Wednesday, November 22, 2023

An #Interview with Josiah Bancroft, Author of Philippians: Finding Joy When Life Is Hard


An Interview with Josiah Bancroft,
Author of Philippians: Finding
Joy When Life Is Hard

When times are hard and overwhelming, the command to “Rejoice!” can feel mocking or even cruel. How can we have joy when circumstances in our lives and those around us are so difficult? In Philippians: Finding Joy When Life Is HardJosiah D. Bancroft IV guides readers in a study of Philippians, showing how a deep and abiding joy is possible in every circumstance when we understand who Jesus is and who we are in him. 


Q: Paul was in jail while writing this letter. Why it is remarkable that he was able to keep such a positive outlook and encourage his friends in Philippi to rejoice?


The jail where Paul was held was dark, damp, and stank terribly. But when Jesus called him to carry his name to the nations, he said Paul would suffer because of that calling. Now, Paul was awaiting judgment under Nero for being a Christian. He suffered not knowing if he would live or die. And yet, remarkably, he writes of joy and of rejoicing to his friends. 


How could Paul suffer such difficulty, stay joyful, and write about rejoicing? As believers, our physical circumstances will bring hardship, and knowing Jesus through the difficulties can still bring joy. If my hope and happiness rests only on things going well, on nice circumstances, and on feeling safe, then I will always be shaken by difficulty and suffering.


Jesus said that we will have tribulation (John 16:33). Paul reminds me that despite the pains we can rejoice in Jesus overcoming the grave, reconciling us to the Father, making us his children, and reigning in heaven for us now. Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus comes from knowing and pursuing Jesus. Paul says that rejoicing in these spiritual realities can keep our hearts in hard times.


Q: What do we learn immediately through how Paul introduces his letter?


In just a few words Paul reminds us that like him we have a new identity and a new life through faith in Christ.


Paul calls himself a servant of Jesus. He does not claim to rule over the Philippians. He serves both Jesus and them in his calling. Paul unites his friends reminding them that we all serve Jesus together. That is our new calling: serving Jesus in love together. When we are clear in this new identity our affections, allegiance, and love focus on Jesus and we live together as children of God and citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).


Because of their faith in Christ, Paul calls the Philippians saints. We often think of saints as nearly sinless and perfect people. Paul knows that righteousness before God is a gift from God to those who believe in Jesus and trust his sacrifice for them alone to reconcile them to God. We are saints by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus as Lord.


Q: We all have struggles in this life, and as you point out, Jesus practically promises we will suffer. What does Paul teach us about how to respond when trouble comes our way?


Paul points us to faith in Jesus, to our new spiritual identity that keeps our hearts safe in difficulty. Paul never ignores or minimizes his trouble, but he does see his pain in a larger context of God’s kingdom and goodness. Paul points us to thanksgiving and prayer in difficulty. 


Philippians 4 reminds us that the Lord is near to us, both presently and in his soon return. Because of him we can ask for whatever we need and know God hears us. We can trust him to work rather than living in anxiety. So, we respond to present problems rejoicing his love and willingness to answer us in our need and to give us a reason for peace of mind even in hard times. 


Q: How can we as Christians encourage one another to be humble?


I believe that the most powerful encouragement we can be to others is to be an example of humility by intentionally serving others. We can count others as more significant than we are. We can look for practical ways to care for them and their interests and not just our own (Philippians2:3-4). 


The Gospel tells us of the Son’s humility to put off glory, to empty himself, in his incarnation. And when he took on flesh, he took a humble place and then even died to cover our sins by the sacrifice he made on the cross. God then exalted him. But humility and sacrifice for others came first, and Christ is the one we follow and imitate.


As a younger man, I was much too full of my own importance and caring for my own personal needs to learn much humility. My dear wife’s example of gentle service and honesty with me rebuked my pride. I learned so much from her testimony and her humility about how to serve others. She wasn’t a pushover or silent by any means. At times she pointed out the pain my pride caused others. She reminded me of Jesus’ example. But her words had unique power in the moment because she lived the humility she talked about. I think being humble enough to serve others as we trust Christ can make our encouragement to others about humility and our testimony about Jesus uniquely powerful.


I would also say that Christ’s gift of the Spirit encourages me that I do not have to simply produce this impossible kind of humility under my own power. Jesus sent his Spirit to encourage, help and strengthen me practically to see my pride. I can repent and trust his forgiveness and love for me. Then I can ask him to help as I think of others and serve them. I am not alone as I struggle with pride or self-centeredness. God will complete what he has begun. And other believers can also find that God forgives us. He can change us.


Q: What does it look like to live out our mission daily?


I served as the Director of Mission for Serge, a mission-sending organization, for more than a decade, so the question of what it looks like to engage and live out our calling into mission was one I engaged often. It helps us to remember our differences as believers. Our personal gifts and individual calling from God are very different. Our stage of life may be different, too, as well as the opportunities we may have to engage in mission. 


Although we are very different, each one of us has these gifts and callings so that we can be uniquely clear in our testimony and witness to Jesus. Each one of us is called to love each other in our fellowships. And each one of us has been called to be a blessing even to those who don’t like us. We are called to do good in our neighborhoods, wherever we live.


These three things—speaking about Christ, serving others in practical ways, and living in peace with other believers—are an attractive and winsome way of living that draws others to faith. And that is our mission whether God calls us to serve abroad or keeps us at home. 


