One of the words we often hear as Christmas approaches is “joy.” We sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” We wish each other “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” when we greet them – even people we don’t know. Yet many people aren’t living lives of merriment, happiness, and joy.
What exactly is “joy”? The dictionary defines it as: “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” (Oxford Dictionary of English). The Greek word we find used in the writings of the apostles is “charas” and refers to gladness and often the people that are the cause of one being glad.
When Paul began his letter to the Christians in Philippi he wrote to them: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:3-4 NIV).
As we read through this short letter, the word “joy” comes up again and again, along with the related word “rejoice.” Some have counted that these are used sixteen times in the 104 verses of this letter. In other words, more than 10% of the verses contain some aspect of joy. But what did Paul have that gave him such joy?
It wasn’t that he was living an easy life. It would seem that when he wrote this letter he was a prisoner in Rome. If this was written while he was awaiting trial before Caesar, recorded in Acts 28, then he wasn’t in a prison but was able to live in his own house (Acts 28:16,30). Although he lived on his own, he would have always been chained to a Roman guard, without the freedom to come and go as he liked. Yet he could still write about his joy!
“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me” (Philippians 1:7).
It didn’t matter whether he was “in chains” or proclaiming the good news of Jesus, he lived a life of joy. This tells us that joy is not determined by our circumstances. He later wrote about this.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11-12).
It didn’t matter what was happening to him at a particular moment, Paul had learned the secret of being content – always. It didn’t matter if he was hungry or had abundance, or whether he was a prisoner or free. How was he able to live this way? The next verse explains it.
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
The key to his joy, to his contentment, was Jesus. Along with “joy” the phrase “in Christ” is also a theme of this letter. Of the two, “Christ” occurs more often than “joy.” When we put these two together we have the real theme of Philippians: “joy in Christ.”
In this holiday season, may we know the true joy that Jesus brings to our life. This joy is not dependant on what is happening to us or even those around us. This joy is because of Jesus and what he has done for us. If we are in Christ we can be content and have a life of joy.
Readings for next week:
Next week is a catch up week if you fell behind during the last few months. We will resume our readings next week in Philippians.