Prerequisites For Joy

During the summer of 2000 the church on earth lost a significant warrior . . . Dr. James Montgomery Boice. It is possible that you have heard him speak on the Bible Study Hour radio broadcast or perhaps you know him as the author of many books or maybe you are familiar with his name because I quote him often. I have read many of his books, heard him preach and enjoyed the chance to talk to him personally. He was a wonderfully intelligent, humble and godly man.

Earlier in the year Dr. Boice was diagnosed with liver cancer. It appeared suddenly and took his life quickly. When Dr. Boice stood before his congregation on May 7, 2000 it was his task to inform his congregation of his physical condition. As he spoke his voice was strong and matter-of-fact. Listen to part of what he said,

God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by. . . God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything He does is good. And what Romans 12:1,2 says is that we have the opportunity by the renewal of our minds –that is, how we think about these things–actually to prove what God’s will is. . . If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good. So that’s why we want to accept it and move forward, and who knows what God will do? []

In the last weeks of his life Dr. Boice continued to edit books, hymns and magazine articles and gathered his church leaders to his bedside so they could sing some of the great hymns together. Dr. Boice revealed joy even in his death. He could have been bitter or angry but instead he rejoiced. He would miss His family but He trusted God and looked forward to seeing Him in person.

I wish I could say that I would respond just like that. But I’m not so sure. It’s easy to be “happy” when things are going well. It’s another thing to be joyful. Joy is unaffected by circumstances. It’s anchor is deep and sure. I want to live the joyful life and I suspect you do too.

I believe the book of Philippians tells us how to find this joy. The word “joy” is found in one form or another 15 times in the 104 verses of this short letter. When Paul writes about joy he is not writing dry theory . . . he writes from experience. He is not writing from a wood-paneled office, he writes from a place of imprisonment.

Most scholars believe that Paul was writing from Rome perhaps around 61 AD. Paul was writing from jail. The book of Acts tells us that Paul had been falsely accused and held without trial in Caesarea for two years. When an assassination plot was discovered, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed the case to Caesar. On the way to Rome he survived a storm and shipwreck on the Mediterranean Sea. When he arrived in Rome he was warmly greeted and was able to visit with friends while he was under “house arrest”. But not everyone was happy with Paul. Some criticized him and attacked him. Some of these were fellow Christians.

Like Dr. Boice, even in these circumstances Paul rejoices. It’s not the first time. When Paul and Silas visited Philippi they were thrown in jail there too. They were considered to be trouble makers. While they were in jail they read the Scriptures and had a hymn sing in their cell. Joy was a companion of Paul in every circumstance.

This morning we only have time for an introductory look at Paul’s Blueprint for joy. But as we look at the first two verses we see that they give us some of the prerequisites for joy.

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:1,2)


The Servant Heart

Paul calls himself and Timothy “servants” of Christ. The word in the Greek is really the word “slave”. Paul saw himself as a person who was bound to Christ. He was not serving Himself but was serving Jesus. He was not living by His rules but by the rules of the Master. In Paul’s day you could become a slave involuntarily or voluntarily. Paul had become a voluntary slave of Christ.

To some people this would be an offensive image. They resist the idea of being anyone’s slave. The reason for this is simple: our images of slavery are all negative. We envision abusive task-masters. And I am sure that some of the slave owners in Paul’s day were like this. But many others were not. Some were honest people giving folks a chance to work off a debt.

Try thinking about the slave in terms of employment. Depending on your job, you are serving a good “master” or a bad one. If you are serving a bad master you feel taken advantage of. The employer withholds benefits, goes back on promises, puts you in poor working conditions and generally does not appreciate you or your efforts. You are made to feel like a robot who is expected to “produce.”

But it is entirely different if your employer is kind and concerned for you. In this case it is a joy to go to work. Your employer pays you a fair wage, provides necessary benefits and appreciates the work you do. You feel like you are part of a team and are involved in some meaningful activity. These kinds of employers spur you on to serve them better. You love working for these people. And this, of course, is the way Paul viewed Christ. Paul was willing to do whatever needed to be done to serve His Lord and to spread His message to the world.

Later in this same chapter Paul reflects that he may die at any time. As he weighs his options he says that dying would be gain and living on would mean “fruitful labor”. He saw his life as existing for one purpose and one purpose only: to glorify God and to serve Him fully.

Do you see how different this attitude is from the attitude we often live with? We tend to view Christ as OUR servant rather than visa versa. We ask Him to do our bidding. If things don’t go our way, we want an explanation. We demand more than we submit; we direct more than we follow. It is only when we submit to Christ with a willingness to follow His leading and accept His wise providence that we will find joy. Joy is produced by the Lord, not by us.