Q: What are some of the results of having a confidence in Christ?


When I trust Christ so that he makes me confident, it changes my relationship to God and my relationship with others. My relationship with God shifts from my performance to his work for me. When it is up to me to earn God’s approval on my own, I can work hard and become self-certain that I am doing all I should. I have a selfish stake in making sure my record is complete. When Paul lived by the law, he could list all the ways he met the requirements. When he looked at himself, he said he was “blameless” or “perfect” (Philippians 3:6), but he was blind to his guilt in Stephen’s murder and his hounding of Christians. When I am trusting my own ability, I may give up in despair because I can see I’ll never do enough. So why try to meet an impossible standard? (I can even oscillate between these two extremes!) 


But when I look to Christ in faith, my reputation before God, my righteousness, depends on him. My righteousness comes as a gift from God because I have trusted Christ. My heart can believe that Jesus did enough to make me perfect forever before God (Hebrews 10:14). Now I have the confidence to pray, share my faith, and know I am safe forever in Jesus.


That kind of confidence frees me from comparison and competition with others. I can love them for who they are and serve their needs because I have all I need before God in Christ. 


Q: We will never reach perfection in our faith, but we should reach a certain level of maturity. Can you share the marks of a mature Christian?


Already being counted righteous before God because of faith in Jesus upends our pursuit of becoming more like Jesus. Instead of chasing after what we should be, we now begin to grow into who we are already in Christ. We already have a good record. We already are God’s loved children. Now our lives here are lived by faith expressing or living out who we are in Christ. My failures are no longer a threat as they once were. Since I am safe, I can be honest and pursue change without getting mired down in morbid introspection or proud self-defense. Jesus has established my place. And the Spirit of God works in me to make me confident of that and to enliven my new heart to become like Jesus.


Surprisingly, Paul says that he recognizes that he isn’t already perfect. Some people can admit that in theory but can’t actually accept any examples of how they fall short today! They are only theoretically imperfect. But honestly owning our failures and specific needs is the first step to progress. But once I have seen it, I put aside the guilt and blame or self-defense and explanation. I “forget with lies behind” and summon my efforts to “strain forward to what lies ahead.” Paul even says that all who are mature in Christ think this way!


With this kind of effort, I can begin to see character changes. I can put aside arguments and selfish ambition. I can step out of anxiety and pray with confidence. I can resolve conflicts with gentle humility and forgiveness. I can begin to become the new person Christ made me to be.


Q: There are so many issues that bring about division among groups of people, even within the church itself. What does Philippians teach us about the importance of gospel unity?


Philippians teaches us that unity is a primary witness to the power of Christ. Paul makes this very practical. Unity isn’t historical or distant. He says don’t grumble and dispute. With humility and love, serve each other so that clearly you are blameless and innocent. Paul says this kind of life will shine as lights in the world, even when things are dark and divided all around you. The words he uses remind us of stars shining as points of light in a dark night sky. 


Paul suggests what Jesus said to his frightened and confused disciples. “All people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Being right or in control feels best to me sometimes. But Jesus is clear—loving unity is the strongest evidence that he is supernaturally at work in his people.


Q: Paul writes about learning to be content, regardless of circumstances. How does one learn to be content? What does it mean to be truly content? 


In reading Philippians, contentment may be the capstone of all Paul teaches us. Being content, even in terrible circumstances shows mature and powerful faith in Jesus like nothing else. Paul calls it a spiritual secret that requires supernatural power. He can have a lot or have nothing and still be at peace and content. Paul does not say circumstances don’t matter. He doesn’t say they are equally good. It is great to have a lot. It is hard to be desperately poor. But as I trust Christ, he can strengthen me in whatever circumstance I am in so that I believe he is present; he is in control, and that he loves me. With Christ, I can be content no matter what. Pursuing that kind of confident in Jesus is worth the effort!

Philippians: Finding Joy When Life Is Hard

Study Guide with Leader’s Notes

The Gospel-Centered Life in the Bible Series

by Josiah D. Bancroft IV

August 14, 2023/ Retail Price: $16.99

Print ISBN 978-1-64507-351-2

Religion/Biblical Studies/Bible Study Guides

Read a Preview

About the Author

Josiah D. Bancroft IV is a church planter, pastor, and missionary, ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America. He has served with Serge since 1992, most recently as Senior Director of Mission, overseeing all of its ministries, mission work, and publications. As a part of Serge’s Executive Leadership Team, he now works to implement Serge’s vision for overall impact, strategic growth, and expansion of renewal and mission work globally. 


Bancroft holds a Master of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS) and is the author of Philippians: Finding Joy When Life is Hard, part of Serge’s Gospel-Centered Life in the Bible series. 


Together with his wife, Barbara, they love and live out Serge’s tagline: Grace at the fray. The Bancrofts live near the Serge home office in Jenkintown, PA, and have three grown children and four grandchildren.


Learn more at

Serge is an international missions organization that sees God weaving together the frayed edges of our tattered world with His goodness, creating something beautiful.


Their work consists of sending and caring for missionaries, mentoring and discipling ministry leaders around the world, and developing gospel-centered resources—such Sonship and The Gospel-Centered Life—for ongoing gospel renewal. Learn more at


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