By Rev. Michael Johnson
How does one keep a smile on their face on a daily basis? Is joyful bliss simply a genetic trait or is it the result of hard effort? WebMD, an online organization that provides medical information, states in an article:
“Research has shown that your talent for happiness is, to a large degree, determined by your genes…and yet, psychologists who study happiness — believe we can pursue happiness.”
This bifurcation in research is devastating because it leaves out a critical influence, the divine connection in Jesus Christ.
For this reason, it would be beneficial to revisit Paul’s letter to the Philippian church where he introduces some key “how-to’s” regarding joy. By both reviewing and following Paul’s admonition one can experience the type of joy only Christ delivers.
At the time of Paul’s writing to the Philippians, he was imprisoned and trying to deal with issues about disunity, worrying, and false teachers. So in Pauline fashion he handles these problems with a Christ-centered theology. Thus, he gives an exhortation to unite and live in peace, at which he also imperatively advises the church to rejoice! After doing so, he gives steps to help the church express their joy.
Step 1. Be gentle with people (vv. 2-5). This direction came as a solution to the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche who were advised to “agree in the Lord” (v. 2-3). Paul uses this case as a teaching point and says “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone; the Lord is at hand.” (v.5). In other words, let conflicts and disagreements be settled with this perspective in mind because in the end, relational problems do not matter in light of Christ’s coming.
Step 2. Pray about everything (vv. 6-7). The Philippian church was overwhelmed with troubles from without and within. Therefore, Paul gives an imperative exhortation to stop being anxious. In its place he encourages prayer and intercession with an attitude of thanksgiving. As a result of this discipline the believer experiences peace that acts as a guard (garrison, mounted guard) against an invasion of worry into the heart and mind.
Step 3. Think about good things (v. 8). Not stopping at prayer, Paul goes further in his exhortation for rejoicing and urges the church to engage in careful and intentional reflection of the following virtues and noteworthy actions: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, commendable, excellence, and worthy of praise. These high traits encourage the believer to look upward in life, rather than downward; thus increasing the joyful state of mind.
Step 4. Learn from others (v. 9). “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things.” Paul offers his life as an example of how to live joyfully, that is, actively practicing the principles he prescribed when going through difficulties. Keep in mind that Paul’s experiences qualify him as a model to follow because in life he encountered multiple challenges to his faith: shipwreck, imprisonment, persecutions, etc. From this viewpoint, he gives a bold and yet humble plea to the Philippian church, which urges today’s believers to also learn from others through a discipleship and mentorship dynamic.
The search for living joyfully, given from Paul’s perspective in Philippians, offers solid answers because the “how-to’s” were given from a real life experience involving personal struggle, people conflicts, and dark human emotions. It is no surprise that God uses real life characters and events to deliver genuine instructions and guidance for his people. So with great joy I too urge everyone to REJOICE!
Scriptures to consider:
Rev. Michael Johnson serves as the Director of Ethnic Ministries for Global University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.