In Philippians Paul exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord. His positive attitude throughout this letter to the believers at Philippi might lead us to think he wrote it while vacationing on a Mediterranean island. We would be wrong to assume that Paul wrote joyfully because his circumstances were blissful. No luxury hotel room for him. A Roman prison became Paul’s office. From there he penned this book with two themes that at first seem unlikely companions: triumph and trouble.
Paul landed in prison after he became a victim of rumor. A controversy had embroiled the early church. Jewish Christians demanded that Gentile believers convert to Judaism and keep the Jewish laws. Paul stood hard against this false teaching. On all his missionary journeys, he taught that salvation comes through Christ and Him alone, not by keeping Jewish laws and traditions. Gossipers saw Paul at the temple in Jerusalem, knew that he had travelled with a Gentile believer from Ephesus, put two and two together and concluded that he had taken his friend Trophemus into the temple.
A crowd gathered intending to lynch Paul. To save his life, Roman guards stepped in and arrested Paul. They took him to Ceserea where Felix, the Roman governor tried to extract a bribe from Paul for his release. Paul refused and stayed in prison two more years, until Festus replaced Felix. When called before Felix, Paul asserted his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case before Caesar.
After an eventful trip, Paul landed in the Roman prison cell where he wrote:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again. Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7
Do you feel imprisoned? Perhaps not behind literal bars as Paul was, but restricted by life’s circumstances. Prisons come in many forms. Some feel chained to household chores, others to an unfulfilling or demanding job. Financial hardships, unloving marriages, loneliness, sickness, emotional pain – all these and many other circumstances can be like prisons.
We can learn a valuable life lesson from Paul. Speaking through his prison bars, he says to us today – there are resources for life and not just for a getting-by life, but one filled with joy no matter what your situation may be.