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 In the absence of homegroup meetings this series of reflections has been prepared by the Reverend Steve Painting of our Mission Community.   Each week a written paper accompanied by one or more audio files will be published here.

 In the absence of homegroup meetings this series of reflections has been prepared by the Reverend Steve Painting of our Mission Community.   Each week a written paper accompanied by one or more audio files will be published here.

Joy Part 4

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This will be the last in our 4-part series on joy. After this week we’ll be taking a short summer break before posting the first in our next series in approximately 3 weeks’ time. This week, we’ll be taking a look at what Paul says about joy in his letter to the people in Philippi. Before we start, spend some time in prayer asking God to open your heart and mind to his word, then listen to All I once held dear. The lyrics are printed below if you don’t have access to the song

All I once held dear, built my life upon

All this world reveres, and wars to own

All I once thought gain I have counted loss

Spent and worthless now, compared to this

Knowing you, Jesus, knowing you,

There is no greater thing

You're my all, you're my best

You're my joy, my righteousness

And I love you, Lord

Now my heart's desire is to know you more

To be found in you and known as yours

To possess by faith what I could not earn

All-surpassing gift of righteousness

Oh, to know the power of your risen life

And to know You in Your sufferings

 To become like you in your death, my Lord

So with you to live and never die.

Paul wrote this letter probably while he was under house arrest in Rome. He had a number of reasons for writing to them, one of which was to encourage them in the face of persecution and to rejoice regardless of the circumstances they were in. Paul was not speaking as one who had no idea what they were going through, because he knew what it was like to face persecution and imprisonment yet still know joy. Paul’s letter to the Philippians has been referred to as ‘The Epistle of Joy’. Five times Paul uses the word ‘joy’, and six times he uses ‘rejoice’. Read Philippians 1: 1-11

Paul starts his letter by praying for the church in Philippi in a very moving way. He is thankful to them because they have not forgotten him in his captivity and have sent money to help him out while he was unable to earn for himself because of his captivity. He prays for them to grow so much as followers of Christ that they will be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ”. Not only that, he prays for them with joy because of the way they have worked together to spread the Good News, and because of his confidence that the Lord is working in them. I’ve always seen Paul as a bit scary. He’s not afraid to take people to task for their weaknesses and faults but here he is praising them for their efforts which are successful, which in turn gives Paul joy. He can’t have been that scary as the people wherever he has travelled have sent help to him when he is in trouble.

Paul’s joy, and ours is in the knowledge that the love of Jesus is being spoken about and shared. Think about the most exciting thing that has ever happened to you and how quickly you spread the news. That’s the way we should approach speaking about Jesus and what he has done for us. For Paul, Christian joy was indestructible even in the most difficult circumstances. Indestructible because our joy is in living in the presence of the Lord. Whatever happens in our lives, whatever hardships and loss we face, we can never lose Jesus Christ. We may turn away from him for a while but he is always waiting for us to return like the lost sheep. Remember Romans 8: 35-39

“35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,

39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

In 1756, John Wesley received a letter from a man whose son had gone off the rails and was in York prison awaiting execution. The father wrote “It pleased God not to cut him off in his sins. He gave him time to repent; and not only so, but a heart to repent. His peace increased daily, until on the Saturday he was to die, he came out of the condemned room, tithed in his shroud, and went into the cart. As he went on, the cheerfulness and composure of his countenance were amazing to all the spectators.” This young man, in finding Jesus was able to face the worst day of his life with peace and joy. It was witnessed by the crowds who had turned out to watch a young man die. Hard for us to understand, but legitimate ‘entertainment’ back then. I wonder what they made of this young man going to his death so joyfully?

 Let’s move on to 2 famous verses from Philippians 4: 4-5: - “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near”. Paul is encouraging the Philippians to rejoice even though he himself is imprisoned and facing death, and the church in Philippi will no doubt be facing persecution as they continue to spread the good news about Jesus. Taking all that into account, says Paul, there is still reason to rejoice. We’ve seen over the past few weeks that joy has nothing to do with the circumstances we find ourselves in and Paul is the proof of that. Christian joy is independent of anything that goes on in our earthly lives because its source is the continual presence of Christ with us. But that joy should also have an outward focus. Paul goes on to say ‘let your gentleness be evident to all’. The Greek word used is ‘epieikeia’ and is a difficult one to translate. The NIV and NRSV use gentleness while the ESV uses reasonableness; the King James moderation and the New Living Translation considerate.

Some of the most influential theologians in the past had equal difficulty. Wycliffe used patience; Tyndale and Cranmer, softness; others used modesty and forbearance. I think you’ll agree that all these words mean different things. The Greeks themselves explained epieikeia as ‘justice and something better than justice’ which I think is helpful for us. It’s where mercy comes into the equation. The law might say that someone guilty of theft of food from a shop be sentenced to a specific length of time in prison. Epieikeia says but this person’s home has been broken into, all their money and valuables have been stolen, there are 3 children at home and there is no prospect of any money coming in until the insurance claim is settled. Justice in the strictest sense says that a prison sentence is warranted. Epieikeia says that something more that justice is needed – mercy and compassion for this family. Christians should have this quality – to know when not to apply the strict letter of the law and when to relax justice in its strictest sense and introduce mercy.

 Jesus had it. If we look at the story of the woman caught in adultery in John Chapter 8. The punishment for women was to be stoned to death. It was lawful, the woman was guilty. But Jesus did not condemn her. He showed mercy and compassion to her as he does to us. She was not worthy of it under the strict letter of the law, but then, neither are we. This too is a source of joy and rejoicing for us. We are not deserving of God’s mercy, but he shows it anyway. As we become more like Jesus, so we too are called to temper justice with mercy. Paul’s reason for behaving like this? We go back to verse 5 – “The Lord is near”. When we remember that Christ is returning, that gives us hope as well as joy. The theologian William Barclay said “If we remember that life is short, we will not want to enforce the stern justice which so often divides people but will want to deal with others in love, as we hope God will deal with us. Justice is human, but epieikeia is divine”. The joy Christians have is unique. It is a gift and a blessing that we are called to share with others. Listen to Here is love vast as the ocean (lyrics printed below)

 Here is love, vast as the ocean,

Loving-kindness as the flood,

When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,

Shed for us His precious blood. Who His love will not remember?

Who can cease to sing His praise?

He can never be forgotten,

Throughout heaven’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,

Fountains opened deep and wide;

Through the floodgates of God’s mercy

Flowed a vast and gracious tide.

Grace and love, like mighty rivers,

Poured incessant from above,

And heaven’s peace and perfect justice

Kissed a guilty world in love.

(Quotes are from William Barclay Insights Joy)

Joy Part 4.mp3