The word of the day from our reading of Philippians 1:1-7 is “joy.” We know more about St. Paul than any of the other apostles with the possible exception of St. Peter. We have a well-rounded picture of Paul not only from the Book of Acts but his letters. The frames of mind of these epistles range from sorrowful in parts of 1 Corinthians, relieved in other parts of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, theological in Romans, emphatic in Galatians, mystical in parts of Ephesians and Colossians, instructive in other parts of Ephesians and Colossians, reassuring in 1 Thessalonians.
Thanking God with Joy
But in Philippians, St. Paul writes in an exalted mood of joy. In today’s reading, he begins his letter to his beloved congregation in Philippi, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always and in every prayer making the request for you with all joy…” (Vs. 4). The congregation at Philippi was the first church that Paul gathered in Europe. That was in 50-51 AD (OSB “Introduction to Philippians). Now St. Paul writes about ten years later while imprisoned in Rome.
Paul esteems the Philippian church not only because they have been loyal to him from the beginning (vs. 5) but because they gave exceptional support to his ministry (vs. 4:15). The Greek word that the OSB translates as “fellowship” is the familiar term koinonia. The basic meaning is that of sharing. (Strong’s #2842). That is, the Philippians have “shared” in Paul’s missionary work. Some versions translate the phrase as “partners in the Gospel” or “participation in the Gospel” (NIV, English Standard, Berean, New Am. Standard, Chr. Standard). Rather than “fellowship” (OSB) or “communion” (OSB fn. on vs. 5), these phrases express the sense that the Philippians have actively taken part with Paul in his planting of churches.
The Gladness of Joy
For these reasons, St. Paul says that he prays for his beloved partners in the Gospel with joy. The Greek term has a basic sense of gladness, cheerfulness, and serene happiness (Strong’s #5479, 269). The most frequent translation of the verb is “to rejoice.” (Strong’s #5463, 269). Though Paul is in prison and awaiting what might be his martyrdom, the very thought of the Philippians cheers and delights Paul. They are, indeed, his “joy.”
Happiness is an emotion that comes and goes. But joy is a lasting state of mind and heart. Suffering and hardship ruin our happy moods. But joy endures in good times and bad.Thus. Letter of James says, “ Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1;2-3). Joy is a life raft that can keep us afloat through all the stormy seas of life. Today, let us pray for lasting joy rather than temporary happiness.