Imprisonment plus isolation plus a death sentence equals... joy? Wait, that can't be right, can it? In this message, Dr. Stanley examines the apostle Paul’s triumphant joy in the face of dire circumstances. It may seem absurd, but as Christians, we’re enabled by the Holy Spirit to experience overflowing joy even when our lives only seem to be adding up to despair. Explore what it means to trade in superficial happiness for steadfast joy.
How do your circumstances affect you? When you are going through difficulties, pain, or disappointment, do these experiences change your conduct or disposition? Are you one person when life is running smoothly, but a different one when you are visited by hardship and suffering? Although trouble has the power to take away our happiness, we don’t have to let it rob us of our joy in Christ.
Circumstances may change, and trouble will come, but for those who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior, their relationship with Him will never be altered. And that fact is the foundation for joy in every situation. When Paul wrote the book of Philippians, he was in prison, chained to a Roman guard. Even though he wasn’t sure what awaited him and was suffering the hardships of prison life, his letter was filled with joy. Toward the end of the letter, he said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Paul had every reason in the world to be miserable and forlorn, but his focus was not on his external conditions but on his relationship with the Lord. His joy-filled experience didn’t match his environment. In the midst of all the difficulties, Paul had triumphant joy that overcame his circumstances.
There is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness depends upon good circumstances, but joy depends on a relationship. Although most people desire and pursue a happy life, Christians have the privilege of remaining joyful in every situation because of their relationship with Jesus Christ, who sustains them. Happiness could be thought of as a light-hearted, worldly feeling, but joy is a God-feeling, and that’s what Paul had. At salvation, the Holy Spirit seals us as children of God. Knowing that this relationship can never change enables us to face difficulties and walk through dark valleys with an inner confidence and overwhelming joy and contentment.
We should not allow our circumstances to determine our disposition. If we let ourselves focus on our difficulties and pain rather than on Christ, we will become trapped by our circumstances. That’s why some people buckle under the smallest trauma or heartache while others stay strong in much more trying circumstances. The difference is an immovable foundation of joy in Christ, and that’s what the apostle Paul had. Paul had no external reasons to rejoice. Since he was confined in a prison cell, he no longer had the freedom to travel around the Roman Empire preaching the gospel and founding new churches. Furthermore, some of his fellow workers in the gospel were adding to his suffering by making false accusations against him. Even his future was uncertain as he faced the threat of death. But through all this, he kept rejoicing in Christ and was confident that even if he died, he was destined to be in the presence of the living God.