There is a distinction between happiness and joy.
Happiness depends upon our circumstances – and when material things decay, when health deteriorates, when riches take flight – it is gone, often replaced by despair.
In contrast to happiness is joy. Running much deeper and much stronger, joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and work in our lives – that He will be there with us no matter what. Joy depends on Christ, Who is eternal and unchanging.
The New Testament book of Philippians is Paul’s “joy letter”. The church in that Macedonian city had been a great encouragement to Paul. The Philippian believers had enjoyed a very special relationship with Paul, so he wrote them a personal expression of his love and affection. They had brought him great joy (4:1). Philippians is also a joyful book because it emphasizes the real joy of Christian life. The concept of rejoicing or joy appears sixteen times in four chapters, and the pages radiate this positive message, culminating in the exhortation to “”Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4).
In a life dedicated to serving Christ, Paul had faced excruciating poverty, abundant wealth, and everything in between. His joy made it possible to write the letter of Philippians from prison. Whatever his circumstances, Paul had learned to be content (4:11-12), finding true joy as he focused all of his attention and energy on knowing Christ (3:8) and obeying Him (3:12-13).
Paul’s desire to know Christ above all else is wonderfully expressed in the following words: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him… I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing is his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (3:8-10).
The Layout of Philippians
Joy in Suffering:
This is concentrated in (1:1-30) … Paul may have been writing from prison, but his incarceration did nothing to dampen his joy: the secret of which was his personal relationship with Christ.
Joy in Serving:
This is concentrated in (2:1-30) … Paul speaks of the humility of Christ as a servant of all, in the high point of Philippians. This is the model of service to others that believers must emulate.
Joy in Believing:
This is concentrated in (3:1-4:1) … While people today desperately want to be happy, they are tossed and turned by daily circumstances: successes, failures, inconveniences. Belief in Christ leads to joy in all circumstances, even when things are going badly, because Christ reigns both supreme and eternal, transcending all of our circumstances.
Joy in Giving:
This is concentrated in (4:2-23) … including a memorable exhortation to rejoice in the Lord always. Believers are enjoined to give as Christ gives – with joy as a servant, knowing that our reward is assured.
Themes: Explanation and Importance
Christ showed true humility when He laid aside His rights and privileges as God to become human. He poured out His life to pay the penalty we deserve. Laying aside self-interest is essential to all of our relationships.
We are to take Christ’s attitude in serving others. We must renounce personal recognition and merit. When we give up our self-interest, we can serve with joy, love, and kindness.
Christ suffered and died so we might have eternal life. With courage and faithfulness, Paul sacrificed himself for the ministry. He preached the Gospel even while he was in prison.
Christ gives us power to lay aside our personal needs and concerns. To utilize His power, we must imitate those leaders who show self-denying concern for others. We dare not, if we say that we serve others in the likeness of Christ, be self-centered.
In every church, in every generation, there are divisive influences… issues, loyalties, and conflicts. In the midst of these hardships, it is easy to turn on one another. Paul encouraged the Philippians to agree with one another, stop complaining, and work together.
As believers, we should contend against a common enemy, not against one another. When we are unified in love, Christ’s strength is most abundant. Keep before you the ideals of teamwork, consideration of others, and unselfishness.
Paul shows us how to live successful Christian lives. We can become mature by being so identified with Christ that His attitude of humility and self-sacrifice rules us. Christ is both our source of power and our guide.
Developing our character begins with God’s work in us. But growth also requires discipline, obedience, and relentless concentration on our part.
Believers can have profound contentment, serenity, and peace no matter what happens. This joy comes from knowing Christ personally and from depending on His strength rather than on our own.
We can have joy, even in hardship. Joy does not come from outward circumstances but from inward strength. As Christians, we must not rely on what we have or what we experience to give us joy, but on Christ within us.
A Closer Look… Philippians 1:1-30
Paul is thankful for the Philippians who have embraced the Gospel; note the use of the word “joy”:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. (Php. 1:3-6)
Paul prays fondly for them, expressing a beautiful, selfless desire:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God. (Php. 1:9-11)
Paul reflects on the preaching of Christ; his personal circumstances, and even what others are doing, whether from pure motives or not:
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. (Php. 1:12-19)
Paul expresses a hope for Christ to be exalted in his body, whether it be in life or in death; again, note the use of the word “joy”:
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. (Php. 1:20-26)
Paul’s warning is a sober one:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absense, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (Php. 1:27-30)
A Closer Look… Philippians 2:1-30
Paul talks about what the pattern of the Christian life should be, and discusses the ultimate pattern for this life… the life of Jesus Christ as servant… in one of the most profoundly beautiful passages of Holy Scripture ever written. As a prelude to the high point of Philippians, Paul writes:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Php. 2:1-4)
After setting the stage, Paul provides the definitive pattern for the Christian life: Christ Himself, the epitome of humility:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php. 2:5-11)
One would think that writing more in the wake of such glorious words would be difficult, but Paul goes on to speak about how this humility should be exercised by believers:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absense – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life – in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (Php. 2:12-16)
Paul is saying that believers working out their salvation is an ongoing – and very serious – business.
A Closer Look… Philippians 3:1-21
Paul exhorts those who believe, warns them against the false teachings of those who say that circumcision is necessary for salvation, and cites his own life as an example for his confidence in Christ… Paul himself was a “Jew among Jews”:
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Php. 3:1-6)
In another high point of Philippians, Paul goes on to say what his confidence in Christ has done:
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I might gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Php. 3:7-11)
Paul sums it up well:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Php. 3:12-14)
Paul again exhorts believers to live according to the pattern shown them; he expresses grief over those who do not believe, but he expresses the ultimate hope of the Christian life:
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Php. 3:17-21)
A Closer Look… Philippians 4:1-23
If you are a Christian, what does it mean to have peace with yourself? In a moving, inspired passage of Philippians, Paul expresses this beautifully:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Php. 4:1-7)
Paul talks about the “good things”… and what to do with them:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Php. 4:8-9)
In a noble summation, Paul expresses what God will do for those He loves: a quiet, powerful belief:
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Php. 4:19)