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

see, for example in Galatians or Corinthians. It is natural that we

wonder if the theologian has not been swallowed up in the friend.""

Professor David Smith calls it, "The sweetest and tenderest thing to

be found in all of Paul's correspondence."

The only church Paul ever accepted a gift from was this church of

Philippi. They supplied him many times, and he writes in 4:16, "For

even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again

when I was in need." William Barclay, the great New Testament

scholar, wrote, "Paul was closer to the church of Philippi than to

any other church." Listen to his loving terms in 4:1, "Therefore, my

brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is

how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!" In one verse

they are called his brothers, the ones he loves, his joy, his crown, and

his friends. Here are 5 terms of endearment in one verse.

So let's do a reality check, and face the facts. You are more likely

to be an optimist when you are dealing with people you love, and

who love you, then with people who rub you the wrong way, and

irritate you by their indifference or opposition. The fact that Paul is

most optimistic with those he most loves and enjoys makes it clear

that relationship is a key factor in the degree of your optimism about

people. Your optimism about God and His plan should not be

affected. That should be on a high degree of intensity no matter

what. But on the human level the degree of optimism is determined

by the level of Christian love that exists between Christian people.

One of the reasons Paul had such a good relationship with this

church is because it was mainly Gentiles, with only a few Jews, and

so his enemies who poisoned the minds of people against him did not

have much of a foundation in this church. There were only a

handful of Jews, for when Paul first came to Philippi there was even

a synagogue, but the people met by the river. Lydia, a Gentile, was

converted, and the church met in her home. Then the Philippian

jailer and his family were converted, and he too was a Gentile, and

so the church had few people that Paul's enemies could confuse.

In chapter 3 Paul still has to warn them about the Jewish legalist

who would take them back to the law, but it is a small part of his

letter compared to others. So we see that where Christians are on

the same wavelength as to theological convictions, there will be

greater peace, joy, and optimism. Paul is writing as a Christian

friend, and not as a theologian. The valuable lesson to see in all of

this is that Christians are like anyone else when it comes to

relationships. When they have good ones there is joy and positive

vibes. If there is conflict and disagreement over theology and values,

there can be a wall that makes friendship difficult if not impossible.

That is why you have Christians who are friends, and Christians

who are only acquaintances. Then you have Christians that you will

not even bother to get to know better until heaven. There we will all

be able to love everyone in the body, just as Christ does. Until then,

like Paul, we will have better relationships with some than with


God used the bad things that happened to Paul in Philippi to

bring forth good, and so every memory of even his bad times made

him joyful. He was harassed by the demon possessed girl; he was

arrested, beaten, and thrown in prison, but God used all of this to

lead the Philippian jailer and his family to Christ. It was a bad day

in the life of Paul, with a lot of rejection and pain, but in the end it

was one of the best days of his life, for a whole pagan family was

now in the kingdom of God, and a part of the Philippian church.

Paul was an optimist about what God could do with a day where all

was going wrong. He could say amen to the poet who wrote-

The inner side of every cloud

Is bright and shining.

I therefore turn my clouds about,

And always wear them inside out

To show the lining.

Paul did not pretend that all the bad stuff was good. Just because

God used all the bad to lead to a good end did not make the bad

good or right, and so even when it was all over, and the Philippian

jailer and his family were baptized, and the officials came to release

Paul and Silas from the jail, Paul protested the injustice of what had

been done. He demanded that the magistrates who put them in

prison come and apologize for their unjust decision. Paul did not

say that it was okay because God used it for good. It was still

wrong, and a bad decision. It was an injustice that needed to be

corrected, and not merely forgotten because God used it for good.

This is important to see, so that we can recognize there is more than

one kind of optimist.

Wrong and evil and injustice are not made good just because God

can use them to achieve good goals. They are still bad, and those

who do them are held accountable. Evil does not become good no

matter what good God can bring out of it. It is still evil. A

superficial optimist makes a major mistake of thinking that if God

uses bad things for good, then the bad things become good. Wrong!

Paul was no superficial optimist that says, all is for the best. Those

who think this way deny the reality of evil and folly in man. If all is

for the best, then there is no evil, and we are compelled to be

Christian Science followers, who say all evil is in the mind.

Paul was not so superficial. In 2:21 Paul complains about the

self-centeredness of Christians. Timothy is unique in his loving care

for others, but he writes, "For everyone looks out for his own

interest, not those of Jesus Christ." Paul does not say, this is for the

best, and will, in the long run, be a great blessing. It is a defect in

the body of Christ, and it is not a good thing. Paul did not reject the

reality of problems and weaknesses in the Christian life, as if this

was the best of all possible worlds. That would be a form of

blindness, and not optimism. He could be pessimistic about people

without losing his optimism in God, and God's ability to win the

final victory even with the obstacles of sinful people.

In 4:2 he pleads with Euodia and Syntyche to settle their dispute

peacefully, and asks the church to help them do so. He does not say,

a good fight will clean the air, and is healthy for the body. Paul

recognized that saints are not perfect, and that they would get into

conflict and would need to agree to disagree on some things. He did

not pretend that it was all for the best, but said that Christians need

to focus on their common bond in Christ. There would be things in

areas of individual differences where they would never agree. Paul

was optimistic that Christians could be one in Christ even though

they may disagree on many things.

