HAPPY:Gospel Happiness  Philippians 1:1-11

It would be hard for us today to imagine what those circumstances might have been like so many years ago.  A man by the name of the Apostle Paul found himself sitting in a jail cell.  Really, it was a house that he had rented with his own money in order to be on house arrest by the empire of Rome.  He was in this situation of sitting in a little one-room home that he paid for and food that he paid for for one reason and one reason only — because he proclaimed a message that Jesus was king.  Back in that day in the Roman Empire, if you made that claim, you swum explicitly against the prevailing powers of the day.  When you said Jesus was king, you were saying that Caesar was not.  When the Apostle Paul preached that message, he found himself sitting in a jail.  He sat in jail for two years at Caesarea and then he got on a boat and was moved to be in jail for two more years in Rome.  It was a prayer that he’d had throughout his whole life — Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach the gospel.  How many times in your life has God answered a prayer in a way that you just didn’t expect?  Hey, God, maybe I should have given you a few more details on that — I want to preach the gospel in Rome, but not from a jail cell, thank you very much.  Right?  The Apostle Paul, having taken three missionary journeys (which was unheard of in that time), finds himself now bound to a Roman guard.  At the end of the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke records for us just a little bit of what that was like.  And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him. {Later on, at the very end of the book, Luke writes this…} He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28: 16, 30-31)  Can you imagine, if you were going to go to jail in the 1st Century, you better hope you had friends, because they were the people that supported you, they were the people that brought you food, they were the people that brought you money, they were the people that brought you letters, they were the people that encouraged you.  The empire did not do that, your friends did.

Paul found himself, for two years, sitting in jail in Rome.  Can you imagine what might have been going on in his mind?  The loneliness of having one guy there watching the door.  Undoubtedly, Paul is preaching to the guy during this time…..”Jesus is King” when he came in to deliver his food.  Hey, thank you for the food, but more than that I want to thank Jesus, thank you very much.   Right?  Every chance he got.  Can you imagine a man whose mission is to carry the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth finds himself bound in prison. How disappointing would that have been?  Feeling like everything you were created for was just ripped from your hands?  Have you ever been there?  Feeling like that the thing that God put you on the earth for, designed you for, and even miraculously spoke over your life was ripped from you.  That’s what he’s feeling as he’s sitting in jail.  Sure, there were days where he had enough to eat, well fed and not in need, but there were also days where he knew hunger and probably for weeks on end went without anything coming his way.

But you know this and I know this, it’s moments of extreme opposition that we often gain uncommon clarity. So when Paul’s sitting in a jail cell, he also was writing letters.  He wrote letters to the church at Ephesus; we have it in our Scriptures as the letter to the Ephesians.  He wrote a letter to the church at Colossae.  He wrote a letter to a man named Philemon and it was about his friend Onesimus.  And he also wrote a letter to the church at Philippi.  You have it in your Bible as the book of Philippians, but really it’s a letter.  It’s a letter from a jail cell.  It’s a letter from a guy who’s captive by and from the empire because he’s preaching Jesus is king.  In that little, self-supported jail cell, Paul takes to the parchment and he starts to write a letter.  It’s one of the only letters Paul writes that doesn’t have a pretty strong rebuke in it.  It’s one of these letters that you read and after you get done, you just feel like you’re walking a little bit higher, shoulders a little bit further back.  It’s an encouraging letter, no doubt. 

It’s a letter to a church that 12 years earlier, Paul had the chance, by the grace of God, to plant.  I’d encourage you to go back and read Acts 16.  You will hear the beginning of this church’s life.  Paul’s walking into the city of Philippi and outside along the road he runs into this businesswoman named Lydia, who’s a dealer in purple cloth. She’s a little bit wealthy.  He tells her about Jesus as king and she surrenders her life right there.  They go into the town of Philippi and they encounter this slave girl, who’s demon-possessed, following Paul around saying, “This man is the messenger of the Most High God.”  Everywhere Paul goes, this announcement would….by the way, it’s great theology, yes?  She is an expounder of good theology and finally Paul’s like I can’t even get a meal at Burger King without this woman telling everybody about Jesus.  I need some space.  Right?  So he drives the demon out and she comes to Jesus and her owners are really upset because she doesn’t make them money anymore by telling people’s fortunes and futures.  Then Paul is thrown in jail where he has this miraculous experience singing, worshipping, praising Jesus at night, jail doors fly open and Paul just sits there!  When the jailer comes in and says, “What in the world are you guys doing, the doors are open?”  They say, “We have a message for you.  The message has a name.  His name is Jesus.”  At that point, that jailor gives his life to Jesus and you have the beginnings of a church.  A businesswoman.  A demon-possessed slave girl.  An employee of the Empire.  Welcome to the church at Philippi.  {You’re going to want to watch your purse a little bit closer when you go to church there.}  These are the people who Paul writes to.  These are the people who found their home near the area of Macedonia, the northern part of the sea.  That’s where Philippi was.  (Ryan shows on map.) This is the letter that Paul writes to them from jail.

