Joy is a central theme in the book of Philippians. There are 15 explicit references to some form of either the noun “joy” (chara in Greek) or the verb “rejoice” (chairo) in this short letter.

  1. Paul prays for the Philippian believers with joy (chara) because of their partnership with him in the gospel. (1:4-5)
  2. He rejoices (chairo) that Christ is proclaimed – even when Christ is proclaimed with impure motives. (1:18)
  3. He rejoices (chairo) that his current hardship will turn out for his deliverance, through the prayers of the believers and the help of the Spirit. (1:18-1:19)
  4. Paul is convinced that the continuation of his ministry to the Philippians will contribute to their “progress and joy (chara) in the faith”. (1:25)
  5. Paul has joy (chara) when the believers are unified and single-minded. (2:2)
  6. Paul would be glad (chairo) in his sacrifice for the sake of their faith, so that his ministry was not in vain. (2:17)
  7. Paul would rejoice with (synchairo) the believers in his sacrifice for the sake of their faith, so that his ministry was not in vain (2:17)
  8. Paul encourages the Philippian believers to also be glad (chairete) in his life being poured out for them. (2:18)
  9. Paul encourages the Philippian believers to also rejoice with (synchairete) him in his life being poured out for them. (2:18)
  10. Paul is eager to send Epaphroditus back to them, so that they can rejoice (chairo) in seeing him again and be less anxious about his health. (2:28)
  11. Paul encourages the Philippian church to receive Epaphroditus back with joy (chara), since he risked his life for the work of Christ. (2:29)
  12. Paul has no problem with frequently repeating the reminder to “rejoice (chairo) in the Lord,” because he knows how important it is. (3:1)
  13. Paul encourages the Philippians to “rejoice (chairo) in the Lord always.” (4:4)
  14. For added emphasis, Paul again commands the Philippian believers to rejoice (chairo). (4:4)
  15. The Philippians’ renewed ability to support his ministry caused Paul to rejoice (chairo) in the Lord greatly. (4:10)

Some observations from these texts:

Paul’s joy is not at all dependent on his circumstances. Although he has been imprisoned for almost four years (1:12-18), he rejoices (1:18). Even if he should be sentenced to death for his ministry, still he would rejoice (2:17, 18). Paul had learned to be content in whatever his present condition (4:11).

Paul’s joy was related to his calling and his personal experience of the free gift of God’s grace. He referred to “my grace” (1:7). The grace he had been given was the reason he could rejoice in spite of his chains. He had a enormous passion for preaching the grace given through Christ (1:12-18). His joy came from knowing the name of Jesus was getting the attention it deserved. That’s what mattered most to Paul. When our joy lies in fulfilling our calling, the criticisms and persecutions of the world won’t make much difference.

Paul’s joy was in people. His life and sense of well being were always tied to the success in the faith of those he ministered to. He calls the Philippians “my joy and crown” and exhorts them to stand fast (4:1). He urges the church to “complete my joy” (2:2). He describes in detail how they can do that (1:27—2:18). If they will accomplish it, he says, he will be able to rejoice that his labors with them have not been in vain (2:16). Self-centered people don’t have that kind of feeling for others. Neither do they have much joy. The joy of Paul and the Philippians was related to the bond that joined them (2:17, 18). We don’t pay enough attention to that bond these days. There should be great joy in our oneness, our fellowship, our common bond in Christ.

Finally, Paul’s joy was primarily related to Christ. Paul said, “We . . . glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (3:3). That is the explanation of  everything else Paul has said. Paul wanted the Philippians to know bad circumstances do not rob him of joy because his joy is in Christ. Paul’s joy was in preaching Jesus Christ and in the fellowship of the followers of Christ. It is Christ that was Paul’s joy, confidence and righteousness. Paul knew that nothing matters but knowing Him (3:3-14). We can know that when the Lord Himself is our joy (cf. Psalm 73:25) nothing can take it away. Along with Paul we can say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (4:4).