“My Joy and Crown” on Philippians 3:15 – 4:9 by Rev. Sean Baker – November 6, 2022
We’re looking at the book of Philippians this morning. And one of the things you need to know to appreciate this book is that this book is actually a letter, and the author of this letter—Paul—is writing from prison. Now this is important: he’s in prison because of his faith. He’s been proclaiming that Christ is King…but he lives in an empire (the Roman Empire) that already has a king – which means Paul’s claims about Christ are not just annoying, they are a crime: they are treason. Paul is in prison for his faith. And the other thing to know about this is that the people Paul is writing to, this church, is itself being harassed for its faith. People are losing out on work, they’re getting pressure (sometimes cutoff) from their families. It turns out that the way of Jesus and the values of the world are not always very well-aligned. And the church is feeling some pressure. So that’s the context: Their pastor is in prison; their community is being harassed. It’s pretty grim. We pick it up in Philippians 3. In the section right before this, Paul makes a famous argument that he’s saved by faith. He’s not saved because he’s such a good person. It’s Christ through faith who saves him. And now he’s kind of leaning into that faith…his word is “straining” toward what is ahead, pressing on…
15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
So here’s Paul. An imprisoned pastor writing to his persecuted church. And he wants them to stand firm in the Lord. But not just to survive. v. 4 He wants them to live joyful lives in the Lord, (v.7) with peace that transcends understanding (v. 6) all without being anxious about anything. Joyful, at peace, not anxious. Doesn’t that sound nice? But, what makes him think this is possible? This standing firm. These joyful lives. This peace that transcends understanding. Especially when so much bad is going on? Persecution? Imprisonment?
Well, at the end of chapter three, Paul gives a few reasons for his hope and joy. First, in v. 20 Paul says that we have hope because we have a connection, we have citizenship—beyond this world—so even if this world rejects you or misunderstands you, we’re citizens of heaven…
Second, Paul also says that we have hope, (v. 21) because Christ is coming back and Christ will bring everything under his control and in addition to that, also v. 21, he points out that even our bodies — our frail and sometimes frustrating bodies – will be transformed in the resurrection.
And what all three of these have in common is that that hope we have is, in some way, based on a future reality or something revealed in the future. So, Paul can stand. Paul can have hope. He can talk about joy—because he knows the future: You would say he has perspective. He knows that suffering doesn’t last forever — and that the Kingdom of Heaven is a sure thing.
I’ve heard some people describe it this way – they say that our trials, our suffering are really just like a passing storm. It may be wet and rainy today, but the sun will come out tomorrow. Eventually, heaven will set everything right. And that gives us hope and even joy.
Now, the passing storm is an interesting image. Because it was exactly a year ago this week that the lower mainland was preparing for a storm to pass. An atmospheric river, they said, maybe more than one. And that storm did pass eventually. But I think the flooding, and destruction, and landslides of a year ago taught us that passing storms are not always just passing storms.
I don’t know you folks at Telkwa very well, but I know a bit about some of you. I know that for some of you, the storms in your life, the trials you have faced, have been less like a 30-minute summer thunderstorm and more like a category 5 atmospheric river. For some of you, when the storms hit your life, sure, some sunny days returned, but also the levees broke, the rail lines washed out, you lost everything. For some of you, the storms have changed your life and you will never be the same.
Sometimes when I hear people say trials are just like a passing storm, “the sun will come out tomorrow,” I think, lucky you. Walk a mile in my shoes. See how you like those storms.
But of course, it’s hard to be so smug with Paul: the guy telling us to have joy now because the future will be good – because the trials in Paul’s life have not exactly been afternoon sprinkles. The guy is imprisoned by an empire that will eventually execute him. We learn elsewhere in Scripture that in addition to this imprisonment, Paul’s been beaten, he’s been whipped, he’s been shipwrecked, he’s been homeless…he’s done things he can never undo, he has blood on his hands…to be honest, Paul’s had kind of a terrible life. So I actually think Paul does know a bit about what it is to suffer. He has been through the category 4 and the category 5 storms of life. But he is also the one who says, without a hint of irony…literally from a prison cell – that the day is coming when God will calm this storm. We might have to wait till heaven to see it — but Paul knows the weather will clear up.
Paul has joy; he thinks we can have it too, because he knows there is a future with Jesus. And that future is good.
This is one of the most common perspectives on suffering in the Bible: future hope. That God will make things right again. It’s a good perspective. It’s Biblical. It’s clearly at the heart of Paul’s joy despite his lousy situation.
But there is a rather significant problem with how some people apply this perspective.
I have a colleague who just moved to Florida. Like two weeks before Hurricane Ian made landfall. You know what you do when a Hurricane is coming? You board up the house. You sandbag the doors. And you get out of town!
Where I live, in Michigan, in the states, we don’t get hurricanes or atmospheric rivers, but we get tornadoes. Do you know what to do if a tornado is coming? You get in the basement.
About five years ago, a tornado was coming through the city where I live. The sirens were blaring, and my wife and I and our only child at the time went to the basement. But then we heard on the radio that the path of the storm was going to go right through our neighbourhood. When we heard that we also got under a table, and then we even pushed the old couch next to us.
What’s the principle here? If you can’t get yourself or your house out of the way of the storm— shut yourself off from the world as much as you can. Put as much as you can between yourself and the stormy world around you.
