The question that Paul seems to be trying to answer for most of this passage of scripture is, how Jewish do you have to be to be a Christian? 

It was the question of whether or not Christians had to follow all of the Jewish regulations and guidelines was an ongoing debate throughout the New Testament, and whether grace trumped the law.

And so, Paul tells them how Jewish he is by laying out his pedigree in Philippians 3:5–6 I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.  I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

You can’t get much more Jewish than that/

But then he negates the value of that pedigree in Philippians 3:9–11 . . . I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.  I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

And there is all kinds of stuff that I could preach on from those verses.  But I’m not.

This is week seven of our study on the book of Philippians, and through those weeks, the preaching team has spoken on Paul’s thanksgiving, his joy that Christ was being preached, and how we are to live as citizens of heaven.  We’ve looked at what it means to have the attitude of Christ and how we need to shine brightly for Christ.

This week I want to focus on Chapter 3, verse 1, where Paul tells the readers of this letter,

Philippians 3:1–11 Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith. 

This theme of rejoicing in the Lord seems to run through the New Testament with verses such as Romans 5:3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 

And Romans 12:12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

And Paul was not alone, Peter reminded the early Christians in 1 Peter 1:8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.

And John wrote in 1 John 1:4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

Jesus’ brother Jude told the early church in Jude 24 Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.

While Jesus’ other brother James wrote in James 1:2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

And maybe you’re thinking, sure, they could rejoice. They didn’t have the problems that I have.

But Paul was in Prison, and the Philippians knew his story. They knew what happened on his first visit to their city when he planted their church. 

Paul, Luke and a colleague by the name of Silas have been travelling throughout the Roman Empire, starting new churches and introducing people to Christ. They started in Jerusalem and finally ended up in the town of Philippi.

One day as they were on their way to the synagogue, a demon-possessed girl started to follow them, shouting at the top of her voice, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

Well, at first, the guys tried to ignore her.

I mean, really, there are probably better people to announce your ministry than a demon-possessed person.

Well, she continued to follow them and continued announcing them wherever they went. After a couple of days of hoping the girl would go away of her own accord, Paul decides to take things into his own hands, and he turns around and commands the demons to release the girl, which they do. I don’t know why he waited so long, but if I ever find out, I’ll let you know, OK?

Now the story should have ended there. The girl was no longer demon-possessed. The guys were no longer being bugged by a demon-possessed girl—definitely a win, win situation.

But no.  You see, the demon-possessed girl just happened to be a slave, which wasn’t all that unusual, but what made her stand out amongst other demon-possessed slave girls is that she was owned by several men who would hire her out to tell peoples fortunes, kind of the original psychic network.

So, when the demon was cast out, she no longer told fortunes, which made her worthless to her masters. You would have thought she’d have seen that coming.

Well, they weren’t all that impressed with their financial reversals, and so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities.

They couldn’t very well tell the authorities what had really happened and why they were really upset, people are supposed to be happy when a demon is cast out of someone, and so rather than appear shallow and cruel, they used a different tact.

They started by making an accusation that was sure to stir the hearts of those in charge. It was very specific, well thought through and carefully laid down. They said, “These guys are teaching people to do things differently than how we’ve always done them.”

That’s a pretty serious charge. After all, it was Robert Kriegel who said, “The only people who like change are busy cashiers and babies with wet diapers.”

It’s amazing to see how quickly things start to happen. The magistrates order Paul and Silas stripped and beaten and then has them thrown in jail. And you thought you have had rough days. Being the dangerous felons that they were, the magistrates also order the jailer to make sure they didn’t escape. And so they were taken into the inner dungeon, had their feet clamped in stocks and were left in the cold, damp, dark cell.

So, what are you going to do? You’ve been wrongly accused, you’ve been slandered, you’ve been flogged, and now you’re locked up with the very dregs of society. Well, there is only one thing to do: sing! Well, that may not be what you would do, but it is what Paul and Silas did. It’s midnight in the prison; they are sore from being beaten, they are cold and wet from their cell, and they are praying and singing. Now if I was one of the other prisoners, I think I’d be a little annoyed, we don’t know what they were feeling, but the bible says the other prisoners were listening. Like they had much choice, they were in jail.

