Sunday School Series: Happiness, Joy and Partners in Ministry, Philippians 1:3-11

22 01 2017

Author’s Note:  Please see the previous post to give you some of the context of this church’s founding and Paul’s relationship with it.  I made a post earlier about this, and I’m so very glad that I did so!  Thanks!

Everyone is trying to find joy and happiness.  We buy things, thinking that they will make us happy and they will fulfill us.  Our government is built upon the premise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  We read that it is an “unalienable right.”  We expect happiness to be lasting, and then, like a whisper, it fades away.  In my life, I can remember times when I have thought “If ________ happens, then I will be really happy.”  The happening happens and then I’m the same person, there’s no great upheaval of personal change or growth.  Eventually that happenning only becomes another page in my book of life.  For example, my college graduation.  When I was in high school, I was so focused on getting into college.  I filled out scholarship applications left and right.  I got into college, and I started focusing on that graduation date.  This dream never seemed more happiness-inducing than the nights where I was holed up in the library for another late night working on a paper.  I would get lost in my dreams of walking across the stage and shaking Chancellor Peacock’s hand.  When the day finally, arrived, my work was done, and I remember that I sat there as a friend made a speech about something, and I remember thinking “this is it.”  And it wasn’t like this great event.  It was just me, sitting in a polyester gown, shaking a hand and walking across a stage.  I was so proud that I did this, but then the next day, I woke up, and I was myself again.  Now, five years later, my graduation day is just another memory.

It doesn’t last, does it?  Happiness?  That’s the difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is an emotion, and emotions honestly, they’re fleeting.  They change and disappear after awhile.  But joy, I think truly is more permanent, despite the present circumstances.  It’s sort of like the difference between liking someone and loving them.  You can like them all you want to, but that “like” fades at the first sign of annoyance.  Love exists regardless of how annoying the person is, or when they scream “I don’t speak chinese” in your ear as they sleep.  (True story)

Paul’s Partners in Ministry:  Philippians 1:3-6

 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

If we use happiness to describe Paul’s emotions towards the church in Philippi, then (because we know of his previous experience in prison because of his preaching of the word) it would be odd that Paul would be thanking God for the memory of this church.  If it were me, and I had been arrested, then I would want to do anything possible to push the memory of that horrible experience out of my mind.  But Paul here was “praying with joy” each time he thought of them and was full of thanksgiving about them.  Each time he gave thanks, he remembered them in love.  It’s a wonderful thing to have such a good relationship with those that you serve in ministry with that they give thanks for you, each time that they remember you.  In that way, I identify with Paul.  In my college years, I served at the Appalachian Wesley Foundation, and as I served, I never remembered to take a moment and recognize just how blessed I was to not only be friends with those that I was serving God with, but also, to enjoy the moment with them.  Now, all of us are spread across this great state, and some are across the continent, and I miss them, and pray for them every so often.

Why am Paul and I filled with joy?  It says so here, “because of their partnership in the gospel”, a partnership that has been solid from the founding until now.  A partnership that has led to blessings and growth that has lasted, both in each other and in Christ.  Obviously, Paul and this church have had contact since Paul left, and they possibly exchanged many letters until this letter was penned.  I think that there was a certain amount of peace knowing that he had a group of people that were united, supporting him.  I think that encouraged him greatly, and I think it helped him to endure, even when he was facing a lot of difficulties ahead of him.  I think it helped him feel his load lightened because he knew that there was a group of people praying for him, and they were peacefully there, waiting his return.  The relationships that he had created while there, they were very important to Paul.  Paul’s encouragement from his relationships with Lydia and others in the church sustained him in ministry, and Paul was confident that this growth and maturity would continue until the day that Jesus came back.  I am confident that Paul knew this fact, because Christ began it!  I think it’s important for us to note that our confidence in God and what God is doing is ultimately the source of our joy!  Apart from that movement of God, relationships cannot growth or initiate, our relationships cannot encourage use.  Our interactions cannot produce fruit, without his touch.  And if he begins the partnership, he will build that partnership until the end.  He will continue to give it all blessings and growth.

