A Key to a Joyful life sermon

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A Key to a Joyful life: Thanksgiving and Remembrance (Phil 1:3-11)

Dog Playing Cards

A man walked by a table in a hotel and noticed three men and a dog playing cards. The dog appeared to be winning.

"That must be a very smart dog," the man commented.

"He ain't so smart," said one of the players. "Every time he gets a good hand he wags his tail!"

When we have joy in our hearts, it will be obvious to everyone!  "A joyful heart makes a cheerful face" (Prov. 15:13) --Kent Crockett

Kent Crockett's Sermon Illustrations, www.kentcrockett.com

Christian joy is more than happiness, which is an emotion. Joy is more accurately defined as an inner state of peace and sense of well being regardless of outward circumstances. Another key ingredient to a joyful life is having a thankful heart. And, a thankful heart is the direct result of remembering and reflecting on who God is and what He is doing in your life.

We lose our joy because we fail to honor God and give Him thanks (Ro. 1:21). On the other hand, the Lord tells us through the psalmist, 'He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me' (Ps. 50:23) Our joy is primarily contingent upon two things: 1) Our understanding of God; and, 2) The state of our communion with Him. If joy is the enjoyment of God's presence then sin kills our joy.

Ingratitude is sin. If gratitude is expressed from the heart by joy, praise and exaltation of God, then ingratitude is expressed from the heart by grumbling, discontent and complaining. These are not minor sins as the Israelites learned in the wilderness (see Num. 14).

Joy flows from a heart that is thankful. 'For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account' (1 Thes. 3:9). Paul was constantly expressing thanks for God's grace in the lives of believers; their faith in Him and their love for each other; praying for them 'always.' If we would know the joyful Christian life, we would do the same.

1. Historical Background to Paul’s relationship with the Philippians

Acts 16:9 Paul in Troas (during 2nd missionary journey 50-52AD) receives a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and appealing to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”   He takes a boat from Asia minor and crosses over into Europe for the first time, passes through Samothrace (an island) through Neapolis and arrives at Philippi—a  leading city in the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; since there was no synagogue he went to the river hoping to find a place of prayer.  He finds a group of women and God opens Lydia’s heart to the gospel (6:14); she and her household were baptized; Paul casts out spirit of divination in a slave-girl; her profitability vanishes and her owners drag Paul and Silas before the magistrates who have Paul and Silas beaten with rods “many blows” (16:22) and through them into prison fastening their feet in stocks; Paul and Silas sing hymns at midnight, God sends an earthquake, the prisoners get free, the jailer decides to commit suicide, but before he can Paul intervenes; the jailer and his household get converted and are baptized; Paul appeals to his Roman citizenship and the magistrates beg Paul to leave the city; on their way out they stop by Lydias house and encourage the new believers (16:40).

I thank my God every time I remember you. . . (verse 3) Thanksgiving and Remembrance

Thinking of the Philippians brought joy to Paul’s heart. He was thankful for them.

Can you think of people who have blessed you in your walk with the Lord?

                Maybe the person who shared the Gospel with you.

                Or a person who invested significant time in your spiritual growth.

                Or maybe a person who walked beside you in difficult times.

We need to remember that Paul was writing this letter from prison yet he found things to thank God for. The Philippians were not perfect yet Paul found things to think God for. How important it us for us to daily find things that we can thank God for. Thankfulness is usually a choice isn’t it? And it can also be a matter of perspective (what we focus on).

Why was Paul thankful for the Philippians?

Because of their partnership in the Gospel.

He was thankful for them because they were partners with Paul in the Gospel. How?

Partnership=one who participates with another in some enterprise or matter of joint concern—‘partner, associate, one who joins in with.’[1]

He tells them that they are sharers in God’s grace with him (verse 7)

AT Robertson Word Pictures

Partakers with me of grace (συγκοινωνους μου της χαριτος [sugkoinōnous mou tēs charitos]). Literally, “my co-sharers in grace” (objective genitive). “Grace prompted them to alleviate his imprisonment, to cooperate with him in defending and propagating the gospel, and to suffer for its sake” (Vincent, Int. Crit. Comm.).[2]

Philippians 4:10-20

The Philippians had a concern for Paul. . .a personal connection to the Apostle.

They sent a financial gift to him on more than one occasion (verse 16).

Their partnership started in the early days of Paul’s ministry and it continued. And not only that, but when others weren’t supporting Paul, the Philippians were (verse 15).

When we give to a ministry, we are partnering and sharing in that work. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Our heart follows our pocketbook. And from the receiver’s perspective, their heart is knitted together with people who faithfully and sacrificially support them. Paul called the Philippians “partners” in the Gospel. And then he further clarified that when he said, “from the first day until now.” Paul says that the Philippians are not supporters but partners and they are not just partners who come and go but they stay for the long haul.

Paul was in prison now and it would have been very easy for the Philippians to have abandoned him. Instead they were examples of Hebrews 13:3 which reminds us to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them”.

