Do you feel disheartened? If you’re looking for an uplifting message, read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Many of Paul’s New Testament letters include lengthy admonition and corrections—but not so much in Philippians. This letter brims with joy, encouragement, and praise for the believers in the church at Philippi.
Paul wrote this letter around AD 60-62 to the church in Philippi (a city in Greece). He wrote for two reasons: to thank the Philippians for their generous gift, and to encourage them as they faced persecution. (To learn more about Paul’s time in Philippi, read Acts 16).
Paul received a gift from the church in Philippi, after being persecuted and falsely imprisoned. Paul was under house arrest for preaching the good news about Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:12-14) and was on trial, not knowing whether he would receive a death sentence (Philippians 1:19-24). Yet, he considered his circumstances an opportunity to “advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12 ESV).
Paul writes about his joy, how his imprisonment has not affected him negatively, even though from a worldly perspective it may appear that way. He rejoices in the opportunity to preach the gospel to the “whole imperial guard and to all the rest” (Philippians 1:13 ESV). He rests content even in unjust imprisonment because he can still grow in his relationship with Jesus and can tell others about him. Through Paul’s example, Philippians teaches us that we are truly content only when we find our joy in Christ.
Philippians teaches us that we are truly content only when we find our joy in Christ.
You may have heard of this well-known verse, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 ESV). Paul meant this literally—because he could die any day. If he were to be martyred, he would be with Christ, but if he lived on, then he would continue to joyfully share the good news about Jesus. (We find a wonderful, condensed version of this good news in Philippians 2:5-11!)
Paul wrote this message not only to update the church about his wellbeing and thank them, but also to encourage the Philippians in their faith.
Paul leads by example, as he rejoices despite his own suffering. Paul tells his readers to imitate him (Philippians 3:17, 4:9) and to imitate the attitude the Holy Spirit has given him (Philippians 1:19). He also draws the Philippians’ attention to Timothy and Epaphroditus’ Christ-like behavior.
This letter also sternly warns against false teachers. Paul exposes their wrongdoing—thinking they can earn God’s favor through the law and good works and convincing other believers of the same. He refers to these legalistic Judaizers as “dogs,” “evildoers,” and “mutilators” (Philippians 3:2 ESV). Paul also warns against the Gentile Christians who have their “minds set on earthly things” and have become “enemies of the cross” (Philippians 3:19, 3:18 ESV). This letter reminds us that internal deception among God’s people is just as dangerous as external pressures like persecution.
Have you ever wondered what your attitude would be like if you were unjustly sent to prison?
Through Paul’s experience, God gave us a window into the invincible joy and contentment that’s possible when we have a relationship with Jesus. The Philippians were arguing, anxious, and tempted to grumble, just like us (Philippians 4:2; 4:6; 2:14). And yet the Holy Spirit wanted them to know that they can endure anything with Christ. The message of Philippians for them and for us today is: Choose joy because you have Jesus!
Open Philippians and discover the joy of knowing Jesus for yourself!