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smiling man December 15 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Philemon, Philippians 1-2

Joyful Living (even in bad circumstances)

Christmas is a wonderful season of joy, but how do we respond when life is not so wonderful? Do we try to find something good in our circumstances, some encouragement for which we can thank the Lord? In today's Bible reading, Philemon, the Apostle Paul, and the believers in the city Philippi provide us with great examples to help us find joy, even in bad or unfortunate circumstances.

Philemon is a slave owner during the time of the early church (slavery was a part of their culture), but he is also a well-loved believer in Christ. He has the gifts of hospitality and encouragement. A church congregation meets in his home on a regular basis. This godly hospitable man is given a sour experience—one of his slaves, Onesimus, runs away. While he is on the run, he becomes a Christian under Paul’s ministry. Because Paul loves him and Onesimus is now useful, the apostle wants to keep him. He knows, however, the right thing to do is to first get permission from Philemon, the slave's owner.

The Apostle writes to Philemon, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16, NIV).

How will Philemon respond? He could severely punish or kill Onesimus. In that culture he would be justified in doing it. Paul is confident, however, that Philemon will act in love and forgiveness to his former slave, so he makes his appeal on Onesimus' behalf. He ends the short letter to Philemon with a prayer, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Philemon 25, NIV).

How would we respond if we were in similar circumstances? Perhaps someone has hurt us and now wants to be forgiven. Will we act with grace? If we do this will give joy to God, to the one who offended us, and to others. We, too, can have joy if we forgive others like Jesus did (Philippians 2:1-11; more...).

Paul also writes a letter to the believers in Philippi in Macedonia. He had visited with them during his second missionary journey. Lydia, a seller of valuable purple fabric, and a Philippian jailor with his family were then converted to Christ (Acts 16:12-34). Paul also visited with the Philippians on the way back from Greece on his third missionary journey, during one of the Jewish feasts, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Acts 20:6).

In his letter, Paul writes to thank the church family for the contribution they sent for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Their gracious response gives him joy. Giving sacrificially also gives us joy as we help those who cannot help themselves. This is a good thing to do at Christmas and any time of the year. After praising them, Paul writes some practical advice on how to live the Christian life. We will look at this more in our next lesson.

Paul was also an example of finding joy in less than desirable circumstances—Paul was a prisoner in Rome! He says,

Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:14-18, NIV).

Paul further testifies, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Philippians 1:21, NIV). Paul prepares himself for the worst. Nevertheless, he is convinced that because of their prayers on his behalf, he will soon be delivered once again to minister to them for their joy.

In Paul's day, suffering for Christ was a reality for Christians in Macedonia and the rest of the known world. In view of this, Paul says to the believers,

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose (Philippians 2:1-2, NIV).

The temptation for Christians at that time and today would be self-preservation, to look out for one’s own welfare in such situations. However, Paul encourages them to make his joy complete by humbling themselves and looking out for the interests of others just like Jesus did for us.

Finally, we read that Paul wants the believers to welcome Timothy and Epaphroditus back to their fellowship. They are Paul’s fellow workers. He wants them to be received back with joy for the work they did among the Philippians.

How do we receive servants of Christ? It gives joy to God and to other Christians when we receive them gladly with love, giving them a warm reception. We prove our love for God as we show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Lessons to Live By

  • Do we need joy in our heart? It starts with a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ (more...)
  • Let us respond with grace to those who have hurt us and seek forgiveness. It gives joy to God, to the one who offended us, and to fellow believers. We, too, can have joy if we forgive others like Jesus did. What a great way to celebrate Christmas—in unity and peace with our friends and relatives!
  • We can learn to see God working in bad, or unfortunate circumstances. Not only will it give us joy; it will also give joy and encouragement to others when they see our response.
  • We should humble ourselves and look out for the needs of others as Jesus did, even when we are persecuted. This, too, brings joy and encouragement to others.
  • Let us be joyfully hospitable to those who visit us, especially servants of Christ.

Focus Verses

Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

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A Look Ahead: How do we Keep our Joy and Liberty at Christmas and throughout the year? Find out in our Next Lesson

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