At a particular time of year in New York City, everything gets covered in twinkling lights. Bells ring on every corner, jubilant seasonal jingles play in every store, and the number of shopping bags carried by the average New Yorker triples. People travel from around the world to experience the spectacular "joy" of Christmas in NYC.
Let’s say I stopped someone on the city sidewalk and asked a simple question: "How do you define joy?" The chorus of comebacks would include my happiness … choosing to see the positive … feeling good about my life … people I love … doing what I love … being my true self … being successful … winning a million bucks. Or maybe even: "I don't know … I had joy once … it's a fleeting thing … I guess it comes and goes…"
What about you? How do you define joy? Where does it come from? Does it last?
Paul writes a letter to the Philippian church that rings with a certain kind of joy. He uses the Greek word chara, from the verb, chairo, more than a dozen times. These Greek words mean “gladness, cheerfulness, a calm delight.” But we discover that this joy doesn’t depend on a season, circumstance, or fleeting feeling. Instead, Paul’s calm delight is a constant confidence flowing from an unchanging, unending Source: Jesus Christ and His gospel.
Perhaps nowhere more poignantly do we find a clearer picture of Paul’s joy than in Philippians 2:5-11. This passage, once sung as a hymn by the early church, still sings to us today. So, let’s see how these verses call us to behold a joy that doesn’t depend on us, but rests on who Jesus is and what He has done for us.
Before the ancient text begins, let’s contemplate its setting. Paul writes from prison to encourage the Philippians to grow in faith, no matter what trials come. In the four verses that precede this, Paul calls his loved ones to remember their spiritual unity. Through faith in Jesus, God has given them eternal life, peace with God, endless comfort in His love, and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Now, Paul challenges them to live out the salvation they’ve received. How? By being like-minded, following Christ’s example.
Do we live like those being renewed by the joy of Jesus’s life in us?
As the passage begins, Jesus, the Source of joy, comes down from the highest place. We read that Jesus, God the Son—in His very essence, His very being—is God. He equally shares all of who God the Father is: all-knowing, matchless in power and holiness, breathtakingly majestic, infinitely wise, and steadfast in love. John 1:1 echoes this truth, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning."
And yet, Jesus lowered Himself. Think about it: the Word, the Son of God, descended to be born as a baby to an ordinary bride-to-be of a local carpenter in an overlooked town. Though fully God, Jesus set aside His heavenly privileges and embraced nothingness compared to the glory He knew. He did not deliver Himself from human limits and suffering; He took on a body, like ours, that would break down with time, strain, and pain.
Does it humble us to see that Jesus's mission was not to live a life of happy human success, riches, comfort, or fame? He came to be a selfless servant, working for the Father's name. Consider John 4:34, "My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work."
How does knowing that God the Son came to earth to experience your human limits and troubles firsthand change your perspective on joy?
What a striking thought to consider the appearance of Jesus! 1 John 1:2 testifies, "The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us." The disciples walked and talked with Jesus. Crowds gathered to wonder at His signs, miracles, and healings. People heard Him preach the good news of the kingdom of God, now recorded in Scripture.
Jesus, "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Hebrews 1:3), walked among us lowly humans in plain sight and sound. And what did He do? Take up an earthly throne, take over an empire, or revel in His fans' adoration? No! Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death at the hands of people He made. He died on a cross crafted for the worst of criminals. Jesus took on Death—the thing we're all so afraid of—in its full horrific force.
But this was not by chance. Jesus obediently accomplished God's plans for our salvation. Hear 2 Corinthians 5:21, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." On the cross, Jesus didn’t just experience a last breath and a fatal, final heartbeat; He became cursed for our sake. Jesus covered Himself with our sin and bore the weight of God's punishment so we might be covered in His perfection and loved by God instead.
How does trusting that Jesus humbly bore the weight of your sin, death, and God’s wrath lift your heart with a joy that outlasts your circumstances?
Verses 9-11 take a magnificent turn. God does not allow death to be the end for Jesus or for those who place their faith in Him. In response to Christ’s humble completion of His work of salvation, God raised and restored Him to reign over all. God answered Jesus’s prayer in John 17:4-5, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
When we call Jesus “Lord,” we recognize His authority, equal with God the Father above every other power. Jesus lives today and has the authority to give eternal life and judge the living and the dead. Philippians 2:10-11 leaves no doubt. One day, every knee will bend to Christ the King. But today is the day to bow in faith, trusting Jesus not only as Lord of all but Lord over your life. Jesus promises, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).
Consider how Christ prays for believers in John 17:24: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory…” Do you desire to see your Savior Jesus in all His glory as much as He longs for you to? God calls us to delight in Jesus’s glory today so that we might have joy in His presence forever, knowing the love with which He loved us.
Do you desire the eternal, abundant, and unending joy that only Jesus offers?
Paul’s clear picture of the believer’s joy in Philippians 2:5-11 has much to teach us. As believers, we don’t pull joy out of thin air or decide to be joyous by human strength; instead, we have a Savior who humbly descended and whom God raised to give us glorious life. No amount of twinkling lights we hang compares to the Light of the World who hung on a tree for us. So, where is your joy today? May your constant, calm delight come from knowing and worshipping the Savior who came down for you.
Want to learn more about Philippians 2? Check out our 2-week study, Philippians 2: Joy in Christ.