Now we're turning in our Bibles to Philippians chapter 3, beginning to read at verse 1. Our subject today is: 'Secure Your Joy'. "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ".
The question I want to ask you today is: are you happy as a Christian? I'm not trying to change your mind, but are you happy as a Christian? Or I could pose it this way: do you enjoy God? I hope I'm not being irreverent or sounding sacrilegious to say such things 'enjoying God', but it's a valid question, especially as we look at the theme of what Paul is talking about in this chapter 3 of Philippians. Are you happy as a Christian and do you enjoy God? Biographers of Martin Luther tell us that in the later years of his life he became a very gloomy man, so much so that one day his wife entered into the study where he was sitting reading a book, and she was absolutely dressed in black with a veil over her head. Martin said: 'Who's dead?'. She said: 'God is', and immediately the breath was taken from the old reformer, and he responded: 'My soul, why should you talk like that?'. 'Because of your gloom', she replied. It was as if God had died, and all the promises of God had died with Him.
The German philosopher, Frederick Nietzsche, said scornfully - he was an enemy of Christianity - about Christians of his day: 'I would believe in their salvation if they looked a little more like people who had been saved'. Now, we don't want to side with the enemies of Christianity, but I think he has a valid point: there are times when Christians betray the true joy that they ought to have in their salvation, with all the blessings that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. So much of the time we as Christians can be the same in our emotions as those who are not Christians. If we purely looked at the difference, the contrast between a Christian and a non-Christian, and the level of emotions, we may be startled to find that there is no difference whatsoever.
Now don't misunderstand me in what I'm going to say today, because we never ever want as Christians to major purely on the emotional level. But all of us here, I hope at least, all of us have emotions, and we have to learn as Christians how to deal with our emotions - whether we're going to control them, or whether they are going to control us. The Bible has a great deal to say about emotions, and one of those emotions we're looking at this morning: Paul talks about joy - 'Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord, be joyful in the Lord'.
Many are over-emotional, many major on the emotions to excess and to error, but then there's the other side, and there's the pendulum swing of many fundamentalist Christians who go to the other extreme of ignoring emotions completely and categorically - even despising, detesting anything that is emotional. What I want you to note right away here in verse 1 is that joy is commanded of the believer, it is a command of the apostle: 'My brethren, rejoice in the Lord'. But what I want you to see today is not only that it is a command that we have to do, but it is the secret of happy Christian experience. If there's a secret to having joy in your life, or having a happy existence, it is to learn how to rejoice in the Lord.
Paul is saying that it is our entitlement to have a joyous life, therefore that's why he says: 'To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe'. It's not irksome to bring to them the subject of joy, because he believes they're missing out if they're not rejoicing in the Lord. It's something that is their right as a Christian. We're going to see in a later study, in chapter 4 and verse 4, that he repeats it again. He's already said it in this book, but here it is: 'Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice'. A paraphrase of what he says in verse 1 of chapter 3 could be like this: 'Find your chief joy in the Lord'.
Now I hope you would agree with me today when I say that out of all the people on the planet, Christians ought to be the most happy - would you agree with me? Because Paul says that we are in the Lord, and the circumference, the centre of our lives and the very existence of everything that goes on in our life is the Lord Jesus Christ. Our experience should be exactly the same as Old Testament Christians, only greater, but they knew how to rejoice in the Lord. You remember great King David, whenever his troops were going to rebel against him, it says that David encouraged himself in the Lord. He learned in life's darkest circumstances how to rejoice in the Lord. You remember how Nehemiah, troubled with the enemies of Israel, reminded God's own people that the joy of the Lord is your strength.
Now Paul the apostle, coming to us now in the New Testament age, is saying even louder, more repetitively, and greater because we are in Christ, and the fact that we have all blessings in Christ - he's coming again and saying that we out of all people ever in the Bible and in universal existence should be able to rejoice in the Lord. In fact, he's saying categorically that true joy can only be found in Christ. We're going to see this in the moments that remain, that true joy can't be found in ourselves - who we are or what we can do, it can only be found by focusing and resting upon the centrality of Christ in the life. Therefore, Paul says, we ought to focus on Him and count everything as loss.
