While we could look elsewhere in Paul’s letters to discover some of the reasons for his joy in the Lord, we will confine ourselves to grounds of joy that he mentions in this letter to the Philippians.
The first source of joy for Paul was found in the power of prayer. In 1:3-4, he writes: ‘I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy.’ There is no doubt that one important aspect of Paul’s joyful intercession was the healthy spiritual state of his friends in Philippi. In addition, Paul rejoiced that he could pray to God with the desire that they would receive further spiritual blessings. He knew that the Lord could answer his many prayers in ways far above his understanding. Yet the fact remains that joy comes to those who pray to the Lord.
A second source of spiritual joy for Paul was the ongoing success of the gospel. He writes in 1:12-18: ‘But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defence of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.’ His joy at the success of the gospel brings a covering over two potential difficulties or barriers to Paul’s joy. One of these barriers was the particular providence of imprisonment he faced at the time. This trial had been overcome by the amazing effect of Paul’s witness to the soldiers who were guarding him – the gospel had reached the elite troops of the Emperor’s army. The other barrier was the division in the church in Rome, a division that was expressed through the preaching of the gospel. His opponents were orthodox preachers and believers. Yet because they preached the gospel, Paul rejoiced.
A third source of joy for Paul and his friends was found in the potential of knowing Jesus in an increasing manner. Paul alludes to this in Philippians 3:10ff. The fact of the matter is that every thing that Paul discovered about Jesus brought great joy into his heart. When he first met him and discovered that he was a suitable Saviour of sinners, Paul discovered a well of joy. Since then, he had known the power and ministry of Jesus in a wide variety of ways. He had experienced the shepherd care of Christ personally, he had climbed the heights to the third heaven, he had observed the hand of Jesus in bringing people into his kingdom, in the planting of churches, and in the sanctification of sinners. Even circumstances that appeared to deny the possibility of joy, such as when he received the thorn in the flesh, became doorways into experiencing the grace of Christ. Through the kindness of Jesus, Paul had been led into the joyous riches of the status of adoption, of belonging to the family of God. Paul had found that wherever Jesus was, there was great joy, and therefore he resolved to know as much about him as possible.
A fourth source of joy for Paul was the prospect of the glory to come (3:20-21). He knew that it was far better to die and go to be with Jesus. But he knew it would be better still when the resurrection day arrived, bringing with it the perfect world. As he looked at his worn and weary body, covered with the marks of his years of suffering for the faith, Paul rejoiced because he knew that his body would yet experience glorification. Connected to this joy in future transformation was his ongoing awareness that Jesus was in charge of human history, that he was Lord of all, and that the great resurrection day would be the occasion when the dignity of Jesus would be recognised by all.
A fifth source of joy for Paul was found in service in the church. He knew it from personal experience as he relates in 1:25-26. What joy it gave to Paul to observe the humble service of Timothy and Epaphroditus! How he looked forward to rejoicing over the effects of his friend (the yokefellow of 4:3) helping Euodia and Syntyche to be restored. Paul had discovered that service of Christ, no matter how apparently insignificant, brought great joy.
There are many other sources of Paul’s joy, and if you take a concordance you can look up the references. But I suppose the question comes to us, ‘Why don’t I have this joy?’ I would suggest that we will probably find the answer in these areas that we have focused on: our prayer life, our response to troubles, our pursuit of Jesus, our focus on the future glory, and the depth of our involvement in the life of the church. If we are deficient in these areas, we will not have the joy of the Lord. The remedy is straightforward: repent and begin appropriating those spiritual disciplines which, through the Lord’s grace and mercy, will give us abundant joy.