What does fighting for our joy look like? We find an excellent example from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Philippi, written during a time of great uncertainty.
Paul wrote this letter in prison, unsure if he would live or die. The call on his life as an apostle has cost him everything; his comfort, prestige, and maybe even his life. However, he is not writing to the Philippians to complain about his situation. He is not asking for help.
Instead, he’s writing to gush over how joyful he is in Christ and his hope for them to experience this same joy. For every reason Paul has to be discouraged, he relentlessly finds more reasons to be joyful. He is so intentional and adamant about finding joy even in this situation. This letter is like a direct assault against any discouragement or doubt that may come his way.
Through the example of Paul, we learn that joy is a choice, and sometimes it is a choice we must fight for with thanksgiving and prayer (Philippians 1:3-4). Paul paints a clear picture for the Philippians to see beyond what is happening and to understand how everything “that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News” (Philippians 1:12) and complete God’s good purpose.
Although in chains, his imprisonment was the cause of the gospel’s advancement. This brought joy to Paul because he understood that God will often use the very thing meant to hold you back to complete his work in your life.
We see this truth throughout the Bible:
The very flames King Nebuchadnezzar used to try to kill Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are the same flames that destroyed the shackles meant to hold them hostage while not harming a single hair on their heads (Daniel 3:9-25).
The thorn in Paul’s side meant to weaken him was the very thing that caused the power of God to rest on him (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The crucifixion meant to humiliate and kill Jesus was the very situation that afforded eternal life to all who would believe in him and gave Christ all authority in heaven and earth (Ephesians 1:20-21, Matthew 28:18).
Sometimes the opposition, failure, lack, weakness, hurt, suffering, detours, and disappointment we face are not signs of doing something wrong, as we are commonly led to believe. Instead, God works all things out for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28).
This is why Paul rejoices. We can as well, even in hardships. Paul wants the Philippians to know his imprisonment is not failure but victory.
So in Philippians 1:18, he doesn’t say, “I might rejoice,” “I want to rejoice,” or “I’m thinking about rejoicing.”
Instead, he says, “I will rejoice.”
“…The message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).
I love that Paul tells himself what he will do. I also love that he can look past this difficulty to see the greater work that God is doing. This ability truly leads to joy because joy is a choice.
Choosing joy may be challenging, but joy is always worth the fight.
*For deeper reflection, listen to Philippians 1 today.