TODAY’S READING: PHILIPPIANS 1-4
Christ our LIFE (chapter 1); Christ our PATTERN (chapter 2); Christ our RIGHTEOUSNESS (chapter 3); Christ our SUFFICIENCY (chapter 4).
HIGHLIGHTS & INSIGHTS:
As we get started in the Book of Philippians, let’s take a few minutes to talk about the THEME of the Book. What is this Book really about? What was God’s purpose in putting the Book of Philippians into the canon of scripture? And how are we to determine that?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received in terms of Bible study is, “Learn to emphasize what God emphasizes.” You see, God doesn’t have a volume control on His voice (i.e. Word), and He didn’t use a highlighter to accentuate His major themes when He was inspiring the men who actually wrote it down. What He uses to make His point is repetition. That’s how God emphasizes His point. It is amazing the things that can be gleaned by simply observing the repeated words, phrases, ideas and concepts in a Book of the Bible. For example:
In the Book of Philippians, the word “rejoice” (or some form of the word – rejoice, rejoiced, rejoicing), is found 12 times, and the word “joy” is found six times. This is an incredibly positive Book! It is obvious that Paul had an extremely positive attitude when he wrote this letter. In fact, so positive that you might get the idea that he’s in about the third month of a six month sabbatical, and he’s just chillin’ out in some incredible five-star oceanfront condo in some resort city along the Mediterranean coastline – the sun is shining, and he’s sipping Frappucinos and eating pistachio nuts out of a hammock, and life is just good!
But there’s another word that keeps popping up in this Book that lets you know that that isn’t the case, it’s the word “bonds.” Paul keeps talking about “my bonds.” In fact, he talks about them four times in chapter one alone! And what he’s referring to is the fact that far from being in some resort Mediterranean city on the beach, he’s actually in prison, in “bonds,” or in other words, chained to a Roman guard! And what’s interesting about this “sunny disposition” that shines all the way through this Book, is that he was not in prison for doing something wrong, so that Paul could just come to grips with the fact that his being there was the due consequence of what he had done and he would just have to make the best of it. No, the fact is, he hadn’t done anything wrong, and was actually there because of a false charge!
And it wasn’t that he was able to keep his positive attitude because he had only been there a couple of days, and so he was still able to keep himself psyched up, because after all, this would be a cool story for his monthly missionary letter and all. No, check this out. By the time of the writing of this letter he had been in prison for five years!
And it wasn’t that Paul was over-the-hill, and had already passed his window of effectiveness anyway. No! When he was cast into prison his ministry was at its absolute pinnacle! These five years he had been in prison should have been the best, most productive years of his entire ministry! And yet rather, day after day he’s in bonds, chained to a Roman guard. And it wasn’t that he was in prison because that dirty, nasty devil had caused lost people to lie about Paul, and orchestrate some devious plot to have him cast into prison. Do you know why he’s there? He’s there because of gossip that began and spread amongst Christians! (You can read all about it in Acts 21.) He is in prison because of a rumor that was being spread by believing Jews, who were still hanging on to and were zealous for the law. That’s why he’s there! And I’m going through all of these things so you will understand that there was absolutely no human explanation for Paul to have the attitude of r!
ejoicing that he has as he’s writing this letter! He has every right humanly to be bitter, angry, disillusioned, frustrated, depressed and worried. And that’s important to note, because chances are real good, that in some way, shape, or form, every one of us feels, at least to some degree, that we’re in a prison. Not a prison with bars, as in Paul’s case, but a “prison” nonetheless. Perhaps there are things that have taken place in your life that have left you feeling that you are “locked in.” They’ve “hindered” you, or “restricted” you in some way. They’ve “tied” your hands, so to speak. The bars are invisible; the chains can’t be seen with physical eyes, but they’re just as real as the ones that were restricting Paul!
Perhaps you’re in a job you absolutely hate, but you see no other options, and it’s a ball and chain to you every weekday of your life. Or maybe you don’t have a job at all, and feel that you’re in a prison of a dull, unfulfilled life. Or maybe yours is a prison of loneliness. You feel imprisoned because you’re single; or maybe you feel imprisoned because you’re married! Or maybe like Paul, you have been the victim of gossip, and the hurt you have inside of you has left you feeling that your freedom has been taken away, and it’s bound you up by your own emotions. Or perhaps you’ve been the victim of some injustice, and your mind keeps you behind bars because you can’t stop thinking about it.
I don’t know what kind of prison you may be in with its invisible bars, but both the human writer and the divine Author of the Book of Philippians want to let you know that it is possible to be in a prison, and find freedom, and joy in life and ministry, regardless of your circumstances, and no matter who was responsible for making them that way – and even if they never change!
And the key to living in that kind of victory is the other key point of emphasis God makes in this Book: our attitude! The word “mind” is found 10 times in this little Book. The word “think” is found five times, and the word “remember” is found once. In all, 16 times God is trying to get us to see that joy is a choice we make because of right thinking. And that’s the theme of this Book.
Some of you have faced circumstances in your life liked we mentioned above that have left you discouraged, depressed and/or imprisoned. In chapter one he tells us, we can find joy in our CIRCUMSTANCES because Christ is our LIFE. And the key verse in the chapter is verse 21 where Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Some of you have had people who have injured you in some way, and you wrestle with bitterness and anger. In chapter two he says, we can find joy in our RELATIONSHIPS because Christ is our PATTERN. And the key verse in chapter two is in verse 5 which says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
Some of you wrestle with your flesh – worldliness on one hand, and good deeds on the other, but both driven by the same carnal source: the flesh! And in chapter three Paul says, we can find joy in our WALK because Christ is our RIGHTEOUSNESS. And the key verse in this chapter is verse 9 where Paul says, “[That I may (v.8)] be found in him, not having mine OWN righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
And bless your hearts, some of you are gripped by worry and fear. In chapter four Paul says, we can find joy in our ADVERSITIES because Christ is our SUFFICIENCY. And the key verse in chapter four is verse 13 where Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
As you can see, the Book of Philippians is an extremely practical Book that addresses real-life issues, and points us toward the joy that is found in and through Christ alone.