Rejoicing in Trials? Yes!

Circumstances do not bring joy, only Christ does. The Apostle Paul’s outlook on his own life was that it was not his own, that he was a servant of Jesus Christ first and foremost. He said that in his opening words to the Philippian church. Paul derives his joy from his identity as a servant, so that he does not look primarily to his circumstance, but to his fulfillment of his Master’s will. Endurance through trials is not a work of the flesh, but a work of the Spirit.

This is something that the world cannot understand at all. For a world without God, when suffering comes, they often seek the quickest route out. The world does not see any benefit for suffering and pain. As a matter of fact, when they see a Christian suffer, they can sometimes mock us, and ask where our God is. Why doesn’t he relieve our suffering when we have been so faithful to serve him?

Paul is helping the Philippian church to see that his imprisonment is not the worst thing that could happen to him. Discontentment is worse. Joylessness is worse.

In Philippians 1:15-18, Paul sat in a prison cell, yet was filled with joy in the continued preaching of the gospel. He was not bitter about the fact that he wanted to be out doing the work of the ministry. And he wasn’t bitter about those who were free, and used their freedom to preach the gospel, not to serve Christ, but to jab at Paul! Paul ended his thought in verse 18 with “in that I will rejoice.” Christ was being glorified. How could anything be better?

But as Paul thought for a second, he realized that there were reasons for continued rejoicing beyond just the present preaching of the Word. Let’s look at a few of these reasons that he laid out for rejoicing:

Rejoice in the Prayers of the Saints (v.19)

Paul writes how he can rejoice because he knows that the brothers and sisters in Philippi are praying for him. In Philippians 4:1 Paul has mentioned that he constantly kept the church in his prayers, and he is aware that they have done the same for him. This is a greater challenge in the church today because our society tends toward more and more isolation. We might see what you eat on Facebook or Instagram, and hear about how great your vacation was, but the real issues in our lives are kept hidden.

In general, we shouldn’t overshare. We need to be wise about what we say and to whom we say it. But in matters of praying for one another, we need to grow deeper without going into gossip or unnecessary details. The example we see from Paul was that he shared himself with the church. He shared his thoughts, his fears, his needs, and his weaknesses. This type of transparency allowed the church to better pray for him. And in this prayerfulness for one another, Paul could rejoice. He knew that the church was praying for him in his struggles and trials. And he prayed for their welfare as their spiritual father. But prayer is not all that was needed. He adds, “and…”

Rejoice in the Help of the Spirit (v. 19)

Paul’s joy was based upon much more than the faithful prayers of the saints in Philippi. Prayer is only as good as the God to whom we pray. The intercession of the saints must be accompanied by a movement of God. Our prayers shouldn’t stop until God answers one way or another. Paul knows that something will happen when the saints pray and the Spirit “helps.” This is really where Paul finds his assurance. His confidence comes with the working of the Lord.

The word “help” (ESV) is an unfortunate rendering because it seems such a weak word. The KJV’s “supply” is a little better, but still doesn’t give the best picture of the critical nature here. The Greek word epichoragia is a word that is used in Ephesians 4:16 to speak about a ligament that serves to support the body: “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16, ESV)

That is the kind of “help” the Spirit is. Without him, we are crippled spiritually. We cannot go on. He is that critical. The Spirit’s help is not like an assistant, whom we can do without. He is like a knee joint for a sprinter—invaluable. The reference to “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” means the Holy Spirit. He is the One who will bring about Paul’s “deliverance.”

But what sort of deliverance was Paul expecting? Some have thought that maybe this salvation is from his situation—temporal salvation; others have thought that it was spiritual. Perhaps Paul was thinking about the fact that whether he lived on and was freed or whether he died a martyr’s death, he would be saved. The Spirit of Jesus would deliver him from death, or deliver him from this life through death. Either way, Paul would be set free in some form or another.

Where we set our eyes changes what we see. If we set our eyes on Christ, we see hope. Christ delivers from the challenges we face today, and he has conquered our sin, winning for us salvation and eternal life. But when we put our eyes on our problems, on the circumstances that we are in the middle of, our vision is clouded. We can be given over to despair and hopelessness. Paul could have easily gone there as he sat in prison. But he knew he had good friends praying for him, and that the Spirit of Jesus was working it all out. He would get out of that prison, and either he would be reunited with his friends, or he would be safe in the arms of Jesus.

What about you? Are you trusting in the Lord to deliver you in your times of need? Have you forgotten the power of God? Stop trusting in your own strength. Stop seeking to be the answer to your own prayers. Depend upon the Lord’s strength. Why are you downcast? It is because you have placed your hopes in something other than the Lord. Hope in God. Finally, we need to…

Rejoice in Expected Courage (v. 20)

Paul is eager to see where the Lord is directing him. He knows the prayers are for his release, and he knows that the Spirit is at work, but the future is still unclear. When Paul says he has “eager expectation,” this idea pictures a person straining his neck to see what is ahead just around the bend. It is a great word. Paul isn’t dreading the future, he is embracing it. He is hopeful!

