Philippians 1:1-11 A Partnership-Completing The Work.
Paul was not alone. He and Timothy worked together as bondservants, slaves of Jesus Christ. Their address was to all the saints in Christ, but not apart from the bishops and deacons. The fact that Paul does not mention elders supports the reformed and Presbyterian position that elders and bishops were one and the same office, as Paul would certainly not have left them out (v. 1) These men were present with the founding of this church, as Luke has recorded (Acts 16). They were known to have proven characters (2:22). Paul in typical fashion greets them with grace and peace-in that order. It is grace that makes for true peace with God (v. 2). Paul gave thanks for them, with joy, because they shared in the fellowship of the gospel from day one. It was in essence a partnership (vv. 3-5 Cf. Rom. 12:13; Eph. 1:16). Paul was also confident that what began from day one would carry on with them until the day of Christ Jesus (v. 6 ).
Paul never forgot them, nor the good work which the Lord had begun in them (v. 7). This was true whether he was in chains or was boldly defending and confirming that same gospel. Together they were partakers of grace, and he longed for them, “with the affection of Jesus Christ.” (v. 8) This is a good reminder to bishops and deacons, that one’s care for the flock stems from Christ Himself (v. 9). He also prays that their love may also abound in knowledge and discernment. This was no mere sentimentalism, it is seeking to do that which is right, that which the Lord approves (v. 10). The work of salvation by the Lord will find its completion when we are “filled with the fruits of righteousness.” (v. 11 Cf. Jn. 15:8; Col. 1:6) The perseverance of the saints depends on God’s grace, every bit as much as justification. Being sincere, as Paul put it, means it goes to the core and one has integrity. The fruit will show itself in our words and deeds.
Philippians 1:12-18 Christ Is Preached.
It was important to Paul to let his readers know that what was happening to him was actually serving the purpose of furthering the spread of the gospel. Being held in chains had given him the opportunity to show that his confinement was due to his commitment to Christ (v. 13 Cf. 4:22). As he mentioned earlier, being in chains actually gave him the opportunity to defend and confirm the gospel (v. 7). The brethren were also inspired by his example, being “much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (v. 14) The important thing was that the word was being preached. Even those who preached out of envy and strife, hoping to add to Paul’s troubles, were nevertheless serving the overall purpose of speaking the word. However, there were those who preached out of love, knowing that Paul was “appointed for the defense of the gospel.” (v. 17) Paul sums it up well. “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” (v. 18)
Philippians 1:19-26 The Joy Of Faith – Love For Christ.
Just as Paul saw in his confinement an opportunity to preach the gospel to “Caesar’s household” (4:22), he also saw in the preaching of the gospel a reason for his release, through the prayers of his readers, “and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” (v. 19b) Much could be written on these few words. Paul often couches a lot of theological truth, even in passing, as it were. It is important to be reminded though, that the Holy Spirit is “of Christ.” The Spirit serves not to glorify Himself, but to glorify Christ. The character of the Spirit is the same as Christ’s. The Spirit does nothing contrary to Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is the very image of Christ perfected in us. Anyone who has Christ has all of the Spirit, just as they have all of Christ. There are no more two classes of people with respect to the Spirit anymore than there are two classes of Christians.
It was also Paul’s “earnest expectation and hope” that he would not be ashamed, but rather that he would have boldness so that Christ would be magnified in his life-whether in living or dying (v. 20 Cf. Rom. 14:8; Eph. 6:19-20). It was for the same reason that he could be content with his circumstances, because the main thing was that Christ was preached (v. 18). This is what brought him joy. There is a good question to ask ourselves today. Does the preaching of Christ bring us joy? This is a good heart test. Does the preaching and magnification of Christ bring you joy? “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (v. 21) Paul was truly in love with the Lord. Living meant fruitful labour for his Lord and his kingdom (v. 22). However, to die was to be in his physical presence for all eternity (v. 23). Of course the choice was not his to make, but the Lord’s.
However, before leaving this passage it is also important to note that Paul was in complete harmony with the Lord concerning what we call “the intermediate state.” To die meant he would be with Christ immediately, that is why this was so appealing to him. Just as Christ promised to the sinner on the cross-“Today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Lk. 23: 43) “We are confident, yes, well-pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (II Cor. 5:8) How then can any entertain that demonic popish monstrosity of purgatory? It is nothing but a sinful edifice to fallen man’s desire to postulate that there is ultimately something he can do to earn his acceptance. However, this truth also presses upon us the importance of pleading with people while they live, knowing that there is no second chance. This brings us back to our reason for living-that in whatever we do, Christ would be glorified.
