For many of you it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn the Apostle Paul patterned his life after Jesus. Yes, he was “a rebel, an outlaw, a renegade, and a sanctified troublemaker,” as Mark Driscoll so aptly describes.
Paul was also single, homeless, lived by other’s welfare and charity, and was hated so much by the religious and political elites that he got run out of nearly every town he visited, often taking a good beating with him. So too was the life of Jesus.
If you have ever been penniless, homeless, abused by a parent or a spouse, or rejected by a church for some reason or another, then you know what it’s like to live in their skin. You know how joyless life can seem. However, with all the pain that Paul endured…he welcomed it with open arms.
Like Jesus, we could say Paul was counter-cultural. If we are to call ourselves followers of Christ, then we too must put on his shoes, and walk his walk. To push ourselves beyond the current political climate and the media madness in order to reaffirm our Christian commitment to put Jesus first, and to seek God’s justice and reconciliation in the world. Paul might say this is not merely a mandatory action, but also a requirement for anyone searching for true joy.
This morning we continue our look at “Joy” through Paul’s letter to the Philippians churches. I am not sure why they were lacking joy, but Paul’s letter indicates something is happening. Something is happening here too. Like so many other churches, we struggle to grasp the biblical view of joy. My only guess is it’s because we allow the world to define the terms for us. We often confuse joy with happiness.
In the beloved comic strip Peanuts, Charles Schultz coined the adage, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Joy however is not something that chews up your favorite pair of shoes. Or leaves you little warm presents by the bedside. In the 80’s Bobby McFerrin penned the catchy song, “Don’t worry…Be Happy.” But as we will later discover the true meaning of joy should gives us all something to worry about.
For decades ministers have watered down the bible’s definition of true joy; reducing it nothing more than a warm-and-fuzzy feeling, or a carefree attitude of delight. Now, instead of feeling happy because we are filled with true joy, we sit around sad wondering why people are leaving us, to find joy elsewhere.
The Bible tells us joy is more than happiness, just as happiness is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. But joy is deep within the heart, in the spirit, in the essence of our being. It is a longing buried deep within us.
In his spiritual biography, appropriately entitled “Surprised by Joy,” C.S. Lewis describes joy as “an experience no one would ever exchange for all the happiness in the world.” And for good reason. Last week I said true joy doesn’t come from power or possessions, but from a person: Jesus Christ. Through him, God plants his joy deep into our darkest of places.
As we move into the second chapter of Philippians, we see our joy doesn’t just come from Jesus himself but it also comes from our being like Jesus. In Paul’s words, “Imitators of Christ.” Notice he didn’t say impersonators, but imitators. There’s a difference. Impersonators take great pains to make people believe they are who they are not. Imitators, on the other hand, strive to be a reflection of the person they look up to.
For Christians this means we must always strive to live as Christ lived; to love as he loved; sharing the same Spirit, showing the same compassion and sympathy for others. It I s through these actions, others are able to see God at work in their life planting joy in their dark places.
But here’s the big ‘but’ we can’t ignore (by the way the bible loves big buts…I cannot lie!) But…as Paul points out…to live as imitators of Christ, to share the same spirit, means we too must humble ourselves, even to the point of death. Each one of us has been called to both live and die for others, not just for ourselves. In our humility is our joy.
I must confess that I am the least likely person to speak on humility. I believe, as media mogul Ted Turner once said, “If I only had a little humility, I would be perfect.” Kathleen tells me I would do better to follow the advice of Phyllis Diller who famously joked, “Do you know what keeps me humble? Mirrors!”
Driscoll thinks about humility like this: “I am a kite, and Jesus is a hurricane.” I like this analogy. If I am a kite, then I can’t boast that I have the ability to fly on my own. But in the wild, rebellious winds of a hurricane, I know that even a broken, damaged, failed, flawed, or misbehaving kite can be lifted up. When Christ takes hold of us, we become part of his strength able to lift others up with his encouragement, comfort, compassion and love.
Perhaps the real reason why we struggle to find true joy is a deep seeded fear that we will fall short of posturing a perfect imitation of Christ. That’s all right. I believe what Paul is ultimately saying is if we want true joy, all we have to do is adopt a Christ-like attitude; putting the interest of others before our own. But are we capable of this? Can we actually be of same mind and Spirit as Paul suggest? Are we able to make others more important than us? Not equal…but more important. This is a tough call, isn’t it?
I have no problem allowing others to serve themselves first even at the costs of losing a perfectly cooked piece of steak. But what about when we discuss politics with friends, are we to put their opinions above our own? Should we put other people’s religious freedoms above ours? What about the people who come into our country illegally, would Jesus really count them as more important? The bible says, yes. Jesus would. And Jesus did.
“Though he was in the form of God, did not regard himself equal with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, therefore God highly exalted him.” Because he put others before himself, Jesus received the greatest form of joy.
Humility doesn’t mean that you or I are not important, or that our opinions don’t matter. As Jesus clearly demonstrates, humility simply considers others as more important. This is what real joy means. I use a formula that I learned in Sunday school to help me remember: J-O-Y. Jesus, Others, and You. Jesus is the most important. Others are more important. But you too are also important.
Obviously that is a very simple idea, so simple that a young child can learn it and understand it. But this illustration contains a profound truth. Joy is often elusive because we put ourselves first, and Jesus last. Jesus must come first. Others second. And you last. Remember that: J-O-Y. in that order. Joy is Jesus. Joy is living for others, serving and caring for them as Jesus did. Joy is about you and what you can do and what you achieve when you imitate Jesus.
Joy is not a result of a feeling or a victory over the aches and pain of life. Instead, joy is the result of what Christ did when God made him victorious over the aches and pain of death. If Christ is in you, then you share in that joyous victory.
You might see yourself as weak and useless kite, but God sees you…and calls you and me…to be like a wild and powerful hurricane. A mighty force that stirs up the status quo. In humbling ourselves like Christ we find our strength, our redemption, and our joy. When we have the same Spirit of joy within us, no amount of defeat, suffering, persecution, loneliness, rejection, sickness, pain or tragic loss can ever take it away.
Let me leave you with these words. They come from the prophet Micah who asks, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice (to be like Jesus), love kindness (give to others), and walk humbly with God” (what You are to do)?
The bible tells us that we become something greater than ourselves when we humble ourselves before the throne of God. We become transformed like the Easter tomb. Our darkest moments shine with the light of joy. We become the face of hope, love, and generosity. We become the true heart of tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for others in the world.
To put it differently, we become like Christ the perfect and pure joy of God’s glory, now and forever. Amen.
Bible, The. Philippians 2:1-11 (NRSV).
Driscoll, Mark. Preach it, Teach it. Nov. 4, 2007. http://www.preachitteachit.org/fileadmin/SiteFiles/LegacyUploads/20071104_the-rebels-guide-to-joy-in-humility_en_transcript.pdf (accessed April 6, 2016).
Holladay, Tom. Philippians: The Eight Places Joy Is Won or Lost. El Toro: Saddleback Church, 2014.
Sproul, R.C. Can I have Joy in my Life: Crucial Questions Series No. 42. Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2012.