The Pastor's Pen: ‘Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do.’
September 3, 2017
by Graeme Shanks
The above line is from Pharrell Williams’ 2013 song Happy. We live a world obsessed with the notion of happiness. You may or may not know that the twentieth of March is officially World Happiness Day. On this day each year people from all over the globe are invited, for a whole 24 hours, to adopt the mantra “Today, I will try to create more happiness in the world around me.” Consider yourself extremely fortunate if your birthday happens to fall on the twentieth! Not so much if it falls on the twenty-first!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians over the summer. As one reads it through one cannot help but see the dominant joy thread that runs from beginning to end. Paul is obsessed with the notion, not of happiness, but of joy! He wants it to be the distinctive feature and experience of his own life and he wants the same to be true for his dear brothers and sisters in Philippi.
What is perhaps even more surprising is Paul’s situation as he writes! He’s in the confines of a Roman jail! Not much room for joy there surely! But none the less Paul declares that he is ‘glad and rejoices with all of them’ (2:17). So is Paul simply a glass half full kind of guy? Is this Paul determining always to look on the bright side of life? Is this him making some lemonade as life throws him a lemon? No.
So where, for Paul, is true joy to be found? Well, the key to the Christian’s joy is its source, which Paul repeatedly states in his letter as being the Lord. Knowing Jesus Christ. Loving Him. Treasuring Him. Abiding in Him. The circumstances of Paul’s life may well change, but the source of his joy, the unchanging Christ, will not.
Sinclair Ferguson writes; ‘This joy is not based on how we feel about our personal circumstances, but on the fact of our fellowship with Christ, and on the facts about Him.’
Particularly, Paul gives 3 reasons why the Christian can be joyful in Christ.
The past. Formerly a running rebel set on persecuting the Church, God, by his grace opened Paul’s eyes to see the all surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ. There remains a fundamental wonder in Paul that Christ Jesus has made him His own (3:12). We may have a different story to Paul, but as Christians, our testimony is still the same. That we are great sinners and Christ is a great Saviour!
The present. So sovereign is God that He, by His Spirit, is using every situation to shape Paul more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. God is committed to renewing his people as he changes us from the inside out!
The future. Our great God is summoning us to enter his presence through the work of His Son. As Christians, we have a future in heaven with Him to which all the happiness in this world cannot compare!is still the same. That we are great sinners and Christ is a great Saviour!
And so Paul declares; ‘Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: rejoice!’ (4:4)
Always? Yup, you heard it right, always! The Christian is called to something much more sweeter and permanent than a mere 24-hour date with happiness. The Christian is invited to embrace a relationship of sweet fellowship with their Lord and truly know lasting joy!
As the old hymn puts it;
When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’twill be my joy through the ages
to sing of his love for me.
Dear father, by your grace, may that be the song that our hearts truly clap along to!