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Joy Unchained

June 06 2016
June 06 2016


“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4)

This summer’s sermons series will take us through Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, a Roman colony about eight miles inland from the coastal community of Neapolis on the Aegean Sea. In Acts 16, we are given Luke’s account of Paul’s founding of this church, which became the first on European soil. Ten years later Paul was taken captive in Jerusalem on account of his proclamation of the Gospel (Acts 21:30ff) and he ultimately appealed to Rome to gain his freedom (Acts 25:11ff). It’s from Rome, while chained (Eph. 6:20) and under house arrest (Phil. 1:7), that he wrote this letter.

Surprisingly though, in no way does Paul’s imprisonment cast a dark shadow over the tone of this letter or his hope for the progress of the Gospel. Instead, this is the letter that the church has historically referred to as Paul’s letter of joy. The word “rejoice” or other similar meaning words, appears some sixteen times. New Testament commentator, Jac  J. Müller, describes this letter as “the effusion of the heart to a church he loved.”

Making this point are some the most quoted verses in the whole of the Bible:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (Phil. 1:12)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4)

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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:12-13)

Hopefully by now, then, the title of our sermon series on Philippians — Joy Unchained — makes sense. Though Paul was imprisoned, indeed in chains, the joy given him by the Gospel was not. He was free in Christ, the true Lord and Savior of the world. It’s from the position of freedom in Christ that he encourages this young church so near and dear to his heart to confidently go forward in the Gospel.

Yet, how should this letter of hope and joy get translated into our hectic lives that are shaped not by a prison walls, but by business meetings, diaper changes and soccer tournaments. Perhaps there are many different kinds of “prisons,” each requiring the hope-filled message of the Gospel to lead us to joy.

In his book, Inside Out, Larry Crab writes,

Lonely people fill our churches.  They attend Sunday school, chat socially at church dinners, and interact meaningfully in small group bible studies.  They often feel reasonably happy, enjoying whatever is pleasant and pressing on despite the rest.  But there are moments, moments when a sense of emptiness pierces them like a sword.  They may weep, then recover, and get on with life.  When a Christian filled with passion speaks to them  [though], they feel strangely stirred.  A part of their soul that has lain dormant, sometimes for decades, is touched.  A trickle of cool water runs down their throat, making them aware of how thirsty and parched they have been.  Hope revives.

It’s my hope that from our study of Philippians we will hear that word of joy spoken by a Christian filled with a passionate faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that will stir our hearts to an equally joyful and vibrant faith, regardless of circumstance!


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