The Lord’s Day Morning
“Complete My Joy”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter two. Now, it’s only taken you seventeen weeks to hear me say those words—Philippians 2!
The last time we were together we were in verses 29 and 30, and we were looking at this astounding, this stunning statement that the Apostle Paul has made about the gift of faith and the gift of suffering. [The gift of suffering?] And we said that we only scratched the surface, and we really meant that. So many of you have talked with me since that message. I had wonderful gospel conversations that Lord’s Day afternoon, exchanged many emails and talked with a number of you during the week. You’ve convinced me we need to follow that theme out, and so I’ve already been talking with our wonderful Director of Christian Education, Donna Dobbs, and she and I have agreed that on Thursdays in January, starting on January 10, we’re going to do luncheons just like we did in the “Fear Not!” series, when we looked at the Christian approach to death and the afterlife, and we’re going to do a series on suffering in the Christian life. Bear that in mind. I hope you can be a part of that. We’ll try and elaborate on more of the massive teaching in the Bible about suffering. The Bible has a lot to say to us about suffering.
Well, last week we pondered what it meant that God had granted suffering, that He had given this gift of suffering. We talked about different kinds of suffering in the Bible, and we talked specifically about the gift of suffering for Christ—the suffering of persecution for the sake of Christ. But we only scratched the surface. But we’ll come back to that later.
But now in Philippians 2:1, Paul is taking us back to the main point. You remember all along since Philippians 1:27, Paul has launched into a section of this letter in which he is urging us to live like Christians. Our membership vows at First Presbyterian Church require us to say that we “resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we will endeavor to live as becomes followers of Jesus Christ.” Well, that’s exactly what Paul is talking about in the middle of this wonderful letter. He’s talking about what it means to live like a follower of Jesus Christ; what it means to live in a way that fits a life that has been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. And Paul, in Philippians 2:1, is bringing us back to that main subject again. And as he does so, he is reminding us again of this quest for joy.
Do you remember back in Philippians 1, where the Apostle Paul had explained that though he had rather die and go be with Christ – nothing could be better than that! – he’s staying here. He’s staying on the planet so that he could do what? “Work for your joy.” So the Apostle Paul is deadly earnest about his working for the Philippians’ joy, for your and my joy. He takes joy seriously in the Christian life, and he’s back to that again. Look at his words, in the first words of verse 2 in Philippians 2: “Make my joy complete…complete my joy,” he says.
Now Paul is not talking about a superficial joy. He’s not talking about a shallow joy. He’s not talking about the common joys of life. He’s not denigrating those joys – the joy of family, the joy of wife, the joy of children, the joy of sunrises or sunsets, the joy of material prosperity and of health, the joy of good hard meaningful labor, and all the millions of joys that God gives us in His mercy. He’s talking about a deeper joy than these joys. He’s talking about joy that comes in faith in Christ, a joy that is so great that we’re ready to say about all those other joys,
“Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill;
God’s truth [God’s truth!] abideth still.
His kingdom is forever.”
This is a dangerous joy that the Apostle Paul is talking about here. It’s the kind of dangerous joy when the pastor comes to a congregation and he says…(they’re calling him to be the pastor, and he says), ‘Now I want you to understand that I’m here on a dangerous mission. My mission is to make you happy. And you understand that that is going to kill some of you, because I want you to be so happy, so happy in Christ, so happy in the faith that you are ready to lose everything for Christ, that you are ready to lose your life for Christ, and that you will say with the Apostle Paul that ‘I count everything but rubbish for the privilege of knowing Christ, for the surpassing joy of communing with Christ.’ That’s the kind of dangerous joy that the Apostle Paul is talking about here. It’s the kind of dangerous joy that he’s ready to fight for. It’s the kind of dangerous joy that he’s pressing home in this passage.
Now as we looked at Paul’s overall argument, we’ve said over and over that Paul is encouraging us to live the Christian life – to live in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Or, to put it in his striking phrase, “…to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And as we come to Philippians 2:1-2 today, I want you to see five things before we even get into the passage. Let me just give you a framework for this glorious passage.
The first thing is this: Have you noticed here that Paul is giving you four specific encouragements, or motivations, or incentives to live the Christian life?
