The abiding message of Philippians concerns the nature and grounds of Christian joy. For Paul, true joy is not a surface emotion that depends on favorable circumstances of the moment. Christian joy is independent of outward conditions, and is possible even in the midst of adverse circumstances, such as suffering and persecution.
Joy ultimately arises from fellowship with the risen, glorified Christ. Throughout the letter, Paul speaks of joy in the Lord, emphasizing that through Christ alone is Christian joy realized, as are other Christian graces. Essential to this joy is the confident conviction of the lordship of Christ, based on experience of the power of His resurrection. Because of this conviction, life for Paul attained meaning. Even death became a friend, because it would bring him into a fuller experience of the presence of Christ (1:21-23).
The joy presented in Philippians involves eager expectation of the near return of the Lord. That this expectation was dominant in Paul’s thinking is seen in his five references to Christ’s return. In the context of each reference is a note of joy (1:6, 10; 2:16; 3:20; 4:5).
Paul further describes a joy that springs from fellowship in the spreading of the gospel. He begins the letter by thanking the Philippians for their partnership in spreading the gospel through their monetary gifts. The gifts, however, are only an expression of their spirit of fellowship, or as he puts it in 4:17, “the fruit that abounds to your account.” So Christian joy is an outgrowth of being in the active fellowship of the body of Christ.
This letter reveals the timeless message that true joy is to be found only in a dynamic personal relationship with Jesus Christ and in the assurance that God is able to turn adverse circumstances to our good and His glory. Because he was united to Christ by a living faith, Paul could claim contentment in all circumstances. His unadorned testimony was “I rejoice … and will rejoice” (1:18), and his unqualified command was, “Rejoice . . . again I will say, rejoice! (4:4).
Introduction to The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Spirit Filled Life Bible, General Editor Jack W. Hayford, Litt.D. (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), pp. 1800-1801