Summary: Joy despite circumstances
Philippians 1 3-11
We are going to be looking at Philippians for the next month or so. Philippians is a great letter of Paul to a wonderful church. Paul, as you may remember, was the apostle to the Gentiles, to all of us non-Jews. He wrote many letters to different churches which were so wonderful and obviously inspired that the churches preserved them, and have been passed along to us as Scripture. Paul, though, didn’t have an easy time planting churches. Most of the churches Paul planted had serious difficulties, and I think it can be said, drove him a little nuts. He had planted these churches, in Colossae where we get the letter in the New Testament called “Colossians”, in Galatia where we get the letter “Galatians”, Ephesus and Corinth and so forth. In fact, to prove these churches drove Paul a little crazy, in the letter to the Galatians we can read where Paul yells at them, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?”
But the church at Philippi was different. There were almost no troubles, and as we go through the letter slowly you will be able to hear, at least I hope, the great joy Paul has when he thinks and prays for the Philippians.
This joy is odd, because Paul is receiving and experiencing this joy when he is in jail. Through the church at Philippi he is experiencing joy while he personally is in a tough place. 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. The text is Philippians 1, verses 3-11.
I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Before we get deep into the text, I’d like to give you some background to help place Philippians in perspective. Philippians is one of the letters Saint Paul wrote to the churches he himself had founded. Philippi, which is north and west of all the other churches Paul started. Philippi was a major trade city, and was prosperous. We can do some background reading on the church at Philippi in Acts 16. Paul first went there because of a dream, had some tough times there like being beaten for casting out a demon, and planted a church there, starting with Lydia.
The first convert in Philippi, Lydia, was a trader in purple, which was the richest, most expensive dye. Purple cloth was used to denote wealth, both by business men and royalty alike. Back then purple dye was as valuable as gold. Her contacts in the business community were probably also fairly wealthy. The second convert was a jailer who nearly killed himself. Paul was thrown into jail for casting a fortune telling demon out of a woman, and while in jail there was an earthquake, which opened all the jail doors. The jailer panicked, and assumed all the prisoners had escaped while he was in charge. Paul stopped him from killing himself, the prisoners stayed, and the jailer became the second convert.
We know this was a wealthy town, and a wealthy church within the town. There was an important Roman military colony at Philippi, which brought in both money and a strong Roman influence to this Greek town. Philippi was also at a major crossroads on the “Egnatian Way”, which was one of the major “interstates” in the Roman Empire.
In stark contrast to all this wealth, Paul is writing this letter while he sits in jail, most likely in Rome, awaiting his trial and execution. Paul, you remember, was persecuted by the Jewish hierarchy, and was on trial before the Roman authorities when He appealed to Rome, to Caesar, his right as a Roman citizen. So there he sits, in chains, in jail, awaiting his fate, writing to the Philippians about their church, and about joy. It seems so out of place, to have this letter so filled with joy written by a prisoner. But so often that is life in Christ, finding great joy in really odd places. Odd physically, but not spiritually, because there is joy in Christ, no matter what the physical circumstances.