The Letter of Joy
J H Jowett has said that the book of Philippians is: "A Little volume of graciousness, bound with the covers of grace." Scholars have said that the book of Philippians is a most cheerful book with much attraction, hence this letter is often referred to as the letter of Joy.
There is a story that has been told of an ancient Persian man named Ali Hafed. Ali Hafed owned many orchards, farms, fields of grain, and lush gardens. Now it happened one day that Ali Hafed had a guest over, who told him of a precious stone: the diamond. He went on to say that if Ali Hafed owned a diamond mine, He would be incredibly wealthy. From that very moment of the promise of enormous wealth, Ali Hafed went to bed a poor man, poor because he was not content with what he already had.
In his deep desire to own a diamond mine. Ali Hafed went on to sell his farms, in search of the rare stones. He traveled the world over in search of these diamonds and finally, he became poor, broke, and defeated eventually committing suicide.
It so happened that the person who bought Ali Hafed's farm, brought his camel to drink from a stream in the garden. As the camel stooped to drink the water, the man saw a flash of light from the sands of the stream. The man pulled out this shiny stone and could see the colors of the rainbow shine from it. This was the discovery of the Golconda mine. The most magnificent diamond mine in all history.
Sadly Ali Hafed in his search for wealth elsewhere missed the great diamond mine that was in his own garden. Instead of experiencing death in a strange land, Ali Hafed could have remained a wealthy man in his own land. This is the classic case from a human perspective, that the more we want, the less we have.
People look for happiness which a momentarily fleeting emotion in things that are perishable and when that fails they move on to the next best thing that would give them happiness. This, unfortunately, is an unfulfilling cycle that never brings contentment, and it is like a hamster caught in a wheel running aimlessly with no direction. James 4:14 states: "Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.". Yet when we have an understanding of Joy that is given to us in the bible, a Joy that is with the assurance of the promises of God, rooted in His Sovereignty, that He is in control of all things and nothing happens without His knowledge, we can experience divine Joy which is the major theme of the book of Philippians. In the four chapters of the book of Philippians, we would find the word Joy mentioned more than twelve times. We would find that that author, the Apostle Paul, and the poor congregation at the church of Philippi, could not produce their own joy, but rely on God Himself to fill them with Joy.
Introduction to the book of Philippians
The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi while he was a prisoner in Rome. Just after his conversion, Paul had faced much opposition from Gentiles who were unyielding to the gospel and persecution from his fellow Jewish brethren who were opposed to the gospel. These circumstances did not give Paul much opportunity to create his own Joy.
The congregation at the Church in Philippi also had their own problems. They had huge financial distress and were very poor. Being in a place of poverty and not having enough for themselves, the church at Philippi was able to give graciously to Paul's collection to the poor in Jerusalem. Amidst their poverty they were attacked for their faith in Christ, ridiculed and tempted by false teachers, and to add to their woes, two esteemed women from the congregation were at arms with each other quarreling, and this was a huge hindrance to the church community. Here we find that the church could not rely on their own joy, and like Paul, they both looked to the Lord for true Joy that only comes from Him. And as we begin our study on the book of Philippians, we would explore the Apostle Paul's teaching to the church regarding true joy and contentment in Christ despite the circumstances, and how we can find contentment in every situation.
The Church of Philippi whom the Apostle Paul writes to:
The church at Philippi was the first church founded in Europe by Paul and in his second missionary journey, Paul came to Europe through a vision, where a man from Macedonia appeared to Paul saying: "Come over to Macedonia and help us" Acts 16:9. Paul responded to this call immediately taking with him, Timothy, Luke, and Silas. When they arrived in Europe, they traveled inland to Philippi, which was then a Roman colony. According to Acts 16:13, Paul and the others went down to the riverside on the Lord's day, and they found a group of women, who gathered regularly for prayer. Amongst these women, was one by the name of Lydia who was a seller of purple. She responded to the gospel being proclaimed to her and is known as the first convert to Christianity in Europe.
It was also in the city of Philippi where Paul was accosted by a woman who was possessed with a spirit of divination. Paul knew very well that this was an evil spirit, and cast the spirit out. The men who peddled this knowledge through the evil spirit in the young women, were furious at Paul, for he hindered them from making a profit at the woman's predictions. So they dragged Paul and Silas to the market place and put them before magistrates who ordered them to be beaten and thrown in prison.
And we all know at midnight when Paul and Silas were praising God, there was an earthquake and their shackles fell of setting them free. The jailor thought that the prisoners had escaped and were about to kill himself when Paul assured him that they were still there. God marvelously used this opportunity for Paul to minister to the jailor who asked: "Sir what must I do to be saved?", and Paul gave the golden answer of: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" Acts 16:31. Paul and his companions were urged to leave the city quickly, but Paul insisted that as a Roman citizen, he was unfairly beaten and treated. After many appeals from the city officials for Paul and his companions to leave, they went to visit Lydia and then took their leave. About ten years later, Paul wrote the Philippians while being imprisoned. The church at Philippi heard that Paul was in jail and sent a gift of money to him, with a man named Ephaphroditus. After delivering the gift to Paul, Ephaphroditus stayed on to help Paul in the midst of his troubles, and sadly Ephaphroditus fell ill and almost lost his life. After the Lord's gracious healing upon, Ephaphroditus journey back to Philippi with the letter to the Philippians by Paul. This is indeed a personal and affectionate letter written to the church of Philippi by Paul and it shows the bond that existed between the apostle and the church that he had founded.