In verse 1, when he says: 'My brethren, rejoice in the Lord', it would presuppose, I think, that the Philippians were in danger of trying to find their joy somewhere else. My question to you today is: where is your joy centred? Are you in danger, like the Philippians, of centring your joy and your life's satisfaction in something else other than the Lord Jesus Christ? Can I ask you today: is your joy in the Lord? I mean, really in the Lord? Is He the source of your life's joy if you have any at all? Think about it for a moment, because as I've been meditating on this, and been thinking about how we can enjoy a church atmosphere - what I mean is, the things that surround a church, the externalities of church life. Some of you enjoy singing, even though you can't sing some of you! But some of you enjoy singing and music, others enjoy just the company. Maybe you're lonely at home and you enjoy getting out - there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Some of you enjoy preaching, I don't know whose preaching - but you enjoy it anyway! You like to hear the word of God, you like to read the word of God, maybe at home you like to study the word of God. Some of us enjoy praying, we enjoy talking about prayer, and we enjoy exercising prayer and seeing prayer answered. Others enjoy going round the doors witnessing to people, even in their workplace giving out a tract for the Lord Jesus, giving their testimony. Some enjoy serving, others enjoy just even the ritual of sitting around the Breaking of Bread, and breaking the bread and drinking from the cup.
All of those things are right, and we should enjoy all of them, but what I want you to see today - and I think this is Paul's main point - is that we could be doing all these things, and not enjoying the Lord! I wonder have you ever considered the possibility of that? I wonder if all these things that we are and we do were taken from us, would we still have the joy that they bring to us? Or would our joy be something that's deeper, and rooted and grounded in the person, the reality of the Christ that is within us, the hope of glory? Is our joy in the circumstances and externalities of the situation, or is it something that changes not because the possessing Christ within us never changes - He's the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Well, here's the test, and answer it honestly, please, to yourself: how long has it been since you sat down, and you took a long good hard look at your life, and you started to re-evaluate the things which you're giving your time to, your talents to, you're pouring your energies into, perhaps even you're giving your material resources to, to see whether those things that occupy your attention are really the important things after all? Now I think if you do that you'll see what is the dynamite force, the dynamic force of your life, what is the motivation of your living. It would be good for all of us to do a spiritual check-up, an MOT like that, because it's so easy to become diverted from what God intends to be the primary focus of all of our lives, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.
What did he say in chapter 1 and verse 21? 'For me to live is Christ' - I'm sure he enjoyed singing, I'm sure he enjoyed the meetings, I'm sure he enjoyed the exposition of God's word, I'm sure he enjoyed serving the Lord on his missionary journeys and leading people to Christ - but when it came to the bottom line, the common denominator of what was the dynamic force behind Paul the apostle's life: it was Christ and Christ alone! The Philippians were in danger of losing their centre joy. We see this when Paul says in verse 2: 'Beware of dogs' - now we don't have time to go through all these descriptions, but the apostle is speaking to them of the dangers and devious doctrinal defection that was coming to the church in Philippi. There were these false teachers called Judiasers who had got converted, they said, as Christians; and were trusting in the death and resurrection of Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins - but they added to that the keeping of Moses' law, the rituals of circumcision, the regulations and the rites, and all the rest of the feasts and the fastings, in order to be accepted by God and sanctified into the image of God.
