Summary: This optimistic letter has been used of God to comfort, encourage, and challenge Christians all through history to be optimists in a fallen world.
The things that can go wrong in Christian service could fill an
encyclopedia. Tal Bonham has recorded just a few. A note in the
bulletin said, "Ladies don't forget the rummage sale. It is a good
chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the
house. Bring your husbands." He tells of a pastor who preached on
Samson, and unknowingly called him Tarzan through the whole
sermon. Another pastor, when he asked, who had special prayer
requests to raise their hands, had his mind on the previous business
meeting, and he said, "All those opposed, same sign." Another
pastor introduced the new choir director by saying, "We are
delighted he is coming to lead us in our sinning."
Even Billy Graham has made his occasional slip of the tongue.
The police chief of Memphis, Tenn. asked him to help promote their
traffic safety campaign. So Graham pointed to the large neon sign
which said 150 days. "You see that sign," he said, "That means that
there has been 150 days without a fertility." His mistake was not a
fatality, but it was terribly embarrassing. Several world renowned
clergymen almost fell off the platform in hysterics. Chuck Swindoll
preaching on Joshua at Jericho meant to say, "They circumscribed
the wall," but it came out, "They circumcised the wall." It brought
the house down. The point is, you have got to be an optimist to
believe God can use such a fallible creature as man to accomplish
His will on earth.
Paul was just such an optimist, and the main message of his letter
to the Philippians is that everyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ
is obligated to be an optimist. Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord
always," and just in case you didn't hear, he says it again, "and
again I say rejoice." Pessimism is one of the greatest sins of the
Christian, and Paul fights that negative spirit in this letter. It is a
sin for a Christian to be ever gripping, complaining, and grumbling.
Behind every silver lining some Christians can find a dark cloud.
Their pessimism becomes a bad habit. It is like swearing. Some
people do it so often they don't even realize they are doing it. So it is
possible to think negative so often that you don't even realize you
are being a pessimist.
Like the persistent pessimist who grumbled to his neighbor, "My
hen hatched out 12 chicks, and all of them died but 11." The
negative had distorted a positive reality into a negative feeling. This
habitual focus on the negative leads to the unconscious prayer of the
pessimist-"Give us this day our daily dread." If you are going to
focus your attention on the problems of life, then anyone can be a
pessimist, for problems are part of every life, and Paul the optimist
was no exception. He was not writing this letter of joy from his
yacht in the Mediterranean, or from a luxury villa in Rome. It was
written from a prison, and not from the warden's office either, but
from the dungeon. He was there unjustly for serving his Lord, and
blessing people with the good news of the Gospel. Yet, out of this
unfair and unjust suffering Paul does not fire off a bitter letter of
anger, but a letter of joy and optimism about the church and God's
plan for it.
This optimistic letter has been used of God to comfort, encourage,
and challenge Christians all through history to be optimists in a
fallen world. Gene Daille, the great French expositor told of how
deeply the Indians of the new world were impressed by the white
man's ability to put marks on a piece of paper, and then convey it to
another at a great distance, and thereby, bear a message to them.
Letters were magic to them. It is marvelous to us too when you
think of it. By means of letters the Apostle Paul, long dead, can go
on speaking to the church all over the world, and urge them to
rejoice always, and be incurable optimists. Paul was the first in a
long line of Christian writers who wrote Christian literature in
prison that influenced the church to be optimistic in spite of
We have to face this reality, however. Paul had more reason to be
optimistic about the Philippians than other churches to which he
wrote. We need to see honestly that Paul had a different
relationship with this church then other churches. There was a
loving friendship here that was not the case with others. He had to
scold and blast the Corinthians, and focus on their many defects in
ways that do not happen in this letter. Paul Rees, the one time great
Twin City preacher, wrote, "Philippians gives us a Paul we do not