If joy in Christ is so important in Philippians, what about joy in people? Is that a compromise? Is it good? Well, you can’t read this letter and not see Paul exulting in his relationship with the Philippians.
He sets the stage in Philippians 1:3–5, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” When these believers come to his mind, joy happens and prayer overflows. And he says it’s because of their partnership with him in the gospel.
Partnership implies a wonderful linking of lives with other flesh and blood human beings for the sake of the gospel. Paul always links his joy in people with his joy in Christ. Some people, non-Christians and even Christians, do not feel loved when you describe your joy in them that way. Why is that? We’ll come back to that question.
Complete My Joy
Philippians 2:2 says, “Complete my joy.” Think about that. Paul is saying this to people: You complete my joy by having the same mind and the same love, not doing anything from rivalry, but rather counting others more significant than yourselves. Don’t only concern yourself with your own interests, but also with the interests of others. Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (see verses 2–5).
So how will the Philippians complete Paul’s joy? By their unified desire to serve others the way Christ serves us. He links their giving him joy with their having the mind of Christ, which is the way he thinks all over the place. It’s precisely because Christ is being formed in them that he has such overflowing joy in them.
Another example is Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:29. Paul sends Epaphroditus back to the Philippians. Epaphroditus had brought a gift from them to Paul, and Paul is sending Epaphroditus back, probably carrying this letter. Paul writes, “Receive him in the Lord with all joy.” In other words, let the coming of this person you love make you happy. Receive him with all joy.
He goes on to say, “Honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ” (verses 29–30). There it is again. Honor — take and express joy in — what kind of men? Men who love the gospel so much, love Christ so much, that they are willing to risk their lives for him. This is not just abstract joy in a friend. It is joy that is rooted most deeply in that friend’s being the kind of person who lays down his life for the gospel.
My Joy and Crown
Philippians 4:1 says, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown.” Paul calls the Philippians his joy. You are my joy, my crown. What does that mean? In what way are they the crown of Paul’s life and the joy of Paul’s life? I think the answer is given back in Philippians 2:16, “[Hold] fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
In other words, if you will hold fast to Christ, if you will hold fast to the word of Christ, then we will arrive together in the presence of Christ. Your whole faith, your whole life — delighting in Christ and following Christ and living a life worthy of the gospel — will be my joy and my crown. You will be the living evidence that my life succeeded in pointing you to Christ and the value of his Word. And that will be my joy.
One last text: Philippians 4:10 says, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.” You are making me glad. You have remembered me. You have revived your concern. And you have sent Epaphroditus and brought me gifts. And I am thrilled. And then in Philippians 4:17–18 he steps back and says, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” In other words, ultimately what was making him glad as he saw the revived concern that they had for him was that they were not just offering something to him, they were offering something to God.
The Great Fountain of Love
Every time Paul refers to his joy in his friends, he also refers to his joy in Christ as necessarily connected with it. His delight in other people is coming out of his delight in Christ, and it is aiming at their deeper and greater delight in Christ.
So what if someone will say, “I don’t feel loved when you talk that way. I feel used when you talk that way”? Why would a person say that? Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). For Paul, the greatest happiness resides in seeing, knowing, and relating to the greatest person in the universe: Jesus Christ. He believes Christ alone is all-satisfying. And so that is what he wants for other people as well.
What if a person doesn’t share that value? Christ is not precious to them above their own life or above their family or above their things. They hear you talking like your love for them is coming from your love for him, and your love for them wants them to know that. But they don’t believe in that. They cannot experience that as love, because what they want is for you to make much of them.
That person may say to you: I think Christianity has made you an unloving person. That makes total sense inside of their worldview. It does. And it’s a false worldview. It is a worldview without Philippians 3:8. When that happens, you have to take a deep breath, be patient, and realize they can’t see it any other way. They can’t feel it any other way, because they can’t make sense out of a Christ-centered love, because they are not Christ-centered. At least not yet.
So let us treasure Jesus Christ above all things, and let us enjoy each other and serve each other toward that great end.