Pillars of Christian Character: Joy
Let me ask you several important questions this morning. Are you ready? "Can you rejoice in what God has done for you in the past?” and, “Can you rejoice in what God is doing for you now?” and, “Can you rejoice in what you expectantly anticipate Him to do for you in the future?" God wants you to be a joyful and expectant Christian.
Our joy in Christ is an outflow of the same message that the Angel’s gave to the shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem:
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
As we sit here this morning, you and I are a part of the all people that the angels give good tidings to. It’s news that ought to fill our hearts and minds and souls with great joy: A Savior has come who will forgive us of all our sins, cleanse us from unrighteousness, and bring us eventually into eternal glory in His Kingdom. If we were to literally translate that phrase great joy it would read mega-gladness! So, let me ask you: Does the presence of Christ in your life bring you mega-gladness?
Few things have done more harm to the cause of Christ than joyless Christians! God wants you and I to experience mega-gladness of the heart and to have cheerful faces. The two are connected:
Proverbs 15:13 "A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance," Proverbs 15:30 "A cheerful look brings joy to the heart,"
God has even designed us in such a way so that it is easier to exhibit cheerfulness then to exhibit sullenness. It takes 64 facial muscles to make a frown, but only thirteen to make a smile. I'll tell ya what folks: I see a lot of Christians who are working their faces too hard! Their attitude is (say with frown on face and crossed arms) "Yea, I'm a Christian. Hallelujah." They’re like ‘spiritual Buster Keatons’ ... Buster Keaton was a movie star of the silent-picture age nicknamed ‘the Great Stone-face’ because he never smiled in any of his movies.
Joy in the Christian's life should flow as naturally from the believer's heart as singing does from a bird at sunrise!
As we continue our examination of the Pillars of Christian Character, let me take some time this morning to speak to you about the coming of joy into our lives through Christ.
I. REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS!
- "Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!” (Philippians 3:1, NIV)
- “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NIV)
- “Be joyful always;” (1 Thessalonians 5:16, NIV)
A. THE WORLD NEEDS TO SEE JOYFUL BELIEVERS
- the non-Christians in our culture sees too many mean-eyed furrowed-brow, locked-jaw, crossed-arm, petty-minded, unsmiling Christians
- I don't mean any of your of course!
- the world needs to see joyful believers who can praise the Lord no matter what their circumstances are or what their lot in life may be
- the Book of Philippians is one the Apostle Paul’s letters known as a prison epistle
- why is it called a prison epistle?
- because the Apostle is in prison when he writes it
- yet this letter to the Philippian Christians is full of expressions of joy and thanksgiving
- joy is a characteristic of the Christian life that transcends our present circumstances
- the Apostle Peter told the recipients of his first epistle that the Christian's joy is an inward grace that issues from the believer's faith despite trials and temptations
- "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:6-9, NIV)
- happiness is a feeling and usually is determined by outside events or circumstances
- joy, on the other hand, is an attitude, a disposition, a mind-set that flows from a deep conviction that God is alive and real and in your life and in control
- it enables you to meet the challenges of life and to wade into impossibilities with enthusiasm and expectancy
- "rejoicing always" in the Lord enables you to let go of the frustration and pick up the broken pieces and start over again
B. REASONS BELIEVERS CAN REJOICE
- FIRST, we can rejoice because of saving grace
- “ ... an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, NIV)
- Jesus said that being born again is like finding buried treasure
- ILLUS. In the early 1950's a Florida resident by the name of Mel Fisher began searching the waters of the Caribbean for sunken Spanish treasure ships. His dream of 'hitting it big' was scuttled time and again. His all-consuming passion was to discover the resting place of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. This Spanish treasure ship had sunk in a hurricane somewhere off the Florida Coast 300 years ago and was reputed to be carrying the proverbial "king's ransom" in treasure. Fisher, quite literally, sold or hocked all that he owned in order to fund the years of searching. Finally, on July 20, 1985, he and his crew found what they had so long been looking for. The wreck has yielded tens of millions of dollars in gold, silver, and precious stones. They were overjoyed.
- “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44, NIC)
- “You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.” (Psalm 18:34, NIV)
- God does not save us only to leave us to our own strength
- ILLUS. In the Lincoln Museum in Washington, you will find, among other things, Lincoln's well-used Bible. In the flyleaf is a note he scribbled as he made his way by train to the capitol for his inauguration. Listen to his words as he asks for sustaining grace from God: "I go to assume a task more difficult than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded but for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same divine blessing which sustained him, and on the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support. And I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive the divine assistance, without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain."