And isn’t that glorious? Have you ever noticed that in the Bible God encourages you to do what He requires you to do? Have you ever noticed that in the Bible God doesn’t just say “Do it!” but that He encourages you? He gives you enticements, He gives you motivations, He gives you incentives to do what you ought to do. The Apostle Paul does not say here, “Be joyful! Now!” He says ‘Let me give you four encouragements as to why you ought to embrace this life of dangerous joy that I’m talking about.’ Because Paul knows that life is hard, and joy doesn’t come easy. And because we have a kind and tender and loving heavenly Father, even when He’s telling you what you ought to do anyway, He gives you reasons for it. Is that not glorious? He’s not treating you as slaves; He’s treating you as His precious children. It’s never “Do this now!” but ‘Let me give you some reasons why you ought to glorify and enjoy Me forever. Let me give you some enticements, some encouragements, some motivations, some stimulations to doing what I’ve called you to do.’ Isn’t it kind that God does that? And that’s what Paul’s doing here. He’s giving you four encouragements to pursue this life of dangerous joy.
Secondly, Paul is encouraging you here to live life in a way that is worthy of the gospel of Christ, and in so doing he is resuming his original discussion.
Paul knows that we may be so overwhelmed by what he’s just told us about suffering being a gift, that our minds may be following that rabbit trail…you know, our heads may still be spinning about whether we want that gift of suffering or not! And so Paul is drawing our attention right back to his original concern: that we live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ. That’s what he’s about in this whole section of the letter.
Thirdly, Paul is fighting for the Philippians’ joy. He is fighting for your joy in this passage. He wants the Philippians, and he wants you, to have more gospel joy.
Again, not superficial joy, not shallow joy, but deep gospel joy; a greater joy than can be experienced by any worldling; a greater joy than can come from any earthly gift, even given to us by the heavenly Father; a greater joy than any good gift that the Father can give us in family, or in vocation, or in esteem, or in status, or in position, or in power and influence, or anything else in this world. A greater, deeper, more lasting joy…he wants you to experience more of that. After all, Jesus said to His disciples, “I have come that your joy may be made full.” And the Apostle Paul is serious about that! He’s staying on the planet Earth. He’s not going to be with Christ. He’s writing this letter. He’s chained up in prison in order to convey that kind of joy to you, and he wants to experience the joy of seeing the Philippians’ joy—and your and my joy. So the Apostle Paul knows that in living as becomes Christians, as living in light of the gospel, we experience joy. That’s why he’s speaking to us in this passage.
Fourthly, Paul has in this passage three specific things that he wants to urge on the Philippians and on you and me. And we’re not going to talk about them today. But let me just tell you what they are ahead of time, because this where Paul is going.
Paul is deeply concerned for the Philippians’ unity, for the Philippians’ humility, and for the Philippians’ mutual helpfulness to one another. He is very concerned about those three things, and that is why he’s saying what he’s saying as he gives these four encouragements in verse 1. We’re only going to look at those four encouragements today, but those encouragements are there because he’s headed to an exhortation that we would be united, that we would be humble, and that we would be mutually helpful. [I’ve even got those alliterated and rhyming a little bit, but I’m going to save that for when we get there.] But that’s where Paul’s going. He’s deeply concerned about that, and he knows that unity, humility, and mutual helpfulness do not happen automatically in the Christian life, even in the best of us. Even in the most selfless of us, even in the most mature of us, we need encouragements if we’re going to be united, humble, and helpful. And that’s why Paul’s piling up these encouragements, these encouragements in verse 1.
One last thing: verses 1-4 are all one sentence, and there is only one main clause in that big sentence that covers four verses. And you know what it is? “Complete my joy.” That’s the main clause. Everything else that is going on – I won’t give you the technical linguistic terms – but everything else that’s going on in that big complex sentence is related to and circling around and emanating out from that main clause, “complete my joy.” Verse 1 leads up to it…gives encouragement, prepares for it. Verse 2 announces it. Then he explains it, then he elaborates it. That’s what’s going on in that marvelous sentence. It’s all one sentence, but the main clause is “complete my joy.”
Notice, by the way, that even in the very careful words that the Apostle Paul chooses here, he indicates that the Philippians were already a joy to him. You know, some pastors that serve multiple congregations over the course of their ministerial service talk about a “sweetheart congregation” –you know, that one congregation where they felt like they just connected at a certain level, and that they felt at home in more than any other. And I have a sneaking suspicion that for Paul that congregation was the Philippians. When he says “complete my joy” he’s not saying, “Come on, give me some joy here!” He’s acknowledging that these people have already given him deep joy as he has seen the gospel at work in them, but he is not satisfied with the joy that they are experiencing; and as they increase their enjoyment of the joy that God has intended for them, it is going to fulfill, fill out, complete the joy that he already takes in them. No wonder they call this “the letter of joy.” No wonder we’re singing Joy to the World in the middle of summer…the first of September!
