Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one that teaches us much about joy and rejoicing, despite adverse circumstances. Written from prison, while Paul was in chains, we find that Paul, unlike us, is not downcast, despairing or depressed because of his circumstances. In Phil 1:12-30, we begin to see why he is so resolutely joyful. Ultimately, he can rejoice because he knows God is Lord of all and He is good.
Paul was utterly convinced that everything which happened to him was filtered by God and therefore whatever came his way would be used by God for good. (Rom 8:28) He said, ‘Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.’ (Phil 1:12) We may wonder at this statement, since being in prison stopped Paul from continuing his missionary journeys and evangelism, but in fact, he continued preaching the gospel in prison and was encouraged by others doing the same – no matter what their motives. (Phil 1:13-14, 17-18)
Paul was able to see beyond the trouble and the short-term suffering. He knew people were trying to make life more difficult for him. (Phil 1:17) He knew there were all kinds of potential problems ahead, but he also knew that Christ living in him was making a huge difference. He was confident that ‘now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ (Phil 1:20-21) As far as Paul was concerned, he was in a win-win situation! If his life were spared (‘if I am to go on living in the body’), he would rejoice, because that would mean fruitful labour for him, the opportunity to continue fulfilling his calling as an apostle to the Gentiles. (Phil 1:22) If he were to be killed as a result of his preaching, he would be with Christ, ‘which is better by far.’ (Phil 1:23) Whatever happened meant he won. Life had meaning and purpose (even in prison) because of Jesus, but then Jesus has made it possible for us to live without a fear of death and dying, because we know that this too has been dealt with by His death and resurrection. To die is gain. We gain freedom from sin and suffering when we die. Paul was able to view life and death from an entirely positive perspective, and if we too learn this lesson, it will transform how we view all the negatives of life, giving us the ability to rejoice no matter what.