world we think we are our own: we think of it as “OUR life,” “OUR body,” “our time”; “our plan”, “our will,” “our way” and so on.  One of the prominent slogans of the Pro-choice movement is: “my body my choice” — that they think they can do whatever they want to with “their body.” But that attitude is entirely unscriptural. It is NOT “your body.” Your body belongs to God — and so does that unborn child! 

But when you realize you are not your own, but that you belong to God, it gives you a whole different perspective on life. You realize, I’m not in charge of my life; God is. It is not my will that needs to be done; it is God’s will. There is a surrender in that kind of attitude, that can lead you to real joy. In fact our Ladies Discipleship class (Sunday nights at 6:00 in the parlor) is about this very thing: it’s called “I Give Up,” and it about surrendering control of different areas of our lives to God.  That is where joy is: it is found in surrendering control to God. 

Now, that surrender to Jesus as Lord is the opposite of what we naturally tend to think. We think we will really be happy if we can just be in charge, if we can just have our own way — but that is NOT where joy is found. The most self-willed, controlling, selfish people, are some of the most miserable people in the world. Joy is not found in running your own life, and in dominating others; joy is found in surrendering control to God.  If you want real joy in your life, then like Paul here, you need to see yourself as Jesus Christ’s slave, and be committed to do whatever He tells you to do. A couple of weeks ago we saw where Mary told the servants in John 2: “Whatever He says to you, do it.” That is the attitude that leads to joy. Be Jesus Christ’s slave.  


III. People of Joy are holy. 

Paul says he is writing to the “saints” in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi. When many of us think of the word “saint” we picture a statue of some old person with a long grey beard!  But the word for “saints” here is literally, “holy ones.” The Bible word “hagios” means “holy;” God calls His people here the “hagioi,” the “holy ones.”  The word “holy” means to be “set apart; different.” GOD is holy; He is totally pure and perfect; set apart from everyone and everything else. And because we are God’s people, He commands US to be holy as well. Repeatedly God tells His people in scripture, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”  

When we become “in Christ Jesus,” God makes us “saints/holy ones.” We are NOT naturally that holy; but by grace He declares us to be “holy” in Jesus Christ, the moment we are saved. But we are not to just leave it there. Day by day after we are saved, we are to walk with God in His word and prayer, and as we walk through life experiences with Him, His Holy Spirit inside of us will gradually make us more and more holy in actual experience. That is what “sanctification” is: the process of gradually becoming more holy as a follower of Christ.

And that holiness that we develop as Christians, contributes greatly to the joy that we experience in our Christian life.  Many people do not realize this — undoubtedly because it is the LAST thing the devil wants us to understand — that real happiness (or joy) and holiness are inextricably linked. Someone has said, “There is no happiness without holiness,” and that is true.  Again, the old Puritans knew and taught this. Thomas Brooks, one of the Puritans from the 1600s, wrote a book entitled, Holiness, The Only Way To Happiness. In it he wrote: 

“Holiness differs nothing from happiness but in name.”

The scriptures teach this, in places like Psalm 1, which says “How blessed is the man who does NOT walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor seat in the seat of scoffers.” The Hebrew word “blessed” there means “truly happy;” this is the kind of joy that everyone in the world is really seeking. And WHO does Psalm 1 say will have that kind of joy? The person who does NOT “walk/stand/sit” in sin. Another way to put it, is that the HOLY person is the one who will be truly happy, or truly joyful.  The famous Matthew Henry, another Puritan, wrote in his commentary on Psalm 1:1-3:

“Those only are happy, truly happy, that are holy, truly holy.”

And there are many such scriptures.  You will never be truly happy (or joyful, which may be the better word) until you are committed to be holy:

— this is why so many of us are unhappy today: because we are not truly making any effort in our lives to be holy; and you cannot truly be happy unless you are holy. 

— If you are a real Christian, you cannot be happy while living in what you know to be sin, or a sinful lifestyle.  You’ve got to turn away from that sin, and THEN you have a chance to be really happy. 

— Satan’s temptation (which hasn’t changed since the Garden of Eden!) tempts us to think: “If I will just do this thing God says not to do, THEN I will really be happy.” Can I save you a whole lot of trouble? Breaking God’s commandments will NOT make you happy! We have seen that over and over, from the Garden of Eden down to this very day. When you break God’s commandments, it brings you and others great sorrow and destruction. It does not make you happy.  You will never really be happy in your life until you are “in Christ Jesus” and are striving to be HOLY in your life. Real happiness is not found in sin; real happiness is found in holiness. As Thomas Brooks wrote, happiness and holiness are basically the same thing. You can’t have one without the other.  

(And it just so happens, in the Providence of God, that another of our Discipleship classes is called “The Pursuit of Holiness,” led by Bro. Bob in the tv room. It continues tonight at 6:00, and all adults are invited.)



So the Bible says THIS is where joy is found: 

— In knowing that you are “in Christ Jesus,” with all the spiritual blessings He gives; 

— In obeying Jesus as His slave; 

— And in pursuing holiness.  

You cannot find real joy without those things. It is not there to be found.  Martin Lloyd-Jones, the great preacher in London in the 1900’s, said in one of his messages on Philippians: 

“The difficulty with many of us is that we are anxious to obtain the blessings of the gospel, but we are not equally careful to observe the conditions … we want the comfort and happiness, but we want it on our own terms, we want it easily … Now let me make it clear … that what Paul is talking about here can never be obtained on such terms.” (pp. 23-24)

I don’t know how you can put it any clearer than that. Do you want to be a person of joy? Do you want to be able to rejoice every day, no matter what you “feel” like; no matter what the stock market is doing; no matter what your circumstances are? Do you want to have that kind of life, that kind of joy? You CAN have it; the Bible says it IS available to us. But you CAN’T get it and keep living the way you are right now. That’s the choice you have to make. You say you want to go to heaven — that’s great; but everyone wants to go to heaven. You say you want to be able to rejoice in any situation in life; sure; we all want that. And you CAN have it. But the thing is: You can only have these things on God’s terms: 

— You must be “in Christ Jesus.”

— You must be willing to be a “slave” of Christ Jesus. 

— And you must be holy.

 So the question is: are you willing to do what God says it takes, to become one of “the people of joy”?

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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