Paul’s Affections towards Them:  Philippians 1:7-8

 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

I truly think that Paul and the believers of this church felt a special bond between them, and this special bond was strengthened especially when they experienced great hardship at the beginning.  I truly think that they thought it was worth it because it brought them closer together.  The evidence that I draw this from is because Paul is never as personal as he is in these letters.  He never spent much more than a sentence proclaiming his affections towards a church other than this one.  It’s for that reason that Paul is so affectionate towards them.  From verse 7, I don’t really understand why he said “it is right”, but I imagine that he was facing some criticism because of his obvious affection towards this church.  This often happens when you find yourself in a new friendship or relationship.  I’ve experienced it, sometimes, people get jealous because of the companionship that you’ve found.  They’ll sometimes make passive aggressive statements and remarks or something to say that hints towards their disapproval.  I think this is the perspective that Paul is coming from in this particular passage.  I can imagine that he was hearing some remarks from some of his churches about his perceived favoritism.

But Paul isn’t saying that they should stop being so affectionate with each others, in fact, he’s doing the opposite, he’s affirming the value of this church in his heart.  He’s mentioning that their joy towards each other is holy and right because it is rooted in the fact that they are partners in ministry, mutually supporting each other.  More than that, they have supported him regardless of where he is or what is going on.  Whether he is in prison or enjoying ministry, he continually feels their support and their love of him.  I think this is really valuable for Paul because he probably had a few lonely evenings where he wondered if any of this was making a difference, if it was worth it.  I’m sure he felt especially isolated when he was travelling, and their encouragement helped him to continue on further.

Often, when people are partners in ministry together, they don’t get to be in the same place of service together, and they’re not able to see each other as often as they want.  But they have a sense of calling to each other, that no matter the space, we’re serving God together, and we are mutually growing each other.

Paul’s Desire for Maturity:  Philippians 1:9-11

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Here, we get to the desires of Paul’s heart for this group.

He first prays and desires that their love will grow.  He desires not that their love will only grow for each other and for him, but also that they’ll grow in their love of God.  Through growing in their love for God, they will find knowledge and discernment.  Obviously, we know that the love for each other is already there and it is already thriving.  But now, he wants them to grow more in their knowledge of God and who God is.  By growing in the knowledge of who God is and what God wants for their lives, they will be able to better discern what the will of God is.  Discernment is a process by which a believer or a group of believers figures out how they feel and where they stand on issues.  For example, this last election.  I don’t know which way you voted, but I’ll tell you how I figured out how to vote.  I looked at the candidates, and I looked at what they said they believed.  I looked at what they stood for, and I looked at what God values.  I voted accordingly to my mindset on all of the evidence.

In the early days of the church, they were trying to figure out what they thought and believed.  They didn’t have a moral code to abide by, and they had to figure out what christian values were.  Christian lifestyles were so new, and they did not have the clear definitions that we hold so tightly to today.  So these believers had to figure it out.  Now, remember, they didn’t have written gospels, they just had each other and their relationship with God to depend on.  All of the discernment was for the purpose of appearing blameless before God.

Discernment and growing in character and knowledge of God leads to maturity, and that was what Paul wanted for their faith.  He wanted them to grow in Christ and he wanted them to produce the fruits of righteousness.  No doubt, he was having the story of Jesus teaching about the vine and fruit in his mind as he was writing this.  He no doubt remembered that Jesus told us we can recognize him through the fruit produced.  Believers should have the good fruit being produced that brings others to knowing Christ, and not chasing them away from the things of God.  If we live our lives producing fruit that is pleasing to God and enticing to others to seek God, then at the very last day, we will be declared righteous before God.  On that final day, praises will ring out for God’s faithfulness and for the gifts of love we experience through each other!


For that reason, I am glad that we are partners in ministry together!  For that reason I am glad you are a reader, and I am able to share with you the conclusions of my heart from scripture.  It is my prayer in this life/ministry that we live together, we can grow together and we can produce fruit together.  Fruit of joy and peace and love, not discord.  With God’s help, may I be that for you!

Peace and Love,

-mb

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Fruits of the Spirit: Joy

2 06 2016

Author’s Note:  This is the third installment in the Fruits of the Spirit Series.  You can find the Introduction here and the first entry on love here.  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5: 22-23

The second topic or characteristic of the fruits of the spirit is joy.  Joy doesn’t always mean being happy.  In fact, joy as represented biblically could be defined as “Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness.”  So joy is a source of happiness, but it is not happiness itself.  Instead of happiness, a good synonym for joy would be contentment, not happiness.  Happiness wavers, but joy doesn’t.  It’s something deeper.

For that reason, I turned to scripture and noticed several different things.  I first noticed the things that can destroy our contentment,  reasons to be content and how to be content.

