‘Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.’ (Philippians 3:1)
It’s likely that Paul was in a dark, damp, stinking underground prison in Rome when he wrote his letter to the church of God in Philippi; he says he’s ‘in chains’ (Phil. 1:7,13-14,17). This is the man who’s travelled thousands of miles around the Mediterranean in the previous 15 years, preaching about Jesus everywhere! And now he’s stuck in a prison, awaiting the sentence of death. These were grim days.
But Paul says he’s rejoicing! In the worst of circumstances he’s rejoicing! What is rejoicing? It’s an attitude and outlook on life that results from being absolutely content and satisfied. And Paul says this is to be found in God, or ‘in the Lord’ (Phil. 3:1).
So, Paul uses his situation as an opportunity to remind free people to experience joy in the Lord. Normally those who are free are the ones full of joy. But there were some difficulties that meant there was a lack of joy in the church of God in Philippi: personality clashes and wrong teaching (which needed to be dealt with by the church) and opposition and persecution (to be expected because they were living for Jesus).
Even in prison, God was able to use Paul to glorify his name, and to preach ‘Christ as Saviour’ to people who needed to be saved. This must have encouraged folks in the church in Philippi to trust God in their situations too, and to realise that God will take our circumstances and use them for his glory. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ (Phil. 4:4) was Paul’s appeal. He knew, by experience, that whatever the circumstances, however unhappy they could make us, God is unchanging (Heb. 13:8) and has promised to never leave us, or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). God is absolutely reliable and faithful, and by trusting him and his promises we can know inner peace and joy, whatever is occurring.