Grace and Peace: An Introduction to Philippians

“Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.” That was Mark Twain. Here is another of his ditties on grief and joy.

“Grief can take care of itself, but to get full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.” Mark Twain was a professional humorist. His lectures and writings have made people laugh all over the world. He had that rare gift of enabling people to forget their troubles, at least for a time. Yet Mark Twain was himself, in private a man whose life was broken by sorrow.  When his daughter Jean died suddenly of an epileptic seizure, Twain, too distressed even to go to the funeral.

He said to a friend, “I have never greatly envied anyone but the dead. I always envy the dead.”  Many of the people who have brought the most happiness to the world have been people who have suffered deeply.  Isaiah the prophet described Jesus Christ as “A Man of sorrows acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Yet we know from the Gospels that Jesus possessed a deep and lasting joy. As He faced the cruel death of Calvary, Jesus said to His followers, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11).  Hebrews tells us “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame.” (Hebrews 12:2). Indeed, Jesus explained that while his friends would grieve when he died, his resurrection would bring them lasting joy,

“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy…I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy… Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:20-22, 24).

So, one of the consequences of coming to know God as our loving Heavenly Father through the Lord Jesus Christ, of having the assurance of sins forgiven, of eternal life, of the indwelling, empowering, equipping, baptising, filling of the Holy Spirit – is the joy, the joy of Jesus. After love, the second fruit of the Spirit. Joy. Yet it seems we don’t always take advantage of this privilege. We live under a cloud of discouragement, of disappointment, even of despair, dependant on our circumstances, on the newspaper headlines, on the weather, on other people, when we could and we should be experiencing deep seated joy of Jesus.  What robs us of this joy?

The answer to this important question is found in Paul’s intensely personal letter to the Philippians. In just 104 verses Paul uses the personal pronoun no less than 100 times. Not because he is being boastful or having to defend his apostleship. No, he is writing to friends who have been loyal and generous and he cares passionately about their welfare in a hostile and increasingly menacing world.

With the prospect of a very challenging year ahead, when pundits are comparing this recession to the Great Depression of the 20s and 30s, there is good reason for studying Philippians together on Sunday mornings in the Spring.

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