Paul’s letter to the Philippians is so full of joy! He writes:
I always pray with joy. (1.4)
Christ is preached and because of this I rejoice! (1.18)
You too should be glad and rejoice with me. (2.18)
You are my joy and my crown. (4.1)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: Rejoice! (4.4)
The incredible thing about this letter is that Paul was in prison when he was writing it! Even though his life was so tough, he was filled with joy and kept encouraging the Philippians to rejoice with him!
In his book, ‘Life lessons from Philippians’, author Max Lucado writes:
“An unexpected bill. An upcoming doctor’s appointment. A tense family visit. Every day struggles of all sizes creep into our lives, leaving us stressed. Frustrated. Anxious. Just plain miserable. The believers in Philippi were struggling. They were trying to grow in faith and live for Christ. Trying to deal with conflict and threats of persecution. The apostle Paul was stuck in a Roman prison when he wrote to this young church. His letter could have focused on his own troubles. Instead he wrote about living a life full of joy, peace, and contentment. He reminds us of important biblical truths and points us to Jesus as the ultimate example. Paul’s letter encourages. It inspires. His confidence reminds us of God’s wisdom and control in the difficult moments of life. His excitement challenges us in this guide to joy.”
So what is Paul so joyful about in the midst of his suffering? There are two key themes running right through the letter: Paul is passionate about the gospel, he doesn’t care about his own troubles as long as people are meeting Jesus and getting to know Him better. That is all that matters. In chapter 1 he says it is actually good that he is in prison because, as a result, the guards have all heard about Jesus! In chapter 3 Paul writes that everything else is “garbage” (he actually used a much cruder word in Greek!) compared with “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have lost everything.” The secret to being “content in all circumstances” (4.12) is to be completely focussed on knowing Jesus and leading others to him.
The second key theme and reason for Paul’s joy is his great affection for the Philippians. This is his most personal letter. He feels great joy every time he prays for them. He has such a love for them. He is not simply teaching truth in this letter, he is caring for them as a father cares for his children. In chapter 4 he refers to them as “my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and I long for, my joy and my crown.” This is why he is so heartbroken that some of them are not living wholeheartedly for Jesus, and that there are disagreements and quarrels amongst them. This desire for unity inspired some of the most beautiful words that Paul ever wrote (chapter 2.5-11). This is his hymn of praise where Paul pours out worship to Jesus, who made himself nothing, humbled himself even unto death on the cross, so that God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above every name! This is written to inspire us to copy Jesus, to have the same attitude as Him, to humble ourselves and serve one another.
Philippians is wonderful to read anytime, but especially as we come together at the beginning of a new year, a new decade, and focus on our priorities. What is really important? Life has many struggles, and many of us, like Paul, are facing huge challenges. As we allow Paul’s letter to the Philippians to shape our priorities, we will discover the joy that only Jesus can provide.