Philippians 1:27-30 Sanctified Together.
Living worthy of the gospel of Christ is the goal of sanctification. If he could not be present, Paul was still hoping that he would hear of their conduct, that they “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (v. 27). These are the same people who shared in the fellowship of the gospel (1:5), stood for the defence and confirmation of the gospel (1:7), laboured for the furtherance of the gospel (1:12), to now also walk worthy of the gospel, for the faith of the gospel (1:27). It is clear that Paul is concerned with furthering the gospel message, and ensuring it took root. Sanctification is something we are all called to (Eph. 4:1). Part of this sanctification is standing fast with “one spirit, with one mind, striving together.” (V. 27 Cf. Eph. 4:23) There is clearly a corporate aspect to this. As Jude put it, “concerning our common salvation,” we need “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (v. 3)
Part of this standing fast, striving together, labouring, and contending, is also refusing to be terrified by our adversaries, which will be a sign to them of a proof of their perdition (v. 28). Perhaps some will repent because of this, but all will know their end if they don’t. In any case, we need not be terrified, because our salvation is from God-it does not depend on our doing. As Paul will go on to say, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling Godward, because He is at work in us (2:12-13 Cf. Eph. 2:8; Col. 1:29). A proper fear of God takes away any fear of our adversaries. Paul also makes the hard point that we are also destined to suffer for the Lord, for any who would follow the Lord will have enemies. It has been granted to us to suffer for His name (v. 29 Cf. Mt. 5:11-12). “Yes, and all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (II Tim. 3:12) In this Paul’s readers were also sharing in the conflict with him (v. 30 Cf. Acts 16:19-40; Col. 2:1).
Philippians 2:1-4 If Only.
There are a lot of ‘ifs’ in this passage, but as always, whenever we see a ‘therefore’ we must ask what the ‘therefore’ is there for. In this case, Paul has given part of his reason for writing here from the striving and suffering that is part and parcel of the Christian life. Given that this is the case, it is very important that we support one another. Paul does not list his ‘ifs’ as though there might be a possibility of there not being any of these, but when we know consolation or encouragement, comfort of love, fellowship of the Spirit, or affection and mercy, we ought to celebrate these in the unity of the body, as each member supports one another (v. 1 Cf. Col. 3:12-14). It would fulfill Paul’s joy, and should for us also, to learn that any body of believers has this attitude of mind, “having the same love.” (v. 2 Cf. 4:2)
It should be evident that one cannot have one or two of these things and not the rest. This is part of a definition of true spirituality. We should also see that word ‘joy’ again. Joy was for Paul a hallmark of the Christian life. C. S. Lewis described real conversion well when he called it ‘Surprised By Joy’. There is also a joy in having “lowliness of mind,” esteeming others better than oneself (v. 3). This does not mean treating ourselves badly, but as Calvin put it, having “a right estimate of God’s gifts, and our own infirmities. For however any one may be distinguished by illustrious endowments, he ought to consider with himself that they have not been conferred upon him that he might be self-complacent, that he might exalt himself. In others, on the other hand, he will regard with honour whatever there is of excellences.” (p. 53)
There is an important balance here. For Paul does not go on to write that we should have no regard for our own interests, rather, “let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (v.4 Cf. Rom. 12:10) As he wrote elsewhere, “Do not be wise in your own opinion.” (Rom. 12:16) Paul was a true friend of the bridegroom, rejoicing that in all things Christ was exalted (Cf. Jn. 3:29). If we gave God the glory and thanks for all his gifts in each of us, we would avoid becoming conceited, “provoking one another, envying one another.” (Gal. 5:26 Cf. I Cor. 13:5) “But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” (Gal. 6:4) “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.” (Rom. 15:2)
Philippians 2:5-11 From Humiliation To Exaltation.
So the attitude of mind of humility, and looking out for the unity of the body in this regard, is carried on with this passage, as Paul ultimately roots it in mind of Christ (v. 5 Cf. Mt. 11:29). Even though He knew He was God, as part of the incarnation He not only became flesh and blood but He had the attitude of bondservant or slave (vv. 6-7 Cf. Ps. 22:6; Is. 42:1). “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (v. 8 Cf. Heb. 5:8) The sinless one was going to suffer the penalty for sin-death. This in and of itself was a humiliation, but to be crucified was to die the death of one who was guilty of a crime. However, it was just this very humiliation which resulted in His exaltation from the Father, for He obediently provided the just ransom that was required to satisfy Divine propitiation. God was justly angry with humanity because of sin, but the Son, through the incarnation and subsequent death on the cross, satisfied both the justice and the mercy of the Father. As a result He has a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess, in heaven and earth, that He is Lord (vv. 9-11 Cf. Is. 45:23; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 2:9).
