Psalm 144:15b (Amplified)- Happy (blessed, fortunate, prosperous, to be envied) are the people whose God is the Lord! Christians should be the happiest people on the planet. It should be this, but obviously it is not this way. And there are reasons why? This is why the Bible gives us statements like “I’m saying this to you that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:4; John 15:11, 16:24)
Joy & Happiness - it’s what everyone is looking for. The problem is that so many look for joy and happiness in all the wrong places - alcohol, drugs, relationships, possessions, careers, etc. The Difference Between Joy & Happiness: Joy is a Gift; Happiness is a Choice. If you won’t do it for yourself, then do it for your spouse, your children, your roommate etc. Smiling makes you more attractive.
We entered into the gates of this series with the subject of thanksgiving. Amen! You show me a thankful, grateful person and I’ll show you a happy person.
We looked at two passages of Scripture in the New Testament:
Ephesians 5:20- “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18- “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Then, we went back to the Old Testament and saw how the giving of thanks was how we enter into His presence:
Psalm 100:4- “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” Psalm 100:4
Psalm 95:1-2- “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.”
Psalm 16:11- “You will show me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Compare with Psalm 21:6)
EXAMPLES: Why can’t I just have a church with heat!?! Why can’t we just thank God for what we do have instead of what we don’t have? In case you haven’t noticed it, the tendency of our flesh is to magnify all that we don’t have instead of what we do have. For example, if one of our legs is in excruciating pain, what is our tendency? It is to complain about the pain we have. But what else can you do? You can be thankful that it’s not both legs! But yeah Pastor both my legs do hurt! Well, thank him that your nerves are working fine. You see, there is always something to be thankful for.
Now that leads me to my next point in how to be happy. Since happiness is really a choice, then how do we choose it? We choose to be happy by choosing the proper perspective regarding the things of life. We know this is true because you can look at two people who have gone through similar circumstances, and while one loses all their joy, the other one still seems to be happy. Again, the same situation but totally different responses. How could this be? It is because the situations and circumstances we encounter in life are not the ultimate variable; our chosen perspective in them is the variable. There is perhaps no greater example in the Bible of this than the Apostle Paul!
THE PODIUM PERSPECTIVE
As we enter into the Apostle Paul’s most personal and triumphant letter, it is important that we first understand its background. The reason for this is because as we look at the Book of Philippians from the podium from which Paul preached this colorful message, we can gain more insight into this blessed virtue, called joy.
You see, by understanding the situation Paul was in when he wrote his Epistle of Joy, we can see how our circumstances do not have to dictate our joy. The Apostle Paul’s situation was incredibly difficult. At the time that he penned this letter, he was enduring a far more difficult situation than the majority of us have ever dreamed of experiencing. Yet, in the midst of what he deemed to be one of his “light afflictions” (see 2 Corinthians 4:17), Paul preached the importance of maintaining a joy-filled attitude while expressing joy himself throughout the four chapters of this, his Epistle of Joy.
His personal testimony was “I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (1:18) and his call for others was to “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice” (4:4). Yet, although he practiced as well as preached this joy-filled attitude, this perspective of his came during unfavorable circumstances.
THE PRISON UNDER THE PALACE
It is commonly understood that when the Apostle Paul wrote his letters that we have the privilege of reading today, many, if not all of them, were written during his many imprisonments. But more specifically, when he penned this letter to the church at Philippi, it is commonly believed that it was written during one of his imprisonments in Rome where he was locked up in a prison which lay directly beneath the palace in Rome. (see Philippians 1:13)
However, this prison was a far cry from the palace which was above him. Historians tell us that this prison was basically just a hole dug out beneath the palace’s foundation. So, get that image out of your head that the worst part of his imprisonment was just the fact that he was in chains. The bars, shackles, and chains were the least of his concerns. Not only was the prison where he was held similar to a dungeon, but it was also believed to be one of the main holding areas for the sewage of the city of Rome. That’s right. The sewage of the city was contained in the same place where Paul was being confined! So, picture this: Paul was locked up in a cave, with no light to speak of, and possibly had human waste all around him. That sounds like a situation you might hear of if someone were describing something similar to hell, doesn’t it?
