Philippians: Background and Survey

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Jesus Christ was described in Scripture as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  Yet He possessed a deep joy that was beyond anything the world could offer.  As He faced the cruel death on the cross at Mount Calvary, Jesus said to His followers, “These things I have spoken to you that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be made full.”  About thirty years after the death of Christ, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi from his cell in a prison at Rome.  Yet his letter is filled with joy.

II.  HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

Paul first came to the city of Philippi about ten years earlier while he was on his second missionary journey.  Philippi was named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great.  The city at that time had a population of close to half a million people.  Most of them were Greeks, with a small group of Jews and Romans.

The first converts to Christianity were Lydia, a dealer in crimson fabrics, and the town’s jailor.  The members of their families also became Christians.  The church at Philippi was the first church in Europe.  It has been referred to as the birthplace of European Christianity.  Most of the congregation were Greeks, along with some converted Jews.  By the time Paul wrote this epistle, the church at Philippi had grown and become well-organized.  It had both elders and deacons.

Philippians has been called Paul’s love letter to the church at Philippi.  It contains less correction and more praise than any other epistle.  Many Bible scholars have called it “the epistle of joy”.

III.  AN OUTLINE

Here is a simple outline to Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Chapter l – The Joy of Christ Our Life

Chapter 2 – The Joy of Christ Our Example

Chapter 3 – The Joy of Christ Our Goal

Chapter 4 – The Joy of Christ Our Sufficiency

IV.  THIEVES OF JOY

The epistle of Paul to the Philippians talks about four thieves that can rob you and I of Joy:

1.  CIRCUMSTANCES

Most of us would have to agree that when things are “going our way”, we feel a lot happier, and we are much easier to live with.   Little Peggy said to her girlfriend one day, “Dad must have had an easy day at the office.  He didn’t squeal the tires when he pulled into the driveway, and he didn’t slam the door when he came into the house; and he even gave Mommy a kiss!”

But have you ever considered how few of the circumstances of life are really under our control?  We have no control over the weather or over the things people say and do.  The person whose happiness depends on ideal circumstances is going to be miserable most of the time.  And yet here is the apostle Paul in the worst of circumstances, writing a letter filled with joy.

2.  PEOPLE

A second thief that can rob us of joy is people.  A little girl jumped off the school bus as it stopped in front of her home and slammed her way through the front door.  She marched up the stairs with an angry look on her face, went into her room and again slammed the door.  All the time she was muttering under her breath, “People . . . people . . .people . . . PEOPLE!”  Her father went to her door and knocked softly.  “May I come in?”  She answered, “No!”  The father asked, “Why can’t I come in?”  She answered:  “Because you’re a people!”

All of us have lost our joy because of people, haven’t we?  Maybe it was because of the way they were, or what they said or did.  And no doubt we’ve helped make someone else unhappy.  It works both ways, doesn’t it?  But we have to live and work with people.  We can’t isolate ourselves and still live to glorify Christ.  The apostle Paul was in prison with some of the cruelist and most sinful people, yet he still had joy.

3.  THINGS

A third thief that robs us of joy is things.  A wealthy man was moving into his mansion, and his Quaker neighbor, who believed in simplicity of life, was watching the activities carefully.  The neighbor counted the chairs and tables, and the vast amount of knicknacks that were being carried into the house.  Finally, he said to the owner of the mansion:  “Neighbor, if thou dost need anything, come to see me and I will tell thee how to get along without it!”

Abraham Lincoln was walking down the street with his two sons, who were crying and fighting.  “What’s the matter with the boys?” a friend asked.  “The same thing that’s wrong with the whole world”, Lincoln replied.  “I have three walnuts and each of the boys wants two!”

Things!  What thieves they can be!  Yet Jesus said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against laying up treasures on earth.  They aren’t safe, they don’t last, and they never satisfy.  Yet most people today think that joy comes from the things that they own.  Actually, things can rob us of the only joy that really exists.

4.  WORRY

The last thief that robs of joy is worry, and this is the worst thief of all.  How many people have been robbed of peace and fulfillment because of worry.  You can purchase “sleep” at the drug store, but you cannot purchase “rest”.  If the apostle Paul wanted to worry, he had plenty of reasons.  He was a prisoner facing possible execution.  He had no mission board supporting him and no Legal Aid Society defending him.  But in spite of these difficulties, Paul does not worry.  Instead, he writes a letter filled with joy, and tells us how to stop worrying.

Worry is actually wrong thinking and wrong feeling about circumstances, people, and things.  Philippians 4 tells us that we have God’s peace, God’s power, and God’s provision available to us.  With resources like these, why should we worry?

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