So, what made them sing, and what is this Joy that Paul speaks of?

Biblical “Joy” is one of the most misunderstood attributes of the bible! Normally when we think of the concept of “Joy,” what do we think of? Having fun, laughing children, carefree sleep, a lack of problems, an emotional high, no cares or worries. And while that may define “happiness,” it doesn’t necessarily define joy, at least not the type of joy that is Paul is speaking about.

William Lyon Phelps wrote, “If happiness truly consisted in physical ease and freedom from care, then the happiest individual would not be either man or woman, it would be, I think, an American cow.”

And even though Paul and Silas may not have been happy to be in prison, they were able to pray and sing. The neat thing is that the word that was used in the original language for prayer wasn’t a prayer of supplication, which means it wasn’t an asking prayer.

Paul and Silas weren’t praying “Please get us out of this mess!” Which is what I would be praying if’n I was stripped, beaten, locked in stocks, and thrown into the inner prison.

Instead, the meaning of the original word was a prayer of praise or worship. They weren’t crying for help they were commenting on how good God was.

The story is told that Matthew Henry, the Bible Scholar from the 1700s, was once accosted by thieves and relieved of his wallet. This is what he supposedly wrote in his diary concerning the entire incident, “Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my wallet, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because, it was I who robbed, not I who robbed.”

Now obviously, this was to be a life philosophy for Paul, which was why he was able to write in: Romans 5:3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

And he writes in 2 Corinthians 6:9–10 We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed.  Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.

That doesn’t sound like a formula for joy, and yet over and over again, Paul writes about Joy in the strangest circumstances. Why were Paul and Silas able to sing and praise God while they were locked away in Prison?

They Knew They Mattered to God To some people, it may have appeared that God had deserted them, but Paul and Silas knew where they were. In a prison cell in Philippi? No, they believed what was written in 1 Samuel 25:29 “Even when you are chased by those who seek to kill you, your life is safe in the care of the Lord your God, secure in his treasure pouch!”

When you can get to the place where you can wrap your head around the fact that you matter to the Master of the universe, then you are on your path to joy.

Jesus reminded his followers of this in Matthew 10:29–31 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

He created the entire universe, he is God, and yet he not only knows everything about you he loves you anyways. As a matter of fact, he loved you enough that he made the ultimate sacrifice for you, himself. We all know John 3:16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

But let’s not get caught up in God sending someone other than himself. As a matter of fact, listen to how John described Christ in the beginning of the gospel of John in the very first chapter and very first verse, John writes this John 1:1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Paul and Silas knew that they mattered to God.

They Knew They Were Playing to An Audience Of One Paul and Silas realized that they hadn’t pleased the owners of the slave girl, and they also realized that that wasn’t what they were called to do. There is nothing in this world that will steal your joy as quickly as trying to please everyone. You can’t do it. Not even God can please everyone, and he’s God.

I personally learnt this over thirty years ago. I was going through a real struggle with the ministry in general and my ministry in particular, but I read three things by three separate authors that all said the same thing.

Fred Smith, in his book Learning to Lead, wrote, “The shepherd or pastor’s ultimate goal is not to please the sheep but to please God.” Cecil Paul, the Author of Passages of a Pastor, says that pastors need to free themselves from, and I quote, “The Tyranny of Evaluation.”

Tim Hansel in his book, You Gotta Keep Dancing, writes that we need to realize that “we are playing to an audience of one.”

About that time, Angela and I were pastoring the Wesleyan Church in Truro. We were nudging the 200 mark in morning attendance. We had just finished a new church building and were dealing with all the financial pressures that went with being a quarter of a million dollars in debt, which seemed like a lot then but not nearly as much now.

I was 28, had an ulcer, and I was lying awake at night trying to deal with the church growth that I had coveted for so long. A major part of that pressure was trying to please a congregation that was becoming more and more diverse in nature.

