The Apostle Paul wrote many letters to different churches which were so wonderful and obviously inspiring, that the churches preserved them, and they have been passed along to us as Scripture. Paul, though, did not have an easy time doing this. Most of the churches Paul planted had serious difficulties, and I think it can be said, drove him a little crazy. The church at Philippi was different. There was almost no trouble and Paul had great Joy when he thought and prayed for the Philippians. It is a great letter to a wonderful church.
Joy Despite Circumstances
The joy that we read and hear in the letter can seem odd at first, because Paul is receiving and experiencing this joy when he is in jail. But so often that is life in Christ, finding great joy in odd places. Odd physically, but not spiritually, because there is joy in Christ, no matter what the physical circumstances. Through the church at Philippi Paul is experiencing joy while he personally is in a tough place. It teaches us that wherever we find ourselves today, in whatever tough situation, there can be joy. That is the promise of Philippians, there is joy in the Lord, and joy to keep us going even though times are hard.
I Thank My God Every Time I Remember You
Paul starts off his letter by thanking the people and letting them know he is praying for them. Paul is a man of prayer. Paul knows the strength he personally draws from prayer, but also that prayer is effective he knows that Prayer makes a difference. Paul is confident that his time in prayer is not wasted time but is the most concrete help he can give the Philippians as they struggle to follow Jesus and share the good news to those around them. Paul prays with thankfulness and joy because of their response to God. Philippians is one of the few letters where Paul is not addressing a serious issue that is dividing the church. Paul founded this church about 10 years previous, and it is thriving, and growing. And so, Paul can pray with great joy, because the church is functioning well. Paul can pray with joy also because of the way the Philippians have responded with Paul in his ministry. No person ever ministers alone, but rather is a part of a larger ministry team. The Philippians are praying for him, and Paul is praying for them. Paul is guiding them, but they are doing the actual ministry. So, they are participating fully in trying to reach as many people as possible with the good news that in Jesus Christ God came to us and offers us salvation. The Philippians do not depend on others to do their job, but rather seek out the lost, and tell them of the hope that is in their hearts because of Christ living in it. That was the mission of the Philippians church, and it is still the mission of the church today.
We Are All in This Together
The Philippians are also partners in one of Paul’s other missions, and that is to assist the poor Christians in Jerusalem. The Philippians helped him in this mission as well. It is not only the spiritual mission Paul has of spreading the good news of the gospel, but also the ministry of assisting the poor in their struggle to survive. We also are in this together. One of the images of this is mountain climbing. In mountain climbing all the climbers are roped together for safety, for encouragement. That is who we are, the climbing church. We are all roped together in this life. We are doing something difficult, trying to live faithfully to Christ in a hostile world. Sometimes that can feel like we are climbing a mountain, but we do it together. There is joy in climbing the mountain because we do it for and with Christ, for and with each other. Paul knows with confidence and joy that Christ will continue to work in their lives individually and collectively, until that time when Jesus returns. What makes a difference is steady movement, continuing, in the mission God gives us, and the mission God gave the Philippians. Paul is completely confident the Philippians are running the steady race, they will keep going, keep proclaiming their faith. They will make a difference because they are all headed in the same direction; they have the mind of Christ, who is working to perfect them. Paul genuinely loves these people, this church. His joy in them, and in watching and hearing about them is unchanged by his physical circumstance. Whatever he is doing, he will always have affection for the Philippians. Paul has joy, and yet he is imprisoned, held in chains. Being in prison is never a fun thing; it must have been bad for Paul. And yet, his attitude is not despairing, but full of joy. Paul trusts that God is in control, no matter what the circumstances. No matter what happens to him, whether he is in chains, or is being beaten, or is shipwrecked, Paul knows who God is, that He is good and trustworthy, and that God loves him. We can endure quite a lot if we know we are loved. We will put up with an amazing amount of hard times if we know, deep down, that we are well and truly loved. You are loved by God. No matter what you have done, no matter what your past is like, if you come to God and ask, He will change you, because He loves you. He is simply waiting to be asked. Paul knows this; Paul has experienced Christ’s love and forgiveness for the terrible things he had done while persecuting Christians. Paul knows God’s love, even in prison, and so he can be full of joy, despite the suffering he is going through. There is joy in the Lord. Joy is the result of faithfully following God.
Question to consider
How do we have joy, not just small joy but great joy, despite our troubling circumstances?
God gives us His instruction book for living, but we need to read it, be immersed in it, we need to know His Word, so that when we are faced with questions or tough situations, we know how to respond. God has created each of you in a special way to do a special ministry. everyone has a ministry of some sort whether they are free or even in prison. Ministries are not draining, but full of joy, and satisfaction that God is using your life to make a difference, to bring people to Him. This is our joy, to allow God to shine through us. There is joy in knowing Jesus. That is the bottom line. Christianity is about knowing Christ; it can never be reduced to a set of rules to follow. We follow a person. We follow Jesus and one of the rewards is pure joy. That is how the apostle Paul can sit in a prison, awaiting his execution, and talk about joy. There is deep joy in Christ, there is deep joy in knowing God is using our efforts, knowing we are playing our part in his salvation plan. There is joy in Lord, deeper and stronger than you can imagine. Not just temporary happiness, but real joy.
Heavenly Father, how I bless and thank You for the glad tidings of great joy that were given to all people, so many years ago. Thank You for Jesus, and the joy and peace that floods the hearts of all who have believed in Him, the rock of their Salvation. Help me to share this joy of knowing Jesus with all those who You place in my path, and I pray that throughout the world there may be many sinners today who are saved by grace through faith in the shed blood of Christ Jesus, so that they too may experience the joy which is freely available to all who believe in the gospel.