Finding joy in the mess of community. (Part 1)

Photo Credit:  David Hodgson

Photo Credit: David Hodgson


We are continuing on with our study of Philippians. In this study we’re looking at how joy and suffering applies to our 21st century lives.

Last week (part 1, part 2) we talked about how God uses suffering to advance His work in the world, and his work in the hearts of those who we interact with. We talked about how he uses difficult times in our lives to help others connect with God in a new and real way.

We’ve talked about how being real with our story invites others to be real with their story.

Today, we’ll be continuing this discussion of community and the joy that comes from being complete together.

Joy is spelled S.O.L.O

Happiness is solo venture. You will often hear people talk about what it means to be or search out happiness, and it will often be said that we are “going to make myself happy for a while.”

A Google search for “happiness” yields 75 million results, and nearly 40,000 books on or related to the topic are available for purchase on

Happiness, and the pursuit of it, is at the forefront of our culture, isn’t it?

Yet, we’re not a happy culture.

In a 2013 New York Times Op-Ed piece, Ross Douthat states,

In the 1990s, the suicide rate dipped with the crime rate. But since 2000, it has risen, and jumped particularly sharply among the middle-aged. The suicide rate for Americans 35 to 54 increased nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010; for men in their 50s, it rose nearly 50 percent. More Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents, and gun suicides are almost twice as common as gun homicides… there’s a strong link between suicide and weakened social ties: people — and especially men — become more likely to kill themselves “when they get disconnected from society’s core institutions (e.g., marriage, religion) or when their economic prospects take a dive (e.g., unemployment).”

In Slate, it’s been documented:

Loneliness is a serious health risk. Studies of elderly people and social isolation concluded that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely.

The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity.

Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Loneliness is breaking our hearts, but as a culture we rarely talk about it.

Loneliness has doubled: 40 percent of adults in two recent surveys said they were lonely, up from 20 percent in the 1980s.

This, then, begs the question…if so much of our time and resources are dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, and if this happiness is becoming more and more rare, then it would be wise for us to take a serious look at how we are looking for it, right?

We must look at what we’re expecting to bring us happiness, and how we’re finding ourselves disappointed by it.

Ultimately, is happiness found as a community or is it found alone?

Philippians 2:1-4

2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

We must begin with unity

When we begin  to talk about community and happiness that’s found within community, we must first discuss unity.

We are a fragmented society.

We have republicans. We have democrats.

We have Americans. We have Mexicans. We have Chinese.

We have college graduates. We have high school drop-outs.

We have nuclear families. We have single mothers.

We have White collar. We have blue-collar. Some have no collar.

We have heterosexual. We have homosexual.

We have musicians. We have accountants.

We have Protestants. We have Catholics.

We have whovians. We have trekkies.

We have war veterans. We have pacifists.

I could keep going, but we all understand, right?

With so many differences, with so many ways in which we can experience life and come to find some semblance of foundation in our lives, how can we exist together in community?

An even deeper, and more difficult question, how can we come to exist together even when our differences are so drastic or glaring? How can we find joy together? Even though we’re taught to talk over one another?

Tomorrow, we’re going to dive into that question together.


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