A Christian could apply this to suffering: if suffering for us is just a passing storm…then maybe we ought to get in the basement.
Maybe, Christians should separate themselves from the world: We ought to board up the windows, get in the basement, hide under the table & pull up the couch — basically, keep to ourselves as much as we can until the storm passes and we get to heaven.
If the source of our joy is knowing that something good is coming after this life, then get in the basement and ride out the storm. This world is full of pain and hurt — if you can avoid it, then avoid it.
If the reason for our joy is a future heaven—why should a Christian ever leave their basement?
Frankly, why even go to church? You want to talk about trouble? I work as a consultant with churches going through conflict or trying to deal with differences. Let me tell you, churches are kind of hard places to be right now. There isn’t anyone out there without a complaint or two, or ten about their church. “I don’t like the way you deal with COVID.” “I don’t like the way you talk about racism.” “I don’t like your views on human sexuality.” You name it, we’ve got complaints about it.
So, why not just stay in the basement, read your bible and wait for heaven? Let’s be honest. We live in the golden age of not going to church – stay home, stream a worship service, download a sermon, or not. Why even bother with this messy thing we call church?
Well, in our passage today, Paul gives us 2 reasons. Euodia & Syntyche. There’s this little scene between chapter 3 all about future hope and chapter 4 all about rejoicing – this little scene with Euodia and Syntyche. And it feels so out of place – it has the feel of a teacher who interrupts his lesson and says, “Hey you two in the back, cut it out!”
So these two women are a part of the Philippian church. A significant part; partners in the gospel, but for some reason they disagree. And Paul pleads with them to agree. We know nothing about this situation except that a couple of people don’t get along. Weird, right? (must be only a 1st century thing, right?)
Anyway, Paul asks them to agree. Literally, he asks them to have the same mindset as one another. It’s the same word used in chapter 2 to talk about how Christians ought to have the same mind as Christ. So here’s my question: if Paul’s reason for rejoicing, if the source of peace that passes understanding is all about the future—why bother with these two women? Why bring it up? Why press into this little conflict? Isn’t he walking into a storm here? I often get this question in my consultation: Sean, do you really want to go there? You really want to bring this up? Why not avoid it? Why not stay in the basement?
Well, I think Paul steps into the storm because there’s another source to his joy. His joy is not just about heaven in the future. Look at 4:1. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, MY JOY and MY CROWN.
What’s Paul saying? He’s saying the Philippians themselves are his joy. Not just heaven in the future; but the Philippians right now. This church. These people. Even Euodia and Synthyche! They are his joy. What is Paul talking about?
I think what Paul is saying is that he is so invested in the faith of these fellow Christians, that when they grow in their faith, when they put in the work to really love each other, even in this little fight; when they start to act more like Jesus: it is a source of joy — they are, he says, like a crown on his head.
The crown he’s referring to was not a king and queen crown. It’s a sports image — a crown was what you won in ancient footraces, or the ancient Olympics — you trained and you worked, and if you won the race—you got a crown, a wreath that went on your head. It’s like their gold medal.
Paul is saying that these brothers and sisters, growing in their faith — practically loving each other even though they get on each other’s nerves…they are like athletes in training; working hard not to build muscle, but working hard to build up relationships with each other…and when they experience some reconciliation, when they live in peace, when they do have the same mind, it’s like winning the gold medal.
And you know, one of the things I’ve learned in my job about getting along? Practically loving people you disagree with? I think it’d be less work to qualify for the Olympics. It is an achievement. It is extraordinary when it happens.
And I think that this little expression, about them being his joy and crown: is one of the most overlooked but important reasons we get out of the basement. You see for Paul—part of his joy—was not just the heaven he’d experience in the future—Paul’s reward was to see other people come to and grow up in their faith. He wasn’t just concerned that he was growing in his faith. He wasn’t just concerned that he made it to heaven. He found joy by investing his heart and soul into helping other people meet and live like Jesus. And you can’t do that from the basement. You can’t do that without getting your hands dirty.
But dear friends at Telkwa, when it happens – when you see other people living like Jesus — especially when it’s hard – when other people lived like Jesus, it was like heaven on earth for Paul. Their growth, their success, became a joy equal to the joys of heaven for him.
And so this is my question for us—do we see each other the way Paul saw the Philippians? Are we just at church to get saved ourselves? Are we just here cause it's the thing we do and have always done? Am I just a part of this community because I find the sermons interesting and I like the music? Am I just a part of this community for what I can get out of it? Or are we so invested in the people around us, that Gary’s growth, and Matthew’s faith and Rosie’s faith, are not just nice things — but they are our pride and joy!
We will step into the storm with them because when they are growing in their faith: it is like heaven on earth for us! — See, we are not just here to ride out this world and get to some distant heaven. Part of heaven—part of our joy—our crown, is right now, It’s the investment of time and energy and love we make in each other (especially when it’s hard!)
If our biggest concerns are just what can I get out of church? How can church meet my needs? We’re really no church at all. We might as well just stay in the basement. But Paul is urging us, as he urged Euodia and Synthyche: to get out of the basement — he is reminding us that as Christians we do look forward to future glory — no doubt about it, there is joy in waiting for heaven. But Paul is saying: that joy doesn’t need to wait. As we wait for the joy of heaven — we have the joy of each other…And there is a bit of heaven every time we step out of the basement to invest in and practically love one another.