We can't go into all that, but what I do want you to see, as Paul gives this description of these Judiasers: their main fallacy was that they set aside Jesus Christ from His rightful place of pre-eminence, and they put themselves in that place - what they could do, what they could achieve - they made the believer the centre of their Christian life. The teachers, of course, I'm sure wouldn't have admitted that, but they were giving man the glory instead of giving all the glory to God in Christ. They were glorying in the flesh: what they could do, what they said, who they were - it was a system that gave glory to men, but for a man to take the glory in the flesh, Paul is saying, is to take the rightful place of Jesus Christ! Their joy and their satisfaction was in their own achievements, rather than in the Lord and the Lord alone! Do you see it?
That's why he says in verse 1, if I could put it like this: 'My brethren, find your rejoicing where you ought to find it, in the Lord and not in your own selves, and in that which you have obtained by the flesh - therefore beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision' - other expressions of contempt that he gives to these men who tried to replace the glory, the centrality, and the dependence of Christ with their own achievements in the flesh. So Paul goes into examples from his own personal past to show how he too made that mistake. He says: 'If anybody has a right to boast, I have'. Verse 4: 'I have confidence in the flesh in my past. I was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless'. Seven marks of blameless, unblemished religious fleshly self-righteousness that Paul the apostle had in his own past life before conversion. But what Paul says is this, verse 7: 'The things which were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. What I gained in the flesh, under the law, I found at my conversion to be vastly inferior to what I found in Christ'.
Where is your joy centred? Could it be that our joy, at times, is centred on who we are, or what we do for ourselves or do for God? Or can we say with Paul: 'Even those things that are gain to me in the flesh, I can count them loss for Christ - my true joy comes from being rooted and grounded in Christ, not in myself and what I have attained in the flesh'? Now here's the question we need to address in our closing moments: how can your joy be secured? How can your joy be secured? The formula is found in verses 7 and 8: 'But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom', underline this, 'I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ'.
He contrasts the works of the flesh with dung. It's amazing, isn't it, when we think about it? The word 'dung' is rightly translated here, but it equally legitimately could be translated 'leftovers from a meal'. These fleshly works that I have in my life in the past, before conversion, it's like the housewife carrying back into the kitchen all the family leftovers - the things that they didn't want to eat. I could translate it like this: 'For years', Paul says, 'I fed on the scraps which Moses provided, I was satisfied with them and was proud of my attainments in Judaism, and then the time came when God put before me living bread from heaven and I tasted of it, I ate of it and was satisfied - and I don't want those table scraps any more!'.
Isn't that it? The seven boasts in verses 4 to 6 are his gains, but is he not standing upon the ground of the Lord Jesus when the Saviour told that parable of the pearl of great price? The Saviour said: 'Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking beautiful pearls'. Paul had boasted in his past life of seven beautiful pearls of his Jewish way of life, following the law; but Jesus' parable goes on to say: 'When he had found one pearl of great value, he went away and sold all that he had and bought it'! What the apostle tells us here is that he gave up all his previous pearls, because he was smitten with the sense of the superiority of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
I wonder are we satisfied with Christ alone? Are we? You know I love music, and I love certain types of music - some people get so up tight about music: 'We need this, we need that to liven our music up, to liven the atmosphere up'. There's nothing wrong with music, but do we need superfluous things, frills; do we need magic in the pulpit to make us satisfied, to titillate us and tantalise us, to excite us, to entertain us? It's simply because we aren't satisfied in Christ alone; and if all of these things were taken away from us, would we have deep unquenchable joy in the person of Jesus Christ? Are we satisfied in Christ alone? And do we consider anything and everything else, even good things, to be loss as long as we have Christ?
John Wesley's father said, after his house burnt down and his children were led to safety: 'Let the house go, neighbours, I have here all my children'. 'Let the house go', that's what Paul said: 'Judaism, let it go. Works of the flesh, let it go - even the good things that I can do for God', you know there's good flesh as well as bad flesh, 'even the things I think I'm good at, I give myself a pat on the back for, let them go that I can win Christ!'. Or are we like Micah, the false prophet: 'Ye have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and ye are gone away; and what have I more?' - what have I more? What have you, believer? I say this advisedly: if your Bible's taken off you - that's what's happening to some believers across the world - what have you if the Iron Hall is taken off you? What have you if a certain interpretation of Scripture that you make a god out of is taken off you? Is it Christ, and is it Christ alone that is the source of your joy? These other things aren't wrong, some of them are good, but they should not be the seat of our affections!
