This Sunday we begin a journey as a church through Paul’s epistle (letter) to the Philippians. We’re calling it “True Joy,” for in Christ we find this true joy that will never fade. No matter our circumstances, we can stand in joy and embrace reality head-on. In Jesus we see the perfect Example and goal, and in Paul we see another one who lived in this joy. This joy becomes louder than his suffering.
The Apostle Paul wrote this God-inspired letter sometime around AD 60 from a prison cell (or house arrest) in Rome. He wrote to this faithful church in Philippi, because he loved them, and primarily as a thank you for their sending one of their best to his side, with a personal gift. He met them about a decade earlier (see Acts 16:14-40), and they received the Good News of Jesus as from God. In this letter, which is a short 104 verses, he outlines what the Christian life shall look like, and God’s plan for true community built around Jesus. There’s much in there about happiness, humility, holiness, and contentment. Sounds like a letter we all need to read. (Even memorize. Join me in memorizing it together between now and Easter Sunday.)
We learn in this letter some key things, which I’ll quickly summarize. But first, they all tie to the greatest event in history, which is actually a series of events: the Gospel. Jesus came, God as a Man, lived a sinless life, died the death of a crucified criminal, took on the wrath of God, and rose from the dead. These are crazy events, yet they really happened. This changes everything.
We learn in Philippians three simple things about what Jesus has done to Paul. Even from a prison cell this man is:
- really happy
- really humble, and
- really driven
(The Gospel is why Paul is happy, humble, and driven. He’s met Jesus and he’s now a new man being made new every day.)
So he writes in this happiness — a true and abiding joy — to a church that was doing many things right. They lived in a beautiful mess of a city, a Roman colony (quite the privilege!) which he encountered when the Good News of Jesus first spread to Europe (Acts 16:14-40). God said “No” to the missionary advances to Paul and his team, and they sat along the Mediterranean coast unsure of the next step. He had a daytime vision of a man asking for help over in Macedonia, and knew what they were to do next: they hopped on a ship and crossed the straight, landing in Europe. After passing through Neopolis, they just happened to Philippi There they found a common gathering on a Saturday afternoon: women gathered to pray along the river. (This likely means there was not much of a Jewish contingent in the city, for I am told a synagogue could be established with a cohort of ten faithful men.) Lydia, a women of substance and means, was the first convert in Europe. Through her and this little church sparked a missionary advance for which you and I must be thankful. Happy, humble, and driven, indeed.