Philippians 2: 17-18 (the message)
Even if I am executed here and now, I’ll rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith that you make on Christ’s altar, a part of your rejoicing. But turnabout’s fair play–you must join me in my rejoicing. Whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for me.
These verses were written by Paul to the Christians in Philippi while he was in prison. What caught my attention this morning was the last part: “whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for me.” I kept reading over it, thinking while he is facing possible execution he is telling them not to feel sorry for him…to share in his rejoicing. Seriously?
Most of my life I have read verses and heard sermons about choosing to rejoice in hard times. It sounds really spiritual. I guess I thought somewhere along the way that rejoicing in difficult times was an act of service to God. This outward behavior I could “put on” and “do” because the Bible says I should. Maybe this verse stuck out to me this morning because I do believe for Paul, suffering and being imprisoned was only bringing him closer to Christ. How could that be? Couldn’t we look at it and think…well, if God loved Paul why did he let him suffer? Why would God let Paul go to prison in the first place? Shouldn’t Paul be praying the prayers of a person trying to hold on and survive…not exclamations of joy?
I am not an expert on spiritual things…I am not a Bible scholar. I have a 2 year degree in nursing, am married and have 2 small girls. I have flaws and weaknesses. I have times of confusion, frustration and pain. I sin. But I really believe, in my heart, that Paul truly was joyful and really didn’t want any pity because he knew Christ in such a way that even his own life meant nothing compared to the greatness of God’s purposes. I believe the difficulties Paul faced were opportunities to know God’s presence, love, joy and peace to greater degrees. What a sweet dance…Paul, once prideful and a persecutor of Christians, so broken before the Messiah that he is willing to go wherever God calls to spread the message of God’s love; God, so Great in all of His ways, that He would fill this broken man with His power and love so that he could use him to change history. What if in each difficult circumstance Paul was discovering greater depths of joy and peace? What if every time God used Paul’s brokeness to bring freedom to others Paul grew more amazed and awed at what God was choosing to do with him? What if this amazing peace and joy was so other-worldly that its’ value completely surpassed any human comforts?
And what of my life? Am I suggesting that hard times are fun and should be enjoyed? No, let’s be real. Matter of fact it’s an absolute necessity…being real with God. Letting the walls down and exposing our true selves to Him…finding relationship with God through honesty. No matter how hurtful or difficult circumstances may be, they are also a chance for me to know more of the love and comfort of Jesus in my life. More of a chance for what I have learned and professed to believe to actually become reality in my life. What if we could know and trust Jesus to such a degree that when times are hard our joy and peace become great anchors that steady us amidst the storm?
We don’t have to “put on” joy in hard times. We don’t have to choose the “spiritual high road” and deny that things are hard because that is what we think the Bible means when it says to “count it all joy.” That seems like a lot of work and when things are hard the last thing we need is to try to “manage” our joy-o-meter. What we need, and can have, is this unbelievably authentic relationship with God where He speaks to us and fills us in our everyday lives…so that when the hard times come we are already rooted in the true source of peace, love and joy beyond what can be explained. There is no one like Jesus. No one else could ever bring the kind of peace to your life that would enable you to say from your heart…I count, even this, all joy.
If that sounds too Pie in the Sky for you…try this: Jesus, although I don’t understand or know if I even believe this kind of living is possible, I give you permission to work in my heart and life to show me things you want me to know. If it’s truly possible to know you this way and have peace and joy no matter what, I ask you to lead me in my everyday life and show me how. Help me, Jesus, to respond in obedience as you show me the way to a life of freedom. Amen.