Destroyers of Contentment:

  1. Insecure People. It’s so easy to allow people to have the power to destroy our contentment.  Living life with other people is just plain hard sometimes.  People don’t always have the same goals and the same aspirations as I do.  People don’t always agree with me.  People are not always so easily able to swallow their pride and move on with life.  Insecurity is an ill that plagues many people.  Insecure people put their faith and sense of identity in other people.  Unfortunately, other people are not a secure place.  As one songwriter put it once “Our hells and our heavens are a few inches apart.”  The true place of our security has to lie in the secure things.  You don’t tie a boat to a stick in the sand, where the waves reach the stick.  You tie a boat to something that can be anchored down, that cannot move.  Something that is secure.  People are like those sticks along the shoreline.  Some small bit of turbulence or pain comes, and it’s very hard to hold on to the stick.  In fact, the people we often put our security in, have their own stuff to deal with, and they can’t be the anchors for us.  We have to place our trust and our security in what God says about us, and in the love of God.  It is steady.  It doesn’t matter what is going on, but God’s love still stands, his faithfulness is an anchor upon my heart and will not be moved.  But people?  They can be moved all of the time.  In fact, they can get insecure, jealous and selfish too.  They can lash out on us, or themselves, simply because of their insecurity.  You and I cannot afford to be tossed about on the waves.  James 1:2-7 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”  The believers of God, they need to be secure in God.  They can’t waste their lives and their time by being unsteady and insecure.  We must be sure.
  2. People who are intentional about creating conflict. Sometimes, we don’t make the wisest choices with who we spend our time with.  Sometimes, we surround ourselves with people who just seem to have a knack for causing all of this stress and drama.  Honestly, I’m not sure why we do so!  I guess it’s to keep us from being bored or something.  Whatever the reason, we keep them around, and we often add fuel to the fire.  I’ve tried to think and contemplate why people enjoy this drama, and I looked in First Timothy 6:5-7 and found this:  “and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”  As I thought and studied on this word from the Bible, I realized that perhaps the financial gain concept doesn’t just apply to money alone.  I think it applies also to the concept of whatever we think will happen as a result of becoming closer to God.  See, in this time period, those who had money were said to be closer to God than the poor. Of course, Jesus came along and kinda destroyed that thought, as seeing that he was homeless and all.  But anyways, the people who think that whatever they’re doing gets them closer to God, are the ones that cause “righteous friction” that is constant and never-ending.  For example, there are people that I do not agree with.  When I was actively trying to keep these people in my life, it was difficult to maintain the peace and contentment between us, because it’s hard to remember that we don’t do anything to reserve our space in heaven, and we can’t argue our way to the pearly gates.  Because in the end, we are all in the same state, barren as we came, and barren we will leave.  Don’t let yourself get wrapped into the illusion that you can gain entrance just by being right or “righting” someone who I think is wrong.  Usually, when I think I’m wrong, I push the issue until my point is made.  That is where I am in the wrong.  I’m to pursue peace and pursue contentment with things as they are.  If I do not, then it robs me of my contentment.

Reasons to be Content:

  1. The body of Christ depends on it. There are numerous joys that can occur when we are united with a body of believers.  There are so many benefits from  being in accord with believers.  I cannot stress enough, the value of belonging and associating with believers.  However, one of the temptations of being united with believers is that we often find that it is very easy to be discontent with one another.  The reason for this is that it is easy for us to not remember that we are all human, and we can’t always all exceed expectations.  Try as we might, our best will never be good enough.  Even though we are imperfect, we are still to look past the imperfections and focus on the joys.  It is easy to find discontentment.  In fact, Philippians 2:1-2 says:  “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”  To me, that is instructing believers that if we want to enjoy the benefits of the body of Christ, then we must also be in one accord, without divisions that are so easily to pop up when there is discontentment.
  2. Because God has delivered us and he delivers us. Psalms are full of this theme.  God delivers us.  It’s not just from war, or conflicts, although those are important.  Actually, we probably experience a lot of deliverance from this, more than we realize.  But what we often do not realize, is that we can be delivered from harmful situations.  And we can find deliverance from bad things.  We can find protection.  David echoes this understanding in Psalm 43, when he says:

 Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

David’s understanding of this and his reflection of his understanding is that we have a place to go, a refuge to enter into, someone who is actively on our side and is working things out for us, to help us, and to deliver us from this life and into the next.  Despite how bad things get, despite how hard they may get, we have salvation, and we have ultimately, the assurance of eternity with God.  And that, it should help us to last beyond the present state of being.  More often than not, we forget that we will be delivered, and we focus on the bad parts of life, on the apparent futility of it all, such as David did in verse 2 and 3.  But after that moment of self-pity, he ends with the image of being lifted high on the holy mountain, at the alter of God, where his home is made, where he will find peace.  It’s hard to remember that.  It’s hard for us to remember to focus on the fact that in the end, when it’s all over and done, the struggle we experience now is just a momentary bruise.  That’s it.  It’s not a broken bone, it’s a bruise.  Here today, and gone tomorrow, because that’s the way that this world operates.  If we could just focus on that, if we could only focus on the fact that this is all just temporary, our problems would seem not so large anymore.

