Background to the Letter of Philippians:
- Author: Paul.
- Date: 61 AD
- Theme: Joy in Christ
The author of the letter to the Philippians is the Apostle Paul. Originally a Jewish Rabbi named Saul who hated Christians, he would go into homes and drag the Christians out and have them put in jail or killed. But one day as he was about to embark on a mission of terror against the church, Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road.
“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go…” (Acts 9:3-6a).
The first question that Paul asked Jesus became the driving passion of his life: “Who are you, Lord?” In addition to being a missionary who travelled around the world preaching the Gospel and telling people the Good News about Jesus, Paul wrote epistles (letters) to churches and pastors. In fact, 14 out of the 27 books of the New Testament were written by him (13 if you believe Hebrews was written by someone else). These letters were written to encourage and challenge believers in their relationship with Jesus.
What’s fascinating to me is the occasion behind the writing of this letter. Because the theme of the letter is joy, one might expect that the letter was written after some great mountain top experience of faith or victory in his life. Not so! Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians during his first Roman imprisonment. Because he was preaching about Jesus, he had been thrown in jail. He’d been beaten up and was sitting in a Roman prison, and he sat down to write a letter about joy? I don’t know if joy would be the first thing on my mind if I was sitting in a jail cell!
“The abiding message of Philippians concerns the nature and grounds of Christian joy. For Paul, true joy is not a surface emotion that depends on favorable circumstances of the moment. Joy is independent of outward conditions, and is possible even in the midst of adverse circumstances, such as suffering and persecution. This letter reveals the timeless message that true joy is to be found only in a dynamic personal relationship with Jesus Christ and in assurance that God is able to turn adverse circumstances to our good and His glory.” (The Spirit-filled Life Study Bible).
When we talk about the pursuit of happiness, we need to understand that there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is defined as “lucky, favored by fortune, prosperous;” of events, “turning out well,” from hap (n.) “chance, fortune”. If your circumstances are good or favourable, then you can be happy. If your circumstances are bad, then you are not happy. But joy is something different. True joy is not based on your circumstances, but it is an inner fruit of the Holy Spirit, a strength that comes from Christ alone.
As we get ready to look at the introduction to the Book of Philippians, I want to encourage you to take the time to read through this entire book of the Bible on your own. Philippians is one of the shortest books of the Bible with only four chapters comprising a total of 104 verses. As people living in the 21st century, we need more joy in our lives – the joy of the Lord which gives us strength. When you’re in the midst of trials, temptations and suffering, it’s good to know where you can go to find joy.
Pastor Chris Jordan