Written by Dave Urbanski.
Sadness is an emotion we all experience in this world, and it’s always as a response to the loss of something we value. Depending on the severity of the loss, our sadness can manifest itself as disappointment — and then all the way up to despair or even depression when we’re dealing with things like the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, or the loss of a job.
In a deeper way, the degree of sadness we experience indicates what’s important to us in the moment. And in a practical way, as Pastor Scott noted, Christians in the midst of sadness need a plan to deal with it.
In the passage we studied Sunday in the first chapter of Philippians, we find Paul encouraging the church members in the midst of sadness over his imprisonment — which can naturally lead to doubt, despair, and anger. But he told them there is much to be joyful about.
Yes, Paul wants to help them — and help all of us as well — get a change in perspective.
Verses 12 to 14: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
As Pastor Scott shared, Paul was living with the elite guards and soldiers of Rome during his house arrest — in fact, chained to them, shift by shift, 24/7. For most of us, that’s not an ideal way to live. But Paul sees this as a prime opportunity, and he probably spent most of his time with these guards sharing the gospel of Christ. Can you imagine? Those guards were a captive audience as much as Paul was a prisoner — and he turned what could’ve been a cause for disappointment, despair, and even depression into a cause for joy. Sure, he’s no longer traveling freely from city to city sharing Jesus, but because of his “new audience” there are converts to Christ in the imperial guard! And the impact they’re having on Roman leaders is profound.
It’s certainly an example of what happens, as Pastor Scott emphasized, when we hold on loosely to this life — and when we embrace the power and freedom and joy at our disposal that comes with setting our minds on “things above” (Colossians 3:2). Indeed Paul emphasized that “my imprisonment is for Christ.” It’s really the ultimate perspective of life itself for Christians, isn’t it? If our lives are “for Christ,” then the all the emotional bumps on the road are simply more opportunities to shine the light of the gospel.
Pastor Scott also emphasized another important point: All of the things that go into turning sadness to joy involve a DECISION to rejoice. It doesn’t just magically “happen.” But armed with knowledge and wisdom and examples from Scripture, part of our plan for dealing with sadness is recognizing that God’s in charge and then making a choice to put ourselves under the lordship of Christ, which will lead to joy.
Paul’s expectations had to change when he was under house arrest. And as Pastor Scott pointed out, when expectations change, often audiences change as well. It’s the same for all of us.
Another thing Paul rejoiced about was that his brothers in Christ grew bolder in their faith as a result of seeing him thrive in his imprisonment. It’s a testament to the fact that others are watching us and are affected spiritually by how we respond to adversity. And that can mean us delivering encouragement to other Christians by how well we surrender to the will of God.
Paul even refuses to be bitter over fellow preachers of the gospel who “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.” (v. 17) Wow! That takes some strength of emotion and steadfast decision-making on Paul’s part — but it all falls under him finding reasons to rejoice. In other words, these wayward preachers still might lead others to Jesus. And for Paul, that’s everything, so he puts away bitterness and finds a reason for joy in the salvation of others.
It all leads up to the final part of Sunday’s passage — Paul’s remarkable proclamation that “to live is Christ.” But before that point, we see he’s acknowledging the prayers of his fellow believers, which tap into the very power of God — and that he’s confident it will lead to his deliverance. However, it appears Paul doesn’t necessarily mean he’s confident he’ll be released from house arrest (although that certainly would be cause for much rejoicing). No, Paul realizes he’s already ULTIMATELY delivered. “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death,” he writes at the end of verse 20.
If Paul lives, his life is about Jesus; if he dies, he’s with Jesus in the deepest way possible: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (v. 21) Talk about the ultimate win-win.
Some of us have nonbelievers in our lives who seem very happy — and maybe it’s genuine. But as Pastor Scott pointed out, every nonbeliever experiences spiritual depression in some way or another without realizing it because their sin is not addressed by turning over their lives to Jesus in repentance — and they’re not maximizing their joy. But Pastor Scott also noted that even Christians can experience spiritual depression because they’re still tied in some way to the things of this world, and far too often Jesus is not primary.
Are there things in our lives that we’re grasping hold of too tightly? That we’re placing too much importance on? That have become, in a sense, “gods” to us? That block us from experiencing Jesus as completely as possible? Paul made his decision. Even his imprisonment was for Christ, and he turned it into an evangelism extravaganza. Amazing! But what about us? What have we decided? What do we value, ultimately?
May the answers to those questions lead us to a place where we’re living completely for Christ and maximizing our joy.