If joy is so prominent and central in Philippians, what’s the relationship between joy and faith, between joy and belief in the gospel? Because I think most interpreters of this book would arrive at Philippians 1:27 as the main point of the book:
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Only walk or live worthy of the gospel. Walking worthy of the gospel means living in a way that makes the gospel look valuable or worthy or beautiful. Live like that. That’s the main point of Paul’s letter. But what does walking or living worthy of the gospel really mean practically? Let’s keep reading,
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. (Philippians 1:27)
This is Paul’s way of saying how the gospel is shown to be magnificent or worthy or beautiful or valuable; namely, you are arm in arm pursuing the faith of the gospel. When the gospel is believed, it looks worthy. The gospel doesn’t look worthy by its existence, but by our striving to advance it in the world and to deepen our faith in it.
Why is that? Why does faith in the gospel of Christ make the gospel look magnificent? Well, even Satan and all his demons believe the gospel, and they tremble. They don’t make the gospel look great by believing the gospel. Therefore, there must be something about the nature of true belief in the gospel that causes the gospel to look worthy in a way the devils don’t. So what’s the difference?
Faith Itself or the Fruit of Faith?
One clue is a little earlier in Philippians 1. Paul is talking about whether it would be better for him to go to heaven or stay here on earth. He says, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25).
Now, how do joy and faith relate to one another here? Is joy the fruit of faith? Are joy and faith different experiences, and as soon as you have faith, you also have joy? Or is joy a constituent element — an ingredient — in what true faith really is?
I think joy in Christ is part of what faith is. Paul says in Philippians 3:8,
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
I thought we gained Christ Jesus through faith. But Paul says, “I value Jesus supremely, and I count everything else as less valuable in order that I might gain Christ.” How does his joy relate to gaining Christ by faith?
Seeing Is Believing, Believing Is Delighting
The very next verse says,
. . . in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:9)
So Philippians 3:8 says: I am counting everything else as loss and treasuring Christ above all things, finding my full satisfaction in Christ in order that I might gain Christ. And Philippians 3:9 says: I gain Christ and his righteousness not by works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus. My way of putting those two verses together is to say that a necessary, constituent, essential element of saving faith is treasuring Christ above all things.
Again Philippians 1:27 says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That is, live in such a way as to call attention to the worth of the gospel. Do that by linking arms together and pursuing the faith of the gospel, which I now take to mean not just believing that the gospel is true, not even just trusting that certain facts and events will happen because of Christ, but rather I also mean treasuring him. The Philippians 3:8 kind of satisfaction in him is part of what saving faith in him is.
How does joy relate to the gospel and faith in the gospel? Joy is an essential element of faith, and when we live by that kind of faith, we show the gospel to be magnificent.
Workers for Your Joy
There is another text where this relationship between faith and joy is drawn out. Paul says, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). We would have expected him to say, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your faith.” And he does say that, but he switches words. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy.” I think, because of what we’ve seen above, you could say joy of faith — joy which is part of what faith is.
Therefore, the gospel of Christ is most magnified, most glorified, in us when the Christ of the gospel satisfies us most deeply.
This video is the fourth of a six-part series on the theme of joy in the book of Philippians. John Piper walks us through a short study of how to understand joy, pursue it for ourselves, and then apply it in all of life. Here are the other videos in the series:
Part 1: How Do You Define Joy?
Part 2: What Is Christian Hedonism?
Part 5: How Does Joy Overflow in Love?
Part 6: Does Joy Die in Sorrow?