- “Father, give them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:" (John 17:22, NIV)
- the day is coming when all believers will hear the trumpet of God that signifies our Lord's Second coming
- on that day all those who have given their hearts and lives to Jesus Christ are going home
- “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21, NIV)
- ILLUS. Donald Cargill was a bright star in the history of Scottish persecutions. He was condemned by the government and sentenced to the gallows. When he came to the scaffold, Cargill said these moving words. “Now I am near to getting to my crown, which shall be sure; for I bless the Lord, and desire all of you to bless Him that He hath brought me here, and makes me triumph over devils, and men, and sin – they shall wound me no more. I forgive all men the wrongs they have done to me, and pray the Lord may forgive all the wrongs that any of the elect have done against Him. I pray that sufferers may be kept from sin, and helped to know their duty – farewell reading and preaching, praying and believing, wanderings, reproaches, and sufferings. Welcome joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
- the Scriptures tell us in Isaiah: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him
II. RELEVANT THINGS YOU CAN DO TO EXPERIENCE THE JOY OF THE LORD
- joy is a choice made by those who discipline their attitudes
- joy is not automatic
- it doesn’t seize you and force you under its will
- you don’t catch it like a virus
- to have authentic Christian joy you must cultivate it like you would a crop
- there is no better place to go to discover the secrets to joy than Paul’s letter to the Philippians
- written while he was chained to a guard in a Roman prison, Paul gives six clues to what enabled him to rejoice in literally any situation
A. FIRST, MAINTAIN A GRATEFUL HEART
- Paul’s gratitude is reflected in every line of his letter to the Philippians
- imprisoned and possibly facing death, the apostle still refuses to register even the slightest complaint
- he writes to the Philippians: I thank my God every time I remember you
- in every verse he seems to sing with thanksgiving, almost as though he were composing a psalm
- he denies himself the option of focusing on the negative aspects of his imprisonment
- if you want to experience joy, you’re going to have to sit down and count your blessings instead of listing your misfortunes
- when you consider the ways in which you have seen God work, like Paul, include the blessings He has poured out on others through you
B. SECOND, FOCUS ON FUTURE HOPE
- Paul labored and suffered with his future rest in mind
- he wrote to the Philippians “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21, NIV)
- Paul had a valiant, courageous confidence in Christ
- he could see the good results of bad situations
- but more important than that, he saw the final victory in Christ
- in Philippians, Paul attempts to communicate his hope to us
- he knows there will be a happy ending, and he wants us to remember that even in the worst of circumstances
- ILLUS. The apostle cites Christ as an example of such hope. Jesus faced the Cross with a mind clearly focused on His goal. His suffering was of less importance when He considered the needs of mankind. He put aside self-pity and clothed Himself with compassion for men.
- if we’re going to have joy in life you need to think beyond the present
C. THIRD, PURSUE GODLY GOALS
- Paul kept his spiritual goals clearly in mind
- “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11, NIV)
- to know Him would be worth any price because of the final payoff – eternal life
- Paul struggled toward those goals with every ounce of energy
- “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14, NIV)
- instead of becoming desperate for worldly happiness we become desperate to follow Christ, and joy is our reward
D. FORTH, PRAY
- the impulse to pray when we are in trouble is almost automatic
- but prayer ought to be more than an appeal for deliverance
- according to Paul, it is our privilege in Christ to be free of anxiety as we make our request to God
- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6, NIV)
E. FIFTH, THINK GODLY THOUGHTS
- Paul writes to the Philippian believers:
- “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9, NIV)
- we become so engrossed in the painful moment that we see, hear, think, and feel little else
- we begin choking on stale, cloudy thoughts
- we can focus on gloom and doom
- or on promises and praise
- ILLUS.. In one of his letters to a young man in the ministry named Timothy, Paul told him to stir up the gift of God that was in him. The Greek word of stir up means to rekindle as in getting a fire burning brightly agin. That requires some personal effort. One of the surest ways to rekindle the spirit of joy in your life is to take the "poker" of your memory and stir up some past occurrences in your life when God was at work. You need to recall the times that God intervened in your life and answered your prayers. Meditate upon your blessings. Throw the "logs" of praise, thankfulness and gratitude on the fire of God and see if the flame of the Holy Spirit does not burn more brightly in your life.
F. SIXTH, LEARN CONTENTMENT
- Paul learned to be content in any situation
- “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11, NIV)
- ILLUS. John MacArthur tells the story of being on a trip to Mexico. At one stop, he observed Mexican women washing their clothes in a place where hot and cold springs bubbled side by side. They boiled their garments in the hot springs and rinsed them in the cold. MacArthur remarked to his guide, “I suppose the people think their God is generous to them.” “No, señor,” the guide replied, “just the opposite. There is grumbling because He does not supply soap.”
- dissatisfaction breeds anxiety and frustration
- contentment fosters joy
- discontent blackens everything around it
- contentment transforms turbulence into peace
- you don’t just decide to be content, the Apostle Paul says, you learn contentment
- by maintaining grateful hearts, focusing on future hope, praying pursuing Godly goals and thinking Godly thoughts
- above all, contentment is learned by seeking first the Kingdom of God instead of seeking the things of this world
Martin Luther said it best when he wrote; ". . . The Christian ought to be a living doxology." Doxology is a word that simply means A Praise to God. When joy of salvation is a part of your life and you find yourself rejoicing in the things of God, you will be a witness to the world and a "praise unto God."