Paul’s Epistle of Joy to the believers in the Roman colony of Philippi in Macedonia was written from prison in A.D. 61. Paul’s outlook from his spartan prison lifestyle in Rome, contrasted with the dominant theme in this letter, where joy is mentioned 16 times. In fact, his script indicated an interesting series of contrasting perspectives on significant life issues that he raised with the Philippians as instructional points.
Deprived, yet Privileged (1:12-14). Paul, instead of being intimidated by his imprisonment, which would be a normal reaction for most, reinterpreted it as being planned by God, with an immense opportunity and privilege to spread the gospel to a captive audience within the penal system at the heart of the empire; both to guards and prisoners. Additionally, Roman believers, possibly unsettled by his incarceration were encouraged by his example, and began to fearlessly and confidently preach the gospel. His single-mindedness for the advancement of Christ’s gospel and his willingness to suffer fearlessly for it became a commanding witness.
With Bad or Good Motives (1:15-18). Paul’s selfless attitude came through when confronted with the motives of a few self-seeking evangelists who preached from partisanship, not sincerely, and in pretense, during his internment. Without any vindictiveness to expose his opponents, he rejoiced, as God is capable of using them to accomplish His purposes too. It was more important to Paul that the cause of Christ moved forward – that was his principal focus.
In Life or In Death (1:20-26). The apostle’s exemplary Christ-centred attitude indicated that whether he lived or died, it was inconsequential, as Christ is the One who gives meaning and significance to his existence. Even if his trial turned out against him, Christ will be exalted and he will be vindicated one day, as his final court of appeal does not lie with Caesar! But he chose to live, as his responsibilities to his embryonic church-plants claimed priority, so that he could rejoice at the Philippians’ growing faith. A remarkable perception of what it means to enthrone Jesus in our hearts.
Jesus’ Deity and His Humanity (2:1-11). In these theologically rich verses, Paul used Jesus as the model to illustrate the humility and unselfish commitment that the believers needed to possess in service to each other; exemplifying Christ’s self-emptying servanthood as God and man. Attitudinally, to be truly divinely-centred is to be unconsciously other-centred in our thoughts and behaviours; viz., in our being.
Being Present or Absent From Them (2:12). Paul knew that his contact with the Philippian church could possibly be his last. Whether he was with them or not, he encouraged them to continue faithfully obeying his instructions as they did when he was with them, and in doing so, he would be proud of them before God. Irrespective of our awareness, our whole life is lived before God’s presence, and acquiring this awareness is the beginning of the fear of God.
God Working In and the Believers Working Out His Purposes (2:12-18). Again, Paul reminded the believers that as God worked in their lives, they are to faithfully obey Him in serving one another sacrificially and faithfully, and being unimpeachable witnesses in their city. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility work together in our salvation to honour and glorify God.
Christ-centered Gains From Worldly Losses (3:4-16). The apostle shared his realization that since coming to know Christ, his Pharisaic values toward possessions, status and piety, had dramatically inverted, and what he thought were priceless, were now worthless, and his overwhelming goal in life was to be raised with Christ. Likewise, as believers, Kingdom-value life changes are the evidence of our new found faith, with its centre of focus gravitating towards Christ. With his imminent death, Paul’s consuming thought was to finish worthily God’s responsibilities for him.
Euodia and Syntyche (4:2-3). They were his co-workers in Philippi, and their disagreement was unusually significant enough for Paul to mention them, and to request an unidentified third party to mediate their dispute. We do not know the nature of their conflict, but Paul was concerned that they put their personal differences aside for the greater purpose of the gospel. At times, it may be difficult to discern in conflict our selfish motives, but when it affects the testimony of Jesus, it becomes critical for us to set aside our personal preferences and opinions.
Living With Almost Nothing or With Everything (4:10-19). Paul was thankful for the spiritual and material partnership of the Philippians in the gospel. Here, he is reminding them that it is far more important to learn to be content with whatever they had, by his own illustrations in depending on Christ who gave strength in difficult situations and supplied all his needs. In our increasingly consumerist society, Paul’s attitude becomes a significant challenge for us to emulate.
Paul’s Philippian letter exemplify for us the importance of viewing circumstances less pessimistically beyond the veneer of life to what God is actually doing. The eyes of faith will change our perspective and impact those around us, as the trajectory of our constructive Christ-centered response will honour God.