(The following posts on Philippians are taken from a Bible Study that I wrote while taking a "Ministry Wife" course. It is a close study of Philippians 4:4-7. Each "Philippians" post contains many thoughts/quotes that are not my own ideas, but are simply facts/ideas with which I agree. Please refer to the footnotes for a list of my sources. Thanks!)
An Introduction to Philippians 4:4-7
The Joyful Woman. Is there a way to be a genuinely joyful woman in the midst of everything that goes on in our world today – even within our own churches and families? I would say that I am a realist. I guess that is just a sugarcoated way to say that I can be terribly pessimistic. Although I am not proud of it, my personality is naturally critical and negative, which is pretty much the opposite of being joyful and trusting in the Lord. I am not sure why I am so drawn to Philippians 4. Maybe it is because I long to be the kind of joyful person that is obedient to the commands found in this chapter. I long for the Lord to do that work in my life.
In quickly skimming over the topics of Philippians 4:4-7, which include commands to rejoice, pray, set aside anxiety, and be constantly thankful, what feelings arise in your heart and soul? Are you anxious at the mere thought that you cannot do these things alone? Are you encouraged by the fact that God promises to guard us with His peace when we pursue Him in these things? Are you challenged to seek God on a deeper level as you dive head first into an obedient pursuit of these rich Scriptures? Are you hit with the impossibility of being completely anxiety-free as a woman in the 21st century? Are you already living out these truths? Are you just worn out from reading the list?!
Before we jump into what the Lord wants to teach us in Philippians 4, it is important to get some background about the book of Philippians. Sometimes the mention of history and background information can have women running for a different book, but hang with me. I hope you will quickly see just how important the historical context really is in order to understand the depth, beauty, and richness of the Scriptures.
The letter to the Philippians was written by the apostle Paul. Paul was probably in prison in Rome when he wrote this letter. Philippians is classified as one of the “Prison Epistles”, which includes three other New Testament books that Paul wrote from prison.[i] I don’t know about you, but I can imagine a few other things I would be doing while sitting inside of a prison cell, and rejoicing and encouraging others, sadly, but honestly, probably are not on the top of my list. Listen to this quote by Ralph P. Martin: “The example of a man whose life is filled with joy, and his exhortations to ‘rejoice in the Lord’, do not proceed from some ivory tower of peace and security. On the contrary, the writer is Paul the prisoner, who is awaiting news which may spell his death.”[ii] How challenging it is for us to know that he was writing to encourage the Philippians as he was sitting in prison! He was not at all unfamiliar with suffering, and yet he still urged them to rejoice!
Paul loved the Philippian church, which was probably mostly comprised of Gentile believers. The population of Philippi, a Roman provincial municipality, was mostly Greeks and Romans, with a very small Jewish population. There were also God-fearers who lived there, even though they did not know of Jesus Christ until Paul arrived to share the Gospel with them. When Paul first visited Philippi, he encountered the worship of false gods, and he was even thrown into prison in Philippi. There was a strong presence of pagan religions in Philippi due to the traditional Roman religions, which included the worship of many gods, idols, and statues.[iii] The descriptions of the Paul’s missionary journeys listed in Acts show that he was constantly forced out of town by trouble-making Jews who hoped to hinder and ultimately put a stop to Paul’s missionary endeavors. Paul was not forced to leave Philippi by Jews, and there was not even a synagogue in Philippi, which shows that there were not many Jews there at all. It was in Philippi that Paul founded the first church that he helped to start. This may be a reason why this particular congregation was so near to his heart. They were generally a healthy congregation in comparison with other churches that Paul encountered. That is evidenced in the context of his letter, as opposed to many other letters where he uses stronger language to correct immoral behavior and falling to false teachings. In Philippians, he wishes to encourage the believers, thank them for their faithful support, and remind them of the importance of unity. Because Paul was imprisoned in Rome (probably under house arrest), it would have been easy for the Philippian believers to end their support of Paul because associating themselves with a prisoner would not have been beneficial for their status, but they continued their faithful support. Multiple times in this letter, Paul expressed his thankfulness ad overwhelming love for them.[iv]
As we go through this passage, we will take it slowly – verse-by-verse and phrase-by-phrase. We will note the key truths that we can glean from Paul’s letter, and we will explore the personal ways these truths can be applied to our lives. As we begin, please take some time to meditate on and echo the cries of the psalmist in the following verses as a plea to the Lord to search our hearts as we search for applicable truths in Philippians 4.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with me.”
“Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts before Him;
God is a refuge for us.”
Psalm 139: 23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting!
[i] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Revised Edition, (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 20.
[ii] Ibid., 45.
[iii] Markus Bockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians, Black’s New Testament Commentary, (USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 6.
[iv] Martin, 42