Dwelling with Philippians

Five Services on Joyful Living

Philippians has been the focus for Bible study groups on the campus of Calvin College and Hope College in Michigan during this past year. More than 1,500 students participated in small-group Bible studies, which often included a combination of faculty, staff, and students. A number of churches across the country also joined the study.

Much of this attention on Philippians was stimulated by the recent publication of Dwelling With Philippians: A Conversation with Scripture through Image and Word (Eerdmans, 2010). As a companion effort, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has also made available seventeen full worship services with commentary on this epistle. You can find these services, including resources for prelude, offertory, and postlude, at http://worship.calvin.edu/philippians/services.html.

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians under less than ideal circumstances: he wrote from prison—a place that begets pain, loneliness, and anxiety. Yet this letter reverberates with joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). How can a letter written by a man who is wondering if he’ll ever see the light of day again become a hymn of joy? Yet that is what the book of Philippians is.

This remarkable epistle is a paradigm for the Christian life. The tension between joy and pain in this letter is a reflection of all Christian experience. We find that tension in the psalms (from lament to praise); in the words of Jesus (“In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” John 16:33); and in all of our life’s experiences. Every congregation that gathers for worship includes people who are in some degree of pain and others who are experiencing gratitude and joy. And if our congregations exhibit such a mixture, so do our own hearts. Spiritual maturity involves learning to live with both joy and pain. Paul models living with this tension for the Philippian church and for us (see sidebar).

This series includes five services, one on each of the four chapters of Philippians and one final “Festival of Living Joyfully.” Celebrating the Lord’s Supper could be very meaningfully included in the second service, in the closing festival service, or in both.

Note: We suggest encouraging the congregation to read through the epistle to the Philippians in one sitting—more than once, if possible—prior to this series.

Week 1: Divine Purposes

Philippians 1:1-21


While trials and difficulties may attempt to weaken our faith, Paul finds the opposite. Even in difficulty, the work of the gospel goes forward. Paul’s faith is affirmed and he finds joy in the purposes of God.

Sermon Notes

After reflecting on his deep bond with the Philippian Christians, Paul begins to teach them with the intent of interpreting the events that are taking place, helping them to see God’s purposes. While in prison, Paul exercises his trust in God and sets a Christlike example. His focus is not on whether he will get out of prison, but rather on his trust that Christ will continue to be exalted, regardless of Paul’s own personal welfare.

Service Outline



Call to Worship

Responsive Opening Prayer (SNC 22)

God’s Greeting with Congregational Amen

Song of Adoration: “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” HfW 7, PH 478, PsH 475, TH 76, WR 82


Prayer of Confession

Assurance of Pardon

Song of Acclamation: “And Can It Be”HfW 80, PsH 267, TH 455, WR 366

Our Testimony of Gratitude: Romans 1:16-17 (unison)


Song of Preparation: “Faith Begins by Letting Go”SNC 172

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:1-21, followed by:

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God!

Sermon: “Divine Purposes”

Prayer of Application


Affirmation of the Church’s Faith: Belgic Confession, art.13 or Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 9-10, or confession of your choice

Anthem or Song of Affirmation (choose one)

“I Will Be with You,” Leah and Sean Ivory(GIA A-7091, 2008)

“Knowing You” CSW 15


Hymn of Faith: “God of Grace and God of Glory” HfW 211, PH 420, WR 569

Words of Sending: 1 John 3:23

Benediction with Congregational Amen


Week 2: Imitating Christ

Philippians 2:1-11


The mind of Christ is powerfully portrayed in his act of humbling himself (humiliation) and in receiving the name above every name (exaltation). Therefore Christ is to be worshiped.

Sermon Notes

Rare is the Christian who is not aware of this passage. And rare is the preacher who has not preached on it. Its familiarity, however, challenges our ability to grasp its profound depths. This is powerful material: handle with care! The key phrase is “he humbled himself.” An early heresy claims Christ set aside his divinity, but Scripture tells us that he continued to be human and divine, yet laid aside the privileges of his divinity in order to accomplish our salvation. Our hearts must grasp the extreme selflessness (grace!) that made Christ willing to go all the way to the cross so he might be exalted as Lord for our salvation. Grasping this, we come eagerly to the Lord’s table, singing songs of faith and renewing our commitment to developing the mind of Christ in us.

