Paul, Philippians, and Joy

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippian church from prison. It’s not clear which imprisonment it was, but we know that he was in prison for having preached the gospel. In fact, Paul’s whole career was one of constant persecution, so much that he never knew how much time he had left—his enemies wanted to kill him, and they came close several times before he was finally beheaded in Rome.

Given his imprisonment and his uncertainty about whether he would live or die (Phil 1:22-24), it’s surprising how often he mentions joy in this letter. I’ve been reading through this book in the mornings and today noticed how that idea keeps popping up. Keep in mind, the book is only 4 chapters, but Paul mentions joy or rejoicing at least 8 times:

  • In 1:4 he prays for the Philippians with joy because of their partnership in the gospel.
  • In 1:18 he rejoices whenever Christ is preached.
  • In 1:25 he believes he will remain alive for their “progress and joy in the faith.”
  • In 2:2 he begs them to complete his joy by walking in unity.
  • In 2:17-18 Paul and the Philippians rejoice together as Paul is poured out like an offering for their faith
  • In 3:1 he commands them to rejoice in the Lord.
  • In 4:4 he commands them again, this time repeating it (as he also does in 1:18).
  • In 4:10 he tells how he rejoiced when he received the Philippians’ financial gift.

Looking over these briefly, you can see a common thread: Paul rejoices at the progress of the gospel, especially as it’s carried out in the church at Philippi. He loves how they have participated in the gospel. He rejoices when Christ is preached, even when it’s for selfish reasons. His joy will be complete when he hears that the church is standing together for the gospel. He rejoices at their financial gift because it reflects their generous heart and allows him to continue to preach.

Grant us this kind of heart, Father—a heart that can sit in a cold prison cell (or in a cubicle at a seemingly meaningless job), run out of money, be abandoned by friends and chased around by enemies, and yet rejoice as we see the gospel preached and lived out in our churches and our cities. We give up our joy so easily because we place it in such trivial things. Make yourself and your Kingdom our greatest joy, so that our joy can never be taken away from us.


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