And in the midst of that struggle that I was feeling, I realized that I had been called not to please the people of Truro Wesleyan church but to please God and God alone. It was at that point in April of 1989 that I came to the place where I decided that I need to live my life before God and not fall into the trap of people pleasing.

I don’t know what it did for the people of Truro Wesleyan Church, but I know what it did for me. It set me free. And that philosophy followed me around the world to Brisbane, Australia and back again to Bedford.

I love you people, I really do, and I would love to do everything in my power to make all of you happy with my performance as the pastor of Cornerstone Wesleyan Church. But I can’t. And if I try, it will eventually kill me, and then Angela will be unhappy. Wealthy but unhappy.

And if pleasing, everyone becomes my goal. Then I will never feel joy because I will have to constantly live with the fear of failing one of you because I can’t please you all as much as I would love to.

I don’t preach to please people, I preach to please God, and if I make people happy when I preach, then hey, they got a bonus, but if they get offended, well, that’s the way it’s gotta be.

And some days, that means that I’m not the most popular person being discussed around the Sunday dinner table. But I’m going to be able to stand before God with a clear conscience. And I bet that’s what you really want, a pastor who wants to please God, am I right?

Now where does that leave you? Well, pastors aren’t the only ones who feel compelled to please people. There are people who are constantly evaluating you. Your boss has expectations of you as an employee. Children expect certain things from you as a parent. Parents expect things and behaviour from you as their son or daughter.

As your pastor, I expect certain things from you as a layperson, and others expect things from you as a Christian. And if you are going to live your life trying to please everyone, then you are destined to live a joyless, self-destructive life.

You need to realize that you are to get your ultimate strokes from God and that if you faithfully please Him, then the rest will come along because in pleasing God, you will become a conscientious employee, a loving spouse, a faithful friend and a dedicated church member and you will be playing to an audience of one and therefore responsible for pleasing only one. God!

They Knew The End Of The Story Paul, and Silas knew that the book wasn’t finished. They knew that this was just a minor hiccup in their lives. They knew that God was in control, and ultimately He wins.

It may have appeared that God had deserted them, but we have already seen that wasn’t true, they mattered to God. And they knew that no matter what happened that God had a plan. After all it was Paul who wrote Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

So they knew they loved God. They knew they were called according to his purpose for them, so everything was going to work together for the good of them, even if they didn’t understand the how or why.

God is no man’s debtor, but he doesn’t settle all of his accounts on this side of eternity. Paul had what might at first appears to be a pretty fatalist outlook on life. Listen to what he says in Philippians 1:21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.

But that’s not fatalistic. That is a belief in a beautiful heaven, where we will live forever and where we will be with the God, we love and who loves us, where we will dance on streets that are golden.

You say, but I don’t feel very joyful. I believe that joy is a conscious decision. It is something deliberate that we decide, “I will have joy.” We all know that when we are happy on the inside that it causes us to smile. But social scientists have discovered something really neat. They have discovered that if we smile that it makes us happy on the inside. Try it, smile.  I bet that you’re feeling better already.

I’m not trying to put anyone on a guilt trip about their emotions, I know that we go through seasons in our life where being joyful is very difficult, if not impossible. But it will pass, honest. Every night has a dawn, and every storm has an end, and every mountain has a crest.

King David struggled with depression throughout his life, just read the Psalms, but he also had a grip on this joy thing. Listen to what he wrote in Psalm 30:5 Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Let each one of us learn to laugh, learn to rejoice always and remember when you’re laughing to learn to laugh at yourself, because as John Powell said,  “Learn to laugh at yourself, and you’ll never cease to be amused.”

If your joy is based on circumstances this morning, then you need to give your life over to the Lord and let Him place His joy within.

When you were born, you cried, and everybody else was happy. The only question that matters is this: When you die, will YOU be happy when everybody else is crying?

Blessing, May your joys be as deep as the ocean, and your sorrows as light as its foam.

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