As I have pondered the age range of this conference, with a huge group of younger people, a modest group in the middle, and a small group of people like me, what has come to the front of my mind is that there are peculiar obstacles to global missions in each group.
These are peculiar obstacles that would hold you back from red-blooded, risk-taking, unashamed engagement in taking the gospel of Jesus to the least reached peoples of the world. They may not be the biggest obstacles in your life or your generation, but they are the ones I feel burdened to address, and for which I believe God has given me a specific word.
So, I want to begin by naming one peculiar obstacle to world missions in each group, and then let God address them with one word from Philippians about the invincible power of joy in world missions.
Politically Correct Cowardice
In the youngest group, a new form of politically correct cowardice has appeared in the last five to ten years. It takes the form of opposing those whose message you don’t like by claiming that you don’t feel safe when they talk. In other words, you protect yourself by turning your preferences into thought police that have the authority to shut other people down so you can stay in your little self-defined safety. So, for example, on a Christian college campus, a speaker recently talked about the entanglement of abortion and race, and a group of students protested that this kind of talk made them feel unsafe.
“A life devoted to consumption consumes life.”
I’m calling that a politically correct form of cowardice. And I am referring to it at a conference on global missions because the more deeply and widely that mindset takes root in the Christian community, the greater the hindrance to the global mission of God.
Why is that? Because if you are so committed to feeling safe, how will you ever risk your life for Christ? There is no Christian mission without the surrender of safety. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). If you are so fragile and cowardly that you must shut down those who love you with hard truths, how will you speak in love to those who hate you?
If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
how will you compete with horses? (Jeremiah 12:5)
I assume from the fact that you younger people are at a conference like this means that you are probably not entirely infected with this mindset of politically correct cowardice. And I am hopeful that God will use these messages to make you valiant for the truth and for God’s mission to reach the nations. I have a word from God for you.
For those of you in the middle years, the peculiar obstacle I see between you and missions is probably not politically correct cowardice, but the obstacle of unquenchable consumption. The consumption I have in mind is not the consumption of the bread of life and the word of God, but the consumption of social media, movies, the demands of career, and the quest for more and more stuff.
The quest to consume more and more entertainment, and toys, and travels, and the money that buys them, is insatiable. It does not satisfy. A life devoted to consumption consumes life. “They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18–19). It is a snare that plunges people into ruin and destruction, all the while giving the sensation of success (1 Timothy 6:9). A life devoted to the unquenchable consumption of more and more media, movies, and mammon will not be able to compute the spiritual calculus of Jesus words,
Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29)
And where that kind of calculation (lose now to gain later) doesn’t compute, missions is over. If you are being lured to this kind of unquenchable consumption, I have a word from God for you.
And for those wonderful sixty- and seventy- and eighty-somethings among you — “we few; we happy few!” — our peculiar obstacle is not politically correct cowardice, or unquenchable consumption, though both of these threaten us as well, but rather the creep of acceptable comfort.
From every corner of our culture we are told that the biblical command, “Let us not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9) has an expiration date on it. It expires at 65. We no longer exist for creating; we exist for comfort.
What makes it different from the lifelong temptations to live for comfort is that now the entire culture says, “You’ve earned it. You deserve it. It’s what this season of life is for.” And it is deadly. It is not what this season of life is for.
Near the end of his life, Paul referred to himself only once as an old man. And when he did, he was not in the comforts of paradise; he was in prison. “I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus” (Philemon 9). And when he wrote what were almost his last words, he did not describe the final years as a breather before meeting Christ. He said,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7–8)
So, if you are feeling the creep of acceptable comfort threatening your engagement with Christ’s global mission, I have a word from God for you.
A Word for All
The word that I would like to offer all of you from God is designed by him
to set you free from the captivity of politically correct cowardice, and make you courageous for Christ,
and to cut the choking cords of unquenchable consumption, and set you on a totally different quest,
and to halt the creep of acceptable comfort, and help you dream a better dream for the final chapter.
You’ve been very patient. The word from God is found in Philippians 2:17–18. I invite you to turn to it with me. This is God’s word for you:
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Three Facets of Christian Joy
There are three facets of the beautiful diamond of Christian joy in these two verses. And I am going to try to show that this multifaceted, supernatural, Christian joy is the power that frees from cowardice, cuts the cords of consumption, and halts the creep of comfort.
First, there is Paul’s joy in being poured out on the offering of their faith at the beginning of verse 17: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad.” There is no doubt what this picture of being poured out refers to. It refers to dying. Because Paul uses the exact phrase again in 2 Timothy 4:6, where he says, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” The first facet of Christian joy in these verses is Paul’s joy at the prospect of dying in the service of their faith.