Paul's Letter of Joy to the Philippians
“Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:1-2
Over the last few months we have been faced with a mountain of uncertainty, that has blurred our vision of hope and happiness. The media has filled us with fear, making us think in a certain frame, bringing upon us confusion and a feeling of being utterly overwhelmed. Many of us have perceived the last few months as wasted, unproductive, and most disappointing. This has brought upon us much sadness, with a deep loss of satisfaction as to how life is lived.
One of the common loss of people when asked is the absence of happiness. Previous to the pandemic, people were happy with the families, social circles, jobs, and even their positions. Happiness was found in possessions and relationships, and after the ravaging effects of the global pandemic, many if not everyone has found that this happiness is short-lived. If the circumstances were favorable, our happiness would have been stable.
On the other hand, we need to know that true biblical Joy is a gift from the Father himself and is not dependent on feelings or circumstances. True Joy comes with a clear understanding of God and His Sovereignty and is His gracious gift to His children. Therefore in the midst of the circumstances of our pain, grief, hurt, confusion, and suffering we can have Joy that is lasting and is the fruit of a permanent relationship with God.
It is this same Joy that we see resounding through every page of the book of Philippians. Paul in dire circumstances, facing persecution and hurt, the Philippian Church steeped in poverty and suffering amidst the persecution of their faith. There is a sense of great joy shared between Paul and the church of Philippi. A joy for each other, emanating from one source and that is from God the Father. The Church was a joy to Paul during his imprisonment, encouraging him by their conduct and faithfulness to the Lord. Even as Paul encouraged the Philippian Church in their various struggles and challenges, He wanted them to share in the same Joy that he possessed. It is no wonder that the words 'Joy' and 'Rejoice' are used 16 times in the book of Philippians.
Paul and Timothy slaves of Christ
In Philippians 1:1 we read the opening of this letter with the words: "Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ".
These opening words are words of humility written by a man who was a privileged servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul being well educated, of noble birth, and was seen as the Hebrew of Hebrews, completely humbled Himself at the feet of Christ choosing to be called a bondservant. This word bondservant is translated from the Greek word Doulos which means slave, or one who is most obedient and submissive to another. Paul was not compelled to be obedient to Christ, but because of his love for Christ and his righteousness exchanged for the righteousness of Christ through faith, Paul lived a life surrendered to Christ in harsh and challenging circumstances.
One thing we note that Paul did not flaunt his credentials or authority, even though Paul was had remarkable credentials, but chose to identify himself as a surrendered slave to Christ.
Timothy was the spiritual son of Paul in the faith, who was mentored by Paul into a great spiritual legacy and ministry. Both Paul and Timothy recognized themselves as the slaves of Christ not in a negative sense as we may perceive it, but in positive terms of being the privileged servants of Christ. Paul and Timothy in no way so themselves as servants to any other except to Christ Himself.
This is indeed a great application for each and every one of us not to serve the ministry, but to serve the Lord of the ministry in surrender and obedience to Him. Service and devotion to Christ would produce true joy that comes from communion with Him. Finding Joy in serving Christ will shift us from discontentment and frustration but remind us continually that our focus is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Saved Saints of Philippi
The second part of Philippians 1:1 reads as follows: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons".
When we look at the word saint, it must not be confused with the Roman Catholic definition of a person who is elevated to sainthood because of their good works and piety, but Paul here refers to all saints as all believers. This word does not help us distinguish the spiritual maturity or character of the individual, but it was a reference to each believer's call to salvation.
In this verse, we see Paul mention three categories of people in the Church. These are the saints, the overseers or bishops, and the deacons. This is a great picture of the simplicity of the church structure. The overseers are the spiritual guides or elders who are called to lead the church, oversee the spiritual growth of the saints, and to expound the scriptures. The deacons were those who are called to practical services like the treasury and administration rather than to preaching and teaching. It was to these categories of people that Paul address this letter.
Finally, we come to Philippians 1:2: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
The grace that Paul speaks of here is not the grace that the sinner receives at the time of salvation, but is the grace that we daily need and need to obtain from the throne room of God to help us in our time of need."Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16
The peace that is mentioned here is not the peace that we receive at our salvation when we were enemies of God, but the PEACE Paul mentions is a peace that comes through prayer and thanksgiving. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7
And Paul concludes that both the gifts of GRACE and PEACE come from 'God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.' Paul emphasizes that Jesus is God, by honoring both the Father and Christ. "that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him." John 5:23
This greeting shows Paul's tender affection for the church at Philippi, which will continue the motif of Joy in the tapestry that He weaves for the Philippian Church.
As we meditate on this joyful epistle in the days to come, we are going to learn that joy is not dependant on our situation and circumstances, but receive true joy as a benevolent gift from Father God, through our communion with Him.
I end with the following and I quote:
Men have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy cannot be found:
Not in Unbelief — Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.”
Not in Pleasure — Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.”
Not in Money — Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
Not in Position and Fame — Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake, manhood a struggle, old age a regret.”
Not in Military Glory — Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent, before he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.” UNQUOTE
Where then is real joy found? — the answer is simple, in Christ alone. -The Bible Friend, Turning Point, May 1993