Service Outline


Prelude/Gathering Music

Call to Worship: Revelation 5:1-10, ending with “So come, let us give him all honor and praise!”

Song of Adoration: “At the Name of Jesus” (st. 1-4) HfW 154, PH 148, PsH 467, TH 163, WR 321

God’s Greeting with Congregational Amen

Song of Adoration: “Meekness and Majesty” SNC 109, WR 97


Prayer for Illumination

Scripture Reading: Philippians 2:1-11, followed by:

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God!

Anthem or Hymn of Preparation (choose one)

“Christus Paradox,” Alfred Fedak (GIA G-5463, 2000)

“You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd” SNC 182, WR 99

Sermon: “Imitating Christ”

Prayer of Application

Song of Response: “May the Mind of Christ My Savior” HfW 209, PsH 291, SFL 72, TH 644, WR 464

Profession of Faith: Nicene Creed

Prayers of the People


Response at the Table

Prayer for Humility [see sidebar on p. 13]

Words of Assurance and Welcome: Romans 8:5, 1-2

Passing of the Peace

God’s Invitation and Promises

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

Preparing and Distributing the Bread

Reading of Psalm 116 (perhaps using C. Seerveld, Voicing God’s Psalms; Eerdmans, 2005)

Preparing and Distributing the Cup

Song of Faith: “What Wondrous Love” HfW 171, PH 85, PsH 379,

SFL 169, TH 261; WR 257

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Response in Living

Song of Praise: “Before the Throne of God Above” CSW 28

God’s Parting Blessing with Congregational Amen


The Tension in Philippians


“I am in chains” (1:7)

“I am in chains” (1:14)

“some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry . . . out

of selfish ambition” (1:15, 17)

“supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while

I am in chains” (1:17)

“suffer for him” (1:29)

“the same struggle . . . I still have” (1:30)

“in a warped and crooked generation” (2:15)

“I am being poured out like a drink offering” (2:17)

“everyone looks out for their own interests” (2:21)

“sorrow upon sorrow” (2:27)

“he almost died” (2:30)

“for [Christ’s] sake I have lost all things” (3:8)

“participation in his sufferings” (3:10)

“becoming like him in his death” (3:10)

“I . . . tell you again even with tears” (3:18)

“Do not be anxious about anything” (4:6)

“I know what it is to be in need” (4:12)

“hungry” (4:12)

“in want” (4:12)

“not one church shared with me in the matter of

giving and receiving, except you only” (4:15)


“I thank my God” (1:3)

“pray with joy” (1:3)

“he who began a good work in you will carry it on

to completion” (1:6)

“Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (1:18)

“Christ will be exalted” (1:20)

“your progress and joy in the faith” (1:25)

“make my joy complete” (2:2)

“shine . . . like stars in the sky” (2:15)

“I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (2:17)

“you too should be glad and rejoice” (2:18)

“you may be glad” (2:28)

“Welcome him in the Lord with great joy” (2:29)

“Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!” (3:1)

“my joy and crown” (4:1)

“Rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4)

“I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4)

“the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7)

“the God of peace will be with you” (4:9)

“I rejoice greatly in the Lord” (4:10)

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (4:13)

“my God will meet all your needs” (4:19)

“To our God and Father be glory forever and ever.

Amen.” (4:20)

Week 3: Affirming Priorities

Philippians 3:1-11


We live with joy and find deep assurance by faithfully standing in the conviction that our union with Jesus Christ provides credentials and righteousness matched by nothing and no one else.

Sermon Notes

In this chapter Paul gives personal and pastoral counsel to his readers, presents his own powerful testimony, and points to a great theological mystery.

In his personal counsel Paul lovingly warns the Philippians of dangers to be avoided. In his personal testimony he explains the great reversal that took place in his life: what he once considered impeccable credentials, he says, mean nothing compared to knowing Christ. Finally Paul points to the great mystery of our union with Christ. Note the powerful concentrated statements that focus on the mystery of being “in Christ.”