There was and is a certain stigma attached to being in prison and Paul was in prison for his faith and that faith was not popular in the first century so it would have been very easy for them to have turned their backs on him but they didn’t.  

Paul’s thankfulness for them never wavered. . .”every time I remember you”

The Philippians obviously had a special place in Paul’s heart.

Notice what he says of them:

                I have you in my heart (verse 7)

                I long for all of you (verse 8)

Paul is willing to share his feeling of affection with the Philippians and with us. We get valuable insight into his prayer life and his relationships. The Philippians did not have to wonder about how Paul felt about them. .  .it was clear.

Even though Paul was some 800 miles away in a Roman prison and though he had not seen these people for several years, he had a fond affection and connection to them and he always thanked God for them.

Not only did Paul’s thankfulness for them never waver, but it also included all of them. . .”in all my prayers for all of you”

The Philippians were not perfect. There was apparent conflict with some church members as detailed in chapter 4. They were redeemed sinners just as can be found in any congregation but Paul was thankful for them and he rejoiced in their progress and encouraged them to press on.

The importance of remembering in the Christian life

The Best Memory System

Forget the kindness that you do,

As soon as you have done it;

Forget the praise that falls on you.

The moment you have won it.

Forget the slander that you hear,

Before you can repeat it;

Forget each slight, each spite, each sneer,

Wherever you may meet it.

Remember every kindness done,

To you, whate’er its measure;

Remember praise by others won,

And pass it on with pleasure.

Remember every promise made,

And keep it to the letter;

Remember those who lend you aid.

And be a grateful debtor.

Remember all the happiness

That comes your way in living;

Forget each worry and distress,

Be hopeful and forgiving.

Remember good, remember truth,

Remember heaven’s above you,

And you will find through age and youth

True joy and hearts to love you! [3]


Our memory is a great gift from God, but like many gifts, it can be used for good or evil. Memories of past failures can haunt and hinder us. Memories of past successes can make us proud and independent. But with the aid of the HS, reminders can be used for our spiritual growth and maturity. Paul used his memory to call up with fondness the Philippians and I am sure that the Philippians did the same.

We need to be reminding ourselves of those who have ministered to us. We need to remember those who have walked through the tough days with us. And we need to also call to mind God’s promises to us.

Piper quote

Paul’s confidence (verse 6)

Have you ever started a project and didn’t finish it? For several years we lived across the street from a hospital that looked like it was about 80% done. Some people said they must have run out of money or ran into some other set back but it was never finished. What could have been a place for sick people to come for help turned into a great monument of a task undone.

Paul was confident about the work of God in the lives of the Philippians. God was committed to this church and so was Paul (evidenced by his prayer and feelings).

Paul did not start the work in them and they didn’t start it. . .God did. Therefore, it was dependent on God to finish it. . .and He will, of this Paul was confident.

That is good news for us. For believers in Jesus, God has begun a good work in us and he will carry it on to completion. God is not going to give up working on you and me. Our progress maybe slow and we may have stops and starts along the way but God will ultimately accomplish His purposes in our lives. That gives me hope! And what will He ultimately accomplish concerning us? Verse 10 gives us the answer: that we may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. And that will result in glory and praise to us? No, it will result in glory and praise to God because He is the One working in us to accomplish this.

Paul wanted them to know that God started the work in their lives and that he would not abandon it instead, He would bring it to completion. Salvation is often presented in the Bible in three tenses: past, present and future. We have been saved, are being saved and will be saved. The God who calls us to Himself will not abandon us. He started the work in our lives and He will finish it.


“Great confidence gripped the apostle as he thought and prayed for the Philippians. The perfect tense of the Greek word translated being confident indicates that Paul had come to a settled conviction earlier and that he still was confident it was true. What was he so confident and sure of? It was that God would most certainly continue on to completion the good work He had begun in them.” [4]

But there is another part of the equation for we are not passive in the work that God is doing in us and Paul points this out for us in Phil 2:12-13 “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” We are to work out not for our salvation because it is God who is working in us. We are working together with God as He is making us into the image of Christ. When we are born again we are babies, but we don’t want to stay babies, we want to grow in spiritual growth and maturity and God is working that into our desires and efforts.

Paul’s prayer for them (9 ff)

Earlier Paul had said that he was praying for the Philippians and here he is going to give us another insight. He is going to lift up the veil and give us a glimpse into his private prayer life and let us see how he is praying for the Philippians.

If you could have the Apostle Paul pray for you, what would you want him to pray for? If you were in Paul’s place and you were praying for the Philippians, what sorts of things would you be praying for?

As I examine my own prayers for myself and others, I find that the things that I pray for were usually not things that the early church prayed for. Or at least, the things that I pray for are usually not the main focus of the prayers of the early church. Often, my prayers are marked with appeals to God to make me more comfortable. But the prayers in the NT seem to be more about being conformable to Christ rather than comfortable.

I think that there are several things that we can learn from Paul’s prayer and that we can use to pray for ourselves as well as for others.

