I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Prison letter of Joy
The forms of the word “Joy” occur sixteen times in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The irony of course is that those sweet words were spoken while he was in prison (perhaps in Rome, about to face his trial and execution). In his litany of sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, we can see that he had been imprisoned many times before and had already experienced the worst, but still, he was able to rejoice.
Object of our Joy
Joy in suffering is not just an abstract feeling of gladness or ecstasy that is void of an object. Joy must be anchored on something, otherwise it’s just insanity. The object of our joy will determine if we would endure trials or not. I believe inferior joys will not be able to withstand great troubles . My aim is to show you how the relationship of prayer, sanctification and joy, points us to God as the object of our joy that will cause us to endure all sufferings.
In the first chapter of Philippians, from verses 3-8, Paul reminded the believers at Philippi of how thankful he was to God on their account and that they’re always in his prayer. He always thanked God whenever he remembers them. The greek is epi pase te mneia , meaning all of his memories of them. The book of Acts and 1 Thessalonians , tells us however, that Paul had a great deal of memories there. He was maltreated at Philippi; he was scourged and put into the stocks (Ac 16:11-40 , and 1 Th 2:2). These were included in the “all” of what he thanked God for.
In spite of all that, in verse 4, he stated that he prayed for them, not reluctantly, but with joy. It seems that human as we are, it can be hard for us to rejoice and thank God in the midst of trials and sufferings. So how did the apostle Paul managed to do it? Where did he anchored his joy? In verse 5, he said that it’s because of their continued partnership in the gospel. That’s the reason why he can pray with joy, at least partly. But why partly, you should ask? For this reason, I believe that the ultimate cause or ground of his joy was not found in their steadfastness.
So, what’s the ultimate ground of his joy? To answer this question, first, get this very important point: we only thank someone, at least in a very real sense of gratitude and sincerity, if that someone causes us to have joy. It can be a gift, their time or even their mere presence. So the flow of thought is this; we experience joy, and then because of that, we thank and cherish the cause of that joy. Notice that in verse 3, Paul wasn’t thanking them, he was thanking God. In other words, he saw the ultimate source of joy!
The conjunction “because” in v.5 means that Paul is giving an argument or ground as to why he can pray with joy. If he stopped his argument at verse 5, then their continued support in the gospel would become the grounds, and then he should be thanking them. But he didn’t stop there. Paul said in verse 6 that he was sure about something. He’s certain that God, the One who began a good work in them, will bring it to completion. The logical relationship between verses 5 and 6 is of ground relationship. It simply means that Paul, considered the ability of God to be the cause of their continued support . It’s not about what Paul or the brethren can do for the gospel. It’s about what God can do! They are able to continue or persevere because God caused them to continue. That’s what he was thanking God for.
In conclusion, if ultimately, the object of Paul’s joy was their ability to continue with their partnership in the gospel , if they fail, then his joy will also fail. But Paul looked deeper to get to the very bottom, God himself as the object of his joy. The God that never fails. Therefore anchor our joy in God alone because only God can withstand great trials and sufferings.
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