6. Surprised by Joy: Philippians

When our lives as Believers are geared around the mission of making Christ known, we can find contentment in any circumstance.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:6-7


In our pursuit of happiness, we tend to travel down the path focused on self: go for what I want; avoid suffering; put my needs first. The message of Philippians, however, turns our natural inclinations upside down. It challenges us: do you want to be happy? Then empty yourself in sacrificial love. That’s where the real joy is.


The Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians while imprisoned for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as Paul was suffering because of his faith, so Christians in the city of Philippi were facing persecution. In his letter, Paul teaches the Philippians how to respond to their suffering so that they may come to find true joy through it all.


While he does not know whether he will live or die in prison, Paul says he is not afraid! In fact, he is content. If I die, I get to be with God. If I live, I get to keep spreading the good news of Jesus, Paul explains. His life is centered around the mission of sharing Christ with others. Paul points out that Romans guards have come to know Jesus because of his imprisonment! In the same way, the courage of the Philippians in the face of their hardship will point the world to Christ!


When our lives as Believers are geared around the mission of making Christ known, we can find purpose and contentment in any circumstance, even immense suffering. Herein lies joy that no one can take away.


In applying Paul’s teaching to ourselves, we might feel convicted by our selfishness: “I don’t want to suffer for the sake of someone else.”


Philippians points its reader to the key that empowers a life of sacrificial love: entrust yourself to God. We can look away from our own interests only when we trust God to look out for us. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” Paul instructs us.


When we trust God for provision and strength, we are not threatened by suffering. As Paul says in Philippians 4:12-13, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” In the care of God, we are freed to embrace hardship for the sake of others.


Paul encourages his reader, reminding them that when Christians suffer out of love for other people, they are living out the story of Jesus. Before coming to Earth, Jesus existed in a state of glory and equality with God as his Son. But instead of using his status for his self-advantage, Jesus emptied himself: he took on our humanity, and he became a servant, serving others and obeying God to the point of sacrificing his life for us.


Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him (HB 12:2),” and after rising from the dead, he was exalted as King of the World! So, when we follow Jesus in a life of humility and sacrifice, we find ourselves exalted before God, full of Christ’s joy!


RESPOND: Take a moment to bring your needs before God, that you might be freed to find joy in the path of sacrificial love.