In our study Sunday of Philippians 3:1-6, we learned about “joy stealers.” It’s a concept to which all of us can relate, since life is frequently full of circumstances that conspire to bring us down emotionally.
Of course there are relatively little things that happen, such as a messed-up order at a drive-thru that you don’t discover until you’re halfway home — and now you have to decide if you’re going back as you navigate terrible traffic.
But there are big things, too, such as the loss of your job, the loss of your health, a broken relationship, or the death of a loved one.
Pastor Scott shared that as we battle day to day with three main negative emotions — anger, sadness, and anxiety — they all have their positive counterparts on continuums. The opposite of anger is love, for example. The opposite of sadness is joy. And the opposite of anxiety is peace. And for us the key to managing those negative emotions is by putting the positive ones into practice.
When Paul composed this letter to the church he founded in Philippi, he was in house arrest in Rome. But Paul told his brothers and sisters in Christ that he was experiencing joy despite his imprisonment. Paul’s love for his church was stronger than any anger in him; his peace in Christ overcame his anxiety as a prisoner who could die at any moment; and his joy in the Lord was more powerful than sadness over his circumstances.
Two things Pastor Scott noted especially stuck out: First that the act of rejoicing in the Lord is a COMMAND. “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” (v. 1) The act of rejoicing is not necessarily a response to good things happening around us. It certainly wasn’t for Paul! Instead it’s a testimony to the fact that we can look a negative circumstance right in the eye and rejoice in the Lord despite it. And it means that joy is not grounded in circumstances but in God himself. As Pastor Scott noted, God’s character and providence levels out our sense of well being. And the second thing he said that stuck out was that the act of rejoicing TAKES PRACTICE. In the same way we must practice the act of loving God and loving others and practice the act of seeking peace in our lives, we also must practice the act of rejoicing in all circumstances.
Another interesting point Pastor Scott shared was from the second sentence in verse 1: “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” The Greek word for “safe” is taken from the word for “asphalt,” which implies sturdiness and confidence. Very much like the image of guardrails you might see at a bowling alley that prevent the ball from rolling into the gutters. In other words, when you put rejoicing into practice, you hit the pins EVERY TIME you roll the ball — and there’s no way you’ll be left in life’s gutter.
In the remaining verses, Paul tells his fellow believers that they must put no confidence in the flesh, and he declares that belief in Christ — and not in things such as circumcision — is the key to salvation. Nothing else will last except Jesus, and we must put our trust in him instead.
Therefore let us move forward this week in joy despite our circumstances and confidence in our future based on who Christ is, and not on what we do.