Well. Before we read God’s word, let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this word. Joy…the joy that Paul is talking about – gospel joy, dangerous joy – is no common gift. We experience it and reflect it as we should far too infrequently in the Christian life. If we are going to be able to experience it, manifest it, give it to one another, it will require the powerful operations of Your Holy Spirit. And so I ask, heavenly Father, that You would give us joy as we attend to Your word.
I am going to read Your word. That’s all I’m going to do. I’m going to read Your word. And by itself, that will not accomplish this gospel goal of everyone in this congregation knowing gospel joy in Jesus Christ, but by Your Holy Spirit, I pray that every member of this congregation would know the powerful influences and operation of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, so that they are transformed by the truth of this word, and that this truth read will be used by You, as You have said in Your word, as a means of grace; that this ordinance would be used to bring the truth deep within our hearts and to change our lives.
And I furthermore pray that those who do not know Jesus Christ and have never tasted of the glorious joy of salvation would come face to face with Him today; would meet, by the Spirit, Him in trust and faith, and would rest in Him alone for salvation. And, that those who are in dark times of struggle would be encouraged and en-joyed by the truth of Your word, and that all of these things would redound to Your praise and glory. This I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“So, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from His love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
What encourages you to live the Christian life? What motivations do you reflect upon when it comes to you living out the truth in the hardest places that God asks you to live out His truth?
Maybe it’s in your family. Maybe it’s there that you have a hard time living out this gospel joy that the Apostle Paul is talking about. Maybe it’s because of a circumstance beyond your, theirs, or anyone’s control that there’s a challenge for you in living out life in accordance with the gospel there. Maybe it’s because of a difficult relationship that is within someone’s control, but it’s very hard for you to know God’s joy there, to feel God’s joy there, to express the joy that the Apostle Paul is talking about there. Where do you go to look for help, aid, motivation, incentive, assistance, encouragement living the Christian life there?
Maybe it’s in your church. Maybe even in the church there’s someone (or some ones) who irritate you. There’s division there; there’s distance there. You have a hard time living out the joy of the Christian life in their presence.
Maybe it’s at your work. Maybe it’s in your neighborhood. Maybe it’s all of the above.
Where do you go when you are looking for help or encouragement in those hardest places that God calls you to live life in a manner worthy of the gospel? To live life with this gospel joy that God gives in Jesus Christ?
Well, Paul is giving the Philippians incentives and motivations and encouragements in order to deal with what are fairly common problems in the Christian church. The Apostle Paul is addressing pride in the Christian church, and that pride has brought some measure of division amongst the Philippians, and it has decreased their joy. And the Apostle Paul is not satisfied to say, ‘Well, you know, it’s a fallen world. It’s a hard world. Stuff happens in the church. That’s just the way it is.’ He is not ready to take pride and division lying down. He is fighting for their joy. He is fighting for your joy. And he says, ‘Philippians, we’re taking that sin on! We’re taking division on. We’re taking pride on. We’re taking self-centeredness and self-preoccupation that brings division and a loss of joy…we’re taking these on’, because over and over the Scriptures make clear that it is Christ’s intention, that it is Paul’s intention, that it is John’s intention that our joy would be made full in the Christian life. Not that there would be an absence of trials; no, in I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says that when the Holy Spirit comes with power, what happens? Poverty increases. Afflictions go up. And what else? Joy abounds! The opposite of the “health and wealth” gospels. The Christian life doesn’t mean that all your other problems go away, and therefore you’re happy. It means that in the midst of all your problems, joy increases. And the Apostle Paul is not ready for pride and self-centeredness and self-preoccupation to spoil that for this congregation. He doesn’t care whether every Christian church in the last 2,000 years has struggled with these things, he’s taking it on. He’s fighting for joy.