Now here is the point I want you to understand: It was in this horrible situation that he preached to the Philippians this message of joy and exultation. It was in this discouraging predicament that he declared his own joy, twice in the same verse. This is remarkable, isn’t it? Paul used his pulpit of stones and chains to preach joy to his children in the faith. He used his podium of human waste to testify of his own joy. This is so amazing to me! As it was so poetically stated in a commentary I read:
“As we read the exultant stanzas of the Epistle to the Philippians, we might think that Paul was in a palace, not in a prison. He mentioned his chains again and again, but we do not hear them clanging dismally. We hear them chiming like Christmas bells.”
- The John Phillips Commentary Series / Exploring Ephesians & Philippians
As a matter of fact, if you look closely at the book of Philippians, you will see that Paul made references to “dung” (3:8) and “sweet smelling aromas” (4:18). Obviously, Paul had odors on his mind, and there is little wonder why. He was surrounded by “dung” yet he found a way to preach about it instead of complaining about it. He was surrounded by what I can only imagine was the worst smell imaginable, yet he focused more on the offering they sent him, saying it was a sweet smell to him.
So, from this example, the Apostle Paul evidently walked in something that every one of us needs to strive to attain to ourselves. He did not experience this awesome joy because he was an apostle or had some other unfair better advantage than you and I do. Paul was a regular human being who was tempted, tested, and tried like all of us. Yet he attained a higher walk than most of us ever even dream of attaining.
MIDNIGHT IN MACEDONIA
Not only was the church of Philippi familiar with Paul’s current situation, they were aware that Paul practiced what he preached when he first entered their province. You see, not only did he experience this particular imprisonment in Rome, he was also imprisoned in Philippi when he first preached the gospel to them. We are probably all familiar with this account.
In Acts chapter 16, we see how Paul and Silas entered into the region of Macedonia preaching and teaching the Kingdom of God to them, and when they caused an uproar by casting the demon out of the slave girl, they were beaten and thrown into prison. And you need to realize that their beating was extreme. It says they were “beaten with rods” and then that they were “struck with many blows.” This beating with rods involved beating their feet and breaking all the bones in their feet, so you can imagine the pain they were in as they were in the prison, shackled in the stocks.
But what was Paul and Silas’ response to this difficult situation? Acts 16:25 says that at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Now if this were the majority of believers today, the only reason you would have heard them singing hymns to God in this fearful situation was that they were trying to get God to deliver them. But you would have to add to the Bible to say that this was Paul and Silas’ motive here. I personally believe that they were praying and singing, not because they wanted God to do something for them, but because they were genuinely focused on all that He had already done for them. In other words, they did not have to make themselves pray and sing through gritted teeth, but it simply overflowed out of sincere hearts that were full of joy. But on the other hand, we do see a principle here - the key to getting out of bondage is genuine praise and thanksgiving for what we do have.
Paul and Silas had genuine joy in that Philippian jail after they were beaten for their testimony of Christ. In fact, it was at midnight - symbolic of their darkest hour - that they experienced the joy of the Lord. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that our afflictions and tribulations do not have to dictate our joy level. Saints, we can have joy in whatever situation we find ourselves in. Not that we are necessarily happy about our current situation, but we are simply happy in our God. We are focused on all that He is and all that we have in Him. This should be enough to keep our joy tank filled up and overflowing all the time.
But this is the point in the message where an argument usually arises. People will hear what I just said and respond with: “But you do not know what I am going through! It’s just too difficult and depressing!” But what those who think this way need to understand is that it does not matter how bad we have it; our afflictions will never compare to the Apostle Paul’s. Just the two imprisonments that I have briefly described far surpass anything that most of us have or ever will endure.
The Apostle of Faith did not exhort us to always rejoice and practice the same because he lived a life of comfort and ease. This should already be rather obvious. He had multitudes of trying circumstances that go well beyond the imprisonments I have briefly described already. In fact, he had more problems in this life than you and I could ever dream of having. The great Apostle Paul had many other afflictions and suffered many other things before and after his imprisonment in Philippi, and in 2 Corinthians chapter 11, he gives us a list of these hardships. Beginning in verse 23 Paul begins to give us the resume of his ministry. He said he had been beaten with stripes, beaten with rods, stoned, sleepless, hungry, thirsty, cold, shipwrecked, imprisoned several times, etc. The Apostle Paul had it rough, just like the Lord told him he was going to right after his conversion on the Road to Damascus.
