Complete My Joy (Philippians 2:1-4)


Philippians 2:1-4; Key Verse: 2:2 "...make my joy complete..."

Recap on suffering: It is a very painful truth that God ordains and allows the sufferings we experience, past and present! The primacy of God operates in all of life, including our faith and the inevitable sufferings that accompany life (Phil 1:29). We suffer from of our own sins and from the sins of others. As Christians, we need to study, understand and ground all our suffering in the suffering of Christ. Then our suffering does not crush us, but draws us closer to Jesus. Also, our suffering and brokenness becomes an instrument which God uses to minister to others, as we become a "wounded healer," healed by the grace of God.

JOY: Today, our theme is joy. Philippians is the "epistle of joy" or "letter of joy." Joy is so crucial to life. Last week (3/1/12), a Wheaton College professor of Christian education since 2006, a lay leader, a former church pastor, and father of 3, Donald Ratcliff, 60, was charged with possessing images and videos of child pornography. It is a sad and disturbing story. Why is pornography a billion $ industry? Because we want some joy, which we fail to find in Christ.

Paul says emphatically to the Philippian Christians, "make my joy complete" (Phil 2:2). Paul was clearly very serious about joy as a Christian. If a Christian is not pursuing his utmost joy, he would be sinning against God! 1 Th 5:16 says, "Rejoice always." Ps 37:4 says, "Take delight in the Lord." A Christian is one who takes delight, who delights himself and who has delight. A Christian is not a morose, gloomy or irritable person.

Paul himself was such a happy guy. He is happy because the Philippians are his partners for the gospel (Phil 1:5). He is happy in jail (Phil 1:7). He is so happy to tell his prison guards about Jesus (Phil 1:13). He is happy that others became more bold about preaching the gospel (Phil 1:14). He is happy when others preach Christ out of jealousy and envy toward him (Phil 1:15). All this joy is just in Philippians chapter 1 with 3 more chapters to go!

Here are some perspectives and quotes on the utmost importance of joy:

  • John Piper frames his entire Christian experience as "Christian hedonism," and he regards himself as a Christian hedonist. His catchphrase for his church is "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."
  • Jonathan Edwards says, "The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied."
  • C. S. Lewis says in "The Weight of Glory," “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Today's text, Phil 2:1-4, is 1 sentence with 1 main clause: "make my joy complete." Paul 1st gives us 4 motivations to live the Christian life (Phil 2:1), and then he encourages us to make his joy complete in 3 ways (Phil 2:2-4): unity, humility and mutuality. The 2 parts of this sermon are:
  1. 4 Motivations/Incentives to Live the Christian life (Phil 2:1)
  2. 3 Ways to Live/Pursue a Life of Joy (Phil 2:2-4).
Joy comes from living in unity, humility and mutuality, or (stated differently) in harmony, humility and helpfulness. No one will have joy without unity, humility and mutuality.

I. 4 Motivations to Live the Christian Life (Phil 2:1)

Phil 2:1 describes 4 experiences of a true Christian, one who is in Christ:

  1. Encouragement.
  2. Comfort.
  3. Fellowship (common sharing, participation).
  4. Tenderness and compassion (affection and sympathy).
Paul is saying that whatever we have received from Jesus (encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion), shouldn't we then also express such experiences to others? What prevents us from doing so? Sin expressed through pride and selfishness/self-centeredness. Nothing robs us of joy and breaks unity, more than a preoccupation with self. We know that our life is rooted in the gospel when our life and joy is invested in the joy and success of others. So, we rejoice when they rejoice. We weep when they weep (Rom 12:15). This is a constant battle because our default is always "incurvatus in se," which means "curved inward on oneself."

II. 3 Ways to Live/Pursue a Life of Joy (Phil 2:2-4)

Christian joy is dangerous joy. How so? Because if and when we discover the depth of joy in Christ, we would be so happy and satisfied in Jesus, that we would be willing to lose everything for the sake of Jesus and his church, including our very own lives (Phil 1:21,3:7-8).

This joy is not joy from stuff, but gospel joy. A life of joy is not superficial, trivial joy. It is not joy in sunsets, wife, children, cars, football, money, beauty, esteem, influence, or joy in anything in this world, but joy in Christ. How do we attain such a joy? What is the key to living a life of gospel joy? The key to a life of joy is a God-centered, gospel-based, grace-enabled shifting of our attention away from ourselves and onto others. It is an intentional and deliberate move away from incurvatus in se. Only the gospel of God's grace enables this to happen by the power of God.

Did they not give Paul joy? No. Paul already had joy because of them (Phil 1:4-5,7-8). But there were problems, even in Paul's favorite, sweetheart church, such as pride, selfish ambition, disagreements, etc. What can we do? 3 things: Pursue unity, humility, mutuality.

