Philippians: Where Does Joy Come From? | Phil Vischer
Children’s series tend to be topical, tend to cover the same Bible stories, and rarely ever offer anything new. If you read most children’s Bible storybooks, the epistles are usually omitted in their entirety!
“The Pauline epistles are for mature minds!” we exclaim, using our haughtiest of voices. Or, more likely, we just never really think about it, and since it’s not really a story, we aren’t sure to teach it. This means that our little ones miss out on huge portions of Scripture that are important to their lives and their development as Christians.
This fifteen-session series walks through the entire book of Philippians one section at a time. Host and creator Phil Vischer (a name you might recognize from VeggieTales) teams up with some animated friends to read and talk through the book. Each session last about ten minutes and has three or four discussion questions at the end. Altogether, you can expect the lesson time (video and discussion) to last 15-20 minutes, depending on how talkative your kids are.
Using the central theme of joy, Phil explains the book of Philippians is a way that is both clearer and more cogent than the eight weeks I got of it in seminary. He doesn’t shy away from difficult questions and doesn’t fall into the trap of misinterpreting some famous verses (*cough*Phil. 4:13).
Session 1: Philippians 1:1-2
What does the Bible say about fun? That’s the question that Phil Vischer helps Emily and Sam answer in this introductory installment. The Bible has lots to say about fun! But it doesn’t usually use that word. Instead, the Bible talks about joy.
Session 2: Philippians 1:3-6
How does Paul have joy, especially since he is in prison? Phil, Emily, Sam (and Carlos the crab) find out in this session. The first thing that brings Paul joy is his friendships, particularly the people in Philippi. The second thing is the gospel, which the Philippians are helping Paul share while he is in prison. And the third thing is Paul’s knowledge that God will carry on that Gospel message to completion and will return to set up his kingdom.
Session 3: Philippians 1:7-11
Phil and his friends begin to study Paul’s command for unity. Paul works extra hard for the gospel because it brings him joy. The Philippians are blessed as Paul, but Paul asks that they work hard for the gospel as well, so that they can share in that joy and grow closer to Christ. There’s also a hilarious moment in the discussion about the fruits of the Christian life, where Carlo points out that a tomato is a vegetable. Sam the Turtle responds: “Did you hear about the guy who made a tomato the star of a vegetable show?”
Session 4: Philippians 1:12-18
Paul explains that the good part of him being in prison is that he can share the gospel in prison. Paul’s joy cannot be quenched, even in prison. Phil points out that people have grown braver in sharing their faith because of Paul. They have seen Paul’s joy in bad times and are willing to risk prison themselves because Paul’s example shows that their joy cannot be taken away. God can take anything that happens and work it for good!
Session 5: Philippians 1:19-26
As the book continues, Phil and friends turn to Paul’s eloquent “if I live or if I die” speech, where he compares and contrasts the two ways he might get out of prison. Paul is not scared of dying, because it means being with Jesus—but he doesn’t want to die because if he lives, he can live for Jesus and continue to minister to the Philippians.
Session 6: Philippians 1:27-30
The discussion concludes Philippians 1 with Paul’s encouragement to be united together and live in a way that honors the good news of Christ! Phil and friends talk about how Christians who don’t show the fruit of Christ—who don’t follow the good news—make the good news not seem very good at all. People might not even believe the news. It is important that we follow God and show ourselves to be a good example to others.
Session 7: Philippians 2:1-4
Philippians 2 begins with an exhortation to friendship and unity and tells us that Paul’s joy will be complete if the Philippians are one in mind and purpose. Carlo is concerned that this means Christians are meant to have one big giant brain controlling us. Phil clarifies that having the mind of Christ simply means freely doing the kinds of things that Jesus would do. Thinking like Jesus is all about putting others first.
Session 8: Philippians 2:5-30
Phil Vischer, Emily Elephant, Sam the Turtle, and Carlo the Crab tackle one of the most beautiful sections of all of Scripture: Paul’s hymn about Jesus’s incarnation. Jesus becomes an example for us. We should have the same love, the same attitude, and the same mindset.
I was a bit disappointed that, unlike all the other sections up to this point, Phil skips the Scripture reading, saying it is “too long.” Emily, Sam, and Carlo are all ready to sing it, but instead, Phil tells them to “read it on their own sometime.” I’m not sure why this decision was made, but it seems counterintuitive to the book of Philippians (which is built around this hymn) to leave it out.
Instead, they pick up in verse 12 to spend time talk about “working out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Phil says that Paul isn’t saying to be afraid, but to take salvation seriously and treat it with great importance.
Session 9: Philippians 3:1-16
Chapter 3 continues, and much like the previous section, Phil and friends select portions to read rather than going through the entire text. This portion of Scripture talks about Paul’s past life before Christ, when he tried to save himself through the Law. Paul then contrasts it to his present: he believes all his good deeds are “worthless trash” in comparison. Emily exults that knowing God is more important than doing good things for God. Carlo then wonders what place our good deeds might have. Do we not have to do them? Sam is able to answer by reading the last four verses of the section: Paul continues to do good works, because it is why Christ saved him.
