Background to Philippians
His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely.
Song of Solomon 5:16
What a wonderful description of our Lord, our Hero, Jesus Christ — for not only is He altogether lovely, He is simply All Together. He is at once
Truly, Jesus is the Man of Sorrows in order that He might identify with us, but also the Fulness of Joy that He might be attractive to us.
There was something so radiant and full of joy about Jesus that people flocked around Him and listened to Him. Labeled a glutton and a winebibber by His enemies (Matthew 11:19), He was, in the best sense of the word, the Life of the party. 'These things have I spoken unto you,' He said, 'that My joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full,' (John 15:11).
Christianity is to be a joyful religion — a relationship which experiences Jesus in such a way that there is, in fact, joy unspeakable. The idea that true spirituality is to be equated with misery is an idea completely contrary to Scripture, for truly, the nature of Jesus was such that people loved to be around Him. Thus, there should be a joy within us which is contagious.
Certainly such was the case with Paul, for in the four short chapters of his epistle to the Philippians, the word 'joy' or 'rejoicing' appears 19 times — which is especially interesting in light of the fact that Paul penned his epistle from a Roman prison.
Following the legal nightmare spoken of in Acts 21-28, Paul — chained to a guard — was awaiting trial, not knowing whether he would be befriended or beheaded by Caesar. If there was ever one who would be justified in writing a depressing and discouraging letter, it would be Paul. However, Paul took up pen and papyrus to do just the opposite, for Philippians is commonly known as 'the epistle of joy'. And if we grasp the basic message of Paul's letter to the church at Philippi, we too will be free to be joyful in Jesus — in spite of our external circumstances.
I am convinced that the joy Paul wrote about, the joy he lived out was based not in his heart, but in his mind; not on how he felt, but on how he thought. The saying is true: Your attitude does indeed affect your altitude. How you think affects how you feel. And this epistle drives that point home, for 15 times, Paul talks about thinking, and 10 times about remembering.
One of the most important components in understanding joyful, successful Christianity is this: You cannot change your heart — but you can change your mind. Conversely, God can change your heart, but He won't change your mind. Therefore, if I choose to change the way I think about a given situation, God will change my heart to follow suit. But if I do not choose to change my thoughts, God will not change my heart.
That is why the wisest man on the face of the earth literally said, 'As a man thinketh, in his heart so is he,' (Proverbs 23:7).
When people say, 'I'm so depressed, so discouraged, so distraught,' the only workable solution we can offer them is to tell them to change the way they think, for as they do, God will work in their hearts in due season.
Even though he was in prison, Paul could rejoice and tell us to do so as well, for he was thinking clearly, singularly, rightly.
The four chapters of Philippians present four states of the mind . . .
Chapter 1 deals with a single mind.
Chapter 2 deals with a submitted mind.
Chapter 3 deals with a simple mind.
Chapter 4 deals with a settled mind.
I believe if you take the time to study this epistle through, pray it in, and work it out, like Paul, you will be one who rejoices regardless of the trial facing you, the prison walls around you, or the guard chained to you.