1. Pursue Unity/Harmony (Phil 2:2)

Paul expresses unity as "being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind" (Phil 2:2). A misconception of Christian unity is that we Christians must all unanimously agree. But if everyone in the room agrees, then someone is not using their God-given brain. If unity does not mean unanimity, what does it mean?

We must have the same mind, love and purpose of Jesus. Jesus' heart's desire is that we the church may be one as he and the Father are one (Jn 17:21,23). We may be one by loving God, others and each other (Jn 13:34). Our singular purpose may be Jesus' singular purpose that all may come to know God by filling the world with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the seas (Hab 2:14), and to bring all things under the Lordship of Christ (Eph 1:9-10).

What might be obstacles to unity in the church? People! There are as many obstacles to unity as there are people. A short list that strains/breaks unity: mistrust, miscommunication, disagreements, different agendas, individual sin, favoritism, cultural bias, primogeniture, false teaching. It is not possible to be united with someone where there is no trust of one another.

2. Pursue Humility (Phil 2:3)

The key to unity is humility and honesty. John Stott says, “In every aspect of the Christian life, pride is our greatest foe and humility our greatest ally.” Pride is the very first sin (Gen 3:5). Pride focuses on self, leading to "selfish ambition or vain conceit" (Phil 2:3), and an inability to truly and deeply regard or value someone else other than ourself. Ligon Duncan gives us a short list for fighting pride/promoting humility in ourselves:

  1. Reflect on the wonder of the cross.
  2. Reflect on the grace I do not deserve.
  3. Study God.
  4. Study man and sin.
  5. Identify grace in others; affirm others.
  6. Serve others (outward focus).
  7. Welcome correction.
  8. Deliberately acknowledge dependence on God.
3. Pursue Mutuality/Helpfulness (Phil 2:4)

Phil 2:4 says, "not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." Eph 5:21 says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." 1 Cor 10:24 says, "No one should seek their own good, but the good of others." The Christian ethic is always other-centered and other-focused, which is the exact opposite of the world that is filled with self-centered people focused on themselves. Unregenerate men or perhaps immature Christians are inward focused. They primarily sensitively look to their own interest, welfare, esteem, recognition, praise, glory. Even after serving God, others and the church for decades, a Christian can quite easily do so with an inward focus, by expecting "something" from doing so. But the direction of Christian life is never inward but outward.

How can we truly be outward focused and fight against our default of being inward focused? Paul says that we need to overcome "selfish ambition or vain conceit" (Phil 2:3). In Rom 12:3, Paul also says, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment." How do we do this? A simple "rule" is to realize that we are not serving others or serving the church because we are good or better people than the people we serve.

This is very, very tough to do. It is not uncommon for Christians to serve others as though they are really good, loving, more holy, wise and mature, superior, spiritual, sacrificial people. Those who serve in this way think of themselves more highly than they ought. It is not the way of mutuality nor humility. It does not promote unity. It is not ultimately helpful for the person being helped, because they see the person serving them more than seeing the God of their life. It leads them to be obligated or dependent on the person rather than to God. They only way we can serve is as servants and as equals at the foot of the cross (The Open Secret, Leslie Newbigin). In the words of Don Carson, we Christians are all hungry fellow beggars starving to death and looking for some bread. Only when we do have such an attitude are we Christians truly able to help others by pointing them to Christ.

May God give you joy which is only found through the gospel. May God give you a God-centered, gospel-based, and grace-enabled shift of attention from yourself to others. Only through the gospel does God empower and enable us to find unity, humility and mutuality. Only Jesus enables us to live out harmony, humility and helpfulness.


  1. What are 4 specific motivations/incentives to live the Christian life (Phil 2:1)? How do you usually find your encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion?
  2. What is the main clause in Phil 2:1-4 (which is one sentence)? Why? Did they not give him joy (Phil 1:4-5,7-8)? What decreases joy in the Christian life (Phil 1:15, 17, 4:2-3; Jas 4:6)? What is "incurvatus in se?" What is the key to joy (Phil 2:1)? Was Paul serious about joy (Phil 1:25)? Are you?
  3. What 3 things could the Philippians do to complete Paul's joy (Phil 1:2-4; Eph 4:1-3; 1:9-10; Jn 17:21,23; 13:34)?
  4. What breaks/destroys unity in the local church? What is the key to unity (Phil 2:3)? Can we have joy without unity?
  5. What are true expressions of genuine humility (Phil 2:3)? Why is that hard (Gen 3:5)? How do we cultivate humility and fight against pride (Phil 2:5-11; Rom 12:3; 2 Cor 3:18; 2 Tim 2:1; Heb 3:13)?
  6. What does it mean to look to the interest of others (Phil 2:4; Eph 5:21; 1 Cor 10:24)? Is your orientation toward self-interest or toward the welfare and benefit of others (church, community, world)?

References (4 sermons on Phil 2:1-4 by Ligon Duncan):

  1. Complete My Joy
  2. Complete My Joy With Unity
  3. Complete My Joy With Humility
  4. Complete My Joy With Helpfulness

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