Have you ever had one of those experiences where joy welled up so deeply inside that you laughed and cried at the same time? You know what I mean—when joy is so overwhelming that your emotions span the extremes. You don’t know whether to giggle or shed a tear. You fight to hold the emotions back, but they emerge with a burst of laughter as tears roll down your cheeks.
Parents know this kind of exuberant joy when one of their children is born . . . or born again. We’ve mingled tears and joy at the marriage of a son or daughter—a touch of nostalgia for seeing them grown and gone, a smile of relief at not having to support them any longer!
Cynthia and I have often experienced such joy in ministry. Joy in the fact that God chose us to represent His Son. Joy in what He has done in and through us. Joy that Christ continues to have His hand firmly fixed on Insight for Living. And joy that God calls faithful partners to become co-labourers with us. Just thinking about this almost makes my eyes well up.
Possibly Paul felt like that as he concluded his letter to the Philippians—spontaneously smiling through a few tears.
The Philippians were a compassionate bunch. Paul had numerous needs as he travelled on his missionary journeys. He endured hardships and disappointments, heartaches and afflictions. Through it all, the Philippians provided their support. In fact, no other church demonstrated such personal compassion. They never second-guessed the apostle in his decision to move on; they supported him. They neither judged him when things went well nor complained when times were hard and he had no fruit to show for his labour; they supported him. They felt pain when he hurt, they prayed for him when he was unable to stay in touch, and they sent friends to comfort him when he was in prison (Philippians 4:14–15). They were his advocates, no matter what.
What friends! Can’t you just see the corners of Paul’s mouth form into a broad grin and his eyes mist over at the thought of their compassion?
Do you see it? The Philippians were generous – generous of spirit which caused them to be generous in everything, not just in their finances. Even though Paul was in Thessalonica, a wealthier city than Philippi, they “sent a gift more than once for [Paul’s] needs” (4:16). But the real treasure for him wasn’t the money itself; it was their sacrificial hearts . . . their spontaneous participation in furthering the gospel of Christ which would increase “the profit [in their] account” (4:17).
Generosity of spirit causes us to look beyond ourselves, beyond our own needs and wants, beyond our own agenda. The church in Philippi was surely populated with all sorts of people, just like any church today. Those people with leaky roofs and those with health problems. Those who struggle to put food on the table or to raise young children. Regular folk living regular lives. But what filled Paul’s heart with joy, to the point of tears, was his understanding that even in their ordinariness they had an extraordinary grace about them.
Thanks to the grace of the Philippians, Paul’s needs were regularly met. Why would that surprise us? That’s how it’s supposed to be! Their gift to him became, Paul said, “as a fragrant aroma,” giving God great delight (Philippians 4:18). How about that! The Lord smiles when His children invest themselves in the lives of others.
As a result of such generosity, Paul’s heart bursts forth with gratitude. And if you listen closely, you might detect the spontaneous laughter that permeated the page as Paul wrote this splendid promise to his friends: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19). Don’t overlook those three essentials: “. . . my God . . . your needs . . . His riches.” I call that an ideal mixture!
The community of Christians at Philippi stands as a constant reminder to us that even in the midst of our ordinary lives; God is pleased with our extraordinary grace. When we look to the needs of others, He does not forget us in our need. It is all so beautiful, so simple, so right . . . so joyful. It is enough to make every one of us well up with tears and laugh out loud—all at the same time!