This past Sunday, I continued preaching a Sunday morning series on joy from Philippians. In it we talked about taking joy in the accomplishments of Jesus (3:1-12).
Paul told the church once more to “rejoice in the Lord” and tells them that he will keep on reminding them of this again and again. Such a statement brought no trouble to Paul, after all it keeps everyone focused right where they should be: on Jesus. And he said it was safe for them (and us), after all it keeps us focused right where we need to be: on Jesus.
Then Paul shifted gears to something that robs joy: thinking we somehow must trust in our own works, obedience, or rituals to make ourselves right before God. Paul told the church that if people wanted to compare background, ethnicity, education, zeal, and obedience to the letter of the law, then he would match up to any challengers. He had it all—all the accomplishments, accolades, and gains.
Yet, when he came to realize the greatness of Christ then he was ready to toss it all upon a giant rubbish pile. Not that things like education, zeal, possessions, and good works are bad. They just gain nothing eternally significant apart from Christ and compared to knowing Christ everything else is rubbish.
What matters, then, is not a “righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which come through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (3:9). Here we see joy in the accomplishments of Jesus. It was his perfect life, his firm stance against temptation, his obedience to the Father and the law, his sacrifice and death, and his resurrection which gains righteousness for you and me.
God made him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:21
Pure, beautiful, perfect grace; received by faith—open hands that let go of sin, self, and the things of the world to offer nothing to God and to receive the fullness of Jesus, grasping tightly to him.
It is no wonder why Paul wrote from the midst of prison and having truly lost most everything he gained before Acts 9, “That I may know him.” This wasn’t a monotone, bored statement of information gain. This was a passionate breathing, bleeding, crying plea… I WANT TO KNOW JESUS!
It is here that I want to focus for this article; not on Paul’s main point of joy in the accomplishments of Jesus, but a sub-point of this: joy in relationship with Jesus and even more specific, joy in suffering because of a relationship with Jesus.
Track with what Paul wrote in 3:10. “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection.” Good so far? We like this part. To know Jesus—to have a relationship with him that defines eternal life (John 17:3). A relationship built on faith, and a relationship that takes time. To know Jesus requires the same thing as any other relationship: time to speak and time to listen (prayer and the word). God is a person (more accurately: 3 persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). We can know about someone by studying them, but to really know them takes time well spent with them.
And then that resurrection part? Amen and hallelujah! Life beyond life, an eternity in glorified bodies with Jesus, no more pain, no more sorrow, perfect joy and peace—yeah, we want that too.
But Paul didn’t end his thought with that. “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his suffering, becoming like him in his death.” Okay, wait a minute, Paul. Sufferings? Death?—his death? The cross death? That death?
This is where our comfort loving bodies and mind scream: Paul, just stop! We were good at knowing Jesus and the resurrection. Just leave it there! But no, Paul went on to suffering and death. Same sentence, same passion, same idea…
All Paul did was follow Jesus’ lead. He fixed his eyes on Jesus, the Savior-King, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Consider, then, for a moment John 17 where Jesus prayed for all of his followers then, now, and throughout history. He said to the Father:
13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. ~ 17:13-18
Again, let’s track along: Jesus was getting ready to leave the world, first in his soon-coming crucifixion, and then forty days after his resurrection in his ascension. He would go to the Father and send the Spirit (John 14 & 16). With this, he says of his people: I have given them your word, I have spoken these things. And that word accomplishes something.
For those who receive it, we are made like Jesus so that we are no longer of this world. God continues to work sanctification in us so that we will live more and more like Jesus. And we have Jesus’ joy fulfilled within us. God’s word transforms us, makes us more like Jesus, and gives us the joy of Jesus.
But by doing so, the word also has a different effect. The world hates Jesus (15:18). Yes those who hear the gospel, receive the word, and are forever changed by it love Jesus, but they are no longer of the world. The world loves its sin. Sin is rebellion against God. Sin would rather crucify love and grace than receive it. If the world hates Jesus, and his word makes us more and more like Jesus, then the world will also hate us. This brings suffering.
So what is the answer? After all God is love and God is good and God wants us to be joyful and to have his joy fulfilled in us. Therefore, God must be ready to take us out of this world of suffering, right? Nope. Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world.” Sure, protect us from the wiles of Satan but leave us in the world.
Okay. We can deal with that. That just must mean we gather our selves together in isolated and insulated communities with minimal interaction with the world in which we will find suffering because it hates Jesus, right? Again, nope. “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
So we receive the word, the word makes us more like Jesus, and the word gives us the joy of Christ. However, in being more like Jesus, the world hates us because it hates Jesus. Instead of rescuing us from this at this present moment, Jesus instead sends us rushing headlong into the world that hates him and hates us to tell them about him, love them by meeting their needs, and showing them how Jesus has changed us.
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.
God is very interested in our joy, but not so much our comfort…at least in this life. And why? The world is broken, sin-stained, and desperate. It is messy and bloody. It is painful and tragic. It is frustrating. It is like a wild animal caught in a trap—it needs freedom, but it’s going to bite at the hands trying to free it.
Jesus sends us headlong into this world to deliver the only fix: him. Whatever things we suffer in this life, whatever pain we experience, and whatever persecution we face it is mere “light momentary affliction preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Yet for those without Jesus, the sufferings of this world will be bliss compared to the wrath of God upon sin in hell.
I spoke with a young man today who is frustrated with his job and wondering if such frustration is what the rest of life has in store. We talked about Philippians 3 and John 17. At the end I told him: “The headache and the frustrations are part of the sufferings in the world where Jesus has sent you. You’re at where you’re at right now because God in his infinite wisdom knew that place needs a witness for Christ at this moment.”
Jesus took joy in his suffering because he knew the end result: the defeat of death and Satan, and the eternal salvation of those who follow him. We can take joy in the suffering as Jesus sends us headlong into the world, because we know the end result: all who hear his gospel and turn to him through his grace will have an eternal salvation and joy beyond compare.
If we keep that in mind, then the things we suffer today will be worth it tomorrow.