There is plenty to make me happy these days: Great times with family, time to pause and peruse rusting relics, God's wonders displayed in creation, and of course, the joy of finding a used book store, where my biggest purchase set me back a whopping $2.00.
Yes, I am a happy man.
Paul knew this kind of happiness, the kind that comes compliments of God "who richly provides us with everything to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV).
But Paul knew another kind of happiness, a deeper source of joy.
Joy is a recurring theme in the life of Paul, especially in his letter to his friends in Philippi. In fact, the word — or one of it’s relatives — appears 16 times. So what is joy?
Joy is a good mood of the soul — one that is not contingent on:
- How much stuff you have
- How healthy you are
- Or whether or not life is going your way
It is a good mood of the soul that rests not on what I have (family, possessions, education), or on what is happening around me (the political scene), or what is happening to me (getting passed over for a promotion; fighting a nasty cold), but a happiness that rests on what God has done for me and in me.
When Paul wrote, "I am praying with joy because of your partnership in the gospel" he was giving us a clue as to a better kind of happiness, his deeper joy.
Paul's deeper joy came from the gospel.
Paul’s life was all about the gospel. To Paul, there was a distinct tie between joy and the gospel. He uses the word eight times in Philippians and some 65 times in his letters. So it is essential that I understand what he means by “the gospel."
Let me tell you what “the gospel” is not:
- It is not a theological treatise (a book about the gospel).
- It is not just the bad news and the good news (a gospel presentation).
- It is not preaching (though the message we preach is the gospel).
“The gospel,” especially in Philippians, is more than that. That’s why Paul talks about:
- Partnering in the gospel.
- Advancing the gospel.
- Defending the gospel.
- Being worthy of the gospel.
- Serving in the gospel.
What is the gospel? Gordon Fee puts it this way:
Read Philippians -- or any of Paul's letters -- and you will discover the essence of the gospel is what God has done for us through Christ. Writing to his friends in Philppi, Paul says,
Why did Christ become obedient to death on a cross?
Because we, in trying to find satisfaction in the gifts of God instead of God, set up the gifts as little gods — and in doing that we violated God’s first command: "Have no other gods before me." In violating that command, we incurred a judgment we can never repay.
But the amazing good news is this: Jesus “became obedient to death on a cross” paying our penalty. When we trust him — that he went to the cross for us — he makes us his own. God gives us an eternal gift: Life in him and with him and with his family forever.
That’s why I say "thanks" for my family, the cars, the creation, and the books; but remember that my life, my real happiness, comes in and through the gospel of Jesus.
What do I have if I don't have him? A good life for sure, but one that is incomplete by far.
So I say, "Lord, thanks for the gifts that bring happiness, and THE GIFT that brings the greater joy because in knowing you, my life makes sense."