Service Outline


Prelude/Gathering Music

Responsive Call to Worship: Psalm 24

Opening Hymn: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”HW 202, PH 464, WR 59

God’s Greeting and Congregational Amen

We Greet Each Other

Song of Praise: “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!”SNC 44, SWM 134, WR 5


Call to Confession

Prayer of Confession (sung and spoken)

“Not What My Hands Have Done” (st. 1-2) HfW 139, PsH 260, TH 461

Spoken Prayer of Confession

“Not What My Hands Have Done” (st. 3)

Assurance of God’s Pardon: Romans 8:31-39

Anthem or Response of Praise: (choose one)

“There Is Nothing Left to Fear,” Valerie Shields

(GIA, G-6427, 2006)

“Neither Death Nor Life” SNT 136

God’s Call to Grateful Living: Ephesians 4:32-5:2

Song of Dedication: “Be Thou My Vision”HfW 32, PH 339, SWM 161, TH 642, WR 502


Prayer for Illumination

Scripture Reading: Philippians 3:1-11, followed by:

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God!

Sermon: “Affirming Priorities”

Prayer of Application


Song of Devotion: “Knowing You” CSW 15, SNT 197, WR 357

Our Profession of the Church’s Faith: (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 86)

Prayers of the People



Song of Thanks: “In Christ Alone”CSW 20, HfW 254, SWM 208

Words of Sending: Colossians 3:1-3

God’s Parting Blessing and Congregational Amen


Week 4: In the Lord

Philippians 4:4-20


Christians are called to experience the joy and peace that Christ intends for his body as they journey in this world. While in prison, Paul gives testimony to his own sense of contentment in God’s care.

Sermon Notes

Paul’s call to the Philippians to live with joy and contentment is given in the context of tensions within the congregation.

It’s important to remember that Paul was in prison when he wrote this epistle. He experienced multiple losses: of freedom, of relationships, of much of his ministry, perhaps even of hope for his future. Did God really expect Paul to be satisfied with all that? Listeners to this sermon will be wrestling with the same question.

So what is the secret to Paul’s contentment? First, he is confident that through his union with Christ he receives strength to copewith difficult circumstances: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (v. 13). Second, he lives with the huge, bold, sweeping promise of verse 19: “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” No wonder he concludes this section with a doxology (see verse 20)!

Service Outline


Prelude/Gathering Music

Call to Worship: Philippians 4:4-5

Introit: “Rejoice in the Lord,” Purcell (E.C.Schrimer, SATB, 1101; SSA, 1875; 1940)


Song of Praise: “Rejoice, O Pure in Heart” HfW 147, PH 145, PsH 561, TH 604, WR 113

God’s Greeting and Congregational Amen

Passing the Peace of Christ

Response: “Lord, God Almighty”SNC 9


Prayer for the Cleansing of Our Hearts

Sung Prayer: “Spirit of the Living God”HfW 210, PH 322, PsH 424, SFL 184, WR 492

God’s Assurance of Grace: Romans 5:8-11


Prayer for Illumination

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-20, followed by:

The Word of the Lord

Thanks be to God!

Sermon: “In the Lord”

Prayer of Application

Anthem: “The Lord Is the Strength of His People,” Sean Ivory (GIA, G-6100, 2003)


Intercessory Prayer

Sung Prayer: “In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful” SNC 220, WR 448

(prayerful acknowledgement of obstacles to our contentment)

Sung: “In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful”

(prayerful intercession for those who are distressed and hurting)

Sung: “In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful”



Song of Faith: “Let All Things Now LivingHfW 217, PH 554, PsH 453, TH 125, WR 22

Words of Sending

God’s Parting Blessing and Congregational Amen


Prayer for Humility

This prayer serves as our confession of unworthi­ness as it leads us in approaching the table of the Lord. The words by Gracia Grindal are also found in Dwelling in Philippians (Eerdmans, p. 84). Consider praying responsively.

