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Studies In Philippians

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4)

Chapter 1:1-18

“But the Good News is . . . ”

It is perhaps the finest and most moving example that we have of Christian joy under affliction.

The apostle Paul’s epistle to the Philippians was written while he was in prison– his immediate fate in question (though not his ultimate fate, praise God!).

Still, in spite of his physical captivity, his words to this congregation (which he had founded probably about ten years earlier) reveal a spirit of confidence, joy, and peace that could grow only out of the fertile soil of God’s grace in Christ.

The good news of Jesus Christ was at the heart of Paul’s thoughts, shared with the fellow believers, just as it was at the heart of his courage in captivity. As he explains later in this letter (see 4:11ff), regardless of his circumstances he always found cause to be content.

In other words, no matter what discouraging blow came next, Paul seemed always to be saying “but the good news is…”

“With Joy . . . “

Although separated by time and circumstance, Paul explained that his prayers for them were offered “with joy.” Philippi was on the eastern coast of Macedonia–the first stop Paul had made in A.D. 51 after the dream at Troas in which his mission expedition was urged to “come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9–the entire 16th chapter of Acts is important background reading for an understanding of the Philippian church).

His work there had prospered, and over the years the church at Philippi had proven to be faithful, devout, and generous.

But Paul was now at Rome, a “guest” of the Emperor Nero. He lived under house arrest, and while he was very much in danger, he seemed to have regular contact with believers there, at least for the first couple of years (Acts 28:30-31). His friends at Philippi were far away and might easily have forgotten Paul, or Paul’s interest in them might have cooled with the years.

But neither was the case. One day a man named Epaphroditus arrived at Paul’s lodging with a money gift from the Philippian church. That is what occasioned this “thank-you note” from Paul in return.

In his opening lines, the apostle explains that he had kept them in his prayers, and that those prayers for the Philippians were offered “with joy” (v. 4). He has nothing but gratitude for these faithful and generous Christians (it is the only congregation from which we specifically know Paul had accepted gifts) with whom he states he has had a “partnership” [NIV] in the gospel from those first days when he and his associates were invited to make Lydia’s residence their home base (Acts 16:15).

Time and circumstance cannot interfere with the fellowship of the Body of Christ, which includes all those who are “partakers with me of grace” (v. 7).

Although he was still a prisoner, Paul points out the good news that “the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” Yes, Paul was a prisoner. But he did not seem to think of his captivity as an obstacle to his ministry. The Philippians were well able to appreciate why not–some of the greatest mission work done was done in that cell in Philippi where Paul and Silas had sung their hymns and prayed after being arrested–which finally resulted in the conversion of the jailer and his family.

With Boldness

The case was the same now in Rome, where Paul’s captivity had led to a trial and to an opportunity to present a defense of the Christian gospel. With the passing of time, it had become apparent to the palace guard and to many others that Paul was no criminal or rabble-rouser. His chains were “in Christ”–they were a result of Paul’s faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth and his certainty that this Jesus was God and the Savior promised to the Jews. He was a victim of persecution and a devout worshiper of God.

The influence of the gospel was spreading, bearing fruit even “in Caesar’s household” (4:22). Paul’s own faith and patience were a catalyst to the local church, where believers were more and more “bold to speak the word without fear” (v. 14). They came to appreciate the fact that in spite of opposition the gospel of a Savior from sin–and the knowledge of the true God as revealed in and by Jesus Christ–was news too good to keep silent about.

Even in the odd and pathetic circumstance where some tried to use the gospel to “add affliction to my chains” (v. 16), Paul could say that the good news is that “Christ is preached.” It’s not entirely clear, and even harder to fathom, what must have been going on there in Rome; but while some who believed were proclaiming the gospel out of love and sincerity–bringing joy to Paul’s heart–he was aware that others were also telling the gospel, but were motivated by some sort of party spirit–perhaps attempting to draw disciples away from Paul and his work there.

Yet Paul was confident of the power of the “good news” itself to bring people to true repentance and to capture lost souls in the embrace of the gospel. That power was undiminished by the motive or corruption in the hearts of those who spoke it. The Word is not bound by the speaker’s weaknesses or unbelief. In this he rejoices, and would go on to rejoice, as he does throughout the remainder of this epistle.

–Pastor Peter Reim