Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
As soon as my Pastor read this text for his sermon, I began to feel convicted. It had been a really tough week, and I’m ashamed to say that I did not consider the many kinds of trials that had come my way to be “pure joy”. As he spoke, I remembered the week gone by---like I said it had been “challenging.” It started off with my brother and I taking the first few steps of faith in a new direction God was leading us to go. Before Tuesday afternoon was over, we were facing obstacles that threatened to stop the new project dead in it’s tracks.
Keeping it real---I did not immediately thank God for the opportunity to have my faith tested and develop perseverance. Instead, I made the choice to allow fear, worry, frustration, and even anger to steal my peace. Once I made this choice, I lost my joy. I was definitely not, “Happy, Happy, Happy.” (I was more like cranky, cranky, cranky.)
As I sat in church that Sunday morning, I realized that it was my fault I’d been so cranky and miserable for the past week. I made the wrong choice when I didn’t choose to look at the obstacles with joy and trust God to be in control of His project. I chose the wrong perspective. Literally, I chose to be unhappy.
What I should have done was follow Paul’s example for choosing to rejoice and be happy when many, many trials came against him. Rather than singing the blues, becoming depressed, angry, bitter, or even stressed, when Paul was faced with difficult times, he chose a different perspective. It was this perspective that allowed him to be filled with joy even in the most difficult circumstances. In the next few verses that we’re going to study Paul demonstrates how we can stay Happy, Happy, Happy and maintain a positive perspective in difficult circumstances.
Let’s start by reading Philippians 1:12-14:
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually 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. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
Okay, before we go any further it’s important to once again stop and remember that the “difficult circumstance” Paul was facing was prison. He was arrested and put in jail because the Jewish leaders were jealous and threatened by the growth of the Christian church. So they trumped up false charges and had Paul arrested for crimes he didn’t commit. If anyone had a right or reason to be angry, bitter, or have a chip on their shoulder, it was Paul.
Yet, that wasn’t the route that he took. Instead, he chose a different perspective and chose to see what had happened as God’s plan to advance the Gospel. Rather than being filled with fear, depression, or anger, Paul saw that his circumstances advanced the Gospel, and he saw that as a reason to celebrate and be happy.
It’s interesting that the word translated “advanced” has the idea of moving forward in spite of obstacles. It is used in secular literature to describe armies moving forward under fire. That’s how Paul looked at his imprisonment:as a strategic move by God to move His army forward into new territories---even if it required a battle to do it.
When you change your perspective and look at Paul’s situation through these lenses, you see that Paul had a lot to be happy about! How?
First of all, Paul’s imprisonment gave him a tremendous opportunity to share the Gospel with people who otherwise would not have heard it. Think about it: as a prisoner, Paul was chained 24 hours a day to soldiers. This went on for years, during which time it is probable that Caesars’s entire palace guard, 1000 troops, were reached with the Gospel. His imprisonment led to “everyone” who came to his quarters knowing the Gospel---soldiers, guards, Jews, Gentiles, etc…
If you came into contact with Paul, you heard the message of the Gospel. Paul saw this as a reason to celebrate.
Another reason Paul had to celebrate was that his example inspired others to share the Gospel. Recognizing the nature of Paul’s imprisonment, fellow preachers responded out of love for Paul, took their stand with him and eagerly ensured that the Gospel would not stop being preached while Paul was in prison. They drew courage from Paul’s example, laid their fears aside, and became bolder in proclaiming God’s Word.
Of course, not all of the newly encouraged preachers in Rome had good motives. Some were preaching out of envy and rivalry. They were doctrinally sound, but at the same time mean and selfish, using Paul’s imprisonment to promote themselves. Envious of Paul, they stirred up discord within the Christian community. More than willing to kick Paul when he was down, the behavior of these “fellow evangelists” gave Paul more than enough reason to lose his joy. Yet, once again, we see Paul chose a different perspective.
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,” (Philippians 1:15-18)
The “bad” preachers were insincere particularly toward Paul. They were self-seeking opportunists, promoting themselves at Paul’s expense. Perhaps they were prominent in the church before Paul arrived, but they became eclipsed when Paul came to the city. When Paul was imprisoned, they hoped to regain their popularity. Maybe they thought Paul would resent their reclaim to fame and be discouraged in his imprisonment.
