We can learn a great deal about how to enjoy God from a Paul’s writing to the Philippian church. Paul was a man who enjoyed God.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is generally known as the “Letter of Joy” (1 John might be equally worthy of this designation). From this letter we can learn a great deal about how to enjoy God from a man who did enjoy God.
It is helpful to remember that he did not write this letter while vacationing at a resort in Southern France. Rather, he was in a Roman jail. To make matters worse, while he was in jail, things were in general disarray in Paul’s second love, the church. This would be as unsettling as a CEO who discovers while he is in an extended stay in the hospital, that his top leaders are embroiled in a divisive conflict. This tells us a lot of what it means to enjoy God. Paul found a way to enjoy God in the worst of circumstances. How did he do this?
Nothing energizes like a goal. Leaders know this. Salesmen know this. Coaches know this. Christians are slow to learn.
The command to rejoice in the Lord always suggests that we make it our life goal to enjoy God.
Paul, however, was unabashedly goal oriented. The command to rejoice in the Lord always suggests that we make it our life goal to enjoy God. It is not a byproduct. It is the goal.
Paul said “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” (Philippians 3:10 ) Knowing Christ was his consuming goal. More important to Paul than anything else was knowing the Savior who died for him. He was consumed with this occupation. It was as important to him as it is to a tennis player to win Wimbleton or a football player to wear a super bowl ring.
The purpose of tomorrow’s goals is to change our behavior today.
A little later, Paul said, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13, 14) The one thing is emphatic. Billy Graham said of Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, at his funeral that the thing that made him a success was he could say with Paul, “this one thing I do,” whereas most can only say, “these ninety things I dabble in.”
“One thing” is a curious phrase, because it looks as if Paul is doing three things: forgetting what is behind, straining toward what is ahead, and pressing on. As we look more closely we see that the first two modify the third. The one thing is what he does right now. It is pressing on. Now is the only time he has, and now, right now, he is pressing on. That is the one thing. Forgetting past failures and past victories helps him to press on right now. Earlier, he called the things he left behind to follow Christ “rubbish” ( Philippians 3:8). In ancient literature the word was used to describe two things—common manure, and the scraps left over from a big family meal. I always picture a bucket of used Kentucky Fried Chicken. No one weeps to toss it out. That is how Paul saw the considerable achievements of his B.C. life.
“Straining toward what is ahead” is a picture of the runner’s eye on the tape. It is a picture of a goal orientation that motivates him to press on. The purpose of tomorrow’s goals is to change our behavior today.
The moment a person seeks to become one who constantly enjoys God, he begins enjoying God.
The church has lost much of this goal orientation that Paul demonstrates in this book. We slumber off and on without any real sense of where we are heading. If we are to lay hold of joy in God, it must become the consuming passion of our lives. We must want it badly. That is what the Psalmist meant when he said, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” (Psalms 42:1 ) There is no yawning here. People at football games rarely fall asleep. And if you do see someone asleep you will notice he does not have a uniform on. People in the game are energized by the goal itself.
Adopting the goal of enjoying God will have immediate results, because it is in the chase that the joy is found. Discovering a worthwhile goal and pursuing it always brings joy. The moment a person seeks to become one who constantly enjoys God, he begins enjoying God. The goal itself energizes and electrifies the soul.
The moment a person seeks to become a person who constantly enjoys God, he begins enjoying God.
Paul knew that living a life of continual joy in God was not an easy or automatic task. It needed constant reminding. People easily forget. They easily get distracted and begin loving the world, only to be disappointed. They are easily discouraged. Maintaining an ongoing fire for God is not easy. That is why he wrote, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” ( Philippians 3:1)
We have all known Christians—strong, good, active, sincere Christians who fell into the gutter of sin. Paul says joy in God is a guardrail—a safeguard. People who are happy in God are not tempted by the puny pleasures of this world. People with full bellies don’t stop by McDonalds on the way. Men whose wives take care of them at home are not tempted by the most attractive and flirtatious woman in the work place. You cannot move a man who is satisfied. And people who are happy in God have a safeguard from all kinds of sin.
Paul recognized that this joy would take constant vigilance to maintain. That is why he says, “It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” If they were not constantly reminded, Paul feared they would fall in love with the world again, as the Israelites did with Egypt.
It may be that it will be impossible to really enjoy God without a group that is constantly reminding you to rejoice in the Lord.
