Philippians has been known as the book on Christian joy. In Philippians’ four chapters, the words “joy” and “rejoice” are used 13 times. No New Testament book focuses on joy like Philippians.
There is much to learn about Christian joy by reading Philippians. You can read Philippians in 15 minutes. Philippians teaches us seven ways to pursue Christian joy.
1. Remember to Pray for Others (Philippians 1:1-11)
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,” (Philippians 1:3–4 ESV)
Paul opened his letter to the Philippians by telling them he constantly thought of them; he continuously prayed for them. Instead of ruminating on his own life’s worries, Paul focused on others.
When we focus on ourselves, we can become discouraged by our life circumstances. We may offer supplication to God, but we remain preoccupied with ourselves. When we think about others and pray for them, God increases our love, and he gives us greater desire to reach out to serve others. Christian joy accompanies this others–centric prayerfulness.
The first way to pursue Christian joy is to remember others in our prayers.
2. Seek the Proclamation of Christ (Philippians 1:12-26)
Paul had one purpose. His goal was to proclaim Christ. His entire identity in life was Christ.
Paul was not depressed by his imprisonment. He was not jealous with his rivals. He was not angry at his detractors. Instead, because he saw Christ being proclaimed, Paul remained joyful.
“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)
Paul even compared the joy of seeing Christ face–to–face with the joy of participating in gospel proclamation.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” (Philippians 1:21–24 ESV)
God gives us the privilege to proclaim the good news that salvation is available because of the work of Christ. The second way to pursue Christian joy is to make it your ambition to proclaim Christ.
3. Pursue Unity Through Humility (Philippians 1:27-2:11)
One of the greatest threats to Christian joy is disunity. When there is strife, Christian joy is threatened. Disunity can occur in marriage and families, among friends and neighbors, and within the local and universal church.
We pursue unity through humility.
“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:2–4 ESV)
In disagreements, each party has a different opinions. Their thoughts, beliefs, and desires conflict. How can we have the “same mind”? The solution is humility.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking less about yourself, and it is thinking more about others. It is putting the interest of others above your own. Anything that does not hinder the proclamation of Christ is nonessential, and these nonessentials cannot be held tightly at the expense of disunity. A humble man defers his preferences for the sake of others to preserve unity.
Two of the churches I had previously attended had gone through splits. These splits were caused by disagreements regarding personal issues. Each person involved was missing one important trait: humility.
The model and motivation for humility is our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8 ESV)
Christ is our perfect example of humility. He did not hold tightly his divine prerogatives. Instead, he humbled himself to the point of death on the cross.
Christ is also our motivation of humility. Because Christ humbled himself to bring reconciliation between us and God, we should likewise humble ourselves and live in a manner worthy of the gospel. Christ reconciled us with God, and he also brings the capacity for unity.
Through unity with Christ and with one another, we experience Christian joy. The third way to pursue Christian joy is cultivating unity through humility.
4. Imitate Godly Models (Philippians 2:12-29)
Jesus is our perfect model. The second person of the triune God, Jesus did not have a sin nature. He never sinned or succumbed to temptation. Since our sin nature continues to operate in our moral flesh, living our Christian life with joy may seem impossible.
So God provides us with other godly models beside Christ. Paul highlighted three other godly examples in Philippians 2. First, he named himself as an example of perseverance (2:16-18). Second, he described his protege Timothy and his proven worth (2:19-24). Third, he highlighted the risk-taking character of Epaphroditus (2:25-30).
Living the Christian life with joy is best caught, not taught. Look for other Christians who have persevered and remained joyful amidst life’s successes and challenges. Choose your role models carefully. Imitate their model of life. The fourth way to pursue Christian joy is to imitate godly examples.
5. Savor Christ and His Blessed Hope (Philippians 3:1-21)
Nothing in this life compares to knowing Christ. Nothing.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7–11 ESV)
We are declared righteous because of Christ’s imputed righteousness. Christ’s righteousness comes not by works but through faith. Every good work that Christ did has been credited to our account by grace through faith. God’s wrath was satisfied through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. So anything that competes with knowing Christ should be counted as loss.
As Christians, our right standing with God has been secured. But it will not be completely realized until the final day of Christ. Hope is the anticipation of this blessed future. Paul reminded the Philippians to press forward toward this hope. He also comforted them that if they had trouble thinking this way, God would help.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (Philippians 3:12–16 ESV)
Do not seek satisfaction with the temporary blessings of this passing world. Cherish the surpassing value of knowing Christ. Fixate on the prize that awaits us. The fifth way to pursue Christian joy is to savor Christ and his blessed hope.
6. Stand Firm in God’s Promises (Philippians 4:1-9)
When Paul wrote Philipians, ten years had elapsed since Paul’s founding of the church. Many lessons written in Philippians Paul had taught for over 10 years. In the first nine verses, Paul quickfired several imperatives, but the main command was to “stand firm.”
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 4:1 ESV)
- He encouraged the church to help Euodia and Syntyche to live in harmony. (4:2-3)
- He commanded the church to rejoice, twice! (4:4)
- He asked the church to act gently and reasonably with all people (4:5)
- He exhorted the church to not be anxious about their physical needs; rather, they are to pray to God. (4:6)
- He reminded the church that God promises peace to comfort our minds and hearts. (4:7)
- He instructed the church to meditate on excellent things. (4:8)
To stand firm in God’s promises is to read them in the Bible. Standing firm in God’s promises requires meditation. It necessitates application through loving obedience. The sixth way to pursue Christian joy is to stand firm in God’s promises.
7. Learn the Secret of Christian Contentment (Philippians 10-23)
Some things can be learned by reading a book. Other lessons must be learned by experience. Christian contentment requires the latter.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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.” (Philippians 4:11–13 ESV)
The adjective “content” is only used here in the New Testament. From the Greek word αὐτάρκης, “content” means self–sufficient, independent, in need of no support. Paul’s contentment was not based on human pride. Rather, his contentment was based on the confidence he had in his heavenly Father. Paul was completely ready to accept whatever circumstance brought by God.
In abundance, Paul thanked God because all good gifts come from his unmerited grace. In need, Paul endured with contentment, requesting no more than what God was pleased to give.
Christian contentment develops through consistent godly living. When we remain faithful in obedience to God, we experience God’s strength in weakness. We learn to rely on God’s divine power when we are weak. God’s power may not deliver us from our dire circumstance, but it will give us the inner, spiritual strength to endure.
Contentment is a virtue sought by many, but it can only be learned by a child of God whose hope is dependent on God alone. The seventh way to pursue Christian joy is learning the secret of Christian contentment.
Final Thoughts on Pursuing Christian Joy
When you are struggling to remain joyful, take 15 minutes to read the book of Philippians, and ask yourself seven questions.
- Am I thinking about others and praying for them?
- Am I desiring the proclamation of the gospel of Christ?
- Am I pursuing unity through humility?
- Am I imitating godly examples God has placed in my life?
- Am I savoring Christ and the hope He brings?
- Am I standing firm in God’s promises by reading and meditating on God’s word?
- Am I yearning to learn the secret of Christian contentment?
Keep pursuing these seven disciplines, and God will give you joy.