|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES
|THE MISSING INGREDIENT: Joy
Charles H. Dyer
I AM REVEALED
Feb 17 2013
What is a chapter on joy doing at the end of a book on character and integrity? Isn’t joy a feeling while the other
chapters focus on behaviors? Bear with me on this. I’ve included this chapter because I believe joy is an essential
element of Christian character. A life of integrity produces joy, but beyond that, Christians who display joy have a
profound impact on others. It is a compelling character trait that can draw others toward God.
GRUMPY OLD MAN
Everyone liked to visit Aunt Hannah, but most dreaded talking with Uncle Paul. This childless couple was the last of my
father’s aunts and uncles who lived nearby. Aunt Hannah reminded me of “Aunt Bea” on the Andy Griffith show. She
was a warmhearted, matronly woman who prepared some of the best home-cooked meals I ever tasted – from the
perfectly cooked roast to smooth gravy to the flaky crust on her homemade apple pie. Going to Aunt Hannah’s
for dinner was fun…except for Uncle Paul.
Uncle Paul was the consummate crank. By the end of his life, his major activities were describing his past indiscretions
and his current physical ailments.
Dad always barked out the same warning before we went to visit Aunt Hannah and Uncle Paul. “Don’t ask Uncle Paul
how he feels!” That was a recipe for disaster. I know because one time I forgot and asked. His detailed description of
the surgical removal of most of his stomach did wonders to my appetite…especially since the description lasted for most
of the meal! When we left later that evening, he was still describing the various operations, ailments, and medications
around which his life revolved. I never again asked him how he felt!
After I left home and moved away to college, I would still visit Aunt Hannah and Uncle Paul when I came home.
Every visit ended the same way. As I would say good-bye, Uncle Paul would come over and say, “Yea, I’d better say
good-bye. I just might not be here when you get back this way again to visit.” And he was not talking about moving to
Maui! This lasted for fifteen years.
Uncle Paul finally died, and I went back home for the funeral. Two sad thoughts played on my mind while I was there.
First I could not recall being with Uncle Paul one single time when he was actually fun to be around. Instead, I
remembered him for his self-centeredness and self-pity. Second, I wondered how many of those in attendance would
have come to Uncle Paul’s funeral had it not been for Aunt Hannah. More came to pay their respects to her than to
All of us know our own Uncle Pauls. One comic strip even revolves around the life of a classic, crotchety old man. It’s
call Crankshaft, and it can be brutally funny.
The world seems to be full of Ed Crankshafts whose mission in life is to make everyone they meet as miserable as they
are. And many do so in the name of Christ! They somehow equate a sour disposition and a furrowed brow with spiritual
maturity. How sad.
When I was a boy, someone gave me a windup watch. I made sure I wound it every morning. I was always
concerned the watch might wind down during the night, so I wound the spring as tight as I could every day.
Unfortunately I kept the tension on the spring so tight that eventually the spring snapped and the watch quit running.
People, like watches, can also get wound too tight. And when they do, they snap.
Lives that are stressed out, frazzled, and wound too tight need a break that will provide some sense of balance. One
remedy prescribed by God is joy.
LIVING ABOVE THE CIRCUMSTANCES
“So, Frank, how’s it going?”
“Okay, under the circumstances.”
Ever have that conversation? Most of us have. We see our lives and well-being tied to circumstances that swirl out of
control around us. Advertisers assault us with the message that we won’t find true happiness unless we purchase a new
car, buy new clothes, find a new romantic interest, or make over our physique. The subtle message is that to be happy
we need to change our circumstances.
If circumstances dictate happiness, how happy would you be serving a four-year prison sentence for a crime you didn’t
commit? Imagine how you would feel if, during that time, you watched your already shaky financial situation slip further
into the red. Then imagine how you would respond to news that a very close friend who had faithfully come to visit you
was ill and at the point of death. No freedom…no financial security…no way to help a friend in need. Under the
circumstances you might be discouraged and depressed. But the one who faced these problems was not “under the
circumstances”…he lived above them. He was the apostle Paul.
The Jewish religious leaders attacked Paul in Jerusalem during a visit to the temple (Acts 21). The Roman garrison that
arrested him actually saved his life by rescuing him from a mob planning to stone him to death. The religious leaders
lodged trumped-up charges against Paul, and he spent two years awaiting trial at the coastal city of Caesarea (Acts 23:
33-35; 24:27). After two years the religious leaders asked to have Paul brought back to Jerusalem, but they planned to
ambush the garrison along the way and kill Paul. Exercising his rights as a Roman citizen, Paul appealed to Caesar to
have his case decided in Rome. After a hair-raising voyage across the Mediterranean (including a shipwreck on Malta),
Paul arrived in Rome only to spend another two years under house arrest awaiting the arrival of his accusers. Paul lost
four years of his life for a crime he never committed. Under the circumstances we could expect Paul to become bitter
and disillusioned, but he wouldn’t.
