Journal from jail

I thank my God every time I remember you, in all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:3,4).

The book of Philippians is usually used as a devotional book. One liners and sweet thought-for-the-day type writings abound on this book. Fourteen times in its four chapters the word “joy” or its cognate “rejoice” is used in this letter. Is Philippians really the “Vanna White” of Paul’s epistles? Is it merely the lightweight amongst heavyweights such as Romans and Galatians? Or are those wonderful devotional thoughts such as “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) or “for me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21) simply skimming the cream off the top? Are there depths rarely plumbed in this book?

Our first clue that this is so comes from one fact: this seemingly sunny postcard, this relentlessly upbeat message, was written from jail. Roman prisons weren’t usually mistaken for Holiday Inns. For his accommodation, the authorities had pulled up the carpet, taken out the conveniences, and added a grim-faced guard along with the obligatory drip, drip of water, not to mention the rats.

Paul wasn’t having a good day!

So how could he write a book whose theme was joy, even if that joy was “in Christ?” And how could we mope and complain so constantly about our church and our brethren when we have it so good? Clearly there’s more going on than meets the eye in Philippians. Philippians is more than just a pretty face.

If Paul could be deeply, profoundly content in a prison cell, then we ought to find a joy in the Lord, too. If we scratch the surface away, we may find what it was that Paul had. Ready to read?

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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