Yet, earlier in his second letter to the church of Corinth, he called these painful situations “light afflictions” (see 2 Corinthians 4:17). The word he used for “light” here literally meant “non-burdensome” and was a reference to the weight of his trials. Therefore, Paul was saying that the afflictions that he suffered were not heavy, weighty, or burdensome at all. How could he say that? A better question might be, how could he view all of his incredibly difficult problems as just being light, and we view our much smaller problems as enormous? The reason Paul could view his circumstances like this is found in the same verse - 2 Corinthians 4:17.
He went on to reveal in this powerful verse two very important truths regarding his light afflictions: Number one, he said that they were “but for a moment.” This means that they were temporal - only lasting a short while. But what we need to understand is that many of these afflictions were not just momentary, naturally speaking. Many of them lasted weeks, months and even years. Therefore, Paul could not have been referring to them just being “for a moment” according to this present life. So what was he referring to? He was saying that they were “but for a moment” in comparison to eternity.
You see, to say that our life in this body is extremely temporal would be an understatement. If you compare the average lifespan of a human being to eternity, our life on this earth is just a brief moment. This is why you see the Bible compare our life to a vapor and to a blade of grass. It uses both of these examples because one appears for a moment and then vanishes, and the other appears one day and is gone the next. Saints, our life on this earth is but a speck of sand in the beach of eternity.
But Paul does not stop there. He goes on to describe the main reason that he was able to devalue his afflictions so much. He said that they are “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” The Apostle Paul was saying that his difficulties could in no way compare to the reward that awaited him for successfully enduring and overcoming them. In other words, he saw his afflictions as light because he saw the glory he would receive in exchange for them as heavy. So, in comparison to what he would receive in the kingdom of heaven, his problems were not problems at all for two reasons: Number one, because the reward would be so glorious and magnificent. And, number two, because this awesome glory would be eternal.
When we see the riches of His glory in this light - as awesome and eternal - there is truly no comparison. Therefore, our afflictions must be viewed as light and non-burdensome. Thank you, Jesus, for this living and blessed hope we have!
YOUR SITUATION IS NOT UNIQUE
So, taking to heart these afflictions that the Apostle Paul endured, how can we honestly view our trials and tribulations as burdensome? One of the wiles of the devil is to convince us that our situations and circumstances are unique. In other words, he is good at tricking us into believing that nobody understands what we are going through and that our situation is different than everyone else’s. For example, these people who have bought this lie of the devil will respond to, for example, the exhortations contained in this book with statements like: “Well, you just don’t know what it feels like” or “You just don’t understand what I am going through right now.” And while it might be true that the person they are speaking to might not have ever experienced what they are experiencing, what they are implying is that nobody knows or understands their situation. Therefore, when we receive the lie that our situation is unique, we feel justified in becoming down and depressed.
If we were honest with ourselves, we could find someone who has not only gone through the same thing we are going through but who also has walked through it victoriously. But what the flesh loves to gravitate towards is the self-centered belief that we are “special.” And while we most definitely are special to God and are loved passionately by Him, this mentality that “nobody knows what I am going through” and, therefore, “this situation is special” is rooted in self-centeredness. The truth is that while we as individuals are unique, our situations and experiences are not unique. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man…” This means that there is absolutely no trial or tribulation that we have been overtaken by (surprised with or fallen into) that is not common to man. This phrase “common to man” denotes something that is regular or repeated among the human race. In other words, any and all temptations that we suffer are common and are not unique. Saints, someone else (and likely many others), have certainly experienced what we are going through.
A key word in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is “temptation.” You see, just because we are going through a trial does not mean we have to let it steal our joy. These circumstances are simply temptations to be down and depressed. We can choose joy amid even the most difficult of circumstances. We can resist discouragement and submit to the joy of the Lord that is resident in our hearts. Yes, and amen!
1 Peter 5:9 also gives us this powerful key to resisting the temptation to feel discouraged and depressed. Many of us are familiar with 1 Peter 5:8 where Satan is described as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, but verse 9 goes on to exhort us to “resist him, steadfast in the faith [How? By] knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” In other words, by understanding that the same sufferings that we are currently experiencing are being experienced by other Christians presently in the world right now, we will be better equipped to resist the temptations that accompany those sufferings. Amen!