Conclusions:  How to Be Content

Joy is marked by contentment, in which the soul is at peace with the world and with the people that you live with.  Joy is something that is hard to obtain, and I, myself, have to continuously fight with myself to keep the joy there.  It’s not about happiness, because happiness is an emotion, which is as unstable as a hill on a fault line.  Instead, joy is a state of being, a decision that I’ve made.  We have to decide to be joyful and content in God.  No one else will make this decision for us.  We have to make it for ourselves.  And it’s not so easy sometimes.  But it is totally worth it.

So now that we see all of the benefits of contentment…how do we become content?

It’s both quite simple and very complicated.

We gotta grow.  We gotta be intentional about growing closer and closer to the one that made us, and the one that sustains us.  The more and more that we grow, the more and more that we’ll let go of the things and people that don’t help us be content, and the more we will chase after and find the things and people that will help us to be joyful.  I cannot express enough, how we must continually pursue the things that help us to be joyful, regardless of our circumstances.

Not a new conclusion, not a new message, and not a new object for us to do.





Trials and Drawing Closer

22 03 2014

If I were to be honest, my life has ebbed and flowed seamlessly through periods and between periods of time where I am struggling and barely scraping by, and almost drowning in the harsh realities of life.  Namely, there are periods of struggle and periods of victory.  I feel like the last year, I’ve been struggling in many different ways.  At first, I did not claim the anchor and rock that has always pulled me through these times of struggle….and then when that new anchor gave away, I then turned back to the rock that I’ve turned to time and time again, and I have re-found a sense of love and security and safety there again, where I couldn’t find in that new anchor.  In the time of struggle, I go back to that rock and anchor more fervently and faithful than I am in times of victory.

That anchor is the love of God.  That rock is the faithfulness of God.  The steadfast of my life is in the love of God. 

I’ve tried to be cool in the past.  I’ve tried to claim casual faithfulness of God, tried to rid myself of the “christian” banner.  In all senses and purposes, I do not claim to be a christian, because when you label something, it becomes associated with something that most of the time, doesn’t even fit the description.  You think “christian” today, and I think Chris Tomlin, churches that are against anything progressive, and you find alot of bitter people against the world.  I’ve tried to distance myself from that label, and in many ways I am both that label and not that label.  But you know what, it doesn’t matter.  Regardless of what I call it or claim it, or how you call it and claim it, what I am is my own personal relationship with God.

Which is weird.  When the contemporary church welcomes people into the fold, they call it a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  Which honestly, is quite weird because we don’t try to teach them and disciple them into a relationship with God.  We just assume they find their way by joining a church and getting busy in that church.  Don’t get me wrong, I direct the kids’ Christmas program each year and love it, but that busy-ness does not a relationship with God make. 

I think this focus on the personal, individual relationship with God is what makes me different.  I’m not afraid to stick out of the “christian norm” and quite frankly, I find Chris Tomlin’s music to sound all the same, just different words.  Quite frankly, I think our progressing society is a sign of how all things are being made new, and different.  And quite frankly, I have no time for grudges or bitterness, and my relationship with God liberates me from all of that crap that makes your life 10x more difficult. 

But, back to the main point, I find myself coming back to the anchor that has proven me to be stable time and time again.  In the midst of a raging personal storm, I have found quietness and stillness, peace and stability, and I have found myself again.  It’s quite nice and comforting to know that I always have a place I can go, to find that love, support and acceptance, regardless of what the world thinks of me and my situations.  I’ve tried to be so cool and claim that I’m not a believer, but the reality is that I am.  I am so very much a believer, because I have myself and identity wrapped up into something else other than myself and the people I share my life with.  Many of my motives and intentions are not of my own doing, but I find myself doing things and saying things out of a deeply rooted love.  I wish that all people knew what I have found, because it is so valuable.  If you know me at all, I’m sure you know how much it means to me to be able to take a time out from the world and spend time in deep communication and friendship with God. 

So again, the faithfulness of God is a sturdy place to lean upon.  It is a sturdy place to come back to, to find peace and hope and joy.  I know it’s all going to be okay because I have been shown that in the past as well.  Thank goodness.