Upon submitting your requested class selections at school, you find out one course is no longer offered. You submit a revised list, but now one of the classes is full. You end up in a class you weren’t planning on taking, but before long, you sense the Lord’s hand was in this. God is working in the hearts of people in this class. And He leads you to them. They want to know what makes you different. Why did you defend that viewpoint in class? And why the … joy? You share the gospel with them and, in time, a few trust Christ. One girl is the head of the school’s Young Entrepreneurs’ Society. Another girl had a reputation of being totally messed up with drugs. Everyone thought the captain of the boys’ basketball team had everything going for him in life. It turns out he was lonely and struggling with guilt, but he started reading the Bible you gave him and now he is saved too. It is blowing your mind, but you are excited about where this could lead, and how it could be a huge blessing to your local church. But there are challenges too.
The Apostle Paul had a similar experience. Granted, the paragraph above departs somewhat from the historical record, but read through Acts 16 and you will notice parallels with how the gospel took root in Philippi. And ten years later when Paul wrote to the Philippian church to thank them for their support, a chief concern on his mind was that the gospel would continue to flourish in that Roman colony. He was thankful for what God had done in Philippi (Php 1:3-5), but there were challenges too.
Persecution from the world. Disunity in the church. The risk of their gospel message being compromised by false teachers outside the church. The danger of Christians being led astray by bad examples – by people who said they believed the gospel, but lived self-centred lives. You may face the same challenges when witnessing to unbelievers or trying to encourage new believers. Gospel work was never easy – not fifty years ago, and certainly not in New Testament times. That is why Paul often describes his gospel ministry using athletic or military metaphors – because there was effort, strain, and even danger. Consider Epaphroditus, whom the church at Philippi sent to help Paul (Php 2:25-30). He is called a good soldier who risked his life for the work of Christ. And Paul says people like him are a cause for much joy.
Would you like to see the gospel flourish in challenging circumstances? Paul leaves us a great example: “I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Php 1:18). “You also should be glad and rejoice with me” (Php 2:18). Your daily attitude is a witness to what Christ is doing within you. Christian joy is a powerful testimony, particularly in difficult circumstances. Others notice. And your joy in the Lord will not only speak to unbelievers, but encourage other believers too (Php 1:12-14). “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice” (Php 4:4).