Philippians 2

After St. Paul’s resolve – that he was more concerned about the Philippians’ joy than his own safety and/or comfort – and exhortation – that the Philippian believers should adopt the same attitude – I come to chapter two and find the word “joy” in verses 2 and 29 and “rejoice” in verses 17, 18, and 28. Clearly, joy is a theme of this letter, which seems striking to me considering Paul was imprisoned as he wrote, quite unsure whether or not he would even survive. While tradition would suggest that he did survive, even going on to make a fourth missionary journey through southern Europe, including Spain, the fact remains that, at this moment in time, he faced the very real prospect that he could be executed. Or allowed to languish under house arrest for the rest of his life. Or…

I shudder to think of the alternatives.

Even so, this letter is overflowing with joy. Here in 2:2, the apostle calls on the Philippians to “fulfill my joy” by adopting the same attitude as he and pursuing others’ growth, strength, and joy over their own. Indeed, I have known the joy of watching someone pick up the ball that I could no longer carry and pressing on. I suppose it is the same sensation that Moses had as he climbed the mount, looked across the river, and knew that his protege Joshua was about to advance beyond where he himself could go. Simply put, seeing people embrace the faith and grow up in it is one of the greatest joys a believer can know. The thing is, the only way I can know that joy is by continuing to raise people up and release them. So I guess I’d better get back to work!

Paul, though, is not done in this second chapter. He goes on in verses 12-18 to explain that, to think the same way, have the same love, share the same feelings, and focus on the same goal as he (vs 2), they’re going to have to press on, through the thick and thin, and “Do everything without grumbling and arguing” (14) It occurs to me that I don’t grumble or argue when things are going well. When I find myself walking Easy Street, complaining never crosses my mind. Well, okay, so if I stay there long enough, eventually I do start thinking I should be on Easier Street, but the point remains: Paul is assuming that this whole obedience and faithfulness thing will get tough. And when it does, the apostles wants us to “be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation” (15). He wants us to “hold firmly to the message of life” so that he can know that his efforts were not in vain. And as long as they will do that, no matter what he suffers – even death – the apostle proclaims, “I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (17). And then he goes on to encourage his readers to be glad and rejoice with him as well. Wait, what? He will rejoice – and invite others to rejoice with him – even if he’s on his deathbed, if they will only be what I would call faithful?

I don’t know that I can handle that. I have a hard time rejoicing when I have a hangnail. I have a hard time rejoicing when there is even the slightest hiccup in my plan. I have a hard time rejoicing at the very thought that I might have to suffer, let alone die!

Clearly, I need to work on taking joy in the faithfulness of others, regardless of my circumstances.

And then there are verses 28 and 29. Finally, Paul introduces two men who will be sent soon to the Philippians: Timothy and Epaphroditus. Timothy, we’ve met before in Acts. His mom was a converted Jew, his dad a Gentile (maybe converted, probably not). He and Paul latched onto each other, and the apostle esteems him very greatly. Epaphroditus, on the other hand, we’ve never met. All we know of this guy is that he was sick in Rome, almost died, and now will be accompanying Timothy and this letter to Philippi. Apparently, though, he was familiar to the Philippians: Paul calls him “your messenger and minister to my need” (vs 25). Paul encourages the Philippian church to welcome these two men, particularly Epaphroditus, urging them to “rejoice when you see him again” (28) and “welcome him in the Lord with all joy and hold men like him in honor” (29).

I should find joy in the fellowship of other believers. More specifically, I should find joy in welcoming and honoring and showing hospitality to other believers.

Sometimes, that’s a lot easier said than done. There are believers who rub me the wrong way. There are others who seem to steal my thunder. There are some that I just don’t like. And of course, it’s hard work welcoming and honoring and showing hospitality! Why would I take joy in that stuff?

Paul reveals a reason for the Philippians to celebrate the arrival of Epaphroditus: “he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up what was lacking in your ministry to me” (30). But still.

The bottom line is that I should rejoice in the fellowship of believers. This means I should seek it out. It means I should never begrudge anyone a hearty welcome. It means I should never grumble or complain about how early I have to get out of bed or how hard I must work to meet my brother or sister in Christ. It means I should be able to find joy in hanging out with other people of faith.

So, three things that we learn about joy from Philippians: we should take joy in seeing believers grow up in the faith, in seeing them pick up the mantle or baton of ministry and carry it regardless of whatever I’m going through, in finding fellowship among believers.

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