Joy in Chains
Before you begin …
• Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and wisdom as you go through this lesson.
• Read Philippians 1:1–26. This lesson references chapters 2 and 3 in Be Joyful. It will be helpful for you to have your Bible and a copy of the commentary available as you work through this lesson.
From the Commentary
In spite of his difficult circumstances as a prisoner in Rome, Paul was rejoicing. The secret of his joy was the single mind; he lived for Christ and the gospel. (Christ is named eighteen times in Philippians 1, and the gospel is mentioned six times.) “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). But what really is “the single mind”? It is the attitude that says, “It makes no difference what happens to me, just as long as Christ is glorified and the gospel shared with others.” Paul rejoiced in spite of his circumstances, because his circumstances strengthened the fellowship of the gospel (Phil. 1:1–11), promoted the furtherance of the gospel (Phil. 1:12–26), and guarded the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27–30).
—Be Joyful, page 29
Q1: What is your immediate reaction to this idea of rejoicing in spite of circumstances? How would you define joy?
Q2: More to Consider: Perhaps you know of someone who is experiencing particularly difficult circumstances. How might that person respond to Paul’s rejoicing? Should faith in Christ automatically make it easier to rejoice in trials? Why or why not?
Q3: Choose one verse or phrase from Philippians 1:1–26 that stands out to you. This could be something you’re intrigued by, something that makes you uncomfortable, something that puzzles you, something that resonates with you, or just something you want to examine further. Write that here. What strikes you about this verse?
Isn’t it remarkable that Paul was thinking of others and not of himself? As he awaited his trial in Rome, Paul’s mind went back to the believers in Philippi, and every recollection he had brought him joy. Read Acts 16; you may discover that some things happened to Paul at Philippi, the memory of which could produce sorrow. He was illegally arrested and beaten, was placed in the stocks, and was humiliated before the people. But even those memories brought joy to Paul, because it was through this suffering that the jailer found Christ!
—Be Joyful, pages 30–31
Q4: Underline all the times Paul references thankfulness or joy in Philippians 1:1–26. Trials tend to turn people inward—make them think of themselves and their own circumstances. What evidence does Paul offer in this passage for why he is able to think of others instead of himself?
Q5: Reread Philippians 1:7–8. Why do you think Paul says “It is right for me to feel this way about [the Philippian Christians]”? Why would anyone think it wouldn’t be right? What response do you think the Philippian Christians might have had to Paul’s longing for them?
Q6: More to Consider: If your church sponsors or supports missionaries, take a few moments to pray for them. Consider paraphrasing Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9–11.
What is the “fruit” God wants to see from our lives? Certainly He wants the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22–23), Christian character that glorifies God. Paul compared winning lost souls to Christ to bearing fruit (Rom. 1:13), and he also names “holiness” as a spiritual fruit (Rom. 6:22). He exhorted us to be “fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1:10), and the writer to the Hebrews reminded us that our praise is the “fruit of our lips” (Heb. 13:15).
The fruit tree does not make a great deal of noise when it produces its crop; it merely allows the life within to work in a natural way, and fruit is the result. “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
—Be Joyful, page 35
Q7: Paul’s prayer encourages the Philippians to be filled with the “fruit of righteousness.” What is this fruit? How does being fruitful bring joy?
From Today’s World
In March 2007, a bus carrying a small college’s baseball team plunged over an overpass, killing four students and the husband-and-wife drivers. The accident was likely the result of an error of judgment by the driver, who mistook an exit ramp for a lane and sped off over the guardrail.
Stories like this are always tragic, not only for the families of those whose loved ones are killed, but for those who survived as well.
Q8: Read Philippians 1:12. Paul is referring to his imprisonment in this verse. In what ways might his difficult circumstances serve to advance the gospel? How can tragedies like the accident described above also advance the gospel? What other circumstances or “chains” might be used to advance the gospel?
More than anything else, Paul’s desire as a missionary was to preach the gospel in Rome. The hub of the great empire, Rome was the key city of its day. If Paul could conquer it for Christ, it would mean reaching millions with the message of salvation. It was critically important on Paul’s agenda, for he said, “After I have been there [Jerusalem], I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21). From Corinth he wrote, “So, as much as in me is, I am ready [eager] to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also” (Rom. 1:15).
