July 24 I Tuesday
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!” —Philippians 4:4
Philippians has been called “the epistle of joy.” Twenty times Paul uses words like rejoice, joy and be glad. Joy and confidence permeate the letter. Filled with such optimism, it may appear as though Paul penned his letter from an ivory tower or a sun-kissed Mediterranean beach.
The reality is that Paul wrote Philippians from a prison, almost certainly in Rome. He was arrested after returning to Jerusalem following his third missionary journey. Paul took a strong stand against Gentiles having to become Jews first before being converted to Christ. This incited many Jews to believe he was opposed to the Law of Moses and that infuriated them. They falsely accused him of bringing a Gentile into the temple, which was forbidden. A mob ensued, eager to lynch him, but their efforts were foiled when Roman officials took Paul into custody.
What followed was two years of imprisonment in Caesarea, one year in transit to Rome on a boat that was shipwrecked, forcing Paul to spend the winter months on the island of Malta, and another two years imprisoned in Rome. From every human perspective, the events of these five years should have left Paul totally discontented. He would have been in his early 50s, deprived of five peak years of his life.
But Paul wore his chains like a mantle to advance the Gospel, and we see a man filled with immeasurable joy. He had discovered the utter sufficiency of Christ and was so excited by it that in effect, he says, “Rejoice, and in case you think I wrote the wrong word down, I will say it again: rejoice!” With every peril Paul faced, he says, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13). Paul’s reference point was not his circumstances, but Christ in him.
God is far more concerned with what is happening in us than what is happening to us. We may feel trapped in prisons of resentment, loneliness or unfulfilled dreams. We may be confined to a body that does not function well or stuck in a job we dislike. There are prisons of all kinds, but our hope and strength within these prisons are derived from Christ. Though circumstances may not play out as we expect, Paul’s message of hope in Philippians is that whether the sun is shining or rain is pelting down, we can still live because Christ is our strength. In Him, we have the resources not just for life, but for joy even when life is tough.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, may my prayer always be, “For this I have Jesus.” As I face today and whatever trials it may hold, thank You that my joy and strength are found in You.