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Not Feeling the Joy

August 14, 2011
False Doctrine Teachers Walkers Workers

The Text

1Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. 2I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:1-4)

A Closer Look at the Text

The word “crown” (stephanos) refers to the wreath, garland or trophy which was given as a prize to victors in public games, and is used metaphorically in reference to the eternal blessedness which will be given as a prize to the genuine servants of God and Christ. Paul not only thinks of the Philippian church in terms of the bride of Christ, but as a trophy bride. He wants the best for this congregation, and he connects the very best with the idea of joy. The related words “joy” (chara) and “rejoicing” (chairō) are used in this letter a combination of fourteen times. In this letter, Paul lists the sources of his joy as:

  • The Philippian church’s continual partnership in the Gospel from the start until the time of his writing (1:3).
  • The fact that the Gospel is being preached, even if the preaching is itself not genuine (1:18).
  • The observation that Christ will ultimately be honored in Paul’s life, as a result of the prayers of the church and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (1:18-20).
  • The unity of the church, that is, their being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (2:1).
  • The purposefulness of his life as it was being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of the church’s faith (2:17).
  • The church in Philippi, whom Paul loved, and who was Paul’s trophy or wreath (4:1).
  • The concern that the church in Philippi had, and had expressed, for Paul (4:10).

Paul lists the sources of joy for the church, in turn, as:

  • Their faith and their anticipation of Paul’s return to them (1:25).
  • Their share in Paul’s joy as his life was being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of their faith (2:17).
  • The arrival of Epaphroditus, who brought them Paul’s letter (i.e., the word of God) (2:25-30).
  • The Lord (3:1 and 4:4).

Here, Paul’s concern about the dispute between two godly women, Euodia and Syntyche, and his request for intervention by his unnamed companion, is sandwiched between to “joy” statements: Paul’s identification of the church at Philippi his joy and crown (4:1), and, his instruction to the believers to rejoice in the Lord (4:4).

Some Observations about the Text

“Joy” is an emotion. Some social psychologists have tried to understand such “positive affective states” as elation, gladness and joy. De Rivera, J., Possell, L., Verette, J. A., & Weiner, B. (1989), for example, make use of the following regime:

  • Elation occurs when a person suddenly finds that a wish involving the self has been unexpectedly fulfilled. When elation occurs (such as when someone wins a prize), the person tends to jump up and down and tell others (including complete strangers).
  • Gladness occurs when a hope, rather than a mere wish, is fulfilled. It often involves waiting for something that has a real possibility, but involves a dependence on someone or something with the power to provide what is needed. When people achieve gladness they tend to be more relaxed, move more freely, and are more open and welcoming toward others.
  • Joy, by comparison, tends to be inter-relational (that is, it involves others) and tends to affirm the meaningfulness of life. People who experience joy tend to want to celebrate the relationship change as well as the corresponding increase in the meaningfulness of life that has occurred.

And yet, if joy is a “positive affective state,” how can anyone be “commanded” to have the emotion of joy? When we sing “Joy to the World,” this is not an instruction. We are celebrating an event (the arrival of the King of Kings), not taking on a duty or obligation to feel a certain way. So, how does it make sense for Paul to instruct his readers to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” It seems that either the rejoicing is an outward behavior (that is, from time to time, behavior that will necessarily be forced or fake), or, it represents and effort to manage emotions. I don’t know of anyone who can manage emotions ever, let alone always.

Jesus did not rejoice always. At least not in the sense of “feeling the joy.” There is no indication that he was feeling joy while he was being tortured to death. Quite the opposite (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). We know that Jesus was from time to time irate, frustrated and sad (e.g., Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 21:12-13; Matthew 23:13-36; Mark 3:5).

This tension between what should be obvious to any believer — that is, continual and permanent joy in the Lord — and the realities of life, are found elsewhere in the Bible. In the last two verses of Psalm 40, for example, we see the prayer, “But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!” But those lofty words are immediately followed by this observation: “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!” A similar pairing of joy and desperate need is found in the last two verses of Psalm 70.

So, if joy is an emotion, and if not even Jesus exhibited the emotion of joy at all times, what can Paul mean when he “commands” the church to rejoice … always?

Not, as it appears was the case at Philippi, in “church work.” Not in church leadership. Not in any pride of having helped to build or sustain a successful or long-lived church or congregation. Euodia and Syntyche were not false teachers (i.e., were not causing doctrinal problems) or false walkers (with a lack of zeal or dedication). In fact, Paul was confident that they were genuine followers of Christ whose names are written in the book of life (4:3). If he had thought otherwise, he would have said so: Paul was never shy about weighing in on the need to discern and eradicate false teaching and to ignore false walking.

Instead, we can safely surmise that Euodia and Syntyche were reliable, faithful, hard working church leaders who allowed themselves to get into conflict with each other over “stuff” that only interferes with church unity and joy. The were not false teachers, or even false walkers. All that we know is that, if anything, they were “false workers.” That is, their activities had somehow become corrupted to the point where they were no longer working together for the King and the Kingdom; some other agenda that created conflict between them had come into play.

False Doctrine Teachers Walkers Workers
Paul yearned for the joy of knowing that the Philippian believers were in complete unity and harmony (“Make my joy complete!“). In the case of
Euodia and Syntyche, this could only happen if Paul sent in a trusted companion to serve as mediator. It was necessary to resolve the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche, because that conflict was unnecessarily keeping Paul and the rest of the church from focusing on the Lord, finding their hope in the Lord, and truly experiencing joy in the Lord.

Here’s an expanded paraphrase of Philippians 4:4: Find your joy in the Lord, not in church politics, not in your pride, not in your accomplishments, not in your circle of friends and supporters, not in your status, not even in your works as such. Find your joy in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and in His single agenda, the work of his Kingdom to the glory of the Father. Always.

Gospel Apologetics

As Aquinas observed, hope precedes joy (Romans 12:12). Joy is embedded in time: joy takes into account something wonderful about the past, that is being experienced in the present, but that extends into the future. If there was no future, the joy would stop. We have eternity built into our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) … and joy necessarily involves some sense of the future.

Hope, in turn, is all about the future. Without hope, without expectations about the future, there can be no joy. This can happen, as it did in Philippi, when “His mission” somehow devolves into “my ministry.” My success. My efforts. My following, my followers, my constituency. The problem is that “my ministry” will end; His mission, his Kingdom, will not (2 Peter 1:11).

When we are “joyless,” we are acting as if there is little or nothing to look forward to, and that the past and present is all that matters. When we are joyless, we signal a lack of hope. We set aside, even if temporarily, our identity (who we are in the Lord) and our mission (to represent Christ to a fallen and hopeless world). This, in turn, removes the possibility that any would ask us any “1 Peter 3:15 questions”.

You were wearied with the length of your way,
but you did not say, “It is hopeless”;
you found new life for your strength,
and so you were not faint.
Isaiah 57:10

Audio MP3 Discussion of this post is available here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2013 10:41 am

    Wonderful goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you’re just too wonderful.


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