Finding Joy When You Thought You Found It, Part 4
Do you remember your chains? Can you look down and see them now? Are you paralyzed because of them? Do you find yourself merely accepting that you will always have some chains? Me too.
Paul is sitting in a Roman prison yet he speaks little (if at all) of his chains. There is some indication that he thought this might be the real end for him. This chapter (and really the whole book) is Paul’s words thanking the church at Philippi for all they’d done for him. Later, he encourages them that God started a good work in them and that he would not finish it until the end.
Perhaps glancing down at his chains, we see in verse 12 that Paul declares that all the things that happened to him really happened to advance the gospel. He continued: “I am in chains in defense of the gospel”. He reminds the church that some preach out of selfish ambition and to be careful about that, but we see in verse 18 our word “Rejoice”. In context, he is speaking of the preaching of the gospel. As he sits in that dark Roman prison with chains he rejoices that the gospel is being preached. This word means “to boast or boasting”. I do not think this came from a place of pride, I think it may have been in defiance of those who imprisoned him. I think he was speaking to the church almost like a proud parent–proud that they continued to advance the gospel. He got much Joy from seeing this. He goes to say that he will continue to rejoice. Note that he never mentions that he is happy for them.
I can’t help but think that if Paul did look down at his chains and if they were almost invisible as he took the focus off of that dark and cold prison where he was mistreated and kept his eye on the prize–the advancement of the gospel. I wonder what kind of sweet Grace he got to be able to ignore the chains and yet still exhibit Joy, both in the way of “exceeding glad” and “boasting”.
A popular verse is verse 22 “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain“. Certainly, when we look down at our own chains– the dark rooms in our minds and the coldness of our hearts makes us think that it would be better to be in our eternal home. Yet, Paul understood that his life mattered (as does yours) especially to the advancement of the gospel. Many people are held down by the chains of trauma; especially unresolved trauma. Those people would rather get their passports stamped than to sit in the darkness of their lives and fight to find Joy in the chains. Paul didn’t find Joy in those chains by himself. Certainly, he was given a measure of grace to get through inevitable death and horrible circumstances. But, it was as if the chains weren’t even there. Because he had the Grace he needed to live with chains. Paul mentioned being “delivered” but he meant delivered with the same spirit that Jesus had in the garden.
After his proclamation “for me to live is Christ to die is gain” Paul painted a beautiful picture of what it would be like to be with Jesus. He literally says, “I am torn between the two” (here or eternity). But he knew that it was good for him to stay and proclaim the gospel. He was convinced that he stay and serve them with Joy (exceeding gladness) and faith. And I began to wonder could joy and faith be separated?
Sometimes I look down at the scars that my chains left; and I am able to count them as marks of God’s faithfulness on my life. That gives me Joy, but it seems after the fact. I don’t recall any Joy during those situations. In fact, those very scars have driven me to this study.
These days I am stumbling towards the window of my cold and dark heart and waiting for the light to come in; the light hurts my eyes. It helps me not feel the chains of grief, despair or worry- if I can find Joy, somehow. So, I look for the faith I need to find that Joy, and it comes ever so slightly as I begin to care more about the advancement of the gospel than the chains. They hurt, but not as bad as I let more light in, and take one more step of faith. All seasons of our lives will contain chains. You could call those times “unhappy” times. And that is the crux of this study. I can’t imagine Paul was happy in that cold, dark and lonely room–but he had Joy. He had Joy because He had faith to keep His eye on the prize, which was what he was sent to do, advance the gospel.
We are all called to advance the gospel. So, how do we dig in deep and find joy in the chains?