Why is it important to see this distinction between the realistic

and the superficial optimist? For one thing, it makes people feel

guilty when they hate evil, if they feel it is contrary to Christian

optimism to do so. Some Christians delight in making other

Christians feel guilty for being pessimistic about man. This is

superficial, for the Bible is loaded with this kind of pessimism. "All

have sinned and come short of the glory of God." "There is none

that does good." "All our righteousness is as filthy rags." You

could go on for pages with such negative quotes. A Christian has

every right to be pessimistic about man apart from the grace of God.

The false prophets said all is well, and everything is for the best.

You are God's people, and God will bless you no matter how you

disregard His laws. This kind of superficial optimism is what lead to

the judgment of God's people time and time again. It is evil to be a

shallow optimist and seduce people into believing all is right when it

is not. Paul could, as an optimist, still face the reality of a fallen

world where plenty is wrong that he did not like, and he deals with it

even in this most optimistic of his letters. In 2:27 Paul writes of

Epaphroditus, "Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had

mercy on him, and not on him only, but also on me, to spare me

sorrow upon sorrow." Paul was not so gullible as to fall for the

"Everything is best," philosophy. He says that he would have cried

his heart out had his friend died, for it would have been a tragic loss,

and he would not be comforted by some superficial theory that God

needed him more than he did. It would have broken his heart

because even an incurable optimist recognizes that evil and sorrow

are a real part of life, and you can't whitewash it with a pretense

that it is all for the best. Life is full of things that are not for the

best. That is why there is a Gospel to give men hope of escape from

this fallen world, and to be in a world where all will be for the best.

Rejoice in the Lord he repeats over and over, but he also says in

3:2, "Watch out for the dogs-those men who do evil..." He does not

say rejoice in the world, the flesh, and the devil, which are the

source of endless problems. The optimist still has his pessimistic

side, for the world of evil and folly is a temporary reality that has to

be faced. The saints are fallible; the world has fallen; and the devil

is alive and well. The Christian who believes all is best in such a

world is what we call a superficial optimist, where he denies the

reality of the very battle of good and evil. This is as superficial as

the little ditty that goes-

The optimist fell ten stories,

And at each window bar

He shouted to the people,

"I'm alright so far!"

This is as unrealistic as the man who, without a dime to his name,

went into a fancy restaurant and ordered an oyster dinner with the

hope of finding a pearl in an oyster to pay for the meal. It is as

superficial as the woman who reported her neighbor had been shot

in a fight. "Were the wounds fatal," her friend asked. "Only two of

them," she said. "The other three were just flesh wounds." This is

the kind of person who will say everything is for the best. Paul

would not, for his was not a shallow optimism. His was a deep

optimism that says, even in a fallen world where much is wrong, and

far from the best, God is going to achieve His purpose, and I am

delighted to be part of His team, for they will be the ultimate


Paul's optimism was based on Christ and His victory over all the

forces of evil. It was not superficial like that of the student who was

asked, "Did you pass?" He responded, "No, but I was the highest of

those who failed." Paul could say, "I have failed. I am the least of

the Apostles, and not worthy to be an Apostle, but I can do all things

through Christ who strengthens me." He was a realistic optimist

who could be pessimistic about man, himself, and even the church,

but always rejoicing because he was optimistic about Christ and His


Optimism is based on the broader scope. The detail of the

moment may be a pain, and a cloud on you day that rains on your

parade. Pessimism is based on the negative realities of the moment.

Optimism is based on the positive realities that will be forever. In

Christ, the positives will last, and all negatives will vanish. You need

to see everything in the light of the long run. Someone said that

maybe all your dreams have not come true, but then neither have all

your nightmares. You have gone through a lot of trials, but you have

come through the storms into the light again, and have enjoyed the

day after many a troubled night. It is the long range look that keeps

you smiling when you face temporary pain. Some humorous poet

put it-

It is easy enough to be happy

When life is a bright, rosy wreath,

But the man worth while

Is the man who can smile

When the dentist is filling his teeth.

Christian optimism is based on the big picture, and is dependent

upon patience. Love is patient, and patience is one of the great

Christian virtues, for only the patient can live on the long run level.

The impatient are short run people, and they are pessimistic, for in

the short run you have to focus on the failure and folly of man,

rather than on the faithfulness of God.

Pessimists see only the viciousness of the battle, and not the

victory that makes the battle worth it. A neighbor said to a father

who kept bailing his son out of trouble, "If that were my boy, I

would forget him." The father replied, "If he were your boy I would

forget him too, but he is my boy." Love makes you more patient and

longsuffering because love makes you more optimistic. Take love out

of any relationship, and you can count on pessimism taking over.

Love is what made Paul so optimistic in relation to the

Philippians. Where love abounds optimism will thrive, and that is

why Paul writes in v. 9, "..and this is my prayer that your love may

abound more and more..." Christians who love are Christians who

are fun to be with, for they are, like Paul, incurable optimists. We

cannot be like Paul in many ways, but we can all be like him in this

way. We can all be Christians who are fun to be with. Ask yourself,

am I a Christian who is fun to be with because I focus on the goals of

the true, and the beautiful, and I tend to rejoice in life even when it

is full of problems? Or, am I one of those who is a gloomy Gus, or

cloudy Claudia who tends to rain on everybody's parade?

This letter of Philippians will change you if you let it, for it is the

most joyful book of the Bible. Chuck Swindoll's book on Philippians

is titled Laugh Again. In it he seeks to get Christians to stop being

sour pusses, and start being the kind of joyful people God wants

them to be. We all need to pray that God will help us learn the

essence of this letter and learn to be incurable optimists.