When we approach the book of Philippians, we are told and are taught to know two primary things – Paul is in prison and he is also filled with joy.  And we are told the main theme of the book is joy.  It’s true, his joy is extraordinary in the book of Philippians.  Especially considering his circumstances.  Four time he states that he was “in chains.”

  • whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me (1:7)
  • it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. (1:13)
  • And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (1:14)
  • The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. (1:17)

And his joy is palpable as well.  He uses the word “joy” 5 times, “rejoice” 6 times, and “glad” on 3 occasions.  There are a total of 14 references of joy vocabulary in this short letter.  That’s actually amazing.  We don’t think prison and joy go together very well, but in the kingdom of God, they are a “normal” match for life on this earth.

A Wider Theme

Perhaps because of this distinguishing trait of the letter I missed something even more obvious.  There is another theme with words used 50, 67 or 72 times depending on how you count them.   And this to me is what the letter is more about:  Jesus Christ.

“Christ” – 38x
“Lord” – 12 x (when not used with Jesus Christ/Christ Jesus)
“God” – 27x
“Spirit” – 4x

This is quite astonishing numbers for such a small letter of 4 chapters.  Just look at some of his words:

  • I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (1:8)
  • Christ will be exalted in my body (1:20)
  • To live is Christ and to die is gain (1:21)
  • I desire to depart and be with Christ (1:23)
  • It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him (1:29)
  • Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus (2:5)
  • Honor Epahproditus..because he almost died for the work of Christ (2:30)
  • Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ (3:7)

And then some with “Lord”:

  • Most of the brothers and sisters have become more confident in the Lord (1:14)
  • Welcome him (Epaphroditus) in the Lord (2:29)
  • Rejoice in the Lord (3:1)
  • Stand firm in the Lord (4:1)
  • Be of the same mind in the Lord (4:2)
  • Rejoice in the Lord always (4:4)
  • I rejoiced greatly in the Lord (4:10)

In ever breath, in almost every paragraph, in almost every sentence it was about Jesus.  His joy was in Jesus, his life was in Jesus, he urged them to live for Jesus and even suffer for Jesus.

And then there’s the Father as well:

  • Grace and peace to you from God our Father (1:2)
  • I thank my God every time I remember you (1:3)
  • All of you share in God’s grace with me (1:7)
  • God can testify how I long for you (1:8)
  • Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (1:11)
  • every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2:11)
  • righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (3:9)

Paul’s Thoughts

I wonder if Paul was in our midst today and we were telling him that his letter was about joy.   I think he would say,

‘No!  Yes, I did have joy.  Yes, I rejoiced.  But my rejoicing was in Jesus Christ!  My rejoicing is not what this letter is about, it’s the person of Jesus that brings about my rejoicing–He is the Christ!  Don’t let my rejoicing you from distracting from the obvious.  We live for Jesus.  We die for Jesus.  We prepare for the day of Jesus.  We suffer for Jesus.  We encourage one another in Jesus.  We have the mind of Jesus.  And we rejoice in Jesus.    It’s about Jesus.  The Christ.’

In a scant four chapters he mentions Jesus over fifty times.  Yes, it was a letter that contained joy.  But the source of that joy and the driving power behind all is Jesus.

In Christ alone.