Rome had a unique plan to control prison overpopulation and lower the cost of maintaining their prison system. The
Roman authorities allowed some prisoners to live in homes under “house arrest.” The prisoner was responsible to pay
for his housing and meals, but he was not allowed to leave the home to work. (In fact, he was chained to a Roman guard
during this imprisonment!) Paul was given the privilege of being under house arrest (Acts 28:16, 30). He could receive
visitors, meet with close friends, and correspond freely with those in other cities. The main problem facing Paul was
getting the money to pay for the house!
In the best of times Paul received adequate finances for his ministry. He could work as a tentmaker, and some churches
sent financial contributions to help fund his work. But at other times the work disappeared and the financial contributions
dried up. Paul knew the best – and worst – of financial times. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to
have plenty,” he wrote. The breadth of situations faced by Paul included being “well fed or hungry…living in plenty or in
want” (Philippians 4:12). Unable to work while confined to house arrest…responsible for his own lodging and living
expenses…receiving little financial support from churches where he had labored so diligently. Under the circumstances
we could expect Paul to be discouraged. But he wasn’t!
A gift finally arrived from the church in Philippi. Hand-carried by a personal friend of Paul, the gift was as refreshing as a
cold drink of water on a hot day. But that brief moment of happiness was shattered when Epaphroditus, his courier and
friend, fell ill. All Paul’s prayers and all Dr. Luke’s medical skills seemed unable to stop the illness that wrapped its arms
around Epaphroditus and pulled him ever closer to the abyss of death. Under the circumstances we could expect
Paul to be disheartened and give up. But he didn’t!
Pen in hand, Paul sat down to write to the congregation that had shared so generously with him. Chains clanking as he
shuffled around the room, Paul dictated one of the most upbeat letters found in the New Testament – the epistle to the
Philippians. Under the circumstances we wouldn’t expect Paul to focus on the theme of joy. But he did!
Rejoice in the Lord Always!
How could Paul ever find such joy in the problems he faced? The church in Philippi must have wondered how Paul could
survive emotionally the many persecutions, trials, and injustices he had undergone. Imagine their surprise when they
received his heartening letter!
Paul’s ability to experience joy was to look beyond his circumstances to the Lord. Problems come and go.
Circumstances constantly change. But God is unchangeable and His plan is unalterable. Looking to God can provide
stability and hope…and this leads to joy.
Paul began his letter by sharing the secret for his great confidence and joy. “I thank my God every time I remember
you…I always pray with joy…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6). Paul wasn’t wringing his hands in emotional agony over what would
happen to these churches in his absence. God was in charge, and he could depend on God to work everything out.
And yet, sometimes it’s easier to trust God for what He will do in others’ lives than it is to trust Him to work in our own.
How can we be joyful when we are being personally attacked, maligned, and misunderstood? We can almost hear Paul’s
friends in Philippi whisper this question to themselves. After all, there were some scoundrels in Rome preaching in the
name of Christ just to cause problems for Paul. And Paul could do nothing to stop them. Would he be discouraged,
angry, perhaps even bitter over this gross injustice? Not Paul!
“But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ
is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,…For to me, to live is Christ and to die is
gain” (Philippians 1:18, 21). Instead of being discouraged, Paul was excited about those preaching Christ to cause him
“Look at the big picture!” He told his readers. “More people are sharing Christ than ever before!”
But what if they cause so much trouble you are put to death? “If I die, I win! I’ll be with Christ in heaven forever!”
Paul was joyful because he viewed his circumstance from God’s perspective. He wasn’t under the circumstances, he
was looking above them to see what God was doing.
Paul seems to stress two themes relating to the joy he had in the Lord. The first is the fact that he could rejoice because
he knew the Lord was in charge. He saw the hand of God in everything taking place – even those events that caused
him temporary discomfort or difficulty. Thus he could take his concerns to the Lord and trust the Lord to work them out.
Paul’s second theme is the fact he knew the Lord could return at any time. His problems were just temporary
inconveniences that would soon be replaced by permanent fellowship with the Lord.
Both themes join together in Paul’s exhortation to live lives of joyful expectation and trust.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your
requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your
minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
Paul experienced joy and a sense of freedom in spite of his circumstances because he knew the Lord was near…and
watching. He could face life with confidence because he understood the power and presence of God.
Rejoice in Serving Others
When I was a young child, a Sunday school teacher taught me a way to “J-O-Y” in the Christian life: Jesus first, Others
second, Yourself last. Paul didn’t know that jingle, but he understood the concept. Much of his joy came from
putting the Lord first in his life and viewing life from God’s perspective. But Paul also understood the second principle
that would lead to joy – putting others ahead of ourselves.