Session 10: Philippians 3:17-21
This session returns to small sections of Scripture and finishes up Philippians 3, which is Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians to follow his example. Phil and friends talk about we should find people in our life—parents, teachers, etc.—that follow Christ and follow their example. Phil also does a great job of explaining the term “their god is their belly.” He says that when you’re in a store, and you see cookies or ice cream, your stomach wants it, even if it isn’t good for you. You can’t give your stomach everything it wants! People who don’t follow Christ are just doing whatever they want—and it’ll make them sick.
Session 11: Philippians 4:4-7
Phil and friends skip over the first three verses of Philippians 4 and begin with verse 4, which is Paul’s admonition to have joy. I feel like this is unfortunate, because there’s a lot to discuss in those verses. Paul pleads with two individuals in the church to mend their relationship and remember their shared work in the Gospel. These verses remind us that there will be arguments and disagreements in the Christian community. I wish that Phil and his friends hadn’t missed these important words.
They recap their discussion of the book so far and all the ways Paul has taught them to have joy. Phil reminds his friends that they are part of God’s family, and as a family they should take care of one another. Paul packs in a lot of content here and Phil covers them one by one.
Session 12: Philippians 4:8-9
This lesson begins with a recap of the previous one, reminding listeners that while the world teaches that we can only have happiness if we have no problems or ignore our problems, Paul teaches us that Jesus can give us joy through our problems. Verses 8-9 teach the Philippians how to think—it’s the famous “anything true…noble…pure” verse. Phil explains that this doesn’t mean that we cannot think of anything sad (like a friend who is hurt), but that we should model our lives around good examples.
Session 13: Philippians 4:10-18
This lesson begins with a pretty substantial recap of the last and, in my opinion, that’s even better than the discussion there. It then turns to the central part of Philippians 4, in which Paul details his thanks to the Philippians and writes about his contentment in Christ.
Carlo is very excited about the verse “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” because he always wanted to fly. Sam the Turtle wants Jesus to make him an Olympic pole vaulter. Emily is a little more cautious “Is this what Paul really means?” Phil is able to explain a verse that most adults get wrong and say that Paul is saying that God will get him through his troubles. He can go through all these struggles because of Christ who gives him strength.
Session 14: Philippians 4:19-20
Phil and friends begin to close out their look at Philippians in this next-to-last lesson. The central focus is on the meaning of verse 19: “My God will give you everything you need.” At first, this seems to mean that Christians will never want for anything, but since the Philippians are being persecuted and Paul is in prison, Phil suggests that what this verse means is that God will change what we need—that he will give us contentment. We should never be afraid to help someone else, because God will take care of us!
Session 15: Philippians 4:21-23
Phil, Emily, Sam, and Carlo finish the book of Philippians in this final lesson. Sam insists there’s not much to talk about, because Paul is just saying goodbye, but the others insist. They talk briefly about how amazing it is that there are Christians even in Caesar’s palace before turning to a recap of the series as a whole.
This is a Phil Vischer production, so you know that the presentation is spot-on. The animation is simple and engaging; the characters are enjoyable and witty. He perfectly blends in humor and even some Veggie Tales inside jokes and Star Wars references. Phil interacts and engages with the animated characters very well (most of whom he also voices). The back and forth is superb and keeps children’s attention. There is no public preview that I can embed for this series, but you can follow THIS LINK to view it on the FaithBlox website.
Each video lesson ends with three or four review questions that the teacher can read out and have the kids answer. These same questions are included in the printable study guide, which includes suggested answers. It also provides a suggested application. For example, here’s their suggestions for session 1.
For Toddlers Practice teaching your child about joy. Ask, “What does the Bible tell us is better than fun?” and every time he or she responds with “joy” give them a hug.
For Grade Schoolers Each day this week, when you hug your child remind them, “God gives us hug happy joy.”
For You Where do you look for joy? Does your child see Christ as your joy? How should your answer frame the way you approach this study of Philippians?
Also, as a sidenote, Phil Vischer and friends use the International Children’s Bible throughout the series. The ICB is a translation from the original languages and not a paraphrase from English, which I appreciate. Many scholars who worked on the NIV, NASB, and NKJV lent their expertise to this translation, meaning that it is every bit of academically rigorous as those translations. The ICB was translated to be at a third-grade level, which is appropriate for the target audience here. Learn more about the ICB here.
Phil Vischer made his name by using animation to teach the Bible to kids and this series only continues that legacy. While I have my quibbles with some of things omitted, what Phil teaches, he teaches well. This series is meant for preschool to early elementary, but I found myself really being engaged with the content as well. (Of course, I also watch VeggieTales for fun.) This series and the others that come before it on Ephesians, James, and 1 John should be a Children’s Church mainstay.