The Set-Apart Heart

Paul writes to the “Saints in Christ” in Philippi. The title “saint” is a title we don’t use very often. When we think of a “saint” we generally think of a person who is 1) extraordinary in their commitment and 2) dead. We don’t feel that we measure up to the first qualification and don’t aspire to the second!

But a saint is literally, a “set-apart one”. If you are a true follower of Christ, you are a saint! You are a person specially set-apart for His purpose and to accomplish His will.

What I want you to see is that this is a position of honor.  We are “set-apart” for a special task . . . we are specially chosen to serve the Lord.  We need to realize that we have been extended a tremendous privilege in being called His children.

Just this last week I saw the sad clips of a military honor guard moving a casket into a waiting hearse.  Those men who served in that capacity were men specially chosen.  They were specially trained. And I would think that they did not grumble about their position, instead they work hard to represent their country and to honor those they serve in the best way possible.  They are servants, yes . . . but they are servants who serve with special honor.  That’s the way it is with us.   We are voluntary servants of Jesus Christ who live their lives conscious of the great privilege and honor to serve as “saints of God”.

Notice also that we are “saints in Jesus Christ”. Twice in two verses we have seen this phrase “in Christ”. In fact references to Christ occur 19 times in this first chapter alone! Paul saw Himself as a servant of Christ who lived “in Christ” for the purpose of glorifying Christ. Marvin Vincent wrote

when Paul spoke of the Christian being in Christ, he meant that the Christian lives in Christ as a bird in the air, a fish in the water, the roots of a tree in the soil. What makes the Christian different is that he is always and everywhere conscious of the encircling presence of Jesus Christ.

If we want to know joy, we must have this attitude of submission and must never forget our honored calling.  Joy comes from having a lifestyle where we are always conscious of our position and our privilege.  We lose our joy when we become distracted.  Philip Yancey writes,

An accumulation of distractions — a malfunctioning computer, bills to pay, an upcoming trip, a friend’s wedding, the general busyness of life — gradually edges God away from the center of my life.  Some days I meet people, eat, work, make decisions, all without giving God a single thought. [REACHING p. 189]

The task then is to remind ourselves every moment that we are children of the King.  How do we do this?

  • every once in a while address your friends as “saint”
  • wherever you are remind yourself that you serve a higher purpose.  When you are screaming at a game or upset at a check-out lane, or frustrated on the phone . . . remind yourself that you represent Jesus.
  • when life gets hectic make it a point to find a quiet corner periodically to stop and make contact with the Master. 
  • Ask God to give you His perspective on: other people, circumstances, things we crave, our time, our money, our hopes.
  • When you feel down, cast aside, insignificant, remind yourself that you are specially chosen. . . you belong to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords . . . you are a saint . . given the privilege of serving God.


Paul uses two words that are words of greeting but also words which carry great weight: “grace” and “peace”.  Both of these words together contain the essence of the gospel message.  Paul always chooses his words carefully, I think that is certainly the case here as well.


Greeks used the term grace (Charis) to mean “greetings”. The word grace is a word that means an “undeserved gift”. When we say that we are people who have received grace it means we have received a gift we did not deserve. What was that gift? It was new life through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on our behalf. 

Basically God’s grace means two things to us. First, it means we have received an undeserved forgiveness. Suppose your family suffered a horrible tragedy. Now suppose also that the person who was responsible for the tragedy was unmoved and seemed like they didn’t care. Would you be upset? You bet you would!

Now suppose you extended forgiveness to that person . . . if you had the charges dropped, would they deserve that forgiveness? What about if you took the punishment for them? They would deserve it even less. But this is what God has done for us. We have sinned against Him time and time again. We aren’t sorry, instead we curse God and seek to justify our actions. Jesus took our punishment. Do we deserve forgiveness? Not even a little bit. Yet, God extends forgiveness to us by virtue of what Christ has done for us.

Secondly, grace means that we are also recipients of an unmatched love. Think about it . . . God reaches out to you and me in our rebellious state. He not only offers us forgiveness . . . He welcomes us as a part of His own family! God declares us Holy (pure), He gives us access to His presence, He promises us an eternal inheritance. Not because of our nature but because of His love.

Grace then means several things

  • our hope of salvation is not on what we do but what God has done for us. No one will stand around in Heaven and talk about the great things they did to deserve salvation. We will all point to Christ.
  • we recognize that even at our best we are still sinful people who need an “act of God” to save us. We have a new humility.
  • grace means the guilt of the past is gone. Everything! All the rebellious, stupid, foolish, hurtful and arrogant things we have done are forgiven. God relates to us as those who have never sinned at all. Rather than being God’s enemy we are His friend.