Lord, strip my righteousness away

and dress me in your grace,

for I cannot endure my pride

while looking at your face.

For when I look upon your face,

I feel unclothed and bare.

I know that I am dressed in rags

and need a robe to wear.

The shining robe I need to wear

to stand before your throne

is woven from the seamless love

that took me as your own.

In death you took me as your own;

your rising set me free,

when you gave up your righteousness

to dress and cover me. Amen.

Gracia Grindal, The Joyful Exchange, 2005. © 2006 Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc. Reprinted by permission.

Week 5: A Festival of Living Joyfully

Selected passages from Philippians 1-4


This festival of joy draws together the various threads of thought from Paul’s letter to the Philippians in an overview of the entire epistle. Above all, it aims to capture Paul’s central exhortation: we are to live joyfully.

Sermon Notes

This service is designed with four meditations rather than one sermon. The first reminds us of Paul’s situation in prison while he writes. The second encourages us to have the mind of Christ. The third focuses on Paul’s profession of faith and his joy in knowing Jesus Christ and being found in him. The fourth, pointing to the total care that Christ’s children know, leads into the Lord’s Supper.

Service Outline

Joy in Prison


Welcome and Introduction to the Service

Song of Praise: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” HfW 69, PH 482, PsH 253, SFL 27, SWM 45, TH 53, WR 71

God’s Greeting with Congregational Amen

Song or Anthem (choose one)

“Psalm 84: How Lovely, Lord, How Lovely” HfW 3, SNC 184, WR 545

“How Lovely Is Your Dwelling,” Allen Pote

(GIA, G-5945, 2002)


Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:3-8, 12-14

Prayer (expressing the joy of the church, and remembering particularly those who are in difficult circumstances)

Affirmation of our Faith: (“Our World Belongs to God,” paragraphs 1-2 or other affirmation)

Song of Exaltation: “Rejoice, the Lord Is King” HfW 86, PH 155, PsH 408, SFL 180, SWM 140, TH 310, WR 342

The Mind of Christ


Scripture Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

Prayer (thanks to Christ for his willingness to humble himself and adoration for his highly exalted place now)

Song (choose one)

“May the Mind of Christ, My Savior” HfW 209, PsH 291, SFL 72, TH 644, WR 464

“Be Thou My Vision” HfW 32, PH 339, SWM 161, TH 642, WR 502

Found in Christ


Scripture Reading: Philippians 3:4-11

Prayer (with a plea for the Spirit’s strength to live as faithful disciples)

Song of Adoration: “In Christ Alone”CSW 20, HfW 254, SWM 208

Wellbeing in God’s Care


Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7, 10-20

Prayer (expressing our deep gratitude for God’s gift of salvation through the work of Christ, his faithful constant daily care, and his invitation to celebrate his grace with the sacrament)

The Service of the Lord’s Table

Song of Approach: “I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord” PH 507, WR 706; land of rest: HfW 227, PsH 311, SFL 64

God’s Invitation and Promise

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

Preparation of the Bread and the Cup


Our Response of Praise and Prayer


Closing Song: “Christ Beside Me”WR 425


God’s Blessing from Philippians 4:23, followed by:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.



“Paul doesn’t just tell us that we can be happy, or how to be happy. He simply and unmistakably is happy. None of his circumstances contribute to his joy: He wrote from a jail cell, his work was under attack by competitors, and after twenty years or so of hard traveling in the service of Jesus, he was tired and would have welcomed some relief. . . . It is this ‘spilling out’ quality of Christ’s life that accounts for the happiness of Christians, for joy is life in excess, the overflow of what cannot be contained within any one person.”

—Eugene Peterson, from his Introduction to Philippians, The Message,  NavPress, 2002, p. 2135

Norma de Waal Malefyt is now retired having served as the Resource Development Specialist in Congregational Song for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Rev. Howard D. Vanderwell (d. 2018) was the Resource Development Specialist of Pastoral Leadership for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, the author and editor of The Church of All Ages and Caring Worship: Helping Worship Leaders Provide Pastoral Care through the Liturgy, and co-author of Designing Worship Together.

Reformed Worship 100 © June 2011, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.