If there is one thing I think we can understand about Paul, it is the fact that he had a perpetually sunny outlook. Despite numerous imprisonments, shipwrecks, trials, betrayals and tests, Paul consistently exudes a spirit of joy in his writings.
That spirit is abundant in Philippians. Five times in this short letter he uses the word “joy,” and eleven times he says “Rejoice” and “be glad.” His tone overall is one of rejoicing and positivity towards the church at Philippi, despite the fact that he was in prison at the time of his writing.
This section of Paul’s letter is basically one of continued praise and thanks and joy for the Philippians. He exhorts them to “live in humility”, and “be a light to the world”, but the Paul we see here is a happy, positive Paul we haven’t seen since probably 1 Corinthians.
Paul seems most joyous here because of the spread of the Christian faith that he has seen. In 1:15-18, he recounts how this spread has been both from sincerity and from those who are insincere, but it is a spread nonetheless in his eyes, and he is almost ecstatic to see that. It seems to ease the ache of being imprisoned, and he displays an indifference to his ultimate fate, an attitude that would be impossible for Paul if he felt there was still substantial amounts of work for him to do. Instead, he seems content with the growth of the church, and assured of it’s continuance.
It’s easy to imagine the pre-Christian Saul as a dour kind of person, considering his mission in life. But the apostle Paul is a man continually filled with the joy of God, embodying a spirit of love and compassion consistent with his assurance in the Message he was spreading. I think the common perception of Paul in the popular mind is a dry, academic, boring personality. But through out this study of his works, I have found an engaging, relatable, intensely human Paul, a man who is happy and driven and sometimes defensive or a braggart, but always compassionate.
Paul suffered persecution and hardship many of us can never imagine, yet never wavered in his positive outlook or caring attitude towards his churches. His is an example to emulate in our comfortable Christian lives in 2015 America. A persecution complex is an unseemly thing to carry about, considering the place of the Christian as that of the dominant cultural, social and political mindset in the modern world. Instead, we should be joyous, humble and compassionate at all times. We have no excuse to live otherwise.
I want to end by highlighting one section, verses 6-11 from chapter 2. This section is likely an early Christian hymn, and Paul recites it in full in the section about humility. This is another wonderful window into the early church, one we are lucky to have. I want to quote it in full here; as you read, just think about the fact that the earliest Christians, those who lived two thousand years ago, those who got direct personal guidance from the apostle Paul, also read and sang these very words of worship. It’s an exercise in the ultimate form of Christian communion, a chance to be in community with those who pioneered our faith.
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Next: Philippians 2:19-3:1a, 4:4-9, 4:21-23