Read: Habakkuk 3:17-19 & Philippians 3:1-11
Paul's command to experience joy in the Lord is not new. It's a command that encourages experiencing joy amid adverse circumstances. This reality is precisely why this type of joy can only be found in the Lord, the unchanging God. He is the source of joy and the only one in whom we can find pure joy.
Paul's exhortation would have been a reminder for those steeped in the Old Testament. Finding joy in the Lord is a theme that runs throughout its pages. Take the final few clauses of Habakkuk as an example. The book questions God's goodness and His intentions for His people based on their dire circumstances. But the book ends with a ringing cry of hope, a proclamation of faith and hope that there is victory, peace, happiness, found in Yahweh (the LORD), Israel's God.
Habakkuk points us to the reality that all is in flux in a chaotic and broken world. Solid ground worth putting the full weight of your life on does not exist. Any trust laid in the wrong place or the wrong thing could lead to betrayal or disaster. However, God doesn't change and therefore is the one thing worth placing one's hope.
For both Habakkuk and Paul, God is the only one who can actually do anything to restore them. So Habakkuk and Paul find joy and delight in the nearness of the one who loves them and has promised to redeem all things.
It's worth noting that both Paul and Habakkuk's stories did not end well. Shortly after his letter to the church in Phillipi, Paul was sent to Rome and put to death. Similarly, Habakkuk and God's people Israel experienced the full wrath of the oncoming Babylonian army bent on murder, rape, destruction, and deportation. But for both, their expectation was not relief from the immediate circumstances. They were not merely looking for salvation from a situation. They were looking for ultimate redemption, the restoration of all things permanently and they knew where to find it. Paul says it this way:
"For Christ's sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Him and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
For Paul to have Christ was the ultimate goal. Everything else paled in comparison. Even when knowing Jesus cost Paul everything he had, he rejoices in God because he realized he lost nothing and gained everything.
Paul equates having Christ with knowing Christ. Not knowing about Him, but truly actually knowing Him. This knowledge is an intimate knowledge that comes the same way we might gain a deep understanding of our friends. To know Christ means that we are in such an intimate relationship with Him, that we find our destinies united. His future becomes our own.
It is this final idea that leads Paul to proclaim the seemingly foolish thought it that he expects to share in the sufferings of Christ. Paul does not seem surprised by his current situation.
But this unification also leads Paul to believe that he will share in the victory of Christ firmly. Paul knows that one day, despite his imprisonment and pending execution, he will be resurrected from the grave and share in Christ's victory over the death. He proclaims "[So that] I might know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
I want to know Jesus like this. I want to know Him and trust Him so well that my suffering, as painful and hope blinding as it might be, serves to remind me of the unity I have with Jesus, a unity that restores all things, a unity that restores me. One that proclaims resurrection comes after crucifixion. I want you to know him like this as well. I believe we can.
Join me in seeking joy in the Lord. Let's sit and spend time in the presence of Jesus. Let's go to him in prayer and believe that he hears us and let's expect Him to fill us with the joy that seems to well up within Paul and Habbakuk. Let's ask him to fill each of us with a sense of ultimate well-being that leads us to overwhelming abundant joy.