Second, at the end of verse 17 Paul says, “and [I] rejoice with you all.” So if he is rejoicing with them, they are already rejoicing. What are they rejoicing in? He just said, he “poured out” his life for their “faith.” How does Paul think about the relationship of their faith and their joy?
“When joy is given away, it is not halved; it is doubled.”
Here is what he said in Philippians 1:25. Though he is in prison, he expects there to be a season of life to minister to the Philippians, and he describes it like this: “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith [literally: joy of faith].” For Paul, joy and faith are inseparable. When you have saving faith, you have tasted the joy that belongs to faith — the joy of faith. That is the second facet in the diamond of Christian joy: the joy of faith.
Third, verse 18: “Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” Paul has just said that his joy was the joy of being poured out for the sake of their faith — the joy of dying so that they could have the joy of faith. And now Paul says, rejoice with me as I die for your joy of faith.
To which we can easily imagine the Philippians responding, “Paul, this is asking too much. May we not have a season of sorrow at your death — your dying for our faith? We love you!” To which Paul would answer, “Why do you think that what I said means you may not have a season of sorrow?” “Because you said you are rejoicing to be poured out in death for our faith, and then you told us to rejoice with you.” Paul would look at them, perhaps with a gentle smile: “You have so much to learn about joy in Christ. Why would you assume that joy and sorrow are not simultaneous experiences for the Christian?”
Ten verses later, Paul is going to say that his precious friend Epaphroditus almost died for Paul. And he said, “But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (Philippians 2:27). Paul would have wept if Epaphroditus had died. But he would not have stopped rejoicing in Epaphroditus’s joy in dying for Paul. We know this because in 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul says he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
So there are three facets of the diamond of Christian joy in Philippians 2:17–18. Let me name them in the order that they actually occur in life:
- The joy of faith (verse 17, at the end).
- The joy of pouring out your life for the sake of the joy of faith (verse 17, at the beginning).
- The rejoicing with those who joyfully die for the sake of other people’s joy (verse 18).
Let’s ponder each of those a little more deeply.
The Joy of Faith
First, the joy of faith. In verse 17, Paul not only rejoices to be poured out for the sake of their faith; he also rejoices with them in the joy of faith which they have because he is being poured out. So I ask, What does faith rejoice in?
The answer, of course, is inexhaustible. But don’t be put off by this. Don’t fail to take repeated sips from the spring of God’s greatness because the spring is inexhaustible. Don’t say, “I won’t drink any, because I can’t drink it all.” So let’s drink at least a little. What does faith rejoice in?
Through the Living and Abiding Word
Saving faith begins with the word of God. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word (Romans 10:17). So faith rejoices in the word of God. “Your testimonies . . . are the joy of my heart” (Psalm 119:111). “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil” (Psalm 119:162). “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).
And what does the word reveal? Most preciously for sinners, the love of God: “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love” (Psalm 31:7).
Sin and Guilt Are Gone
And what does this love hold out to us in Christ? Salvation — from our sin and guilt and the wrath of God:
Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory [or glorified], obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)
The ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come . . . with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 51:11)
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy. . . . For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior. (Luke 2:10–11)
Walk with Weakness
And how do Christians walk toward this great salvation with our Savior? Through weakness and suffering with joy.
For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. (2 Corinthians 13:9)
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (Romans 5:3–4)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2–3)
Blessed are you when people hate you . . . on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22–23)
Yes, it’s the promise of great reward that sustains our joy in suffering. “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). Which means that the endpoint and final satisfaction of all our joy is God himself in Jesus Christ.
I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy. (Psalm 43:4)
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)
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
So when Paul implies at the end of Philippians 2:17 that they are rejoicing with the joy of faith, he means their faith joyfully embraces all this and more — the word of God, the love of God, the salvation of God, the great reward of God, and God himself. That’s the most basic facet in the diamond of Christian joy — the joy of faith — joy in all that God promises to be for us in Christ.
The Joy of Being Poured Out
The second facet in the diamond is the joy of pouring out our life for the sake of the joy of others. Verse 17: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad.” He is glad if he is to die in the service of their faith.
“There is no Christian mission without the surrender of safety.”
The diamond of Christian joy is not natural. It does not flow from fallen human nature; it is supernatural. It is one thing to rejoice because you are the instrument of someone’s faith. But it is beyond all normal human experience to rejoice particularly because it costs you your life to serve another person’s faith.
More Blessed to Give
What is behind this strange facet of Christian joy? There are multiple levels of explanation. I will mention only two. One is that Jesus had taught Paul by his own words as well as actions, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). So, it is blessed or joyful to see another person’s joy in God increase. But it is more blessed — more joyful — when your sacrifice is the very means of their joy.