Philippians 2:12-18 Shining Lights.
It is always interesting to come upon passages which contain popular verses and discover something of the context. One such verse is 12b-13 and rightly so. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” However, Paul said this with the preamble that they were his beloved, who always obeyed, not only when he was present, but also in his absence. This sheds some interesting light on this verse. Yes, the important point is that it is God who is at work in us, and this is why, with fear and trembling, that we can work it out. However, it was also important for Paul to remind them that they didn’t need him there 24/7 either. At some point we all need to learn that those who the Lord uses to introduce us to Himself and to lead, do so with the goal that we mature and cultivate our own sanctifying work. Yes, God is at work in you, but work out your own salvation also, because no one else can do it for you.
It is also good to be reminded that the process of sanctification that God works in us, is for His own good pleasure. So God takes good pleasure in our sanctification! Something good to keep in mind as we struggle to see the image of Christ perfected in us. He takes good pleasure in our adoption as his children, and to this end we are predestined if we are indeed His (Eph. 1:5). This is part of the fellowship or partnership that Paul already wrote about. He was “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (1:6) Paul had some proof of this sanctifying work by the fruit they bore, being the only ones to offer him assistance as he began his work of gospel preaching (4:15). However, we also have a cautionary note. “Do all things without complaining and disputing.” (v. 14 Cf. Rom. 14:1) Ah yes, the perennial ache of every leader, but also something God takes very seriously. How often Israel grumbled as the LORD led them to the promised land, and the frustration of Moses (Cf. Dt. 32).
Some people take complaining and disputing as their divine right, confusing this with defending oneself or one’s beliefs for example. For Paul it would show that they were indeed making progress in their sanctification, for he writes that they would then “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a perverse and crooked generation.” (v. 15) It would be as though they were lights shining in darkness, so prevalent is the urge to complain and dispute. Peter concurred in this sentiment. “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” (I Pt. 4:9) “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16) They could do all this through God working in them yes, but through the instrumentality of the word alone. Only if they held fast to the word, which is a word of life or life giving word, did Paul have any confidence that he would “rejoice in the day of Christ” that he had “not run in vain or labored in vain.” (v. 16)
We are reminded again that the word is the first axiom of all thought and existence. We are also reminded that it is a life giving word. The word of God is no ordinary word, not only because it is God breathed and therefore inerrant, but also life giving, also because it is God breathed. Just as the Word breathed into Adam “the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7), even so the written word gives life. There is another very important point here. All those who labour apart from the word, labour in vain. There will be a day of Christ for believers, not to perdition, but to the quality of one’s labour. Those who labour apart from the word produce only straw for the fire (I Cor. 3:12). This was a matter of life and death for Paul. He was well aware that his life might soon end in martyrdom. He would eventually be as a drink offering or libation that would accompany the sacrifice of their genuine faith to God (v. 17 Cf. II Tim. 4:6; Rom. 15:16). However, rather than being sorrowful, he wanted them to rejoice for the end in view (v. 18 Cf. II Cor. 7:4).
Philippians 2:19-24 Living By Example, And Making Good Decisions.
Encouragement is important. This is one of the reasons for Paul writing, so that he could encourage his readers, but also that they might encourage him. For this reason he was sending Timothy, so that he could return to Paul with good news of their faith (v. 19). Timothy was of the same mind as Paul, as one who sincerely cared for them V. 20). He also had followed Paul’s doctrine and life, including the persecutions and suffering (Cf. II Tim. 3:10; I Cor. 4:17). Timothy was his fellow worker, but he also regarded him as a son in the faith (V. 22 Cf. Rom. 16:21). Apparently Paul found that most people seek out their own interests rather than Christ’s (v. 21). However, it wasn’t just Paul who could trust Timothy, one of the reasons Paul sent him was because his readers knew of his proven character as well (v. 22). Timothy both cared for the people, and also Christ’s interests as he served with Paul in the gospel. As such, Paul was also sending Timothy to the Philippians to remind them of how they should live. Timothy was helping Paul, so his going did depend on how well Paul could function on his own, but it was also still Paul’s hope that he could visit with them himself (vv. 23-24).