    So, what are the possibilities? He expects that whatever happens, he will not be ashamed. Why would he be? He is not a criminal. He is on trial for the gospel. He has no remorse in prison. He would do it all over again. He has glorified his Lord in his ministry.

Let me ask you, are you ready to meet the Lord today? Would you be ashamed of what you have accomplished in your short life on this planet? Are you banking on the next 10-20 years to make something of your life for Christ? That is borrowed time, my friends. It may never come. You need to put your life in order today. You don’t want to be lying in a hospital bed thinking about how ashamed you will be to face the Lord because your life was only a pursuit of personal desires.

Instead, Paul was anticipating having a lion’s heart to face whatever would happen. He expected to have “full courage” for whatever he faced. You see, if he was released from prison, his message of the risen Christ would be vindicated in many people’s eyes. And if he received the death penalty, then he expected to be filled with courage just as much. How? It had to do with how he had been as a servant. You see, Paul wasn’t only speaking about the courageous death he would face—courage as he faced the executioner.

Whether he lived or died was inconsequential. Eager expectation, hope, and courage marked Paul’s outlook. Paul’s lion-like boldness was based upon the salvation won for him at the cross and how he had remained faithful to his Master. Paul was ready to die well.

With heaven before us, what do we really need to fear? Jesus has conquered sin and death. Our best days are ahead of us. Christ is King! Let us have courage to face the uncertain future knowing that the face of Christ and eternal life is a certainty!

Not Fair-Weather Followers

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk 3:17-18

I had a friend in my seminary days named Dave, who was a die-hard Cleveland Browns fan. In case you have never heard of the Browns, they are an NFL football team, and according to the Bench Report, they are in the top 10 worst football teams in NFL history. But Dave was willing to endure friendly ribbing and a bit of ridicule because, for whatever reason, he loved his team.

This sort of faithfulness through good and bad times can be recounted over and over in more important ways–in marriage, in business relationships, and in friendships. But it is especially critical when we are talking about our faith in the Lord Jesus.

The Apostle Paul warned Timothy, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (2 Timothy 3:1, ESV). This can be expected because the unrighteous people of this world will rebel against those that they perceive to be lovers of God and His Word.

Jesus himself said, ““If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:18–21, ESV)

Today is Election Day here in the USA. I don’t know the results, but I do know that somebody has to lose. I am hopeful that those who love liberty and justice will rise up and vote to protect our freedoms as they vote. But there is no guarantee that this will happen. On the evening of the last presidential election, I went to bed while the votes were still being tallied and the pundits were making their predictions. I awoke to hear the news in the morning.

No matter the results, I am not a fair-weather follower of Jesus. Even if this country flips over into anarchy and chaos, so that the economy tanks, the banks are emptied, and the streets are filled with hatred and violence. I will mourn, and pray, and resist–but I will not stop looking to Jesus Christ as my hope because I am not a fair-weather follower. …”I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

The Missing Ministry of Prayer

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

(Colossians 4:2–4, ESV)

It seems that very often whenever one hears about prayer in the Christian life, it is directed mainly to the subject of personal prayer: for self and others. Very little is spoken in regard to corporate prayer, pastoral prayer, and the ministry of prayer. That is a shame. Prayer is the engine by which the work of ministry depends because it shows our great need for God to move on our behalf.

In Paul’s closing chapter to the church in Colosse, we are reminded of this truth. Paul asks for steadfast prayer, praying with a thankful heart, but also for the missionary team that Paul is leading. He asks for prayer–not for safety, nor for comfort, but for an open door for the reception of the gospel. He prays that he would be bold, and clear and that he would not shrink back in fear to speak truthfully about the need to turn to Christ for salvation. Paul knows all too well the weakness of the human heart and that he too can succumb to this temptation. He is, after all, in prison because of his willingness to suffer for Christ.

I don’t often hear much about the importance of prayer in fighting the spiritual battle that we are engaged in either. In Ephesians 6:18 in the context of spiritual warfare and the Christian’s armor it says, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” (Ephesians 6:18, ESV). Praying in agreement with the Spirit (what “praying in the Spirit” means), is directly connected to fighting this spiritual battle we are to be engaged in. And we are not simply to pray for ourselves, but especially to remember our fellow brothers and sisters: “…making supplication for all the saints.”

If we wonder why in an age of so many technological advancements and spiritual resources we are making so little headway, perhaps we need to look at the place of prayer in our personal lives and in the life of the Church today. Do we go to battle on our knees? Do we wage war on behalf of our pastors, our churches, our missionaries, our school teachers, our civic leaders? Do we pray for the gospel to make advances into society by the power of the gospel proclaimed?

As E. M. Bounds, a man of great prayer, wrote many years ago, “What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men.[1]

Brothers and sisters, as we pick up our Swords, may we wield them with prayer on our lips for the battle we will engage today. May we daily fight the good fight in full dependence upon the Spirit, beseeching the throne of grace with prayer to our mighty God who will fight for us.


[1] E. M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, paperback ed. 1972), 7.