Obviously, they didn’t know Paul, because ironically, their plan totally backfired and served as a source of encouragement to Paul. Because Paul saw life through a kingdom perspective, his attitude was: “Who cares? Christ is preached!!”
“The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, Yes, I will rejoice.”
Whether the Gospel was spread because people were inspired by Paul or jealous of him, the outcome was the same. Within 30 years of Christ’s death and resurrection, the Gospel had spread all over the world and now would go before Caesar in the center of the Empire. What an amazing perspective!
Yet, Paul’s amazing perspective went even further than choosing to rejoice despite imprisonment, and personal attacks from foes who should be friends. The next few verses show that Paul chose to rejoice even in the face of possible death.
“For I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.” (Philippians 1:19-26)
In this passage, Paul speaks of his “deliverance.” This could refer to deliverance from prison, but more probably it refers to his deliverance from the physical body.
Here’s the situation: Eventually, the Roman Government would hear Paul’s case and decide his fate. He could be set free or he could be put to death. Both Paul and his friends in the Philippian church knew it could go either way. Rather than being worried, stressed, and apprehensive Paul chose to believe that God would do what was best and take the attitude that either way, it was a win for Paul!
If the Romans pronounce him innocent, Paul could continue to labor for Christ. If he died, not only would Paul’s death be the gateway to Christ’s presence, but the act of dying itself at the hands of Rome (martyrdom) was no tragedy in his eyes, because this death would bear added witness to the power of the Gospel. Paul was so positively committed to the will of God that both life and death held certain attractions. If he had the choice, he couldn’t decide! Either way was good with him!
In verse 25, Paul finally says that even though it was in God’s hands, Paul concluded that he believed he would live for the continuance of his apostolic ministry. Evidence from the pastoral letters confirmed by historical testimony, indicates that Paul was released from this first Roman imprisonment and travelled through Macedonia before being re-imprisoned and suffering a martyr’s death. But it’s important for us to remember that at the time he wrote this letter, Paul had no way of knowing for sure which way the verdict would go. Still, even facing potential death, Paul chose to rejoice.
Through his writings and even more through his example, Paul teaches all of us some of the keys to being Happy, Happy, Happy, even in the face of difficult circumstances. How does he say we can do it?
1. We can to choose to keep an Eternal Perspective.
2. We can choose to keep a Kingdom Perspective.
3. We can choose to trust that God has everything under control.
I remember the first time I did a really in-depth study of this passage. It was early on in my ministry, and to be honest, I was living in a very difficult circumstance. Almost daily I prayed, “God, when are you going to change this situation? I just can’t take it anymore?” I wanted God to change His plan so that I would be more comfortable and have less struggles in life.
However, that was not on God’s agenda. Instead, as I was studying this Scripture, the Holy Spirit specifically spoke to me and said, “You need to change your attitude and follow Paul’s example. Rather than seeing this situation as a bad thing, you need to start thanking God that your current situation allows you to minister full-time. Lives are being touched and changed because you are in this situation. So stop complaining and rejoice in it!”
I’ll never forget that day, because it was a turning point in my life. From then on, my attitude did change. Today, I can look back and see the doors God has opened, the growth that has occurred, and the opportunities to build the Kingdom of God that would not have been possible if God had not arranged the unique circumstances of my life. I think, “Wow, God really did have a plan to advance His kingdom.” That gives me reason to rejoice, even when “advancing God’s kingdom” means “gaining ground through a battle.”
On a more personal note, I’ve learned, like Paul, that when you choose to see life through an eternal, kingdom perspective and believe that God really does have things under control, I am generally happier. I have more peace and joy in my life. On the other hand, when I lose my kingdom perspective and start trying to work things out rather than trust God, that’s when I’m stressed, cranky, and frustrated.
So, do you want to be Happy, Happy, Happy?
Then follow Paul’s example and “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Choose to see God’s hand working out His plan to advance His kingdom even through the difficult times in your life, and you’ll find that no matter what the circumstances, you’ll be able to rejoice.