Over the next ten weeks, we’re going to dive into this ancient letter, a few thousand years old, that has this clarity that just cuts through the noise of our lives today.  Here’s the way that Paul starts (Philippians 1:1-4) — Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. {Just a quick timeout. Paul has given a very normal salutation or greeting that would have happened in almost any first century letter.  He just changes a little bit of the content.  Instead of saying in the name of Caesar our lord, he says in the name of Jesus our Lord.  He’s subversive even behind bars.  Isn’t it beautiful!?  It is.}  I thank me God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy….   Joy. It’s a really interesting Greek word…”charas.”  It means……joy.  OR happiness or gladness or merrily.  It’s a word that has a ton of different translations that you could easily put in there and read it “making my prayer for you all with happiness.  And you can go wait a minute, Paul, we just established that you’re writing this letter from jail and you’re not allowed to be happy from jail.  As followers of Christ, we’re way more comfortable with joy, aren’t we?  You can have joy in jail, you can’t have happiness in jail.

Let me tell you where that idea comes from.  It’s actually a pretty new idea in the grand scheme of history. Followers of Christ would have been perfectly happy using the word happy up until the beginning of the 20th Century.  In fact, if you go back and read some of the great ancient theologians…..if you read Augustine, if you read Spurgeon, if you read Luther, even if you read Calvin, what you’re going to find is that they were committed to happiness.  They had no problem writing about happiness.  But something shifted around the beginning of the 20th Century and the church started to say things like God’s committed to our holiness, but He’s not committed to our happiness.  If you want holiness you go to the church, but if you want happiness go to the world.  And people did!  They went well, that makes sense to me.  I’ll go to the world.  Here’s the problem with making a distinction between joy and happiness — you can’t find that distinction anywhere in Scripture. Depending on translation, the words are used interchangeably. A second problem is that you know you were created for happiness.  You know you were.  You can try to push it down, but every decision you make will be through the lens of “will this eventually make me happy?”  That’s the way we make decisions.  You’re not alone in that.  That’s a human condition.  Here’s what happens to us:  As followers of Christ, we’ve said things like well, God wants to make you holy, but He doesn’t want to make you happy.  What we’ve done is we’ve said that there’s something deep down inside of us that we’re just going to ignore and the world looks at us and goes, “You’re crazy!”

You know what the great news is?  This was NEVER a part of Jesus’ message.  Sure, He said things like….come and follow me and take up your cross and die.  Who’s thinking that?  I was thinking that when I first started thinking about this idea.  I’m thinking, “Well, Jesus, didn’t you call us to come and to lay it all down and die??” Then you go back and read the passage in Mark 8:34-35.  The problem is He follows it with “and find what it means to truly live.”   The death Jesus invites us to embrace is the pathway to joy.  Or…..happiness.  The Scriptures don’t make this distinction.  You know you were wired for it and part of my mission in this series is to redeem HAPPY for the people of God.  It is not something that the world owns.  It is something that followers of Jesus own.  Here’s why I’m passionate about this.  We’ve made this false distinction (in my opinion) between happiness and joy and really what it’s been is an excuse for us to not walk in the joy and happiness that God has for us.  We’ll go, “We have joy.”  You just can’t see it!  It never shows up on your face and it never comes out of your life.  Okay, I’m just going to throw it out there…..you might not have it!

Here’s what we say — Joy is not dependent on your circumstances, happiness is.  Hey, this just in….the fact that Jesus has purchased your eternal freedom by his blood, forgiven every single one of your sins and made you holy is a CIRCUMSTANCE…. that you live in right now.  You can recognize it or not, but it is a circumstance.  It’s a reality.  When we say, “Happiness is dependent on circumstances,” I say yes and amen, and we have a great circumstance we are the redeemed of God.  What we’ve done is we’ve said no, joy is not dependent on circumstances and so we can push salvation off to the ethereal.  We can push it off to the theoretical and it never has to impact our lives.  It’s so much better than that, friends.  You know that you were created for happiness.  The Declaration of Independence has this claim:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  It’s deep down inside of us, we’re going to chase it.  It’s part of our wiring. But we live in a world, we live in a culture, that’s gone about it all wrong.  And it’s left us wanting.  It’s left us with this “deep inside of us” knowledge that things aren’t the way that they should be. Every time we grasp for happiness and we think we reach it, it slips through our hands like a wet eel. 

