The Letter of Joy!

Paul's Letter to the Philippians is often called, "The Epistle of Joy." It uses the words "joy" and "rejoice" more than any other book in the Bible, which is rather remarkable considering Paul wrote this letter while in prison (for preaching the Gospel).

How can one have joy in prison? That's something we'll keep an eye out for as we go through the letter.

Paul's Relationship with the Philippians

When reading the New Testament letters it's always helpful to listen for the tone of the letter. Some are rather obvious, such as Paul's Letter to the Galatians - "You foolish Galatians!" Who has bewitched you?" The tone of Philippians is very different than that. It's one of great affection, "I thank my God every time I remember you" (Phil. 1:3).

The Apostle Paul was known as "The Apostle to the Gentiles." He (along with the Holy Spirit) was most responsible for the spread of the Christian faith througho…

The Purpose of Paul's Letter

As I write this letter . . .

Paul writes his letter to the Philippians for the following reasons:
1. To thank them for a gift he's received from them (Phil 4:10-11).
2. To instruct them to receive Epaphroditus back into their fellowship (Phil. 2:29-30). Paul sent him back to Philippi for having an unpronounceable name! Actually Mr. E. was ill and Paul urged him to return to his home. E. was supposed to stay with Paul to assist him in his time of imprisonment. Paul wanted to make sure that the Philippians knew that Epaphroditus had not deserted Paul.
3. To encourage them during their time of trails and persecutions (Phil. 1:28-30).
4. To appeal for unity. Chapters 2 & 3 deal with this subject.
An early Christian writer named Polycarp was well aware of Paul's letters to the Philippians. He once wrote to them, "when he (Paul) was absent he wrote letters to you." I always get a kick out of the tarp company named, "Polytarp." Their founder must have studied early …

Philippians 1:1-2

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ancient Letter Writing
Today when we write letters we start off with who we're writing to, "Dear Mom." And we end our letters by signing our own names. In ancient times it was different and easier. One first identified one's self and then who you were writing to. Have you ever received a letter and had to skip to the end to see who it was from? Long ago they didn't have to! It was settled early on.

The Blessing
Paul often begins his letters with a blessing. 

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." 

Starting with a blessing was also common in ancient letter writing. Paul raised it to a theological art form. It was Paul's desire to be a blessing to them. Here's a good, short prayer to start the day with: 

Loving God, make me a …
Who Am I?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young theologian of great promise, was martyred by the Nazis for his participation in a plot against the life of Adolf Hitler. In the prison camps Bonhoeffer became a chaplain to other prisoners. As you’ll read below he wrestled with peoples’ impressions of him versus what he was often feeling inside. In doing though he resolved the identity question in a very faith-filled, God-centered way.

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my wardens
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were

Every Time I Remember You

Philippians 1:3-6
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Isn't that a beautiful sentence: "I thank my God every time I remember you."  (1:3)

One of the things I love about the Apostle Paul is that he spoke from his heart. He could express complex theology, using his keen intellect and breath of knowledge. Yet, he was equally adept at expressing the love and joy that was deep within his heart. He let those he cherished know it. That's a good reminder for us!

Who can you say (or write) this to today: "I thank my God every time I remember you."

Another Blessing
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.   (1:6)

Quick story. 

Affection and Encouragement

More affection from Paul - You hold me in your heart
Philippians 7-8 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

How do you encourage and gently challenge those you love so much?  I often face this in preaching. I love our congregation so much! People are living loving, faith-filled lives. Yet our challenge, and the challenge of scripture and discipleship, is to keep growing, keep serving and keep loving. Look at how Paul does it:
Philippians 9-11 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and pra…

Faith & Reframing

Philippians 1:12-20

12I want you to know, beloved that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear. 15Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. …