17 February 2018

Roots: God’s Highway to Happiness

Quite appropriately we initiate our ‘Grace and Truth’ series in “Rejoice Always” with a look at Philippians, undoubtedly the most tender and joyful letter in the New Testament. Philippians has been called God’s happy book for it brims with expressions of praise, confidence and rejoicing. Ironically, this epistle was written in the confines of a dark and dismal Roman cell.

We might call the letter “God’s Highway to Happiness”, because it tells us how we might know true joy in our lives in spite of our circumstances. That is something all of us desire – a successful and joy-filled life. Here are four chapters that pulsate and radiate with joy.

This joy is not mere happiness. It is supernatural joy, the joy of Jesus Christ. I find it significant that the words “joy” and “Jesus” run like parallel lines throughout Philippians. The word “joy” and related words such as “rejoicing” and “gladness” are encountered nineteen times in Philippians, whereas the name of Jesus is repeated on twenty occasions in the book. This teaches us that real and everlasting joy is found in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11). The Bible calls this joy, “joy unspeakable.”

Of the seven churches to which Paul wrote there is no doubt that this must have been his favourite. Paul wrote, “I have you in my heart — I long for you all.” (Phil.1:7). Paul was thankful for the church’s past, its present and its future.

1. Paul was thankful for the supernatural formation of this church. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…” (Phil.1:3). The beginning of the Philippian church in Acts 16 is one of the greatest stories in the New Testament.

(a) The Holy Spirit overruled Paul’s plans – Acts 16:6,7. Paul had planned to go to Asia to preach the gospel but the Holy Spirit closed the door. Again he endeavoured to go unto Bithynia but the Spirit said, “No.” We must listen to the Holy Spirit when He says ‘no’ as well as the when He says ‘go’. Not only “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Psalm 37:23) but also the stops of a good man are also ordered by the Lord. Too often we go astray because we fail to listen to the ‘no’ of the Holy Spirit. Paul was a man who walked closely with God and was aware when the Spirit said “no” or “go” – and he obeyed.

(b) The Holy Spirit opened the right door– Acts 16:9-11. When God shuts one door it is because He is opening another, a better door.

Philippi was “a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony” (Acts16:12). This city had the same rights, privileges and protection as Rome and Paul, a Roman citizen, had the liberty to preach the gospel in Philippi without hindrance. God’s ways are not only better, they are always best.

(c) The Holy Spirit operated in people’s hearts – (Acts 16:13ff). Paul’s arrival in Philippi introduces three converts “whose heart the Lord opened.”

A sales-woman named Lydia (16:14). Lydia sold very expensive purple fabric. At the riverside where Paul preached to a group of women the Lord opened Lydia’s heart. She was the first convert in Europe.

A simple girl possessed by demons (16:13). This slave girl, a fortune-teller, was possessed by a spirit of divination. She followed Paul and cried that they were servants of the Most High God. God does not need the devil to do His work. Paul immediately cast out this evil spirit and led the girl to faith in Christ.

A stern jailer who imprisoned Paul and Silas (16:23-34). Because Paul had cast out the girl’s demons her owners had lost their business. Consequently, Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into jail. That night they had an evening of praise. God visited them with an earthquake that shook the prison, after which all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. The jailer and his family were converted.

When we consider the amazing lengths to which God will go to save people and build His church we can understand why Paul was thankful for the remarkable formation of this church.

2. Paul was thankful for the sweet fellowship of the church. The word ‘fellowship’ occurs three times in Philippians. This fellowship conveys a sense of sharing what we have in common. Believers enjoy the fellowship of their common Lord, their common life in the Holy Spirit and their common love for Jesus Christ and for each other.

(a) The fellowship of service. “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil.1:5). With Paul they shared the common goal of sending out the gospel. Nothing knits the hearts of Christians more than leading others to Jesus Christ.

(b) The fellowship of the Spirit. (Phil.2:1) In God’s family we share the same Holy Spirit; “By one Spirit have you all been baptized into one body.” (I Cor 12:13). Christians may be from different backgrounds, have different interests with different abilities, yet their hearts are knitted together by the same invisible Holy Spirit.

(c) The fellowship of suffering. “Ye did communicate with my affliction.” (Phil.4:14). While Paul was in prison it was an encouragement for him to know that the Philippian Christians were hurting with him. The church at Philippi was thousands of miles away from Paul but they were praying for him and suffering with him.

(d) The fellowship of the Saviour. The phrase ‘in Christ’ is repeated eighteen times in Philippians. Jesus is the head of the church, the heart of the church and the hope of the church. All true fellowship is found in Him.

3. Paul was thankful for the secure future of the church. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil.1:6) Paul spoke with great confidence. He knew that since the Lord founded this church He most certainly would complete that work. Missionary Adonairum Judson saw his work in Burma totally destroyed. His captors taunted him saying, “What does your future look like now?” Judson answered,

“My future is as bright as the promises of God.”

At the end of each day of creation in Genesis 1 God surveyed all His work and saw that it was good. His work is always good. Salvation is not only God’s work, it is a good work. Paul also assures us that it is a guaranteed work. In many ways it is true to say that God is still at work in us, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil.2:13).

Victor Maxwell