Our Bible Study group was recently studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians. One of the things that struck us was the amazing attitude Paul had to his imprisonment.
We imagined him chained to a Roman guard, 24/7 in Caesar’s palace cells, with no personal privacy and relying on friends to do everything for him. What was his reaction to these unpleasant circumstances?
He was full of praise to God, joyful for His provision and for being part of His plan to spread the Gospel!
In our comfortable lounge chairs we pondered on how he could feel that way about his situation.
The answer is that Paul had such a deep and unwavering trust in his Lord and Saviour that he knew there was a reason: guards and others were being evangelised through Paul’s influence and the Philippians themselves were being strengthened.
And the whole Church, from that day to this, can benefit from Paul’s testimony to the joy he knew in the Lord. No-one could fake such a joy.
Paul’s joy was due to a deep contentment that Christ had removed his sin and that he was working at the centre of God’s will for his life.
Why be Joyful?
Jesus showed us the great emptying-out principle that is shown in Paul’s remarkable life. If we want to learn contentment and joy, developing an attitude of unselfish humility is the perfect place to begin, says Chuck Swindoll.
There are several results:
1. Jesus is glorified. This should be our motivation for such behaviour, difficult as it may be. Christianity is a way of life in which true blessing only comes through suffering. Think of what Christ’s death means to our salvation. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is full of the stories of those who have suffered for Christ, thus bringing Him glory by their obedience and example.
2. We are affected. Jesus showed us how His joy was increased by His servant-like self-giving. A humble attitude like that shown by Paul, Peter and many disciples since has been the cause of the great contentment and joy they have all experienced.
3. Others are affected. Somebody once said, ‘we are the only Bible most people will ever read.’ A professing Christian who is not humble, out for himself all the time, selfish and careless, is a direct contradiction of everything our Master and the apostles taught about behaviour in the New Testament.
I should talk – I’m telling you this because I know it is right, not because I am a perfect practitioner. As Paul said for all of us:
‘I press on . . .’Phil 3:14]
How to be Joyful
Our problems can look so large to us that they often distort our view. Paul’s secret was for him to live above his circumstances by keeping his eyes on the Lord Jesus.
The trials of this life can shrink when compared to our loving, powerful Lord, who has ultimately defeated all the powers of this world which cause us to be affected by our circumstances.
We have to patiently wait on Him, and while waiting, continue to live in humility and trust.
Chuck Swindoll has again written:
‘Paul exhorts believers to have an attitude of joyful acceptance. Paul minced no words about how believers should relate to one another. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in theworld” [Phil 2:14-15]. He sought an attitude of joyful acceptance, free of petty disputes and bickering. He pled for authentic joy.’
Taking our circumstances straight to God helps to give true Christian joy.
Watch Out For the Prosperity Preachers
Anyone who preaches that the way to be joyful and blessed by the Lord is through material abundance, health, world-based happiness and not through suffering is a very dangerous false teacher.
That teaching is in direct opposition to what our Lord and Paul explicitly taught: ‘a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’ [Luke 12:15]. ‘The love of money leads to all kinds of evil’ [1 Timothy 6:10].
In contrast [which seems to escape those teachers whose motives and lifestyles are plain for all to see] we have the real and only path to Christian fulfillment and eternal life in Jesus’ words:
‘You cannot serve both God and money.’ [Matt 6:24]
My concern is that prosperity teaching and Word-Faith heresy, while it may not be directly taught in some Churches, is sometimes almost tacitly assumed, so that a leader will say, ‘Come to the Lord and get His abundant blessings’.
They may not define what ‘abundant blessings’ are, but they do, after all, drive an expensive car and live above everyone else. Nor do they stress Jesus’ warning that if anyone wants to follow Him they should take up their cross.
Jungle Doctor’s Example of Joy
In researching this newsletter I decided to re-read the uplifting story of the Jungle Doctor, Australian Paul White, who served in Tanzania [then called Tanganyika] between 1937 and 1941.
The conditions were so onerous and primitive that, unless he had known he was doing God’s will, there was no hope of him achieving anything worthwhile for the Lord.
The whole story which unfolded shows the pure joy he experienced in the most humble and depressing circumstances, as he was used by the Lord in not only saving many lives by practising hygienic medicine, but also by being instrumental in saving countless souls in what, at the time, was truly ‘darkest Africa.’