Paul is giving us a prayer worth imitating.

For a growing love

That their love would abound more and more.

They had love, but Paul prayed that they would have even more and more.

The word “abound” means to “be present in abundance”. Paul prayed that their love would be “present in abundance”. But not only that, but that it would do so more and more. The idea is the building upon layer upon layer.

How is their love to grow?

“In knowledge and depth of insight”

Paul wanted their love to be based on their knowledge of God and with a depth of insight into His ways. This would enable them to abound in love more and more. The love that Paul is talking about here is not the feeling of love but the love of action and service. Paul was not telling them to feel love, but to act in love as they were already doing in his life and in the lives of others for the sake of the Gospel.

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians from chapter 1 note the parallels:

9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. [5]

As their love abounds more and more in knowledge and depth of insight they will be able to


Paul wanted them to have a knowledge of God. Not bare facts, but a knowledge that is borne out of relationship to Him. A knowledge that is based on knowing Him and obeying Him. A knowing that is not just in the head but is also in the heart and comes from walking with Him through all that life throws at us.

Depth of insight

Paul added judgment, the moral environment, to knowledge. The term “depth of insight” occurs only here in the New Testament, although a form of the root word occurs in Heb 5:14. It conveys the sense of moral discretion. Thus morality affects the growth of love.[6]

Knowing and living go hand in hand. Failure to grow in the knowledge God expects of Christians hinders love. Similarly, failure to discipline the moral life hinders love. Attention to both of these realms promotes a healthy and positive Christian life.[7] (New American Comm)

And the result of this will be according to Paul’s prayer (verse 10)

“that  you will be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ”.

Someone once said that “the good is the enemy of the best”.

Oftentimes we think in terms of “good” or “bad”. We want to choose the good and avoid the bad. But what about choosing between good choices, how do we choose the best when there is no clearly bad choice?

Again from the New American Comm

The word “discern” has the meaning of test by trial, and the term “best” emphasizes the result of that testing. The phrase need not stress the fact that some things are harmful and, therefore, should be avoided. It has equal application to affirming and embracing the best of good choices, and that reading fits this text better. Since this context calls for a wisdom related to life, the words suggest the ability to discern moral conduct and values so that life and energy are not misdirected. A growing love, fed by proper knowledge and moral insight, enables one to see the best way to live in light of the day of Christ.[8]

Pure and blameless

Weymouth renders it: “that ye may be men of transparent character.”

Illustration from Preacher’s commentary

One came about because there were slipshod sculptors who would produce statues from blemished, defective stones, filling the cracks with wax and painting over the blemishes. In time the sun would melt the wax, peel the paint, and reveal the glaring imperfections. Thus “sun-tested”—to be free from pretense and sham.

If you have been in the shops of the old city of Jerusalem, you know the necessity of a second ancient practice that gives meaning to this word. The bazaars and shops are small and dark. In that setting you cannot properly judge an article of pottery, glassware, or cloth. You have to move out of the shadowed recesses of the shop to the nearest available sunlight to appraise the value, to detect whatever faults or flaws may be in the article.

“Sun-judged”—to be able to stand in the clear sun of God’s judgment and the judgment of our sisters and brothers, with no need to hide, or to conceal our thoughts and desires. “Live like men who are at home in daylight,” Paul urged the Ephesians (5:8, neb). That is what it means to be transparent, sincere and without blame.[9]

Filled with the fruit of righteousness

Being filled with the fruits of righteousness.” This is a beautiful expression for our life as participants in the gospel: fruitfulness. We would expect Paul to pray in this fashion. He knew the work of the Spirit in his own life—the Spirit producing the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, which were now being tested in prison as he faced his own execution. “Being filled with” puts us in mind of trees whose every branch produces in this earthly life “the fruit” Paul described in Galatians 5:22–23.[10]

Conclusion and Application

A key to a joyful life is thanksgiving and remembrance.

We need to be actively thanking the Lord as a matter of choice and habit.

We need to be actively calling to mind God’s faithful promises that He has given us.

We also need to remind ourselves of the blessings that others have been to us and turn that into praise to God.

We need to be confident that God is at work in us and that we should focus on working together with Him.

Finally, we need to be praying for things that will help us grow spiritually and bring praise and glory to the Lord.


Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament : Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.). New York: United Bible societies.

Robertson, A. (1997). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Php 1:7). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

[3] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

[4] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Php 1:4–6). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[5] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Col 1:9–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] Melick, R. R. (2001). Vol. 32: Philippians, Colissians, Philemon (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (65). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[7] Melick, R. R. (2001). Vol. 32: Philippians, Colissians, Philemon (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (65). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[8] Melick, R. R. (2001). Vol. 32: Philippians, Colissians, Philemon (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (66). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[9] Dunnam, M. D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 31: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 31 : Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon. The Preacher's Commentary series (260–261). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.

[10] Dunnam, M. D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 31: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 31 : Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon. The Preacher's Commentary series (261). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.

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