In addition to the theme of joy and rejoicing, there is one other theme that can be found throughout this letter. In terms of frequency, the second most prominent theme in Philippians is the gospel. To some who have been with me for a while, I might sound like a broken record, but the gospel was the main theme of the book of Romans and 1 Corinthians and Galatians and Ephesians. I hope you are beginning to see a pattern in Paul’s writings. There are other important ideas like spiritual gifts and end times and marriage, but to Paul, nothing was more important than the central message of the gospel.
The word for “gospel” is repeated 9 times in this letter.
4 always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, 5 because of your partnership in the GOSPEL…
7 …you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the GOSPEL.
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the GOSPEL, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is in the cause of Christ.
15 To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will. 16 These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the GOSPEL…
27 Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the GOSPEL of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith that comes from the GOSPEL, 28 not being frightened in any way by your opponents.
22 But you know his proven character [Timothy], because he has served with me in the GOSPEL ministry like a son with a father.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the GOSPEL at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life.
15 And you Philippians know that in the early days of the GOSPEL, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone.
What is the gospel? The word “gospel” means good news. Good news is only good news in light of bad news. If you went to see your doctor and you were worried because of some pain and then the doctor calls you into his office and says, it’s nothing serious. Then, you are like, whew, thank the Lord, this is good news! The gospel is good news only because it comes to us in the backdrop of some really bad news. The bad news is that we are sinners and God is holy and one day we will stand in judgment of this holy God. Our good works can’t save us. Our morality can’t save us. Into this hopeless predicament, Jesus comes. He dies on a cross, though he was sinless, he is brutalized because of our sin. His body is torn and broken to pieces. His blood is shed. And because of what Jesus did, when a holy and just God looks at us, we are righteous in his eyes. Because we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. And so as redeemed and forgiven sinners, we are acceptable in God’s sight and adopted as children of God because of Jesus’ suffering.
This gospel summarizes the person and work of Jesus Christ. As a Christian, the number one message that ought to come out of our mouth is joyful, jubilant praise because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The number one thing that binds us in community is the gospel message. Paul is thankful for his partnership in the gospel with the Philippians believers. As an apostle, he was appointed by God to defend the gospel from corruption and false teachings.
We can’t miss the fact that Paul wrote this letter while he was imprisoned, probably in Rome. Remarkably, he can even be thankful for his imprisonment because other Christians in places like Philippi see how Paul is unfazed by his situation and he is joyful in all circumstances and this results in more boldness to preach Christ beyond the prison walls in Asia and Europe. In this way, Paul’s imprisonment is serving to advance the gospel. Paul urges the Philippians to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, and more specifically, he urges them to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel. Paul commends to the Philippians Timothy, who was like a son to him, because they served side by side in gospel ministry.
From a thematic perspective, if we combine the theme of joy and the theme of the gospel to form one comprehensive thesis for the entire book of Philippians, this would be my thesis statement: True belief in the gospel leads us in two directions. First, true belief in the gospel leads us upward as we are filled with joy in our relationship with the Lord. Second, true belief in the gospel leads us outward as we rejoice verbally in all circumstances before one another and as we proclaim the gospel to others joyfully, even in the face of suffering.
Read Phil 1:1-8. [READ]
Paul was full of joy because of Christ and the gospel. This is first and foremost. If you are not full of joy, something is not right. It means something in your understanding about Christ is off. Paul was full of joy in his relationship with Jesus. Furthermore, Paul’s heart was filled with affection for many brothers and sisters in Christ, in this case, fellow Christians from Philippi.
We need to pause here and consider what is going on. This scene doesn’t make logical sense. Remember, Paul is in prison. He is bound. Most likely, there was a chain on his leg and on the other end of the chain was a Roman soldier. Yet, remarkably, he is not wallowing in self-pity. He is not grumpy. He is not a victim. He is not dwelling on his circumstances. He could’ve easily complained to God. God, I’m serving you. How could you let this happen to me? God, where were you? You would expect him to be self-engrossed but he’s not. Rather, he’s joyful AND on top of that, he has the roominess of heart to be thinking about others.
Paul said he deeply missed all of the Philippians with the affection of Christ Jesus. Why were the Philippians in particular so special to Paul? It’s because Paul helped plant this church. In Acts 16, Paul was there when Lydia was converted, Paul led the demon possessed slave girl to a saving knowledge to Christ. He led a Roman jailer to faith in Christ. He probably baptized all of them. He knew their personal stories and heard their salvation testimonies. He worshiped together with them at Lydia’s house. They shared meals together and hung out and laughed and cried together. They prayed and suffered together and witnessed God working in their midst.