Summary: Explore the theme of the "JOY" in the book of Philippians.
Scripture correlates joy with spiritual strength. This relationship is evident in Paul’s epistle to the Philippians. Paul, while facing adversity and imprisonment, maintained a robust faith in God. The strength of Paul’s faith is evidenced by his joy and rejoicing, and his commands to rejoice. Paul’s joyful faith serves as both a model and a mandate to the Philippians and all believers.
The concept of joy is not easy to understand. Joy cannot be affected by external happenings. Personal hostilities against Paul, imprisonment, and the prospect of martyrdom did not rob Paul of joy. F. F. Bruce states that "joy is a defiant ’nevertheless’ which Paul sets like a full stop against resentment and for that might otherwise well up within him." Yet, joy simultaneously is affected by external happenings: the Philippian church was the source of Paul’s joy (4:1); the Philippian believers were capable of increasing Paul’s joy and making it complete (2:2); and Epaphroditus’s recovery was grounds for rejoicing (2:28-29).
From Paul’s discussion of joy, the Philippians came to understand it as a state of mind characterized by peace, a stability despite life’s inconsistencies, a way of looking at life that was rooted in faith, that is, a keen awareness of trust in the risen Christ. Joy is more than a mood or emotion. It is an understanding of existence that allows the believer to see beyond any particular event to the sovereign Lord who stands above all events and controls his / her ultimate destiny.
Joy is both a them and the tone of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians. The word "joy" in its verbal and noun forms is found sixteen times in this short letter. Paul’s example of a life filled with joy and his exhortations to rejoice in the Lord do not proceed from an ivory tower, but from a prison with the possibility of martyrdom imminent.
Paul reveals the outlook on life that is necessary to maintain joy. One must maintain a living union with Christ, which provides our eschatological hope. This is epitomized in Paul’s statement in 1:21 -- "to live is Christ and to die is gain."
The theme of joy that pervades Philippians begins in 1:4 and is linked with Paul’s prayer. In contrast to many of the other churches founded by Paul, the Philippian church gave Paul almost unmixed joy. The Philippian believers harbored neither subversive teaching (as did some in Galatia) or ethical libertinism (as did some in Corinth). The energetic wholeheartedness with which the Philippians had cooperated with him in the work of the gospel was the grounds for Paul’s gratitude and joy.
Because joy is connected here with Paul’s prayers, the passion and fervency that characterized Paul’s prayers is revealed. A gladness warmed his heart as he prayed for the Philippian believers.
The theme of joy resurfaces in 1:18 and is associated with Paul’s selfless rejoicing at the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. Paul is presently rejoicing over the objective faith that Christ is preached regardless of the subjective motives that prompt men to do so. The "how" and "why" of preaching is not the ground of Paul’s joy; the fact and result of the preaching is. The power of the gospel brings salvation to people, despite the character of the preacher. This furtherance of the kingdom of God causes Paul’s rejoicing. It must be understood, however, that these preachers (despite their improper motivations) are preaching the true gospel. Had they not been Paul would have pronounced an anathema on them as he did the Galatian Judaizers.
The theme of joy quickly reappears in 1:25-26 where Paul states that his continued life and ministry are for the Philippian believers joy in the faith. Paul’s purpose for ministry was for the Philippians to grow both in their knowledge and their joy of faith. The Christian faith should not be a static experience intellectually or affectively: growth should characterize every aspect of the believer and his relationship with Christ. Their progress in joy might be a deepening of their joy that would enable them to have joy regardless of their situation -- as Paul did.
The theme of joy reemerges in 2:2 where Paul pleads with the Philippians for their unity and humility stating that this will fulfill his joy. The importance of unity and humility is stressed here because even though the Philippian church was a source of Paul’s joy, they could make his joy complete by exhibiting unity and the humility of Christ.
Paul returns to his theme of joy in 2:16-18 where he describes his rejoicing. There is mutual joy and rejoicing between Paul and the Philippians. Paul and the Philippians rejoice because Paul’s suffering and the Philippians’ sacrificial gifts combine to form a perfectly complete sacrifice to God. Thus Paul calls for them to share in his joy. As he is joyful to be a libation poured out to God through his sufferings, so he encourages them to be glad to render service to God in their continued sharing in his work of defending and vindicating the gospel. Paul’s joy is based on a confidence that his death is gain because by it Christ is glorified and the gospel is proclaimed.