Paul could say in verse 8: 'I count all things that were gain to me as loss now, because of the superior worth that I have found in knowing Christ Jesus my Lord' - everything doesn't matter any more! It was Florence Nightingale who said: 'I have never refused God anything' - what about that? Can you say that? That you've given all, and you've given all and you feel that there's no loss? It's not a sacrifice to give all when you're getting Christ back, for God is no man's debtor! When Florence Nightingale gave all to God, God gave everything to her - Christ! That's the thinking behind Paul's mind - we all look at Paul's life and say: 'What a poor soul he was! Look at what he had to pay for Christ, look at what he had to suffer!'. We look at the missionaries: 'Aren't they so poor? I hope God never calls me to do like of that!' - that's not the way they saw it! They were more than willing to gather all their possessions, all their achievements, all their gain in their arms and go over the cliff of God's graciousness and drop them off for Christ!
There is no comparison, you see. Even good things of position and pleasure, even things that the word of God says 'He hath given us richly to enjoy', if we're willing to give them up we receive Christ. Paul says he suffered the loss of all things: health, wealth, you name it, he suffered the loss of them all - why? To win Christ! Do you know what happens when you start to talk like this? Some of the Lord Jesus' disciples wander over and say: 'What meaneth this waste? It's a waste, isn't it?'. When a reprobate prodigal is breaking an alabaster box of worship, pouring out her life at the feet of the Lord Jesus, a love gift - many people think it's a waste, but Paul didn't think that: it was gain, it was Christ. That's what people said when C.T. Studd, the great Cambridge and England cricketer who had inherited great wealth from one of his relatives, and then gave up his private fortune and went off to labour in the mission fields of inland China and unevangelised Africa - when he gave up this earthly waste, and he did waste it, but what did he waste it for? Heavenly gain!
They would have said the same, I believe - what meaneth this waste? - of the little corn of wheat, beautiful, lovely golden corn of wheat that fell into the ground and rotted and crumbled, and died and was trodden in under the farmer's foot. But Jesus said: 'If it die, it bringeth forth much fruit'. I know what's going on in your minds: 'This guy's record's stuck again: sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice' - no! Paul's point is that it's no sacrifice, for I get Christ! You see one of the biggest sources of pride that we can have in our life is: 'I gave this up for Jesus. I went here for Jesus. I did this for Jesus. I suffered that for Jesus'. Someone trying to encourage Hudson Taylor on one occasion said: 'Mr Taylor, you must have sacrificed much'. 'Man, I never made a sacrifice in my life', for he got Christ - do you see it? Having tasted Christ and having received Christ's righteousness, Paul can no longer glory in what he is, or what he does, or what he has become - to him, living is Christ, and his joy and his rejoicing are no longer in himself. I think if there's a secret to Christian happiness, contentment and joy, it is being willing to give up everything to gain Christ.
Well, believer, are you happy? Are you a joyful Christian? I'll tell you, it's so important that we're joyful Christians, for it's what God intended in the beginning - and our faces will show whether we're joyful or not. So many walk about with big long faces tripping themselves, and they think that that's holiness - and the world starts to believe that long faces mean holiness. Do you know what the Bible says? Psalm 34 verse 5, talking about saints looking to the face of God: 'They looked unto Him and were radiant!'. When you look into the face of God, you don't have a long face, you have a broad face! A friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson's said of him on one occasion that 'He came into our house this morning with a sunbeam in his face'.