The grace of God is the source of our joy. We must stop trusting our own efforts and start resting in what He has done FOR us. Once we realize that we don’t have to stay on the treadmill of life, once we realize that bad things don’t happen to us because God is mad at us, once we understand that God’s promise is sure and His grace is dependable . . . we begin to experience a deep joy. The burden is lifted, we can begin to enjoy the journey.  In Greek the words for grace and for joy are very similar.


But there is a second word. The word peace (“shalom”) was a common greeting among the Jews. This peace did not refer to an absence of war. It refers to total well-being and everything that makes for a man’s highest good. It is related to a word which means to join, to weave together. When we say we “have it all together” or “everything is coming together” we are getting close to the idea of Shalom.

In Romans 5:1 Paul tells us,

Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

We are made right with God through the grace of God and then we have peace with God. We can’t know peace until the problem of sin has been dealt with. We must receive God’s grace FIRST . . . then we will know peace. Paul tells us that “having been justified” we have peace. We must get the order right.

This peace encompasses several dimensions. First, there is peace with God. This means as a result of God’s grace we are no longer fighting God but instead are being loved by and guided by God. As a result of grace we are no longer afraid of God. We don’t have to hide like Adam and Eve did. We are friends of God. The peace we have with God is not like the peace that so often exists in the world. It is not a peace that is fragile.

We see this other kind of peace often in the Middle East. Even when there is “peace” everyone is still walking around with automatic rifles to “keep the peace.” That is not the kind of peace we have with God. We can walk free and without fear. God does not stand over us with a club threatening to keep the peace with force if necessary. Instead, God opens His arms and loves us.

Second, we have peace with our circumstances. If you read on in Romans 5 you will see that Paul says that we are people who can rejoice in our sufferings. We have peace in the time of turmoil because we know that God is in charge. We know that He is using the circumstances of life to train us and mold us. No matter what happens . . . even liver cancer, we know that nothing will separate us from the love of God. The peace we have with God transcends our circumstances.

It is like a little child walking with their parent in a rough neighborhood of Chicago. It may be a dangerous situation, but the child is unconcerned . . . why? Because as long as they are holding their Father’s hand they do not see any danger in their circumstances. As long as the Father holds us and loves us . . .the circumstances do not concern us.

Third, we know peace with ourselves. Have you ever had someone tell you, “I need to find myself”. As goofy as it sounds, you and I know that this is a figure of speech which means a person is trying to understand their purpose, their personality, their deepest aspirations. They feel confused, disoriented. When we know God’s peace, all the pieces come together. People who need to find “themselves” are not really looking for themselves . . . they are looking for Jesus. He is alone is the source of peace.

The peace of the gospel leads us to confidence and joy. This is the truth that distinguishes us as Children of God and it is the seed of joy. This is the message our Lord has entrusted to us for the world. We have what the world is looking for. And there are few things that bring greater joy than to share with someone else what it means to be a believer.


What I have been trying to say is this: If we are going to experience joy in our life we must be right with God. We must see ourselves as those who have been given grace beyond measure and as a result experience a peace without equal. We must reckon ourselves servants of this wise and wonderful God even as we consider ourselves set-apart for His service. In other words we must take our eyes off of ourselves, off our circumstances, and off of each other . . . instead, we must focus on Christ. We must see Him as our life and our joy. Joy comes from Christ and Christ alone.

Do you long for joy in your life? Do you want an anchor for the storms of life? If you do, then Jesus is who you are looking for. We find Christ not by running faster but by trusting more completely. Salvation comes when we understand the truth of the gospel, when we believe it, and when we commit ourselves to it. All three ingredients are necessary.

I read a great illustration this week. If three birds are on a log and two decide to fly away, how many are left? You would think the answer is one. But it’s not. The answer is really three. Just deciding to fly away is not the same thing as doing so. There are many people . . .and I suspect some of you are among them . . .who have decided that Christianity is true. But deciding that it is true and actually committing yourself to Christ are two different things. There is no joy in deciding . . . the joy is in trusting.

How do you begin? You can begin by making a simple but sincere declaration to the Lord. Perhaps it would be something like this:

Father, I have done many things wrong in my life. I cannot do anything to make myself right before you.  I realize now that Jesus came to earth to die in my place and for my sin.  I understand that His resurrection is the proof that the sacrifice was acceptable.  Today, I declare that I believe your promise of forgiveness and life eternal and I receive that gift of life.  Cleanse me, fill me, and make me new.  I place my life in your hands.

That’s where joy begins. It may not be the same kind of deep joy that was in the life of the Apostle Paul or even in the life of Dr. Boice . . . but it’s start. . . and it’s a good start.

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