Teaching series from Philippians

Joy Rooted in Hope

Philippians 1:18-26

Teaching t12670


Briefly review author and audience (MAP).  We’ve noted that Philippians is often called the “joy letter.” Paul uses the noun (“joy”) 5 times and the verb (“rejoice”) 8 times, and the entire letter exudes an attitude of joy.  We would expect that Paul has just won the lottery and retired to his new home on some Greek island.  Instead, he is imprisoned in Rome, chained to Roman guards and awaiting trial for a crime he didn’t commit!  This highlights the profound difference between Christian joy and American happiness.

“Happiness” derives from the word “happen” or “happenstance,” and refers to the pleasant feelings that come from favorable circumstances.  I usually feel happy on vacation because I am where I want to be, with the people I like being with, doing what I like to do.  There is nothing wrong with this – happiness is a blessing from God.  But since happiness is dependent on favorable circumstances, it is extremely fragile in a fallen world.  Pursuing it is therefore not a wise goal for your life.

“Joy,” as it is used it this letter, is not just a feeling, although it involves your feelings.  It is a deep-seated sense of well-being that God grants us as we trust in Him.  Therefore, it is entirely independent of your circumstances, and you can have it even when you feel sorrow (2 Cor. 6:10a).

Read Rom. 15:13.  Notice how joy is closely connected to hope, which is confidence about a good future.  “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.” (Kay Warren, Choosing Joy).

In our passage (1:18b-26), Paul rejoices because of his hope regarding his future.  Let’s try to understand this in detail, and then apply it to our lives . . .

Paul’s hope regarding his future

Paul is about to go on trial for sedition before emperor Nero, who was corrupt and a few years later (64 AD) slaughtered Christians (including Paul & Peter).  Nero will either execute Paul or acquit and release him.  How would you view this situation?  Would you be freaking out?  Would you be worrying about how your lawyer will perform?  Would you be worrying about what kind of mood Nero will be in? 

In 1:18b-26, Paul tells us how he views his future.  He begins by saying “I will rejoice” (read 1:18b).  Why? 

Read 1:19.  Because Paul knows that he will ultimately be delivered.  He may be referring to acquittal, but more may be involved (see below).

Read 1:20.  Because he knows that God’s Spirit (in response to their prayers) will enable him to speak boldly about Jesus at his trial, regardless of the verdict.

Read 1:21-26.  Paul’s life is bound up with Jesus, who is sovereign over life and death.  Therefore, the future is a “win-win” situation:

If he is executed, he gets to be Christ’s full presence forever (1:21,23).  This is “very much better” than any aspect of this life (read 2 Cor. 5:6-8; ALSO: resurrected body; no sin nature or demons; reunion with believing loved ones; reward for service; etc.).  This is why “to die is gain.”

If he is released, he gets to continue in meaningful service for Christ (1:22,24,25).  This “fruitful labor” isn’t a well-paying job.  It is spiritual labor, influencing people toward Jesus – sharing the good news about Jesus to people who don’t know Him (1:13) and helping Christians grow in their faith in Jesus (1:25).

How different Paul’s attitude is from our secular culture!

Most Americans want to pursue happiness in this life at all costs (SCHLITZ COMMERCIAL), and they view death as the end of life, to be avoided at all costs (OPDIVO COMMERCIAL[1]).

Paul prefers to go to the next life, but he is willing to stay longer in this life to serve others for Christ’s sake.  Far from feeling like a victim of Nero, or of fate, he playfully ruminates over what he should “choose” (1:22)!  He is not asserting his control of the situation.  He is expressing confidence in Jesus’ sovereignty over life and death, and therefore the “win-win” “dilemma” it poses for him.

Is Paul’s hope regarding his future relevant to us?  Is it possible for us to view our futures as a “win-win” situation?  It is easy to read this passage and admire Paul’s perspective – and yet discount its relevance to us (“Paul was a spiritual super-hero;” “My situation is different from Paul’s”).  Yet the very reason Paul explains his perspective is to help the Philippians in their uncertain situation (1:30).  God is willing and able to give each of us the same hope about our futures that Paul has.

A year and a half ago, I was returning from Ireland and praying on the plane.  As I was praying, I sensed the Lord summoning me to give Him my body and my health.  This was strange to me; I had never prayed this way before – but it was certainly biblical, so I did what I felt He was asking me to do.  One day later I found myself in the critical care unit because of a hypertension emergency.  I don’t think I was actually in danger of death – but there were a couple of times over those five days when I wondered.  I certainly realized in a new way how fragile my physical life is.  Since no cause was found, the thought lingered even after I was released: “Will this happen again?  Is my health failing?”  As I wrestled with these questions, this very passage came alive to me like never before.  I realized that, like Paul, that this would turn out for my deliverance.  If I died, I would be with Christ and all that this entails.  And until that time, Christ would give me fruitful labor for Him, even if my health declined (EXAMPLES).  So my situation was a “win-win,” just like Paul’s!  Now, I have to admit that my attitude was a little different than Paul’s.  His was: “I prefer to go, but I’m willing to stay.”  Mine was: “I prefer to stay, but I’m willing to go.”  Yet even that less-than-perfect attitude resulted in genuine hope and peace (and even a little joy) about my future!

Hope for the future requires trust in the God of the Bible

What enables us to have this hope and joy?  Re-read Rom. 15:13 – the Holy Spirit mediates hope and joy to us “as you trust in Him.”  What does this trust look like?

It is informed trust, not blind faith or wishful thinking. 

