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Circumstances no thief of our joy

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INTRO:       We follow Jesus who, in the shadow of Calvary, explained to his followers, I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”- John 15:11. This “joy” of which he spoke was not simple “happiness”- the result of a happening; happenstance. Dictionary says,  “emotions experienced when in a state of well-being.” This is not a statement that says Jesus went around laughing all the time because life was so grand. We know otherwise, He *was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”-Isaiah 53:3. We know that he was hated and sought out for execution by his own people. These are not things that make one happy. But He had joy!


Joy, happiness, gladness, contentment are things we would like to own. So why are they in scarce supply? Why are we not full of joy all the time? We are going to be looking at one answer today from the book of Philippians, a love letter from Paul to the people who had supported him. It tells us:

Four things that can steal away our joy

How Paul did not allow these thieves to change his priorities, and

Four ways for us to combat the joy-thieves.

The amazing thing is that “joy” is referred to 16 times in 4 chapters.

The amusing thing is that Paul had no obvious reason to be joyful!

      Paul would probably use better English than this but Tom T. Hall, wrote, “Me and Jesus got our own thing goin’. Me and Jesus got it all worked out. Me and Jesus got our own thing goin’. We don’t need anybody to tell us what it’s all about.” Properly understood, that is so true. We need only Jesus to tell us which things can give us joy.

CIRCUMSTANCES CAN BE A THIEF OF OUR JOY.  There is an old, old musical called “Oklahoma.” In it Gordon McRae sings, Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh, what a beautiful day. I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.” It’s not difficult to be happy under those circumstances.

But when the clouds roll in….

      Happiness may be easily found in good circumstances, but absolutely nothing had gone right for the author of our reading today since he gave his life to Jesus…if one views this through worldly spectacles.  We are given an early clue to the quality of life Paul can look forward to in Acts 9:15 and 16. On the occasion of Paul’s conversion, Ananias was chosen to go visit him. He had a talk to God in an attempt to convince Him of the irrationality, hopelessness and danger in God’s plan.  The next verse says, “ But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’”- Paul’s ministry would major in personal suffering for Jesus. From that day forward this spiritual giant of an ambassador for Jesus would be beaten, left for dead, tricked, put in chains, forbidden to speak God’s word, bear the burden of concern for bodies of believers, and would eventually be executed while incarcerated.

With that job description who would take it on? Only one who has the joy of Jesus.

This shouts to us that circumstances need not be a thief of our joy in Jesus.


REVISITING THE DEFINITIONS  Let’s remind ourselves one more time that joy is different from happiness.

"A Life of intimacy with God is Characterized by Joy."  Oswald Chambers

"Happiness is a consequence of good things happening around us; it is superficial.  But Joy comes from inside, from knowing that God has not forsaken us and that He does indeed love us.  That Joy can come from no one but the Holy Spirit."    Ruth Senter                                                      *

“Joy, must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure.  Joy has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again...I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is."                                                                               C.S. Lewis           

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME  As the apostle to the Gentiles pens a love letter to this church he includes, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”- 1:12, and “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”- 1:19

It is important to us to be able identify what is spoken of in this phase, “What has happened to me,” because it is tied so closely to the people he has just prayed for, the future of the gospel and the unbelievable attitude manifested by Paul in the midst of his circumstances.

The trouble in Paul’s life reached a new high near the end of his third missionary journey. The prophet Agabus predicted that that Paul would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles if he continued on his way to Jerusalem.  Paul’s reply is insightful and interesting, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”Acts 21:14. From here to the end of the book we need only to read the helpful headings in the NIV: Paul’s Arrival At Jerusalem, Paul Arrested, Paul Speaks To The Crowd, Before The Sanhedrin, The Plot To Kill Paul, Paul Transferred To Caesarea, The Trial Before Felix, Paul Before Agrippa, Paul Sails To Rome, The Storm, The Shipwreck, Ashore On Malta, Arrival At Rome, and Paul Preaches At Rome Under Guard.

The bad news begins with Paul’s illegal arrest in the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews thought he had desecrated their temple by bringing in Gentiles, and the Romans thought he was an Egyptian renegade who was on their “most-wanted” list. Paul became the focal point of both political and religious plotting and remained a prisoner in Caesarea for two years. When he finally appealed to Caesar (which was the privilege of every Roman citizen), he was sent to Rome. En route, the ship was wrecked! The account of that storm and Paul’s courage and faith is one of the most dramatic in the Bible (Acts 27). After three months of waiting on the Island of Malta, Paul finally embarked for Rome and the trial he had requested before Caesar.

WAS PAUL INSANE? The question has been asked before, Acts 26:24. Paul was not insane. The only thing he was guilty of was a “single-purpose mind.” I suppose we would say that this apostle was purposely narrow minded; while he knew several languages and could speak to all kinds of people on  many subjects, he is committed to preaching “Christ and Him crucified.” That was his choice. Not insane, just committed…. and dead while alive. Note his captivating statement: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”- Galatians 2:20,21

Recall a verse that we visited already. Paul  heard the news of his future and said, “I am ready….to die for the name of the Lord Jesus”- Acts 21:14.. From this we are able to get a glimpse into how we can live with the Joy of Jesus unmoved by terrible circumstances. We must not be thinking of self but God’s purpose. A man who was a missionary to the Auca Indians in Ecuador in the 1950’s left us this quote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”Jim Elliot

Paul writes in this chapter, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”- Phil. 1:21. In this we have a clue as to how Paul could live like he did. He didn’t consider the circumstances in themselves, but always in relationship to Jesus. So he continues, “has really served to advance the gospel”-1:12. This word “advance” is a military term that describes cutting down trees and especially underbrush so the army can proceed on course.” What Paul lived for God was providing.