Now don’t get me wrong! This is not a bad congregation! This is his “sweetheart congregation.” This is a brave congregation. They’re young Christians, but they are ready to be persecuted for Christ. This is a young congregation, but they are a Christ-loving congregation. They deeply value the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are awash with the sense of the glory of God’s love shown to them – Gentiles! They are a Bible-believing congregation. They didn’t grow up in good Hebrew homes learning their catechisms and memorizing Scriptures, but they have devoured the Bible from the preaching of the Apostle Paul and his comrades in the gospel ministry. They’re a Bible-believing congregation. They’re a missions-minded congregation. They care deeply about people coming to faith in Christ, and they’re ready to send people to the ends of the earth in order that people would come to faith in Christ. And they’re a generous, giving congregation, even though they’re poor. But they’ve got some problems, and those problems are bringing division. And the root problem they have is pride.
My friends, the Bible says that pride is a master sin. It leads to all other kinds of sin, and as best as I can tell from Scripture, there is no sin that God hates more than pride. When we get to it, I think we’re going to have to stop and just take one message to deal with that as we unfold what Paul is saying here. But understand, Paul is not taking pride lying down. He is going to fight it with dangerous, divine, gospel joy.
That’s what he’s doing here. Paul is in a fight for their joy – for your joy – and it entails a fight against sin, against pride. Paul is, in this passage, going to tell us what they key to a life of gospel joy is.
Did you hear me? He is going to tell us what the key is to a life of gospel joy. Do you want to know what it is? We’re not going to get there today, but do you want to know what it is? Here it is: The key to a life of joy (the kind of joy that Paul is talking about – not superficial joy, not trivial joy, not joy in sunsets, not joy in wife, not joy in children, not joy in cars, not joy in football, not joy in money, not joy in beauty, not joy in esteem, not joy in influence, not joy in anything else this world can give, but joy in Christ)…the key to a life of joy is…..a God-centered, gospel-based, grace-enabled shifting of our attention away from ourselves and onto others. The key to this kind of joy in life is a gospel-based, God-centered, grace-enabled shifting of our attention away from ourselves and onto others.
I’m not talking about that kind of shifting of attention from ourselves and onto others that goes like this: “I have been serving, and serving, and serving for fifteen years, and nobody around here ever gives to me!” Because even if that person had been giving, and giving, and giving for fifteen years, and even if there are people around that person who had been taking, and taking, and taking, and not giving back, you know what that person’s been thinking about for fifteen years? How they have not been given to. That’s not the kind of moving away from attention on ourselves and giving our attention to others…no, this is a God-centered, self-forgetfulness, self-denial and service of others. That is, it is a self-denial and self-giving that is so filled up by what God has given us in Christ that the lack of what we are receiving from others does not stunt our experience – realization – of the love of God for us, and so fills us up that we can give to those who are takers, not givers.
It’s gospel-based. This is not common joy that the Apostle Paul is talking about. This isn’t joy in circumstances. This is not joy when things are going good. This is not joy in stuff. This is not even joy in our human relationships. This is gospel-based joy, where God in the gospel of His Son has put a new song into our hearts – a song of praise to the God who is our salvation. Only those who trust in Christ know this kind of joy. It’s not available to anybody else.
And it’s grace-enabled. It’s not Twelve Steps to Being Joyful…Joy in Seven Easy Steps… “I’m going to be joyful!” It is enabled, it is derived from the work of God’s grace in us. It’s God-centered, gospel-based, grace-enabled shifting of our attention away from ourselves and onto others, and what Paul wants to do in verse 1 today (and that’s all we’re going to look at) is give you four incentives for seeking, experiencing, and expressing that joy in your Christian life.
Very, very quickly, here they are:
First, the Apostle Paul says that every Christian experiences encouragement because of union with Christ. Every Christian experiences encouragement because of union with Christ, and because of that he asks the question: If there is any encouragement in Christ, make my joy complete by encouraging one another.
Paul asks a question of the Ephesians. He says ‘If you have experienced personal encouragement and help through your being in Christ [and you have]…if you’ve trusted in Christ [you have]. You have been personally encouraged and helped because of union with Christ. If you have experienced this, if there is any encouragement for a person who is united to Christ, then shouldn’t you live out your life in encouragement of your fellow believers? If you’ve been encouraged by the love of God, if you’ve been encouraged through union with Christ, shouldn’t that mean that you become a person concerned to encourage your brothers and sisters? [Yes.] He’s giving an incentive. He’s giving a reason. He’s giving a motivation. He’s giving an encouragement. There’s the first thing: the encouragement that every Christian experiences because of union with Christ is an encouragement to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel. It is an encouragement to seek, to experience, and to express this dangerous gospel joy that the Apostle Paul is speaking about here.