Did you get that? Let me say it this way: by understanding that you are not alone and that others are dealing with the same temptations, you will be better equipped to resist the temptations to be discouraged and give in to the devil. Evidently, there is a crippling power in buying the lie that our particular circumstance is unique, and no one understands the things we are going through.
Saints, the Bible teaches us that what you and I are currently dealing with is common to mankind. I know it might be difficult to see that when you are in the middle of a trial, but the bottom line is many have dealt with similar and even far worse things than you or I are dealing with.
You see, the danger in not understanding this truth is that we will tend to fantasize about the “other guy” and be tempted to think that the grass is greener on the other side. People fall into this fallacy time and time again, thinking that if they just had a different job, a different spouse, or a different church that they would be happy. No, my brothers and sisters, a change of scenery is not going to necessarily make you happy. That is a lie. You must learn to be content in whatever your situation might currently be - and as we just learned, our perspective has a lot to do with our attitude.
THE PROVERBIAL PALACE
Allow me to remind you where the Apostle Paul’s current imprisonment was when he penned the Book of Philippians. It was in a prison directly beneath the palace. Do you suppose that there might have been a temptation for him to fantasize about the palace above him, thinking that dwelling there might make him happier? I am sure that if any of us would have been in that exact same situation, many of us would have entertained those thoughts.
You see, most of us think that we would have joy if we dwelt in our own proverbial palace. In other words, if our circumstances were perfect and our conditions were ideal, we believe we then would be happy. My friends, nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of the world believes that if they just dwelt in their “palace” - that is, their place of perfection where all their dreams and desires were being fulfilled - then they would be happy. This, of course, is a total lie. Saints, that “Never-never land” that the world paints for us will never fulfill us. It will never bring us the joy and contentment that we think it will. But the media feeds us this lie, painting a picture for us that there is a perfect life out there where dreams do come true. A fairytale, if you would.
The enemy is proficient in getting people to believe this too. He deceives countless people into believing that if they just had more money or possessions, then they would be happy. He also aims at convincing people that if they just had a different job or a different spouse, they would be happier. These are all lies that he has fed countless people for generations, and he has been extremely successful with it. But if we just understood that no amount of money, no number of things, and no change in any other area of our life is going to bring us the true joy that we are seeking, we would not allow the devil to get us out of God’s perfect will for our lives.
The truth is that your circumstances do not dictate your joy; your focus and attitude dictate your joy. You can have nothing and possess more joy than those who have everything. This is the gospel truth, my friends. It might seem that having more, better and different will make us happier for the time being, but in the long run, we will be just as discontent and unhappy as we ever were after we have accumulated all these things that we thought we needed to be happy.
However, the fact remains that you can have more joy in your “prison” than your “palace” can ever bring you. I know of a man who had more joy in the prison beneath the palace than all of those who dwelt in the palace above him combined: and his name was the Apostle Paul. He dwelt beneath the palace, in prison, and I guarantee you that he possessed more joy than the most wealthy and regal individual that lived in the palace above him. The vast difference in circumstances would indicate otherwise, but I can assure you that true joy is experienced and maintained independently of our circumstances.
But this is not understood by the natural mind. The carnal mind equates favorable circumstances with joy and justifies discouragement and depression through undesirable situations. This is not the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ focuses on the spiritual circumstances, not the natural circumstances. If you are a born-again Christian, your reality is: You are blessed all the time! God is with you, never to leave you nor forsake you! You have been forgiven, shown mercy, and stand in His righteousness! If this weren’t enough, you are a citizen of heaven and will rule and reign with the Lord Jesus for all eternity! That is our reality as children of God, friends! Those are our “circumstances” that we should be focused on - the spiritual and eternal ones. Thank you, Jesus! Sure, our natural circumstances - the ones we can see - hurt and are uncomfortable, but victory is found in knowing that they are temporal and subject to change. Yes, our spiritual circumstances - the unseen ones - are eternal, unchanging, and far outweigh our natural circumstances. They are wonderful realities in the spiritual realm, never to change, and never to fade away. Praise the Lord!
You see, the Apostle Paul understood something that is vital to living a joyful life. There were things that he understood and applied to his life that enabled him to be full of joy despite his circumstances. So, what were his keys to gaining and maintaining such a joy-filled life? What can we glean from his example that will help us to experience more joy in our lives? Those keys are laid out plainly in his letter to the Philippians. Perhaps, we will explore them more in the weeks to come.