This “circumstance” put Paul in CONTACT WITH THE LOST.  “…what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”1:13

He was chained to a Roman soldier twenty-four hours a day! The shifts changed every six hours, which meant Paul could witness to at least four men each day! Imagine yourself as one of those soldiers, chained to a man who prayed “without ceasing,” who was constantly interviewing people about their spiritual condition, and who was repeatedly writing letters to Christians and churches throughout the Empire! It was not long before some of these soldiers put their faith in Christ. Paul was able to get the Gospel into the elite Praetorian Guard, something he could not have done had he been a free man.

But the chains gave Paul contact with another group of people: the officials in Caesar’s court. He was in Rome as an official prisoner, and his case was an important one. The Roman government was going to determine the official status of this new “Christian” sect. Was it merely another sect of the Jews? Or was it something new and possibly dangerous? Imagine how pleased Paul must have been knowing that the court officials were forced to study the doctrines of the Christian faith!

Now, are we surprised at what we read at the closing of this letter, “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household”-Phil.4:21,22


But the second stated reason is to GIVE COURAGE TO THE SAVED.  The chain that was intended to bind gave release to Paul. “Most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

Sometimes God has to put “chains” on His people to get them to advance beyond their imaginations.  A man tells this story. “While recovering in the hospital from a serious auto accident, I received a letter from a total stranger who seemed to know just what to say to make my day brighter. In fact, I received several letters from him, and each one was better than the one before. When I was able to get around, I met him personally. I was amazed to discover that he was blind, a diabetic, handicapped because of a leg amputation (and since then the other leg has been removed), and that he lived with and cared for his elderly mother! If a man ever wore chains, this man did! But if a man ever was free to advance the Gospel, this man was! He was able to share Christ in high school assemblies, before service clubs, at the “Y,” and before professional people in meetings that would have been closed to an ordained minister. My friend had the single mind; he lived for Christ and the Gospel. Consequently, he shared the joy of furthering the Gospel.

At six weeks of age, Fanny Crosby was blinded, but even as a youngster she determined not to be confined by the chains of darkness. In time, she became a mighty force for God through her hymns and Gospel songs.

The secret is this: when you have the single mind of purpose, you look on your circumstances as God-given opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel; and you rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do.

BUT I’M NOT PAUL AND I DON’T HAVE A CHAIN. Well then, we need to think of some practical, contemporary applications for our lives. Have you ever experienced a sequence of negative events, say, perhaps three or more in a relatively short time? Historically human beings begin to feel paranoid. They might even link these happenings together and blame one originator. This could be God. I have heard more than one Christian say something like this, “These circumstances are just more than I can bear. I lost my husband two years ago, one day before Christmas. How unfair. I had not even recovered when my niece died. Now they tell me I have a life-threatening disease. Where is God in all this? Is He to blame? At least he could have stopped it…. if there is a God….” Paranoia, doubt, cynicism, even apostasy. Brothers and sisters, that is a chain!

On occasion someone in the illustration just used will get some unwanted and unneeded help from a person who lacks Bible knowledge, faith in God and is superstitious. We see the makings of this in Acts 28:1-6. Paul went from “murderer” to a “god” all because they were analyzing the circumstances.

You will recall that Job had some friends like that who advised him based on their knowledge. Then his wife put the icing on the cake with, “Curse God and die.” Circumstances to some people indicate God’s approval or disapproval. We know better.

Some of most common circumstances that steal away our joy in Jesus are:

Busyness. There is not time left for God. I must schedule him in when it is convenient for me. My calendar is so crowded and my time so rushed, I couldn’t consider reading the Bible, praying and meditating. That requires time. With this a negative circumstance has been created.

Worldly Priorities. All the latest things as seen or heard via the media must be mine. I must work extra time to pay for these things which have moved from “wants” to “needs”. Worldly Christians have a tough time relating to Paul’s purpose-driven lifestyle.

Prolonged Illness. This can be extremely demoralizing and can cause a faithful saint to have second thoughts about why this is happening. Do not let this or any kind of circumstance be a robber of you joy in Jesus. God’s children are designed for victory, God’s victory.


One of the attractive hints to the marvelous attitude exhibited by Paul in our passage today is that the put J-O-Y into practice daily and in all circumstances.

Jesus First. There were chains on his wrists. Was he being held by Rome? No, he described this situation as, “in chains for Christ.” Some preached Christ with ulterior motives hoping to cause Paul harm. Did he complain? No, Christ is being preached. Was he in danger of death? Yes. And if this came to be, he would go home to be with Jesus where his citizenship already was in place.

Others Second. Paul had joy because he loved others. He prayed for them, was thankful for them, he needed them. If he were to live on for awhile, it would be for their good.

Yourself Last. For Paul, he belonged to Christ. His joy was in knowing him. Paul had been bought with a price and sought to glorify God in his body. He was a true steward of God’s merchandise.

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