Secondly, Paul asks if you have experienced consolation, comfort from the love of God in Jesus Christ. If there is any comfort in the love of God in Christ [and there is!], then shouldn’t you comfort your fellow believers with the same comfort you’ve received? In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying that every Christian has received consolation that flows to us from the love of God, and we ought to be expressing that consolation to others.
By the way, in saying these two things, the Apostle Paul has already told us two other things that are just huge.
The first thing is this: God never asks you to give something that He has not already given. God never asks you to give something that He has not already given, so when He asks you to give comfort and encouragement – sometimes in situations where you are going to get nothing back from that – He asks you to do that because He’s already given you a comfort that’s bigger and deeper than can be created by any void of comfort in human relationship. He’s filled up the pond, the lake, the ocean with His comfort; and He’s saying out of that comfort, give. Yes, in your human relationships there are going to be times that you give and you do not receive. Sometimes that’s not going to be the fault of the person that you’re giving to, sometimes it will. ‘But I am not asking you to give what I have not already given to you.’ God never asks you to give what He has not already given.
And secondly, God never tells you to do what He himself has not already done. God never tells you to do what He himself has not already done. If He’s asking you to encourage someone, He’s already encouraged you. If He’s asking you to comfort someone, He’s already comforted you. Our loving heavenly Father leads by example. He doesn’t say ‘Go out there and blaze a trail, Christian.’ He says ‘Watch this. Now go out there and do it just like I did it. Watch this. Now do it just like I did it.’
Third point: Paul says that every Christian knows a fellowship, a participation, a shared life that is created by the Spirit’s work of the new creation. He’s asking the Philippians if there is any participation in the Spirit, if there is any fellowship, if there is any family belonging that results from the Spirit’s work in you [and there is], then ought you not to be promoting fellowship in the body of Christ in the same way that the Spirit worked to bring you into His family?
I love…one of my favorite Derek Thomas stories is the story of Derek’s conversion. He got to college…he wasn’t a Christian…he encountered the gospel in a little book by Dr. John Stott. He bought a children’s Bible at the newsstand, because it was the only kind of Bible he could find. He was brought to faith in Christ. None of his family members were Christians. In a sense, his coming to Christ was being cut off from them in that important area of life, because he couldn’t talk to them about it. And so when he went into the college fellowship, and to the first churches that he wandered into, the thought struck him, “This is my family now.” Don’t you love that? He viewed them as his family. The Apostle Paul is saying that. When the Holy Spirit works in you to make you the new creation, He gives you a new family. The way we said that in the Old Testament is that those who were not a people have become a people. The way we say that in the New Testament – and we studied it when we looked at the book of Ephesians – is that God is building us into one temple, one body, one family, one building…Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free…all into one family. We’re brothers and sisters now. If God has done that for us, each of us individually, bringing us into His family, should we not be promoting that same fellowship? There are ten thousand applications of that…ten thousand!
Fourth and finally, the Apostle Paul says that every Christian has experienced the love and compassion that is freely and divinely given to those who are in Christ, and so he asks if there is any affection and sympathy, if you have experienced the affection, the love, the tender mercy and compassion of Christ, if there is any love and mercy for those who are in Christ [and there is!], then shouldn’t you respond to God’s love and mercy by showing the same love and mercy to your fellow Christians? Forgiving when you’ve been wounded? Loving when you have not been loved? Serving when you have not been served? Responding with kindness when you have been dealt with in bitterness and anger? Dispensing mercy when you have been dealt with unmercifully? Giving justice when you’ve not been given a fair shake?
Do you see what the Apostle Paul is doing? He’s asking you to stand back and realize what God has already given to you. And when you’re asked to give in hard places, He’s asking you to go back and realize the treasures that God has already given to you, and to give out of that treasury, not out of the treasury of whatever relational benefits you have experienced in the context in which you are having to give joy in hard places. Because all of us are called to do that a lot, because we live in a sinful world. May God grant that we live in joy, in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ because of the encouragement that God has given us in His love, because of the comfort that He has given to us in His salvation…because of the fellowship that He has given to us in His Sprit, and because of the mercy that He has shown us in His Son.
Our Lord and our God, these words, as magnificent as they are, are easy to say and hear, but they are hard to do. Grant that by Your Spirit we would be enabled to do them, in joy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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