Now I don't want, unnecessarily, to offend anybody here, but I'll do it anyway! We get the faces we deserve, did you know that? If you have a grumpy face, a gurney* face, a moaning face, you deserve it - for you get the face that your heart gives you. A hospital nurse on one occasion entered her patient's room, and he said of her: 'She came into the room with her affidavit face'. Do you know what an affidavit is? It's a legal term, something that testifies to the validity of a statement - he's just saying that what was testifying what was in her heart, the validity of it, was the mark that was on her face. As Christians our faces identify and validate our character and our heart! Whether we're living a life of joy, or whether our insides are wizened up with bitterness, and gall, and hatred, and guile. Someone has rightly said: 'The face is the map of the mind, it is the table of contents of the heart, it is the playground of the emotions, the battlefield of the passions, and the landscape of the soul'.
What does your face reveal about you? Does it reveal that you have joy? Does it express that your deep satisfaction and happiness is in Christ, and when you're ill you can express that joy, when things go against you you can express that joy, when people say all manner of evil against you falsely for His sake, you can have that joy! I have a great deal of esteem for George Mueller, that great man of faith, and it was he who said on one occasion - I think I've told you this before - that he made it his morning daily occupation to secure his happiness in God, to make sure before he went out of the closet that he was happy in God. He began a new year's address at Bethesda Chapel in 1876 by making this point, and I quote it to you as I close: 'We have, through the goodness of the Lord, been permitted to enter upon another year - and the minds of many among us will no doubt be occupied with plans for the future, and the various fears of our work and service for the Lord. If our lives are spared we shall be engaged in those: the welfare of our families, the prosperity of our business, our work and service for Christ may be considered the most important matters to be attended to; but according to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord's work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat it' - like Paul did - 'it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself! Day by day seek to make this the most important business of your life. This has been my firm and settled condition for the last 5 and 30 years. For the first four years after my conversion I knew not it's vast importance, but now after much experience I specially commend this point to the notice of my younger brethren and sisters in Christ: the secret of all true effectual service is joy in God, having experimental acquaintance and fellowship with God Himself'.
Surely we know by now going through this epistle, that joy is kept or lost not by external conditions, but by the inner standard of our lives - it's the result of what is inside us rather than what's outside of us. You can't try and make happiness around you, you can't try and keep happiness when the conditions are conducive to it in your environment, it can't be kept any more than your health can be kept - but what you can do is keep the laws that will keep you happy deep down in your soul when all hell is breaking loose! 'What is that?', you say. Keep the Lord as the centre of your life, and you will have the joy of the Lord as your strength - for joy is not the absence of trouble, joy is the presence of Christ!
We sang this hymn in our Breaking of Bread service, and I wasn't intending singing it now, but we're going to sing it: 469 - and you know, our focus around the table was on the Lord and His cross, and of course that is the focus of this hymn. But it is found, as you'll see, in our hymnbook in the 'Consecration and Love to Christ' section, which tells us that we're looking at Christ's cross and asking ourselves: are we crucified with Christ? And as verse one says: 'My richest gain I count but loss, and pour content on all my pride'. When you look at the cross do you say: 'Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the cross of Christ my Lord. All the vain things that charmed me most' - that make me happy apart from Christ, can you say today, now, here, at this moment - 'I sacrifice them to win Christ'? I wonder what it is you're not willing to give up - what is it, good or bad, that you're not willing to lose, that you've got your hand gripped so tightly around that no-one can prize it out of your grip? Can I urge you, dear child of God, if you can find the strength and the grace in Christ to open your hand and to count that thing as loss, God will give you Christ for it! Are you able to say: 'I would give up everything except Christ, I don't want anything except Christ'?
Our Father, this saying is so hard, but it wouldn't be given to us if we had not the ability and strength given of God to obey - so help us, Lord, we pray, to count all things loss for Christ, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, to suffer loss of all things and to count them as dung that we may win Him. Let our joy not be in ourselves or in our circumstances, but in the One who changes not - Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and forever. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixteenth tape in his Philippians series, titled "Secure Your Joy" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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