Fulfil ye my joy
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article was written by Rev. Vernon Ibe and will be published in the April 1, 2021 issue of The Standard Bearer.
"If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." - Philippians 2:1-4
Paul, even though imprisoned, yet had nothing in mind but the spiritual welfare of these saints of God. It was a delight for him in the Lord to hear of their perseverance in the faith despite the pressing circumstance in which God had placed them. He was mindful of how much love they shared together in the gospel of Christ, and that this love continued to grow without measure. They lived so far away from each other, but you can sense the love they had for each other in Christ! For you will find in this letter that Paul’s interest was theirs. Likewise, the saints in Philippi made his sufferings their own. Thrice they had sent him monetary support for the gospel ministry: once at Thessalonica (4:16); another time in Corinth (II Cor. 11:9); and this last time at Rome (4:18). But more than that, the saints in Philippi were so concerned about Paul that, upon learning of his imprisonment, they sent Ephaproditus to care for him. No wonder they were dear to Paul, as he called them his “brethren dearly beloved,” and thus “longed for,” but especially his “joy and crown” (4:1) in the Lord Jesus Christ! And even though they were under persecution (1:28) and experiencing suffering (1:29-30), it is safe to say, they were doing well spiritually.
Such endearment, however, did not hinder Paul from admonishing them. In this passage, he pursued the theme of unity he had just mentioned “…stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). He expressed the same in chapter 4:2-3, encouraging the two sisters to pursue the unity already cherished in Christ through their reconciliation for His sake. We can see the heart of Paul here, how he greatly desired to see them living in harmony with each other and thus united in the Lord.
We can understand therefore why Paul entreats them or, as it is in the text, commands them, “fulfill ye my joy,” that is, make me truly, completely, satisfactorily joyful. All the sufferings Paul endured and the pressing circumstance he was presently in did not prevent him from experiencing joy in the Lord; and now he asks them to complete that joy!
As it were, Paul said, “Brethren dearly beloved, longed for, my joy and my crown, I have no greater joy than to see, hear, and have you all united in the truth and endeavoring to keep that unity for the furtherance of the faith by way of serving each other in humility for Christ’s sake! My dearly beloved, can we not for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the King of the church, whose name is above every name, join hands together in pursuit of this unity in the truth selflessly and thus humbly?” Hence, “fulfill ye my joy”!
The cross of Christ must be at the center of this call to unity in the truth. For apart from it, giving up one’s own ambition or pride is impossible! Unity in the truth and working together for the truth is hard to achieve if self-interest gets in the way. The way to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” is the way of the cross! Jesus Himself is the ultimate example of such: “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a slave, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (2:5-8).
The Holy Spirit through the cross of Christ will enable each one of us to humble himself before God and before one another! In this way, and only in this way, by the efficacious power of the Holy Spirit worked in and through them, can and may God’s people do all things in the church without “selfish ambition or conceit” (ESV) and thus humbly, always esteeming others better than themselves! They seek each other’s welfare, that is, they know that God has given them gifts, skills, talents, and abilities to help each other in pursuit of living in Christ-likeness! They do not serve to impress people or showcase their gifts and thus elevate themselves above the rest of the saints in Christ!
Paul commended Timothy and Epaphroditus before these saints as men of such virtues by the grace of God: “For I have no man likeminded who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel” (2:20-22). “Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labor, and fellow soldier…receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me” (2:25, 29-30).
What is this? It is evident that both men were endowed not only with the gifts necessary for the ministry but, first of all, a regenerated heart, soaked in the gospel of Christ by the Holy Spirit who dwelt in them and thus filled them with the mind of Christ! And through their lives and by their godly examples, we understand that a man whose mind is filled with Christ, lives daily and continually in humility, thinks not how he may be served by others but how he can be of service to others for Christ’s sake.
Likewise, God’s people today must immerse themselves in the gospel of the cross of Christ (2:5)! In and by the power of the cross, soak their mind, heart, and soul in Christ crucified. Let the love of God that flows from Him fill them. Encourage one another with Him. Think, speak, and act according to Him. And do so always with the intent of lifting up one another in the Lord, so that God is glorified!
By and in the grace of God, fulfill ye the joy of the gospel of Christ within us, brethren and sisters in the Lord. Let that be said of you and me: we are men and women whose hearts and minds are filled with Christ, united in the truth and endeavoring to keep that unity for the causes of God’s kingdom by way of serving each other in humility for Jesus’ sake.
This is how we should fulfill our calling at home— husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church; wife submitting to the husband as the church submits to Christ; children honoring their parents and submitting to their authority. This is how parents must see themselves in relation to their calling in raising up their children in the fear of the Lord!
And we are called to do the same outside of our homes. Children at school should befriend not only those who are popular or those who do well in sports, in music, or perhaps in academics. So also in the workplace.
This is how we live with one another in the church. This is what we want to see and hear and exercise in the Consistory and Council meetings. This is what we want to manifest in our classis and synod. This is what we are praying and asking God for with regard to the leaders in our churches. May God graciously forbid that we have men serving and/or men desiring to serve in the office of pastors, elders, deacons, professors/instructors, and missionaries whose reasoning runs like, “I am the most gifted man in the church and, therefore, I am more qualified than others to serve as an elder in our church.” Or “I know better than they all do so I must be on this committee and that committee.” Or “I have been in the ministry long enough to deserve the chair of theology in the Seminary.” Or “I have the gifts necessary to be a ‘successful’ pastor, therefore I must enter the seminary.” Nay, rather, may they be filled with the mind of Christ, and thus recognize their nothingness before the face of the cross and the grace of God worked in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. And thus may they live seeking not the praise and recognition of men but the glory of the God who placed them to serve according to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, and always for the good of the neighbor!
Lest we think that we can do this on our own and by our own strength (which we do not have), Paul assured them and us that yes, peace and harmony and the unity of brotherhood in the truth of Jesus Christ will prevail until Christ comes again for us! Why? Because this is the will of God for the church in Christ and because “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (2:13). That is why Paul was so confident in the fellowship they shared together in the gospel of Jesus “from the first day until now,” for He “which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:5, 6). The church is in the hands of God and thus preserved by Him that she may persevere till the end unto the fulfillment of our joy in the Lord. Our confidence, too, lies not in us but in the faithfulness of God and the truthfulness of His promises to us in Christ Jesus our Lord!
“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:5), that indeed, you and I, may fulfill—by the grace of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us—one another’s joy, for God’s glory and for Jesus’ sake. Amen.