It is grounded in the unique historical evidence for Jesus’ bodily resurrection.  Jesus’ resurrection is one of the best attested facts of ancient history.  There are many lines of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, including Paul’s conversion.  How can we explain why this man who was Christianity’s foremost enemy suddenly became its foremost advocate, a decision which cost him his position, family, earthly security, and ultimately his life?  Paul’s consistent answer was that the risen Jesus appeared to him when he was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians.  Other explanations for Paul’s conversion (e.g., guilt-complex; epilepsy; hallucination) ironically require more faith than Paul’s explanation.  It is on this basis that the Bible says that those who belong to Jesus will also be resurrected (2 Cor. 4:14).

It is grounded in the unique track-record of biblical predictive prophecy.  No other “scripture” has anything like the Bible’s hundreds of specific predictions of future events (e.g., the formation of the Jewish nation, the rise and fall of named empires, the First Coming of the Messiah, and the exile and return of the Jews to Israel [twice]).  Since at least 75% of the Bible’s predictions have been fulfilled, we have reasonable trust that the other 25% (which includes the Second Coming of Christ and God’s eternal kingdom) will also be fulfilled.

It is also grounded in the testimony of millions of other Christians.

It is personal trust, not mere intellectual assent or 100% certainty.    

Trust in Jesus is based on evidence (see above), but it is a decision to entrust yourself to Jesus as your Savior (read Jn. 1:12).  You may have a reasonable basis to trust the competency of a surgeon to operate on you – but until you personally entrust yourself to him, you cannot benefit from his competence.  In the same way, you may have a reasonable basis to trust that Jesus is the Messiah who has the power to reconcile you to God – but until you personally entrust yourself to Him, you cannot benefit from His death, and you cannot experience His Spirit who begins to impart His hope to your soul.

Trust in Jesus is based on evidence, but it is not 100% certainty.  You can trust Jesus personally without having 100%/perfect faith, just as you can trust that surgeon while still having some doubts – and still benefit from his competence.

If you don’t entrust yourself to Jesus, no other world-view provides a solid hope for life after death.  If you are an atheist, you have no hope for an afterlife, and no basis for any ultimate meaning to your life.[2]  If you are a pantheist, you are sentenced to keep coming back in different life forms until you are finally dissolved into the impersonal all.[3]  If you are a non-Christian theist, you can have no assurance that God will grant you eternal life because of your sinfulness.[4]  Only in biblical Christianity can we be sure that God will give us eternal life despite our sinfulness – because God’s acceptance is based not on our works for Him, but on Jesus’ perfect and completed work for us.  This is why Paul has assurance about being with Christ after he dies (not because he lived a good enough life).  This is why many of us have assurance of eternal life, and you can have this assurance by receiving Jesus’ gift of forgiveness.

Once you have received Jesus, trusting God involves responsive trust – embracing His priorities for our lives.  Notice how Paul’s hope is connected to his alignment with God’s priority for his life (re-read 1:19,20) – making Christ known to others (1:13) and  helping Christians to grow in their faith (1:25).

Many true Christians are not hopeful about their futures because they are seeking temporal happiness rather than His priorities.  Often, we do not even realize this until these hopes are dashed – and we become not just sad, but despondent and/or angry at God (e.g., NO SPOUSE; DIFFICULT MARRIAGE; REBELLIOUS CHILD; MINISTRY DISAPPOINTMENT; DECLINING HEALTH; FINANCIAL REVERSAL; CAREER FRUSTRATION).

God loves us too much to facilitate our recipes for temporal happiness (like a Genie).  He knows better than we do how easily we tend to love the gifts more than the Giver.  He knows better than we do that temporal happiness is fragile, and that it never results in true fulfillment.  He knows better than we do that we have been made for a much higher purpose – to grow in our relationship with Him, and to play our unique roles in influencing others toward Him.  He exercises His sovereignty to advance these priorities.  When you seek temporal happiness more than these priorities, you will feel frustrated with your relationship with Jesus – like He isn’t “coming through for you” (which He isn’t!).  But when you abandon yourself to His priorities, you will discover a new awareness of present opportunities and an increasingly positive anticipation of the future.  Do you have Paul’s hope?  If not, maybe it is because you need to embrace/re-embrace His priorities for your life.

[1] Opdivo is for large cell lung cancer patients, for whom other treatments have been ineffective.  It may result in increased survival of 3-6 months, if the patient doesn’t die from the treatment or side-effects.  It costs $150,000 for the initial treatment, and $14,000 per month for additional treatments.

[2] “Human destiny (is) an episode between two oblivions.” Ernst Nagel, “Naturalism Reconsidered” in Essays in Philosophy, ed. Houston Peterson (NY: Pocket Library, 1959), p. 496.

[3] “A real merging of the limited in the ocean of universal life involves complete surrender of separative existence in all its forms.  Maher Baba, Discourses (Sufism Reoriented, Inc., 1967), 1, p. 23.

[4] Islam teaches that there is no assurance of eternal life for Muslims until after the day of judgment: “(On the Day of Reckoning) we shall . . . recount (their deeds) to them with knowledge . . . And the weighing will be just on that Day.  Then those whose (deeds) are heavier in the balance will find fulfillment, and those whose (deeds) are lighter in the scale shall perish . . .” (Quran, Surah 7:6-9).  Rabbinic Judaism likewise denies assurance of eternal life: “Two paths now lie before me, one leading to Paradise and the other to Gehinnom (hell), and I know not which I am destined to take.  Should I not then weep?” (Berachoth, 28b.  R. Alexander Feinsilver, The Talmud for Today [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980], pp. 214-216).  Extra-biblical Christianity also denies assurance of eternal life: “Church teaching is that I don’t know, at any given moment, what my eternal future will be.  I can hope, pray, do my very best—but I still don’t know.  Pope John Paul II doesn’t absolutely know that he will go to heaven, nor does Mother Theresa of Calcutta . . .” (Cardinal O’Connor, The New York Times, February 1, 1990, p. B4).