THE WORD happiness evokes visions of unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning, strolling hand in hand with the one you love, being surprised on your birthday, responding with unbridled laughter to a comedian, or taking a holiday in an exotic location. Everyone wants to be happy; we make chasing this elusive ideal a lifelong pursuit; spending money, collecting things, and searching for new experiences. But if happiness depends on our circumstances, what happens when the toys rust, loved ones die, health deteriorates, money is stolen, and the party’s over? Often happiness flees and despair sets in.
In contrast to happiness stands joy. Running deeper and stronger, joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and work in our lives – that he will be there no matter what! Happiness depends on happenings, but joy depends on Christ.
Philippians is Paul’s joy letter. The church in that Macedonian city had been a great encouragement to Paul. The Philippian believers had enjoyed a very special relationship with Paul, so he wrote them a personal expression of his love and affection. They had brought him great joy (4:1). Philippians is also a joyful book because it emphasises the real joy of the Christian life. The concept of rejoicing or joy appears sixteen times in four chapters, and the pages radiate this positive message, culminating in the exhortation to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4).
In a life dedicated to serving Christ, Paul had faced excruciating poverty, abundant wealth, and everything in between. He even wrote this joyful letter from prison. Whatever the circumstances, Paul had learned to be content (4:11, 12), finding real joy as he focused all of his attention and energy on knowing Christ (3:8) and obeying him (3:12, 13).
Paul’s desire to know Christ above all else is wonderfully expressed in the following words: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (3:8-10). May we share Paul’s aspiration and seek to know Jesus Christ more and more. Rejoice with Paul in Philippians, and rededicate yourself to finding joy in Christ.
PURPOSE: To thank the Philippians for the gift they had sent Paul and to strengthen these believers by showing them that true joy comes from Jesus Christ alone
TO WHOM WRITTEN: All the Christians at Philippi, and all believers everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 61, from Rome during Paul’s imprisonment there
SETTING: Paul and his companions began the church at Philippi on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:11-40). This was the first church established on the European continent. The Philippian church had sent a gift with Epaphroditus (one of their members) to be delivered to Paul (4:18). Paul was in a Roman prison at the time. He wrote this letter to thank them for their gift and to encourage them in their faith.
KEY VERSE: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4).
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Euodia, and Syntyche
KEY PLACE: Philippi
Although Paul was writing from prison, joy is a dominant theme in this letter. The secret of his joy is grounded in his relationship with Christ. People today desperately want to be happy but are tossed and turned by daily successes, failures, and inconveniences. Christians are to be joyful in every circumstance, even when things are going badly, even when we feel like complaining, even when no-one else is joyful. Christ still reigns, and we still know him, so we can rejoice at all times.
- Joy in suffering (1:1-30)
- Joy in serving (2:1-30)
- Joy in believing (3:1-4:1)
- Joy in giving (4:2-23)
EXPLANATION: Christ showed true humility when he laid aside his rights and privileges as God to become human. He poured out his life to pay the penalty we deserve. Laying aside self-interest is essential to all our relationships.
IMPORTANCE: We are to take Christ’s attitude in serving others. We must renounce personal recognition and merit. When we give up our self-interest, we can serve with joy, love, and kindness.
EXPLANATION: Christ suffered and died so that we might have eternal life. With courage and faithfulness, Paul sacrificed himself for the ministry. He preached the gospel even while he was in prison.
IMPORTANCE: Christ gives us power to lay aside our personal needs and concerns. To utilise his power, we must imitate those leaders who show self-denying concern for others. We dare not be self-centred.
EXPLANATION: In every church, in every generation, there are divisive influences (issues, loyalties, and conflicts). In the midst of hardships, it is easy to turn on one another. Paul encouraged the Philippians to agree with one another, stop complaining, and work together.
IMPORTANCE: As believers, we should contend against a common enemy, not against one another. When we are unified in love, Christ’s strength is most abundant. Keep before you the ideals of teamwork, consideration for others, and unselfishness.
EXPLANATION: Paul shows us how to live successful Christian lives. We can become mature by being so identified with Christ that his attitude of humility and self-sacrifice rules us. Christ is both our source of power and our guide.
IMPORTANCE: Developing our character begins with God’s work in us. But growth also requires discipline, obedience, and relentless concentration on our part.
EXPLANATION: Believers can have profound contentment, serenity, and peace no matter what happens. This joy comes from knowing Christ personally and from depending on his strength rather than our own.
IMPORTANCE: We can have joy, even in hardship. Joy does not come from outward circumstances but from inward strength. As Christians, we must not rely on what we have or what we experience to give us joy, but on Christ within us.
©Kingsway International Church, 1973.