Thanks to the therapeutic culture of our modern world, the biblical concepts of despair and joy have been turned on their heads. Modern psychology continues to give people a “life-pass” for their despair and depression, while frowning on those who joyfully endure hardships, suggesting that they are “in denial.” Sadly, the church has not only failed to refute such false doctrine, but has embraced this secularism with the hope of becoming more “relevant” and “compassionate” to this ever-changing world.
Right? It is a changing world, isn’t it?
Well, our technology has changed to be sure; however the conflict of man concerning false doctrine and depression goes back as far as the fall itself (Genesis 3:1-7). Let me say to every Christian reading this article that all spiritual despair has a common root of bad doctrine. The genuine believer must comprehend this truth and take it very seriously, for when we sink into the recesses of doubt and despair, we prove ourselves to be bad, or at least forgetful, theologians. All believers struggle with sorrow and despair, but in the end, this is not the pattern of life to which we wereFinally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you called. This is the very same message that the Apostle Paul had for the church at Philippi. We often refer to this epistle as the epistle of joy, for Paul wrote to the church from jail (yes, from jail) exhorting the brethren there to rejoice, rather than grumble and dispute (Phil. 2:14). This is a compelling thought when one muses over it all carefully: when someone writes you from jail, under the possible threat of death, it is hard to ignore the magnitude of their exhortation to rejoice! A response of “oh yeah, but you don’t understand our pain” would sound pretty ridiculous! What the Apostle wrote, the Philippians desperately needed, for they were in danger of losing their joy and therefore their Christian testimony (Phil 2:14-16) – all because of a very serious threat in their midst: false brethren and their false doctrine. This is clarified when Paul gives us this finale in chapter 3:
FINALLY, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard* for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision [*asphales – something that is secure or certain – providing needed protection].
Sound doctrine, and genuine joy in Christ, are very real safeguards for the Christian. Such joy is not the shallow joy of the world, but the eternal joy of Christ which is rooted and grounded in His truth – the only truth which sets us free (John 8:31-36). Such joy is established in the heart of the believer when he embraces the truth of God’s sovereignty over all things (Phil 1:12-18); it is strengthened through our consideration of His sovereign work of salvation and sanctification in our lives (Phil 1:3-6, 29; 2:12-13); and it is purified when the Christian can comprehend that such joy does not comport with the sins of grumbling and disputing (Phil. 2:14) – by this we are “proven” to be the children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15-16). The relationship between Philippians 3:1 and 3:2 is not at all confounding when one comprehends this relationship between sound doctrine and true joy. However, when the genuine doctrine of God is supplanted with a counterfeit, then the Christian’s joy is in serious jeopardy. Philippi was in danger of losing the safeguard of their doctrine and their joy because of the corruptions which came through those whom Paul called “dogs, evil workers” and “false circumcision.” The “dogs” were probably those who imported Greek philosophy and licentious doctrines (Phil. 3:19); the false circumcision were the Judaizers in their midst (Phil. 3:3-9) and his term “evil workers” may have encompassed every other permutation of errorist, from one end of the spectrum to the other. In the end, Paul taught the Philippians (and us) that it is not enough to rehearse positive truth in order to safeguard our joy in Christ – we must also beware of and reject the leaven of false brethren and their false doctrines (Matt. 16:6, Phil 3:2), remembering that though they are adorned with sheep’s clothing they are ravenous wolves inside (Matt. 7:15).
I am convinced that there are many believers who have been taken captive by the doctrinal “dogs” of this world (Col. 2:8) – these sheep must be snatched out of the corruption of their error through the cleansing waters of Holy Writ. Under the pretense of godliness, the modern church is often guilty of giving its members over to a false joy, rather than to the joy of Christ which looks to His victory and His finished work on the cross. Whether by means of legalism, liscentiousness or by a host of other man-centered doctrines, there are many today whose joy in Christ is being snuffed out by the faulty doctrines of men. But we can thank God that the Apostle Paul was not “safeguarded” by such false teaching – his safeguard was his joy in the sovereign Lord over all. He did not write from jail, complaining about smelly Roman soldiers, the poor quality of the food or the dismal conditions of his prison abode. No – Paul, in all his imperfections and with all his difficult circumstances, joyfully looked to Christ and rejoiced greatly in view of His transcendent glory and His eternal kingdom (Phil. 3:12-14). Paul trusted in the sovereign grace of God to such an extent that he had the habit of singing and witnessing while in prison (Acts 16:22-40, Phil. 1:12-13). And through the Apostle’s imitation of Christ, we now have a great epistle of joy…and even brethren from Caesar’s household to meet in glory someday (Phil. 4:22)!
Again, let it be said – rejoice!