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Joy to the World!

One of my favorite songs during the Christmas season is "Joy to the World". Christmas is truly a season to celebrate the joy that we have. Everyone can know joy as they find it in the good things that God has given to all humans so liberally, but the Christian knows a heightened joy. This joy is rooted in the bond that exists with other believers whom we have come to love. This season as we focus on the joy that can be found in the Christian life we need to remember that we should have one goal in life; that is to reach all that God has for us and to be all that we can be. We can experience great joy as we reach for this goal.

The apostle Paul is a great example of someone who has always found joy in reaching for this goal. He definitely wanted all that God had for him, and he would consistently strive to be the best he could be. In striving to reach this goal, Paul concentrated on his "daily experience with God". He just didn't want to know who Jesus Christ was, but he wanted to know Him personally. Paul knew an experience with Jesus can lift the endless repetition of emptiness, and give life vitality and meaning!

To understand Paul we need to focus on some of his themes.

Knowing Christ - Paul wrote to the Philippians, "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ". (Phil. 3:8) Paul focused here on a relationship; on a personal experience of Jesus that deepens each and every day. For Paul, the knowledge of Jesus rose above all other knowledge in life. After Paul had considered everything he had accomplished in his life, he said it was all loss when compared to the greatness of knowing Christ. This is a profound statement about values; that a person's relationship with Christ is more important than anything else.

Having Righteousness - Paul wrote to the Philippians, "and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith". (Phil 3:9) Paul was again focused on the here and now. He was concerned about moral transformation now. Many people try to make themselves righteous by doing certain things. They try self-improvement techniques to make themselves better in relationships and social activities. They set rules for themselves to follow to make themselves look better than others that break the rules they chose to follow. But Christians are to experience a holiness that is not rooted in the do's and don'ts approach of the law, but in a dynamic goodness that only divine power can bring. No amount of lawkeeping, self-improvement, discipline, or religious effort can make us right with God. Righteousness comes only from God. We are made righteous by trusting in Christ. He changes our sin and shortcomings for His complete righteousness.

Resurrection Power - Paul wrote to the Philippians, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death". (Phil 3:10) It is easy to misread these words. Paul was not speaking of the historical resurrection of Christ; rather, he was referring to his own deep yearning to experience God's resurrection power and for this experience to be an influence on his inner life. Paul gave up everything - family, friends, and freedom to know Christ and His resurrection power. All Christians have access to this knowledge and power, but may have to make sacrifices to enjoy it completely and fully. We must ask ourselves what we are willing to give up to know Jesus? - a crowded schedule, approval of friends, a few plans and pleasures? When we are united with Christ by trusting Him, we experience the power that raised Him from the dead. That same power will help us live morally renewed and regenerated lives. We must also die to sin before we can walk in the newness of life. Just as the resurrection gives us Christ's power to live for Him, His crucifixion marks the death of our old sinful nature. We can't know the victory of the resurrection without personally applying the crucifixion.

Fellowship of His Sufferings - Paul looked at this as participation in the sufferings of Christ. Being in Christ involves fellowship with Christ in all points; His obedient life, His Spirit; His death; and His Glory.

As you celebrate this Christmas season with loved ones, remember the words of the song, " Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room". Acknowledge Jesus as King, and prepare your heart for Him to occupy a place there. We can have true joy, a heightened joy others cannot experience, if we take the time to know Him, experience the righteousness which is of God by faith, experience Christ's resurrection power, and participate in His sufferings.