Summary: This sermon introduces Paul’s letter to the Philippians and outlines Paul’s life.
Introduction to Philippians
February 11, 2001
Introduction to Philippians
One of the most special moments for me in Central Asia took place when a 20 year old man named Ahemd, came to me with tears in his eyes. His father had just beaten him b/c of his faith in Jesus… and not only that, but passing through the bazaar, a man started shouting at him that he was a kofir… the equivalent to being a traitor to Islam. I read Mat. 5 with him, “blessed are those who are persecuted for His name’s sake”, and we both began to rejoice together. To a fair degree, Dilovar learned the secret to experiencing joy in spite of circumstances.
This is one of the great themes of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He writes this book while a prisoner in Rome, chained to a guard 24 hours a day, never sure whether this would be his last day or not. He had no dream team defend him… Cochrin, F. Lee Bailey, and Shapiro were nowhere to be found. You would think that Paul’s letter would be sorrowful & burdened. Not only because he was in prison, but because many of the believers in Rome had deserted him as well. After all he did to build and bless the church in Rome, many pastors became envious of him and tried to persuade their congregations keep their distance. It’s these pastors that Paul is writing about in Phil 1 when he says that some are preaching from envy and strife. It’s one thing to get attacked or hurt by strangers, but doesn’t it hurt a lot more when the attack comes from other Christians? Though Paul may have had every right to complain or feel sorry for himself… his life was somehow full of joy. In fact, he uses the word for joy and thanksgiving nineteen times in just these four chapters. It shouldn’t be any surprise that through the ages this letter, or epistle, has come to be known as the epistle of joy.
It always amazed me that Paul sums up all he is experiencing in the words, “my circumstances”. If I were in prison, what would I write about? What would the tone of the letter be? Something to the effect of “get me out of here!” Rather than speak of his discomfort, loneliness, the dirty conditions, all of which he felt as deeply as any person would, Paul spoke about the very thing that truly consumed him. That is Jesus. In fact, He mentions Jesus 18 times in chapter 1 alone! In chapter 4 of Philippians, Paul writes, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” In the next verse he says, “for I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
But why was Paul experiencing joy at a time and in a place like that? Why do so few us here in America have it? What is the key that enables Paul to experience joy in the midst of the worst of circumstances? Paul had filled his mind with Christ. That may sound a bit strange at first but Paul so occupied his thoughts with the reality of who Jesus that his circumstances, however difficult, didn’t break his spirit. So over the next seven years as we delve into the book of Philippians, or few weeks, if I can condense things, we’ll see this theme of “filling our minds with Christ” repeat itself. In chapter one we’ll discuss the single mind; chapter 2, the submitted mind; 3, the spiritual mind; and 4, the settled mind.