Philippians Part One: Dive
REJOICE IN PRISON
Have you ever noticed that some things in the Christian world are just plain weird if you look at them through natural eyes? I didn’t grow up in church so some things took me a little time to get used to. Worshipping God with my hands raised, was one thing I had to work out. When I first went to church and everyone raised their hands in worship I wasn’t sure if someone had come in to rob the place, we all looked like we were in the middle of a bank robbery, it was a stick-up! But now it is quite common to me.
One thing I still find weird is not being able to say you are sick when you are sick. You know what I am talking about? I remember going up to people and saying ‘Are you alright? You sound like you have a cold?’ And getting the Christian response, ‘I don’t have a cold, I am healed in Jesus name’. What? I can see the snot pouring out of your nose, your eyes are watering, you’re coughing all over me but as long as you don’t say it, you’re ‘healed’?. I was unsure if saying it made it worse or not addressing it meant it was healed. This is still weird to me folks!
Paul’s unprecedented joy
Now, in Philippians, we are going to see one of these crazy Christian moments from Paul. He is in prison and rejoicing. C’mon, are you serious? Now we know from Acts 16 that this is common practice for Paul, rejoicing and praising God while in prison. Actually, the place where Paul and Silas were praising God in prison in Acts 16 was at Philippi, it was the birth of the very church he is writing to now! The church was birthed in celebration, no matter what the circumstances said and he was continuing that same spirit as he wrote to them in this letter. So, as we study the book, we can see why he is able to rejoice in the worst of circumstances. Let’s have a look.
As you read Philippians, you’ll get a strong understanding of Paul’s intention for the letter, his heart and passion come through loud and clear. Firstly, let me tell you specifically where Paul is while writing Philippians; Paul is under house arrest in Rome. Read Acts 28 – we find Paul in Rome, he is in high spirits that he will be released but you can see in Philippians 1:20 and 2:17 that he understands that he is waiting to see if he will be executed. I read in a commentary this amazing quote about Paul:
‘The example of a man whose life is filled with joy, and his exhortations to “rejoice in the Lord”, do not proceed from some ivory tower of peace and security. On the contrary, the writer is Paul the prisoner, who is awaiting news which may spell his death’.
Now, let’s be truly honest: if I was under house arrest in Rome and I wrote a letter, it would probably look a little more like this:
Dear Church back home,
I hope you are enjoying the comfort of your houses and beds while I suffer in prison. So I wanted to write and say ‘Get me out of here!’ I’m once again being persecuted and I'm sick of being here. Seriously, when I signed up to follow Jesus I had no idea it would mean that I would be beaten, shipwrecked, hated, persecuted and imprisoned. Now, I guess this is partially my doing, I did pray to visit Rome but seriously, when I prayed for the Lord to make a way for me to come to Rome, I didn’t think it would be in chains as a prisoner. Anyway, church, I hope you are enjoying your family and freedom while I am once again in chains for Christ! I have seen your Instagram photos, your parties, family holidays, shopping trips while I am suffering for Jesus! Pray for me that I get out of here soon!
Love Katie, suffering for Jesus again!!
But not Paul. When he writes a letter in prison, he writes things like Philippians 1:3, 1:12, 1:18, 2:14 and 4:4.
Phil 1:3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine
Phil 1:12 I want you to know brothers that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel
Phil 1:18 Yes and I will rejoice
Phil 2:14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing
Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 heart and minds in Christ Jesus.
How does Paul do this? How does he rejoice while he is in prison? How does he keep his spirit up and encouraged while facing some of the worst circumstances? The key is found in Philippians 4:11.
Phil 4:11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
happiness vs joy
The key words in these verses are ‘I have learned the secret’. Paul learnt to be content no matter what he faced. You see, joy is not about your circumstances. Nehemiah 8:10 says ‘the joy of the Lord is my strength’. Our joy comes from an unchanging source – the Lord. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. My safety, identity and security are safe in the unchangeable God, no matter how my circumstances change and shift around me. You have two choices in life: you can be blown about by your circumstances and let them dictate your emotion or your foundation can be based in God; solid, never changing, always safe and secure in the fact that God is in control.
Joy and happiness are two different things. Joy remains solid and unwavering because it is anchored in Christ. Happiness is an emotion that changes with circumstances and situations. We never lose our joy because circumstances don’t affect our identity and relationship with Christ. I can have joy in the worst of situations because I am loved, safe, secure and content in Him. Satan will send circumstances to throw you off your game but stand solid, you serve the God who changes circumstances! Let me be honest here, I didn’t always have this under control. I ended up an emotional wreck because I would only be at peace when my life was going well. If a trial came or things went bad, my emotions would be out of control and fear, anxiety, worry and depression would take over. I had to get the Word of God into my mind and say things like ‘Do all things without grumbling’, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice’. Not rejoice in the Lord when it is going well, but rejoice in the Lord always. Why? Because He is in control, He will work all things out for my good, He has given me the strength to face anything, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me! That is why Paul can make these sweeping declaration of trust in God.
Phil 4:19 My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
So, as you read Philippians, remember where Paul is and his circumstances and see the joy and freedom and his incredible trust and relationship with Jesus. Trash Your Bibles guys, you have two weeks in this incredible book so take your time. Let the Holy Spirit give you a fresh revelation of how to be content. Ask yourself as you go along, would this be my letter if I wrote from prison? What do I need to change in my life so I can be content in all circumstances?
Paul’s circumstances did not determine his mood or attitude! Paul knew that in Christ Jesus he had joy and he tapped into that when his circumstances needed it. Prison doesn’t contain Paul’s Spirit, he was free indeed no matter where his body was!