We live in a culture that’s obsessed with the chase for happiness.  In the year 2000, there were 50 books published on the subject of happiness.  In 2008, there were four thousand books!!  People are longing for it. Harvard offered a class on happiness and they had over 1000 of their students sign up to take it.  You can hop on your iPhone right now and go to the app store and there is a whole section devoted to “Happy Apps.”  Louie C.K., the often off-beat comedian, says, “Everything is awesome, but nobody is happy.”   That’s true.

In contrast you have the Apostle Paul writing from a jail cell and going oh man, I pray with joy!  Extreme opposition, uncommon clarity.  He’s going everything else has been ripped away and what I’ve got I am sinking my teeth into and I’m praying with joy.  I don’t know about you but it’s easy to pray with joy here (shows tropical beach picture).  Anybody with me?  If you want me to test this out for you…..   I’m willing.  It’s easy to pray with joy here, it’s a lot harder to pray with joy there (shows Paul in jail).  Paul’s tapped into this secret. He’s found something that allowed the scales of his life to tip from grief to happiness.  He’s found something that’s allowed the weight of the gospel to hit his life in such a way that it absolutely transformed him.  Here’s what he’s going to say all throughout the letter in different ways and with different illustrations, but he has one message and it’s this:  The weight of worldly grief cannot diminish the power of gospel joy!  It cannot.  It cannot touch it.  We get very little control over what happens to us in life.  We do.  You don’t get control over the way the doctor’s tests come back.  You often don’t get control over whether or not you continue to have your job after a meeting with an employer.  You don’t get control over that.  There’s so many things we don’t get control over in life.  There are two things we distinctly have control over.  I have control over how I respond to every situation that comes at me in life.  I have control of my attitude.  You may need to say that to yourself today.  You have 100% control over your attitude.  The second thing you have control over is your focus.  In every situation in life, every situation you walk through, there is going to be a mixture of both difficult, hard and painful and beautiful and joy and happiness and YOU get the decision as to which one of those you decide to give your attention and the gaze of your heart to.  

Paul, in jail, goes listen, I make my prayer with joy.  It’s my decision not my condition that’s going to determine the quality of my life.  He goes listen, I am not going to let grief win, even though sure, I’m in jail and sure, I’m in jail because of the proclamation that Jesus is King of the universe.  That’s a reality and that’s true.  You know what else is a reality in my life?  The other thing that’s a reality in my life is that Jesus IS king, He does reign, He has redeemed and He is good.  So….which are you going to give your focus to?  Paul says well, I’m going to choose joy.  The joy that’s delivered by the gospel cannot be diminished by the world!  It can’t!  So Paul, all throughout this letter, is going to write: Finally, my brothers, rejoice {Or…be happy!} in the Lord.  To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. (Phil. 3:1)  Phil. 4:4 — Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Paul has a limited amount of parchment in front of him in jail, yes?  And he’s going I just gotta get this message in front of you.  I want you to live with joy!  Sixteen times in this short little letter, Paul mentions this idea.  Why?  Because you were created for it.  Because it’s hard-wired into you. Randy Alcorn, in his great book Happiness, which I cannot recommend highly enough, says this:  “Whether or not we’re conscious of it, since God is the fountainhead of happiness, the search for happiness is always the search for God.”

What if we believed afresh that God, in and of himself, is happy?  That he’s the happiest being on the face of, or in the midst of His universe.   What if we believed again that God is inviting us to be happy in him?  It might change our lives.  I know you probably have a number of reasons going on in your mind as why that couldn’t be, but I’m saying just stick with me for the next ten weeks, ok?  We want to try to address those over the next few weeks, but I want to just address a few reasons that you can have joy in any circumstance just like Paul.

