By Dr. Robert E. Picirilli
One helpful kind of Bible study is tracing a theme through a portion of Scripture. It is universally agreed joy is one of the key themes in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This is even more remarkable considering Paul was in prison during this writing (1:13). He had evangelized Philippi on his second and third missionary journey. After that he journeyed to Jerusalem where he was arrested. He spent two years under arrest in Caesarea. He finally appealed his case to Caesar and was transferred under guard to Rome. He spent two more years imprisoned there.
The Philippians sent Paul an offering by way of a man named Epaphroditus. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus fell seriously ill at this time. This news reached Philippi. The Philippians resulting distress got back to Paul in Rome.
Paul wrote that Epaphroditus had recovered and was preparing to return home. In fact, it was Epaphroditus who bore this letter to the Philippians (about A.D. 60/6l). The letter makes it clear that a special fellowship existed between Paul and the Philippians.
There are 19 references to joy and rejoicing in the four chapters of Philippians. All but three are either the noun “joy” (charain Greek) or the verb “rejoice” (chairo). There are five key aspects of Paul’s joy.
First, Paul’s joy is not dependent on his circumstances. He has been imprisoned for almost four years (1:12-18). In spite of this, he rejoices (1:18). Indeed, even if he should be sentenced to death for his ministry, still he would rejoice (2:17, 18). Paul had learned to be content in whatever his present condition (4:11). We can learn from this. All too often, we let difficult circumstances rob us of our joy. Circumstances possess that power only if we let them.
Second, Paul’s joy was related to his call to preach the gospel. His great zeal for preaching the truth came from the free gift of God’s grace. He referred to “my grace” (1:7). The grace he had been given was the reason he could rejoice in spite of his chains. He had a enormous passion for preaching the grace given through Christ (1:12-18). His joy came from knowing the name of Jesus was getting the attention it deserved. That’s what mattered most to Paul. When our joy lies in fulfilling our calling, the criticisms and persecutions of the world won’t make much difference.
Third, Paul’s joy was in his converts. His life and sense of well being were always tied to the success in the faith of those he ministered to. He calls the Philippians “my joy and crown” and exhorts them to stand fast (4:1). He urges the church to “fulfill ye my joy” (2:2). He describes in detail how they can do that (1:27—2:18). If they will accomplish it, he says, he will be able to rejoice that his labors with them have not been in vain (2:16). Self-centered people don’t have that kind of feeling for others. Neither do they have much joy.
Fourth, Paul’s joy was in his communion with others. The King James word is “communication” (4:14, 15) meant in the sense of “fellowship.” The Greek word (koinonia) literally means “having in common.” Paul’s joy is for their fellowship with him in the gospel (1:4, 5). This included the specific manifestation of their support of his ministry that made them partakers/partners in the exercise of his “grace” (1:7).
The joy of Paul and the Philippians was related to the bond that joined them (2:17, 18). We don’t pay enough attention to that bond these days. There should be great joy in our oneness, our fellowship, our common bond in Christ.
Fifth, Paul’s joy was primarily related to Christ. Paul said, “We . . . rejoice in Christ Jesus” (3:3). That is the explanation of all else that has been said. Paul wanted the Philippians to know bad circumstances do not rob him of joy because his joy is in Christ. Paul’s joy was in preaching Jesus Christ and in the fellowship of the followers of Christ. It is Christ that was Paul’s joy, confidence and righteousness. Paul knew that nothing matters but knowing Him (3:3-14). We can know that when the Lord Himself is our joy (cf. Psalm 73:25) nothing can take it away. Along with Paul we can say, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (4:4).