“What are the joy-stealers? Why do so many of us struggle with joy?” I often ask my students this question when we open the book of Philippians.
“Time pressures.” “Financial pressures.” “Unfulfilled expectations.” “Hurts from the past.” These are common responses from my students. But Paul would point us toward two other foundational reasons for our lack of joy.
First, Paul would advise us that one of the reasons we struggle so much with joy is that we don’t rejoice enough. The themes of joy and rejoicing intertwine throughout the book of Philippians in such a way that a reader of that letter must conclude that joy and rejoicing are intricately connected to one another. We shouldn’t think of joy as one thing and rejoicing as a totally different thing. Joy is the noun, and rejoicing the verb, but the basic idea is the same. Thus, if we want more joy in our lives, we should learn to rejoice more. But acknowledging that we don’t rejoice enough is only the second-most-important thing we need to understand about our struggle with joy.
Paul would say that the most important reason we struggle with joy is that for most of us, our concept of joy is not “in the Lord,” despite the fact that Paul keeps connecting his comments about joy to inChristness (3:1; 4:4; 4:10). Most of us strive for feelings of happiness, not in-Christ joy. Paul, you may remember, never tells us to “just try to be happy.” Paul’s joy is fundamentally linked to his union with Christ. He knows deep, lasting, and profound joy because he is in Christ.
If what I’ve written is accurate, this means that our joy in Christ is not dependent upon our circumstances. Paul is probably writing his letter to the Philippians while chained to a Roman guard under house arrest in Rome. He has been deprived of freedom for the previous three to five years (first in prison in Caesarea, then on a prisoner-transport ship, and now confined to a rented room in Rome). He has few external reasons to be happy. But he knows that he is in Christ, and so he repeatedly and insistently rejoices in the Lord.
Remarkably, even though joy in Christ cannot be diminished by circumstances, it can be increased. Paul indicates that his joy increases through friendships with others in Christ. Joy increases whenever he contemplates his warm, relational in-Christ connection to the Philippians (1:3-8; 1:25; 4:1). Joy increases whenever he learns that the gospel is spreading (1:18). Joy increases when he contemplates Christians living in unity (2:2). Joy increases when he discovers that the Philippians have decided to send him financial assistance during his incarceration (4:10-18). Joy even increases when he reckons with the possibility that his own sufferings are helping his friends in Philippi grow in faith (2:17). In other words, for those of us who know that we are already in Christ, there is no reason that our joy needs to be shaken. Instead, we should be encouraged to know our present joy can increase.
Friend, do you want more joy in your life? Learn to rejoice more. And whatever you do, don’t forget to hold onto the truth that persistent joy is yours in Christ.
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you” (Phil 3:1)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil 4:4)
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me” (Phil 4:10)
This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding.