Living Life with God's Irrepressible Joy
As we get ready to study Philippians, one of the first questions we should ask ourselves is “Who wrote the book?” Luckily for us, the author makes himself known in the first sentence.
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Yes, Paul wrote Philippians. No surprise there, since this mighty man of God penned 28% of the New Testament! However, what you might not know is that Paul wrote this epistle from prison. In fact, several of Paul’s letters were written from the confines of a jail cell or while under house arrest.
Paul was a busy man and didn’t have much extra time for things like writing while on the road to and from church plants. However, while under the restriction of a prison, he had all the time in the world to put his thoughts, concerns, teachings, exhortations, and words of encouragement to paper. And Paul did just that. Of the 13 books attributed to him, Paul wrote four (Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon) from his first imprisonment and one (II Timothy) from his second. It’s almost as if God allowed Paul to experience extended periods of time under arrest just so that we could have five books of life-giving teaching!
But what did Paul originally think of his imprisonment? If his reaction was anything like ours would be, he probably was discouraged and felt that his work was being hindered. How many prayers and conversations with God did Paul have? How many times did he cry out in frustration and discouragement over this hindrance to his ministry? Oh, if prison walls could talk!
What seemed like an obstacle in the path of Paul’s ministry was in fact a vehicle through which God was going to work. While Paul may have felt that traveling and planting new churches would be a more beneficial use of his time for the kingdom, God had a different project in store for him.
The letters Paul wrote from prison have had a far greater impact on Christianity than all of his church plants combined. The Spirit-inspired words recorded for generations of believers have challenged, motivated, equipped, and restored followers of Christ for nearly two millennium.
What if Paul had not been in prison for such a long period of time? What if the New Testament was missing Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon? It would be a tragedy! I know that my spiritual life would not be the same! Some of my greatest spiritual growth has come while studying these prison epistles.
Now what about us? What hurdle, obstacle, and problem are we facing? Do we have something in our lives that feels like a barrier to the ministry we’re supposed to be doing? Is our current season one that feels useless compared to what God has placed on our hearts to do?
Maybe God is doing something in our lives that has greater impact and potential for His glory than the project we have in mind. Have you considered that possibility?
Just as prison wasn’t an ideal place for a missionary, sometimes God puts us in places that seem off track from what we think we should be doing. However, in that place, God is working. His Spirit is moving and going about something that we could never have dreamed or imagined.
Paul probably never dreamed that his letters written from prison would outlive him and all the churches he planted. He probably never imagined that the words he put to paper while in a prison cell would impact countless Christians for generations. But that’s how big and awesome our God is! He takes the wildest combinations of events, circumstances, and people to create beautiful, eternal masterpieces.
So the next time you find yourself facing a complication or obstacle in your ministry or life mission, ask God what He’s up to and wait and see what He has instore. Because I can guarantee that He’s making something beautiful! We just need eyes to see what God sees and a heart that is content wherever God places us.
While I’m sure that Paul did not originally look kindly upon his imprisonment, he eventually saw the work that God had in store for him. Through the fire of adversity and hardship of trials, God forged within him a joy that could not be suppressed or extinguished. This is the joy that allowed Paul to be content in whatever situation and to be a humble vessel through which God’s Spirit could work. And this is the joy that will be our theme as we study Philippians. So get ready to dive right in!
“…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.”