It may be that it will be impossible to really enjoy God without a group that is constantly reminding you to rejoice in the Lord, as Paul did for the Philippians. It may be easier for a dozen people to learn to enjoy God together than it ever would for someone to do it alone, because of the mutual encouragement that is possible and necessary. It may be that it will take groups of people who gather together and say, “Let us meet regularly to discuss our progress in joy in God.” To pastors I say you would do well to do what Paul did—remind your people often to take joy in God.
I fear that this will be just another book for you. I hope you think it is a good book, but if it is only a good book I have failed. My goal was to not to write a good book but that you, the reader, might actually enjoy God. Not that you would think about enjoying God for a week or two while you are reading this volume, but that you would actually live the rest of your life enjoying God.
My goal was to not to write a good book but that you, the reader, might actually enjoy God.
This will not be easy. It may require you giving your copy to a friend and saying, “If this book warms your heart, if it speaks to you of a life you would like to live, if it causes you to thirst for the next step in Christian living, then let us bind together to remind each other that we are to live lives enjoying God.” (There is a study guide provided for this purpose.) You may want to get a copy of J.I. Packer’s classic work, Knowing God, or Piper’s stimulating work, Desiring God. Go through Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God. More than anything, you will want to tarry long with God in prayer and the Word. You may want to do exercises such as paraphrasing the book of Philippians. To enjoy God, we must go hard after God in worship. Enjoying God, to become a reality is not like turning on a light switch. It is more like stoking a wood burning stove; it needs constant attention.
Paul Saw God at Work
Behind everything that happened, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, Paul saw God at work.
There are reflections of Romans 8:28 in this book. He begins the letter with his confidence that, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 ) Behind everything that happened, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, Paul saw God at work. Things were not running recklessly out of control. God was using circumstances—his unjust jail sentence—to complete the work that He was after.
Further, Paul was confident that God was at work, and that made him happy. He was a living example of “seeking first the kingdom” ( Matthew 6:33). Progress in the kingdom was more important to him than winning a football game or climbing the corporate ladder. Since he was, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 ) Paul’s agenda was the kingdom and he knew that God would prevail.
Paul was even happy that teachers with crummy motives were preaching. “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice. (Philippians 1:18) No doubt he would had rather they had preached the gospel just because they loved Jesus and wanted to see the kingdom expand. If they preached simply to make him feel bad, but the result was that the gospel was being preached, Paul could still rejoice in that. It is hard to beat a man like that. You cannot take his joy from him.
A Joy that is Shared is Doubled
Paul realized he could not have joy in God if he kept it all to himself.
Paul realized he could not have joy in God if he kept it all to himself. It was something that his group shared together, or that none of them experienced at all. This is why Paul said, “Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2 ) Christianity is deeply personal, but it is not a private matter. We are connected to our surrounding.
Sooner or later we must share our joy in God together or we lose it.
Of course, we can have some joy on our own, and each person must tap into the Source personally. But sooner or later we must share our joy in God together or we lose it. Paul wanted to enjoy the joy in the context of a group. His joy was diminished if he could not share it. His joy was diminished if they did not also enjoy God. Paul’s joy could not be complete unless they were living the life. Later, he said he wanted to be cheered by the news from Timothy that they were living the life (Philippians 2:19 ). Enjoying God happens in community. Churches need leaders that stimulate them to rejoice in God, reminding them constantly. Leaders cannot have complete joy in God unless their followers are following God, in the same way that a parent’s joy will always be diminished if their children are out of the tent.
The Philippians were the ones he “loved and longed for,” his joy and crown ( Philippians 4:1). His letter to the Galatians shows that his spiritual children could also rob his joy from him, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” ( Galatians 4:19) He was connected to the churches.
We Americans are fiercely independent. One of our most loved documents is the Declaration of Independence. But Christianity is an innately dependent relationship. Churches dependent on leaders, leaders dependent on followers; we are all dependent on God.
We learn four things from Paul’s letter to the Philippians about how to enjoy God:
- We need to adopt the goal of enjoying God. The act of adopting the goal moves us in that direction.
- Paul needed constant reminding of the goal of enjoying God and thought the Philippians did as well.
- Paul saw God at work all around him and this caused Paul to rejoice.
- To maximize our joy in God, we must share it with others. It is very difficult to enjoy God alone.
With this foundation in place, we turn to look at what a difference enjoying God would make in a number of areas.