—Be Joyful, page 39
Q9: Paul’s plan to preach in Rome was interrupted by his imprisonment. How did this impact his goal? In what ways did God still reach the people of Rome? How did God use Paul’s chains to advance the gospel?
Q10: More to Consider: Paul’s story is one of turning failure into success. What are some other success-story examples from the Bible or from your own life experience? What do these stories tell you about how to stay positive in light of difficult circumstances?
God still wants His children to take the gospel into new areas. He wants us to be pioneers, and sometimes He arranges circumstances so that we can be nothing else but pioneers. In fact, that is how the gospel originally came to Philippi. Paul had tried to enter other territory, but God had repeatedly shut the door (Acts 16:6–10). Paul wanted to take the message eastward into Asia, but God directed him to take it westward into Europe. What a difference it would have made in the history of mankind if Paul had been permitted to follow his own plan.
—Be Joyful, pages 40–41
Q11: What might Paul have felt when the Holy Spirit first changed his plans to enter Asia? When he was arrested and placed in chains? How might Paul’s impact on the Roman guards have been different had he been disappointed or upset with God?
Q12: Reread Philippians 1:15–18. What does it look like to preach out of envy and rivalry? Paul makes a powerful claim that it doesn’t matter how Christ is preached … just that He is. What is your reaction to this? In what sorts of different ways have you heard Christ preached?
Paul was not afraid of life or death. Either way, he wanted to magnify Christ in his body. No wonder he had joy!
—Be Joyful, page 46
Q13: Philippians 1:21 is an oft-quoted verse, but the verses that follow shed important light on Paul’s unselfish statement. Circle all of Paul’s “pros” for living and underline the “cons.” How can overcoming a fear of death bring joy?
Take a moment to reflect on all that you’ve explored thus far in this study of Philippians 1:1–26. Review your notes and answers and think about how each of these things matters in your life today.
Tips for Small Groups: To get the most out of this section, form pairs or trios and have group members take turns answering these questions. Be honest and as open as you can in this discussion, but most of all, be encouraging and supportive of others. Be sensitive to those who are going through particularly difficult times and don’t press for people to speak if they’re uncomfortable doing so.
Q14: In what ways are you, like Paul, defending or confirming the gospel? What challenges or trials are you facing as you do this? If you’re not sharing the gospel, what is holding you back from doing so?
Q15: Paul rejoices even in the midst of many trials. Is this easy for you to do? Why or why not? What makes it a challenge to remain joyful when the plans you had go awry? What in Paul’s letter can help you discover that joy?
Q16: As you read Paul’s examination of which is better—to live and preach the gospel of Christ, or to die and be with Christ—which side of that argument compels you most? Why? How can you find joy in either circumstance? What fruitful labor can you pursue if you “remain in the body”?
Q17: Think of one or two things that you have learned that you’d like to work on in the coming week. Remember that this is all about quality, not quantity. It’s better to work on one specific area of life and do it well than to work on many and do poorly (or to be so overwhelmed that you simply don’t try).
Q18: Do you need to discover patience in trials? Learn how to be joyful in difficult circumstances? Trust God’s plans when they don’t match your own? What does working on this look like in practical terms? Be specific. Go back through Philippians 1:1–26 and put a star next to the phrase or verse that is most encouraging to you. Consider memorizing this verse so it can encourage you when you most need it.
Real-Life Application Ideas: Find a book on Christian martyrs, such as Jesus Freaks or Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and study the lives of these people of faith. Examine how their lives line up with what Paul is teaching in Philippians 1:1–26.
Q19: Write a prayer below (or simply pray one in silence), inviting God to work on your mind and heart in the areas you noted above. Be honest about your desires and fears.
Notes for Small Groups:
• Look for ways to put into practice the things you wrote in the Going Forward section in this lesson. Talk with other group members about your ideas and commit to being accountable to one another.
• During the coming week, ask the Holy Spirit to continue to reveal truth to you from what you’ve read and studied.
• Before you start the next lesson, read Philippians 1:27–30. For more in-depth lesson preparation, read chapter 4, “Battle Stations!” inBe Joyful.