Our study of Paul’s “Prison Epistles” continues with the beloved Epistle to the Philippians. Authored by the apostle during his first imprisonment in Rome (AD 60-63), the letter was addressed to “all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (1:1). This is the second of two devotionals for today.
The City of Philippi
Philippi was located in eastern Macedonia, and was on a major trade route between Asia and Europe (serving as the gateway between the two continents). With a large population, Philippi was a center for Greek culture, and a thriving commercial center in Paul’s day. Apart from Paul’s epistle, there is little mention of Philippi in the New Testament.
It was in Philippi where we were introduced to the Jewess named Lydia, a woman described as a “seller of purple,” and who became a believer (Acts 16:14-15). Following an uprising provoked by some who protested their trade in idols was being harmed, Paul and Silas had been jailed in Philippi.
Yet, the Lord intervened for his ministers, and sent an earthquake that opened the doors of the prison. Fearing the prisoners had escaped and he would be executed, the jailer would have taken his own life, had Paul not urged him, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here” (Acts 16:28). Entering the prison cell, the jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul bid him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). That night, the jailer, and his household believed and were baptized (Acts 16:32).
The Circumstances of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians
The apostle, now an elderly statesman of the Gospel, was under house arrest, and appeared to be set aside by God on the “ministry shelf.” Unable to travel, knowing his future was uncertain, Paul might have been tempted to despair of life. Nevertheless, though bound by Caesar, Paul was a prisoner of the Lord (Ephesians 3:1; 4:1), and his heart was infused with the joy of ministering to believers. Instead of an epistle that conveyed gloom and despair, Paul’s letter expressed love and joy! He was buoyed by the mutual love and affection he shared with the believers at Philippi, and his love for them filled the pages of this epistle (1:2-4, 7, 9).
Joy that Soars Above Circumstances (1:3-9)
What was Paul’s secret to joy? I believe it was his focus. He did not focus on himself, but on the Lord and encouraging others. Notice Paul’s care and expressions of love for others in chapter 1.
In verse 2, he lovingly saluted the believers, writing, “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Then we see his loving assurances, when he penned, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy” (1:3-4). In verse 7, Paul wrote, “I have you in my heart” (1:7). Though in the midst of bondage, Paul wrote, “I pray, that your love may abound [abounding love] yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment” (1:9).
Paul Never Lost Faith (1:12-14)
A key to Paul’s joy was he had the right perspective on himself, his calling, and ministry. He had suffered the scorn and persecution of enemies, but viewed his trials and afflictions as validations of his ministry (2 Corinthians 11:6-7, 23-30). He accepted adversity as the platform for ministry, and wrote, “I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” (1:12).
Paul comprehended God’s sovereignty, being aware the Lord uses adversities to accomplish His purpose in and through a believer’s life. Imprisonment and chains had taken Paul where he would have not gone, but they had given him a ministry to the Praetorian guards of Caesar’s palace! Paul wrote, “my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places” (1:13). The apostle rejoiced how his imprisonment had strengthened believers, who had become “much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:14).
Closing thoughts (1:15-30) – I conclude this introduction to the Philippians, inviting you to consider Paul’s perspective on his calling and ministry (1:18-21). He counted his life a living sacrifice (1:21; 2:17), and rejoiced that his afflictions had strengthened the faith of the believers. Friend, we live in a “joyless world,” and find ourselves surrounded by loneliness, discontentment and unhappiness. Yet, if we look past our troubles and trust the Lord, we have cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving! After all, God is never less than sovereign!
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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith
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