Pausing to choose his words carefully, Paul boldly asked the Philippians to make his joy complete “by being like-minded,
having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” This would require them to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or
vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:2-3).
Some of the saddest individuals alive today are people who think only of themselves. Their lives are so self-absorbed
they have no understanding of the personal satisfaction they can experience through serving others.
Paul realized the best way to teach the people of Philippi this truth was to wrap it in human form. We learn best when we
can observe specific examples. As the old saying goes, “Some things are better caught than taught.” Paul
provided four specific examples of individuals who found joy in serving others.
The apostle used Jesus as his first example. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians
2:5). Jesus was willing to give up His rightful place in heaven to lay aside His glory and become a man. As the God-man
He took on the role of a servant and willingly gave His life on the cross to purchase eternal life for others. In
arguing from the greater to the lesser Paul emphasized that if the Son of God was willing to give up His rightful place in
heaven to serve us, we ought to be willing to give up some of our “right” to serve others.
Most – perhaps all – of Paul’s readers had never met Jesus during His time on earth. Certainly they knew what Jesus
had done. For the “joy set before him” Jesus had “endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). He hadn’t come to earth “to be
served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). But some may have had trouble relating to His example because Jesus was the
perfect God-man while they struggled as “mere mortals.” As if anticipating their objection, Paul moved quickly to his
Paul urged his readers to “do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). They were to be different
from the rest of society. Living in the midst of the “crooked and depraved generation” of their day, individuals who could
display joyful contentment would “shine like stars” (2:15). Paul then used his own response to his four-
year imprisonment as an example for them to follow. His willingness to share God’s good news with individuals like those
in Philippi had put him in prison, on trial for his very life. “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the
sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (2:17). Service for others brought joy.
Paul’s third example was his protégé Timothy. Timothy remembered Philippi well! After joining Paul early in his second
missionary journey (Acts 16:1-3), Timothy sailed from Paul from Asia Minor to Europe. Philippi was the first
European city where Paul planted a church (Acts 16:12-40). Timothy experienced the early revival, the Satanic
opposition, the unruly mob, and the ugly beating and imprisonment. He also shook with the force of the earthquake that
rocked the city and sprang open the door of the jail holding Paul and Silas. Sometime later Paul sent Timothy and
another disciple back to Philippi as his special envoys (Acts 19:21-22). The Philippians knew Timothy!
Paul introduced this example by expressing his desire to send Timothy to Philippi on a fact-finding mission. But then the
masterful teacher explained why he was so eager to send Timothy. “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine
interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that
Timothy has proved himself…” (Philippians 2:20-22a). In effect, Paul says to the Philippians, “Want a third example of
selfless service for others? Think back and remember how Timothy conducted himself when he was with you!”
Paul stresses three specific concerns that consumed Timothy. Timothy took a “genuine interest” in the welfare of the
church at Philippi (2:20). Timothy also focused on the interests of Jesus Christ (2:21), and as a dutiful son he willingly
served with Paul (2:22). The one area Timothy did not make a priority was “his own interests” (2:21). Timothy had
shown the Philippians how to spell “JOY”: Jesus first; Others second; Yourself last.
Paul’s gallery of godly examples has been impressive. Jesus, Paul himself, and Timothy. But Paul saved the
most visible example for last. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was hand-carried by Epaphroditus – one of their own
members. The church in Philippi had sent Epaphroditus on a “mission of mercy” to Paul in Rome. Along with kind words
of greeting, this trusted messenger also carried a sizable offering from the church to help Paul with his living expenses
during his time in prison.
Epaphroditus’s kind actions almost turned to tragedy when he fell deathly ill during his stay in Rome. Paul pulled no
punches in describing the gravity of the situation. “Indeed he was ill, and almost died” (Philippians 2:27). What caused
this serious illness? Paul does not say specifically, but he implies the illness resulted, in some measure, from
his ministry to Paul. Epaphroditus “almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could
not give me” (2:30).
I imagine Epaphroditus blushed when the letter was read aloud in the church and Paul singled him out by name. This
unpretentious servant became more distressed over learning his home church heard “he was ill” than he had been over
the illness! Paul stresses the same three priorities in Epaphroditus that he had earlier used for Timothy. Epaphroditus
focused on doing “the work of Christ,” on making a hazardous journey from Philippi to Rome to “take care of [Paul’s]
needs,” and on serving as the “messenger” from Philippi who could “make up for the help you could not give me.”
Epaphroditus could also show the Philippians how to spell “JOY”: Jesus first; Others second; Yourself last.
CHARACTER COUNTS, by Charles H. Dyer, Copyright 2010, Moody Publishers.