Week of June 14

Abiding Joy Despite Abundant Hardship

Read: Song of Solomon 5-8; Philippians 1

“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
Philippians 1:18, ESV


Christian joy enables us to display buoyancy despite wave after wave of overwhelming tribulation (1:12-26). Our “world” has been inundated with rolling tides of trials in 2020. We have experienced a major pandemic, 40+ million Americans out of work, numerous destructive storms, social unrest, and massive rioting and property destruction. All of this has occurred in the first five months of the year! I would have to say that the climate of the nation is awash with “despair.” The attitude within the Body of Christ, however, may be joy. What? Yes, “joy.” Paul provides us with a powerful message on the significance of this fruit of the Spirit. Let’s learn its value today from the one who knew extraordinary suffering.

A Biblical Lens

Philippians provides us with a remarkable letter where “joy” is the dominant theme (Handbook; NAC). The virtue is evident sixteen times in both verbal and noun forms throughout the letter (Handbook). The missive is extremely practical, but Paul’s “guidance and warnings” are theologically based (cf. Christology in 2:5-11). The letter, in fact, is thoroughly Christ-centered. Key doctrines such as justification by faith (3:1-9), Christ’s sufferings (3:10-11), and the importance of maintaining a heavenly perspective are included (3:17-4:1) (HCBC). Now that I think of it, we often are encouraged to demonstrate joy, but we all too often have no idea what it means!

The meaning of “joy” is often colored by its context. The Greeks used the word to mean “merriness” which indicates that it was the result of reflection (Theo Wrdbk). Overall, the word indicates a state of gladness (LTW). It points not only to a feeling but also to the action one chooses. We may not be happy with circumstances, but we may be joyful in them! Therefore, joy is the disposition of the whole person. It enables us to endure trials and sufferings in the Christian life (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6). Thankfully, it can be ours in full because it is a fruit of the Spirit! (Galatians 5:22).

We may have joy in response to things, events, and especially as a result of God’s actions among us. Joy may be experienced during external persecution, as well as during internal tribulation (Matthew 5:12; 1:17-18). Paul had encountered both throughout his ministry. Outsiders persecuted and sought to kill him, and there were those inside the church that caused him great anguish. Despite all of this turmoil, he teaches us that our union with Christ makes joy possible (3:1). How may this be so? It stems from gratitude for all that God has done and is doing for us. Let’s examine a particular circumstance where joy rose to the surface in difficulty.

Traditionally, scholars have held that Paul was imprisoned when he wrote his letter to the Philippians; possibly from Rome (NAC). Additionally, there were preachers of the gospel who were harassing him (1:17). Paul may have been shackled by physical chains, but his heart oozed unchained joy in the Lord (1:18b). He expressed temporal optimism because he was filled with eternal joy! Why? He knew that he would be saved, and that Christ would be glorified one way or the other (1:21). As long as the gospel advanced, then he was filled with joy! You know, I needed this passage today. How about you?

A Moral Pathway

Let’s examine the significant moral virtue of joy in context today. More than fifty years ago, the Shaw neighborhood of Washington D.C., lay in ruins, having been ravaged by fires and looting following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Mount Joy Soul Saving Station, a small Pentecostal church, led by African American pastor Hattie Bynum, miraculously survived with only a broken window! The surrounding neighborhood was termed “Ground Zero” at that time, due to the sheer numbers of wrecked buildings, but the facility and church survived. Even the chairs inside the building remained neatly arranged for the Sunday service and a Bible lay untouched on the pulpit. Rev. Bynum even says that she could not smell a hint of smoke inside. Joy!

However, a few short years later the church facility was unexpectedly bulldozed in an urban renewal project. Pastor Hattie was shocked to arrive at the church one day to find that the building was a pile of rubble. The structure had been placed on a list of properties to be destroyed. Despite the shock and sadness, there was joy!

Through a series of incredible circumstances, the church was rebuilt and has lasted for the fifty-plus years since the riots. Rev. Bynum, who was 94 years old in 2018, gave this testimony in an interview: “As long as we had life, we were not hopeless.” She credits “nothin’ but Jesus,” to describe the lasting legacy of the church throughout so much turmoil. I say, Jesus surely provided the guidance, but the vehicle has been “joy!”

For Your Journaling

1. Write down the challenges to your Christian witness that you face currently. How may the lens of joy enable you to see God’s gospel advance despite your trials?

2. How have the extraordinary circumstances of this year affected your church? Perhaps you face budget challenges or harbor worries that members will return fully once society reopens. This crisis may have exposed deep fellowship issues within your membership. How may joy rise to the surface in these difficulties? Locate verses throughout Philippians that will guide your steps to joy!

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock