We Are the Champions: The Gospel in Philippians
There seems to be a debate concerning the difference between joy and happiness. The best way that I have found to understand the difference is to know that joy is lasting and happiness is fleeting. For instance, I am happy my favorite NFL team, the Kansas City Chiefs, won Super Bowl LIV. In fact, I was so happy in the moment that I got up and ran around the room like an idiot in celebration.
My personal celebration was minuscule compared to the celebrations that took place in Kansas City. There was dancing, fireworks, and even a parade. But all of this happiness is fleeting. How do we know this? I saw the same thing happen in Kansas City in 2015. Except for that time, it was the Kansas City Royals who stood at the top of MLB by defeating the New York Mets in the World Series. The parades came, confetti fell, crowds cheered, and then after the party, life moves on. There is great happiness in a sports victory, but there is no joy.
The Gospel is the Key to Joy
The Apostle Paul knew that the gospel was the key to real joy. Not a fleeting happiness but a true, never-changing, never-ending joy from God and gives us peace beyond all understanding, even in the darkest of circumstances (Philippians 4:7;13). Paul knew that, regardless of the believer’s situation in life, what Freddie Mercury would pen thousands of years later is true—we are the champions. Not just champions of a Super Bowl or a World Series but an even greater victory. We are champions over our circumstances. No matter what happens in our lives, we know that Christ is the victor, and we belong to him.
Paul declared this in one of the most misunderstood verses in the letter to the Philippians when he said: “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.” Too many times we take that statement as a claim that we can face insurmountable odds and unbeatable foes and come out victorious. To be clear, Christ can and does specialize in the miraculous. He does do incredible things through those who believe in him. However, this verse is not a guarantee of personal success in any challenge or battle.
Paul’s situation in writing the letter of the Philippians would not be glamorous by any stretch of the imagination. Paul was imprisoned awaiting and praying for an opportunity to appeal to the Emperor. Paul knew his hope was not in being released from prison by the Roman government but in Christ releasing him from the prison of his sins. It was due to this fact that Paul could have a mentality of it not mattering what he has or doesn’t have. He could endure any situation he found himself in because of Jesus.
This reality did not give Paul happiness. In fact, I imagine it would be quite difficult at times to remain happy in a situation in which you are mistreated, abused, slandered, and malnourished. But Paul had joy because he had Christ, and that’s all he needed. Paul declared that, for him, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
One with the Champion
As well as repeating the word joy over 20 times throughout the letter, Paul focuses on the idea of the Philippians as his partners in the gospel. This had multiple meanings. The Philippians were Paul’s comrades in the battle of actively advancing the gospel message to the rest of their Gentile culture.
They were also his partners because of the gospel. Paul was not from Philippi. He did not have anything in common with them, yet he identifies with them completely as a brother in Christ. Paul talks extensively throughout his other New Testament letters to the churches concerning the idea of unity in the body of Christ. In one of the clearest verses describing the unity, Colossians 3:11, Paul boldly states, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
There is no division.
There is no “us” or “them.”
There is Christ in all.
That’s what our union with Christ truly is. We are unified with Christ in a way that we will not fully understand until we are with him in glory. That’s not us being fans of a champion, that’s us being one with the Champion.
With victory comes a natural desire to share the message of celebration. Upon winning the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years, you did not have to look far on social media to find thousands upon thousands of fans declaring the Chiefs’ victory over the 49ers. Good news wants to be shared. It demands it.
In Christ’s victory over sin and death, we get to take part in the celebration parade that will never end. As we are marching in this parade of life, we have the opportunity to see others standing on the sides, tell them what and who we are celebrating, and bring them into the celebration with us. Although it may not seem like we are winning, it may not seem like things are good, Christ has won and because of that fact, we are the champions.
The victor ain’t the one that’s winning seventh inning
Trophies don’t go to the ones that got a good beginning
When I say I win, I don’t mean this day I’m in
I mean that day when the gray skies fade out
Then, I’m winning because I reign with Him
— Trip Lee, “Sweet Victory”
Lucas Smith has served in full-time ministry since 2011 and holds MDiv and MA in Biblical Languages degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He currently serves as Associate Pastor of Youth and Families at Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.