How is it more? It’s more joyful because, when you give yourself to bring them joy, your joy expands as it becomes their joy, and theirs becomes yours. You are “more blessed” — more joyful — as their joy in Christ becomes part of your joy in Christ. You all know this experience. When joy is given away, it is not halved; it is doubled. So, Paul is not losing as he dies to increase their joy. He is gaining. And so he rejoices. That’s the first explanation of Paul’s strange joy in verse 17: the joy of dying for their joy.
Become Like Him
The other explanation of this strange facet of Paul’s joy in dying for the faith of the Philippians is found in the next chapter, where Paul says, “ [I aim that I] may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10–11).
In dying for the sake of the faith of the Philippians, Paul was “becoming like [Christ] in his death.” That’s why Christ died. Few things give us more joyful confidence in our own resurrection than the grace of God at work in our lives to help us love like Christ — especially in suffering and even dying for the joy of others.
So, the second facet in the diamond of Christian joy is verse 17a: the joy of pouring out our lives, even in death, for the sake of the joy of others.
Gladness in Grief
Finally, the third facet of the diamond is found in verse 18, namely, rejoicing with those who joyfully die for the sake of other people’s joy. Verse 18: “Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
In other words, be glad in my gladness in giving my life for your faith. We already saw: this does not mean it’s wrong to grieve at Paul’s death. But it does mean it is right to rejoice in the midst of your grief.
“Someone died to bring you joy in God’s word, God’s love, God’s salvation, God’s great reversal.”
Paul was about to become a martyr. How are we to feel about those who risk their lives to bring the gospel to the unreached, and die? Paul tells us at the end of the chapter, “Honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me” (Philippians 2:29–30). Epaphroditus was not a fool to risk his life. He was to be honored. Jim Elliot was right: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
And in the book of Revelation, how are we to respond when the martyrs conquer Satan by dying, not killing? Here’s the answer:
They have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! (Revelation 12:11–12).
That is what Paul is saying we are to do in Philippians 2:18. As I, Paul, rejoice in pouring out my life for your joy, “Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Liberated to Love
So when I say that this is a word from God for the young, the mid-lifers and the happy few seventy-somethings, I mean that all three facets of this diamond of Christian joy are yours in Christ. If Christ is in you, all of this is yours.
- The joy of faith.
- The joy of pouring out your life for the sake of other people’s joy.
- The joy of rejoicing with those who joyfully die for the sake of other people’s joy.
This threefold joy is an invincible force in global missions. But let me close by showing how these three facets of joy correspond to the peculiar obstacles I mentioned at the beginning that may hold you back from red-blooded, risk-taking, unashamed engagement with God’s global mission to bring the joy of faith to all the peoples of the world.
Cowardice Cannot Survive
What becomes of politically correct cowardice that shuts other people down, if you experience the joy of pouring out your life for the sake of other people’s joy? It cannot survive.
Cowardly ostracism of those who offend you cannot survive in the same heart with joy that is ready to die for those who hate you. The cowardice of self-serving safety cannot live in the same heart with the joy of martyrdom. “If I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad” (Philippians 2:17). That is not the voice of politically correct cowardice. But I pray it is your voice.
Consumption Is Cut
What becomes of the choking cords of unquenchable consumption in midlife, if you drink deeply from the inexhaustible spring of the joy of faith? What if you are the recipients of the joy of faith that someone died to bring you? And you are. You are! Someone died to bring you joy in God’s word, God’s love, God’s salvation, God’s great reversal. God’s presence. God himself.
If with the psalmist you go to God, to God your exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4), and drink of the river of his delights (Psalm 36:8), you cut the cords of unquenchable consumption. You will be free from bondage to more and more media, more and more movies, more and more mammon. The joy of faith — joy in all that God is for us in Jesus — is a mighty and powerful liberator.
Comfort Quits Its Creep
And what becomes of the creep of acceptable comfort among us sixty- and seventy- and eighty-somethings if we rejoice with those who rejoice to lay down their lives for the joy of the unreached peoples of the world — if we live verse 18: “Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” — as I am poured out for the nations?
One very specific answer: We who are grandparents will never, never say to our thirty-something children, “Don’t you ever take my grandbabies to that dangerous place!” What! Would you hear your son or daughter say, “We are ready to be poured out for the faith of the nations,” and respond to them, “How could you do this to us?” No! God has a better dream for you. Be glad and rejoice with them. Or better: go with them.
Let Joy Have the Last Word
So, let us all be done with every obstacle between us and global missions. Let us be done with politically correct cowardice, be done with unquenchable consumption, be done with the creep of acceptable comfort. And let us embrace God’s word to us about the invincible power of joy in world missions:
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17–18)