Here’s the way he continues.  I want to walk through this.  We’re calling the series “Happy:Embracing the Unshakable Joy of the Kingdom.”   Here’s what Paul said.  Four reasons and I want to hit these really quick and then we’re moving into baptism where we’re going to remember God is good. (Phil. 1:3-5) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  Paul, sitting in a jail cell in Rome.  How easy would it have been for his mind to go back to the people that beat him?  To the people that imprisoned him.  To the people who betrayed him.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes those people are way more at the forefront of my mind than the people that I’m thankful for and remember a partnership with.  Because you can control you attitude in 100% of the circumstances you find yourself in and because your focus will determine to some level your quotient of happiness, Paul goes, “Listen, as I’m in jail, I just want to pray and remember the church at Philippi.  They had this unbelievable partnership in the gospel and I saw Jesus proclaimed as King and when I remembered them, my heart is just filled with joy.”  That type of focus starts to tip the scales of our life, so I think what Paul would say is if you want to live happy in the Lord partner with purpose and vulnerability.  He’s looking back on a church who the Scriptures would say supported him financially—that’s all over the book of Philippians and 2 Corinthians 8:2-3.  That even out of their need, they still gave to him as he’s in jail.  They partnered with him financially.  They partnered with him on a heart level — vulnerability.  You read through the first part of this letter and Paul says, “Listen, I make every prayer of mine with joy because of your partnership of the gospel.  God is my witness of how much affection I have for you.” (Phil. 1:7-8)  Paul’s putting his life and his heart and his emotion on the line.  He’s making himself vulnerable, linking hearts, linking arms with the people of Philippi by saying we’re better together for the proclamation of the gospel than we are alone.

Do you have people like that in your life?  I fear what’s happened in the Western American church, at least the one I observe, is that we have Life Groups.  Life Groups are really important and I absolutely love that we have Life Groups.  We need to have Life Groups. Part of the reason we need to have Life Groups (and we do!) is because we’ve lost sight of the mission we have together.  In the Scriptures, mission begets community. We’re in this together and as we journey together, we are going to be bound together.  Have you ever been on a sports team like that?  Maybe it’s a marching band…..you’re like we’re in this together, we have a goal together. The goal is what unites us.  We’re not united and then find a goal.  Part of losing the mission that Jesus is King, that He reigns, that that needs to be our goal and our declaration means we need to sort of build in a way to find community, when I think if we found mission we’d innately find community.  

There’s a difference between friendship and partnership.  Friendship you can have with people who you share time with and share interests with.  Partnership is with people you share mission with and share suffering with. Those two things unite people quicker than anything I’ve ever seen.  I saw groups of people who had no clue who the others were at the beginning of a backpacking trip, be a family at the end of it because they suffered together.  You go to the early church and they’re going listen, our mission is paramount.  That’s what Paul’s talking about.  He says:  …I hold you in my heart {I feel so strongly about you} for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  {We were in this together.}  For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.  He’s going my soul and my heart are just so intertwined with yours.  And it gives him joy, even in jail.  He thinks back on those people and it’s like man, their partnership brings me great joy.  Do you have people you can think of like that? Do you have people in your life where you go…oh man, Lord, thank you for them.  What a joy to partner for the sake of Jesus.

Here’s how he continues.  (verse 6) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.   What a joy, for Paul, to be sitting in jail, to be confined and to know that God is not!  That’s great, isn’t it?  Paul is going I am confined by this jail, but I know that God isn’t.  I think so many of us live less than happy because of the reality that we think our salvation is up to us and it’s up to our work and it’s up to our accomplishments, or our good deeds, or our good teaching, or our good obedience, or our good response.  What Paul says is that’s garbage!  Your salvation was started by God and your salvation is carried by God.  That’s enough for him to say, “I will rest securely, God, in your divine provision for me.” Friends, what God starts, God finishes.  That’s what Paul’s saying.

In 1882, there was an artist by the name of Antoni Gaudi.  He started this church in 1882 called (in Spanish) El Templo de la Sagrada Familia (The Church of the Holy Family) in Barcelona.  He worked on this church for forty years.  Gave his life to it, slept in it, breathed in the dust and gave his best creative work to creating an architectural masterpiece that reflected the glory of the gospel that was preached inside of this place.  Worked on it for forty years; went on a little walk and got hit by a tram.  Died two days later, unable to finish it.  I read that story this week and thought, “I’m glad God isn’t going to get hit by a tram any time soon.”  I’m glad His hands aren’t tied.  I’m glad that He’s committed to finishing what He begins. {Will you look up at me for a second.}  He’s committed to that not just in the lives of the Philippians, but in your life!  He’s with you, he’s for you, he’s holding on.  {I’m running out of time, but I’ve got to just say two things about that.}  One is: because that’s true, friends, you can live with extreme, unadulterated, crazy confidence in God!  He is not going to let you go!  The second thing that’s true is because of that reality the best is yet to come!  He’s carrying you, he’s doing what he said he would do and he will carry you to the finish line.  The author of Hebrews echoes the same thing:  We look to Jesus, who’s the founder, the beginner, the starter AND the perfecter, the carrier, the finisher of our faith. (Heb. 12:2)

