I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much bolder to speak the word without fear. Philippians 1:12–14 (ESV)
Over the past year, I have been in a position to have an overview of what is happening in the church. Specifically, I have been burdened with the Pastors and Ministry Leaders who have had to navigate some difficult decisions in light of the pandemic.
These leaders have had to make decisions on when to open the doors of the church and when to close. Often they have been bombarded by people with a variety of opinions as to what they should or should not be doing.
They have felt the weight of responsibility in fulfilling the mission and purpose of the church while at the same time caring for the health and safety of the congregation. It has been an overwhelming task, to say the least.
While there are great reasons for both sides of the argument, pastors and ministry leaders have felt the emotional toll that this year has taken. Additionally, it has been a difficult decision for some to throw in the towel and move on to other churches or has taken a break completely from ministry. I get it!
One of the first leadership positions with the District I was asked to serve, was that of Presbyter. When I asked one of the other members of the presbytery board about the things I could expect in dealing with various churches, they simply said, “Wait by the phone and a church’s problems will find you!”
Maintaining our joy is not determined by the circumstances around us, but is often deepened during difficult times. When I think about where joy comes from and how we develop it, I am reminded of Paul.
Paul faced many difficult circumstances as he traveled, preaching the gospel and planting churches. His missionary journeys led him into hostile environments all the time, yet he can write to the Philippians how joyful he was while imprisoned!
Often when I begin to think about all the difficulties that I have weighing on my life, I remind myself of some of my missions journeys. Traveling to third world countries and seeing the living conditions people face every single day tends to remind me how good I have it.
Additionally, when I think about the churches that have been threatened with prison or even death for preaching the gospel, I realize how privileged I am to freely share the Gospel!
How could Paul stand by his joy in ministry while being imprisoned?
Look at the passage of scripture again: I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has served to advance the gospel so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. Philippians 1:12–13 (ESV)
Even though Paul was greatly hindered from ministering the way that he was used to, he still found a way. Paul recognized that his ministry was not determined by his location or freedom, but rather in his willingness to preach.
He had a captive audience. As a prisoner, he found an audience among the whole imperial guard along with anyone else he came in contact with. The Gospel was not held captive. Those around Paul were held captive to Paul’s presentation of the Gospel!
Even though Paul is imprisoned in Rome, he doesn’t view himself as being at the mercy of human authority. He has the assurance that as he continues to minister on Christ’s behalf, that God will use the difficult circumstance to advance the Gospel!
Look at the second part of our passage: And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much bolder to speak the word without fear. Philippians 1:14 (ESV)
Not only was Paul focused on the progress of the gospel in Rome, but he was also getting reports of people preaching the gospel with boldness. Because Paul had continued to minister through his imprisonment, people began to fulfill their role in ministry with confidence!
Paul’s limitations inspired others to fulfill their role in ministry! This can only serve to multiply the efforts of the church and see many more people hear the good news of the gospel! Which is what the church is all about!
Today, as ministry leaders have struggled with the heavy decisions surrounding the pandemic, joy is possible. How? Paul understood and lived out joy despite his circumstances. Here are a few reminders about your joy.
1. Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit—But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law. Galatians 5:22–23 (ESV)
This incredible gift of joy is something that you simply receive, just like you did salvation! When you pray for joy in your life, God freely and abundantly grants it every single time! Don’t allow anything to stand in the way of receiving an abundant amount of joy in your life!
2. Joy is not determined by our circumstances—I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need. Philippians 4:10–12 (ESV)
While many troubling things are happening around us, our source of joy comes from God. He alone can fill our hearts and minds with joy regardless of the difficulties that come our way. Having joy helps us look past the negative aspects of life and find what God is doing in advance of the kingdom!
3. Joy must be actively maintained—Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (ESV)
With all that bombards us in life, it is easy for us to let our focus on joy begin to slip. I believe that is why Paul was so adamant about commanding us to rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS! It is so important, he said it twice! Rejoice Always!
4. Joy is a decision every day—Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
Paul taught that what we focus our thoughts on is determined by us. Focusing our minds on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise, changes our perspective. We must decide every day what will dominate our minds and ultimately our perspective on this life.
My prayer for the church in 2021 is that ministry leaders will find joy in the work that God has called them to. I believe that God will use 2020 as an opportunity to deepen the work of the church to make the foundation stronger. May we see God do amazing things through the church to reach a world around it with the most amazing news of all…Jesus Saves!
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