Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Joy in Suffering

Philippians 4:4
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!"

Everyone wants to be happy. As a matter of fact we make this ideal a lifelong pursuit. Chasing it always and most often happiness eludes us. We spend money, we collect things, and we search for new and exciting experiences. All in the pursuit of happiness. But if happiness depends on our circumstances, then what happens when our toys rust, our loved ones die, our health begins to deteriorate, our money gets stolen, and we realize the party's over? It's during these moments that we see our happiness slip away and despair sets in.

Joy however, is not dependant on our circumstances. Joy, rather than happiness, runs deeper and stronger. Joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God's love and work in our lives. Joy comes from knowing that he will be there no matter what! Happiness depends on happenings, but joy depends on Christ.

The book of Philippians is Paul's letter of joy to the Philippians. The church in the city of Macedonia had been a great encouragement to Paul. The Philippian believers had enjoyed a very special relationship with Paul, so he wrote them a personal letter expressing his love and affection. They had brought him great joy. Philippians is also a joyful book because it focuses on the real joy of the Christian life. The concept of "rejoicing or joy" appears 16 times in four chapters, and as we read through the pages we see this positive message over and over. This message of joy is said best in Philippians 4:4 with "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!"

Lets not forget that although Paul's life was dedicated to serving Christ, it wasn't always a bed of roses. If anyone had reason to be discouraged or experience despair, it would be Paul. He had faced terrible poverty, abundant wealth, and everything in between. He even wrote this joyful letter from prison. Paul had learned to be content.

Philippians 4:11-12 says...
(11) Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.
(12) I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Paul found real joy as he focused all of his attention and energy on knowing Christ and obeying him. We too need to dedicate ourselves to finding joy in Christ. Each Chapter of Philippians speaks directly to our Joy. Chapter 1... joy in suffering, Chapter 2... joy in serving, Chapter 3... joy in believing, and Chapter 4... joy in giving.

Today I want to focus on "Joy in Suffering." (Philippians chapter 1)

We all suffer. Have you ever tired in your faith because of your suffering? Has the suffering your going through challenged you on staying the course. I know when I suffer, I have a tendency to want to withdraw. That's not the thing to do of course but it's a natural desire.

Paul suffered greatly throughout his life as he boldly proclaimed the gospel. I think sometime we are under the false hope that if we serve Christ diligently then we will be blessed in some way because of our service and somehow avoid problems and suffering. But we have to remember that God never promises to protect us from problems or suffering, in fact we learn from our bible that God is our help during times of suffering. This body we live in and this place is only temporary. Our real home is in heaven, and while we are away from our heavenly home, well we groan and moan as we live in this temporary "tent." (refer to 2nd Corinthians)

2nd Corinthians 5:1-2
(1) For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
(2) For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.

So suffering will come and we all will have to live through it. Earlier I said that Happiness comes from the circumstances of things that are happening to us. But Joy comes from knowing Christ. It's hard to be happy while we're suffering isn't it? But even in our suffering we can have joy. The joy we receive comes from the Holy Spirit in us as we still live our life for Christ in and among our suffering. Just knowing he will complete a good work in us one day lets us know that we are never alone. Don't let your personal condition rob you of the joy of knowing Christ or keep you from growing closer to him.
Philippians 1:6
(6) being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

In verse 7 of Philippians Paul says... "in my chains" he's most likely referring to his imprisonment in Philippi, recorded in Acts 16:22-36. Then again later in Chapter 1 of Philippians verse 13 and 14, Paul speaks of his Roman imprisonment. The thing is... wherever Paul was, even in prison, he faithfully preached the Good News. We need to remember Paul's inspiring example when when our suffering slows down or hinders our work for God. Usually being in prison would cause most people to be bitter or to give up, but Paul saw it as one more opportunity to tell others about the Good News of Christ. Paul realized that his present circumstances were not near as important as what he did with them. He saw past the suffering and looked ahead to what was really important. Turning a bad situation into a good one, he reached out to the prison guards and to the others in the prison to encourage them through their time of persecution. We may not be in prison but we all go through very difficult times of suffering and discouragement. Times of indecision, financial setbacks, family issues or conflict, loss of jobs, I could go on and on. How we act in these situations or circumstances will reflect what we believe. Like Paul, look for ways to demonstrate your faith even in bad situations. The good news is... that whether or not the situation improves, your faith will grow stronger.

Paul is a great example for us, because like us he too suffered greatly. But he was good at not allowing his circumstances to take his focus off of his eternal reward. Life is hard. It's not fair. But we are foolish to expect it to be while we live here in this temporary dwelling place. Our home is in the future. Heaven awaits us and our joy in all circumstances comes from knowing that our Savior is always with us until the day we are made complete. Remember... when we speak fearlessly for Christ, or live faithfully for him during difficult times in our life, we encourage others to do the same. Be an encouragement by the way you live. Let others see your Joy in your suffering.

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