Paul continues (verse 7):  It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace.  Literally, you have “with me, alongside of me, in relationship with me,” we have both tasted the goodness of God in a way that transform our every single step.  So he goes listen, I can be happy in jail because I focus on and remember the people that are still going and carrying on the gospel.  I can be happy in jail because I know God finishes what He started and I can be happy, even behind bars, because I partake confidently in God’s lavish grace.  This is the story we find ourselves in, friends, and if we don’t view this as a real circumstance of our life, then it won’t make a real impact on our every day.  You are the beloved of the Lord, if you’re a follower of Jesus.  If you’re a follower of Jesus, you are the one who went off and squandered it all and came running back, walking back to the father and the father came before you had a chance to recite the “I’m sorry” prayer you had in your mouth.  The father met you along the road, carried you home, put a ring on your finger, a robe on your back, threw a party for you, because he was so glad that you were home.  You’re a partaker of grace.  If you’re a partaker of grace, can I encourage you to train your heart to partake of grace.  To remember that you are the redeemed, that you are the beloved….  I have this picture in my office (not an original) of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal, painted in 1668.  It’s in my office and it’s on the wall that people can see when they sit on my couch and we talk or counsel or whatever.  Because I want them to remember this is who you are.  If that’s true (and it is) of us, friends, along with the church at Philippi, YOU are saints!  He said it in verse 1 — Holy ones.  People who have been called out of darkness into light that you might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you.  You are no longer (your identity is no longer) sinners, you, along with the crazy, messed-up Philippian church, are saints made holy.

Second thing that’s true, if that’s true, is that we get the chance to personally and experientially taste and see that God is good.  I want to push here for a second to say is that something that you’re doing.  My hope is that you don’t just come in and hear a message and sing some songs on a Sunday, but that the entirety of your life starts to be captured in the tsunami of God’s grace.  It’s not just something we hear about, it’s something we get to experience on a daily basis.  If we’re partakers of grace {look up at me for a second, some of you need to hear this}, guilt and shame have no place in your life, other than to be used by the Enemy to tilt the scales back.  Guilt and shame have no place in the life of the follower of Jesus.  He’s died for it all 2000 years ago and his joy is yours.

Verse 9:  And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more {In the Greek, it’s this word that means “that it may surpass, that it may overflow, that it may be just ridiculously above and beyond.”}  ..with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  So he says finally that you can have joy in the midst of any circumstance: 1) because you have partners who you have linked hearts and arms with for the sake of the gospel.  2)  You have a God you can rest securely in because He promises to finish what he started.  His faithfulness will not be derailed by your failure. 3) You can live with joy because you get to taste, on a daily basis, that God’s grace is real, that it’s good, that it’s now and it changes your day every day.  Fourth, he says, you can live with joy because you have this clear pathway to living the life that God designed to live.  You want something to do from all this?  You’re going, hey Paulson, give me some handles….what do I do??  If you want to live with joy, live in the way of love.  That’s what Paul would say.  Embrace the calling to love extravagantly.

A.W. Tozer said: “The people of God ought to be the happiest people in all the wide world!  People should be coming to us constantly and asking the source of our joy and delight.”  Does that describe you?  You’re going, listen, I’ve got a lot going on in my life and it’s been a hard season.  I understand that and there’s space for that that oftentimes the happiness and joy of the gospel is mixed with the reality of some really difficult and painful things that we walk through in life, but it’s mixed, it’s not absent.  I just want to encourage you to push into what Paul has found.  The secret.  He goes listen, listen, listen, what the world gives in the form of grief and the form of pain and the form of hurt cannot outweigh the source of our happiness and our joy, because that is distinctly married to and linked to what Jesus has done for us two thousand years ago.  Friends, where the gospel is prominent, happiness is imminent.  So I want to encourage you to learn to preach yourself the gospel.

(Ryan moves directly into baptism invitation and instruction.) We’re going to celebrate, in a moment, lives redeemed by the grace of God.  And my hope is that it’s an infusion of joy to your soul.