This passage reminds us how much we need co-workers in living faithfully for the Lord. This is no less true for those labouring in the preaching of the gospel. It is also important that those who we work with share the same attitude and purpose. First, they should share the same concern for the gospel, that Christ’s interest’s be placed first. Secondly, they should be people of proven character. Nothing is more detrimental to the furtherance of the gospel than a character that doesn’t match the message. This should include the same attitude of humble service for God’s glory. Finally, there must be a shared concern for people. There is some truth in the expression-people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It is also important to note that the sending of Timothy not only depended on Paul’s situation, but also on God’s will. Paul adds this necessary qualifier-“I trust in the Lord,” which is another way of saying-“if it is the Lord’s will” (vv. 19, 24). This says a lot about how Paul made decisions. Overarching everything was God’s sovereign will, which must be acknowledged. However, under this he exercised the wisdom displayed in the points above.
Philippians 2:25-30 Esteeming And Rejoicing In Servants Of The Lord.
So Paul thought some more and decided instead of Timothy he would send back Epaphroditus, who Paul also considered a “brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier.” (v. 25) Apparently he had been sent by the Philippians to minister to Paul’s need, so Paul was returning him to them (Cf. 4:18). Epaphroditus was concerned because they had heard the he was sick and were no doubt worried (v. 26). Apparently they had good cause for concern, since he was near death, but God in His mercy spared him, and Paul the sorrow (v. 27). If they could rejoice in having him back that would spare Paul any further sorrow (v. 28). Apparently Epaphroditus was sent for the very purpose of continuing the help that the Philippians wanted to provide to Paul, he therefore tells them to hold him, and those like him, in high esteem, especially as he risked his life for the good of the church and the gospel (vv. 29-30). Paul also considered him a “beloved friend.” (Philemon 2)
Philippians 3:1-11 Confidence In The Flesh, Or Confidence In Christ.
“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” (v. 1a; Cf. 4:4) Paul always comes back to joy and rejoicing (Cf. I Th. 5:16). It is as though this is the chief sign that one is in the family-shear, unadulterated joy! He also thinks it prudent to write of the same things yet again. Though tedious it was better to be safe, knowing the true hope of their salvation, and to beware of false teachers. These are evil workers, dogs. But lest one think of drunks and thieves, Paul has in mind the Judaizers who sought to keep the imposition of the old covenant administration of circumcision-the “mutilation.” (v. 2 Cf. Rom. 2:28) They sinned by putting their confidence in the flesh. They took what was I tended to be a mark of the covenant of grace and converted into a works righteousness. Those who live in true continuity with the patriarchs are those who saw in Jesus the one spoken of in the law and the prophets, “who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (v. 3 Cf. Dt. 30:6) One can just imagine Paul’s opponents saying that Paul was teaching what he was teaching because he didn’t meet the external requirements of the law, but few if any could boast beyond his credentials.
The Judaizers really symbolize all those who believe that human beings can have something to do with their membership in God’s family. In putting their confidence in the flesh they fail to put that confidence in Christ and His grace. As far as boasting, Paul had plenty to boast of, to which they looked (vv. 4-6 Cf. Gen. 17:12; Acts 8:3; 22:4-5; 23:6; 26:9-11; Rom. 11:1; II Cor. 5:16; 11:18, 22-23). But these things he counted as a loss compared to being in Christ (v. 7 Cf. Mt. 13:44). Everything was rubbish compared to gaining Christ, for which he was more than willing to suffer (v. 8). Gaining Christ meant not having a righteousness of his own, but standing with the righteousness that comes by faith (v. 9 Cf. Rom. 1:17; 10:3). Justification was only the beginning. Paul wanted to “know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (v. 10 Cf. Rom. 6:3-5; Eph. 1:19-20) Paul wanted to partner with His Lord and labour for His cause and kingdom. He knew, that whatever means the Lord would do it, that he would also share in His resurrection (v. 11 Cf. Acts 26:6-8). Paul covers his abbreviated version of the order of salvation with justification (v. 9), sanctification (v. 10), and glorification (v. 11).
Philippians 3:12-16 Sanctified Together-In Doctrine and Life.
Paul had just drawn the distinction between putting confidence in the flesh or the righteousness that comes by faith (3:1-11). Sanctification is a lifelong process. Paul made clear that he was not perfect, but he was also clear that this was his goal (v. 12 Cf. Heb. 12:23). He would continue to press on, despite the failures and shortcomings (vv. 13-14). If one is going to move forward one has to forget what is behind (Cf. Lk. 9:62). For Paul this meant his former way of life in Judaism, the religion which had made a covenant of works out of the covenant of grace (Cf. II Tim. 4:7). It also meant failures on a personal level. No doubt it also meant failures on an ecclesiastical level. Paul had to acknowledge that they as a group had not arrived either (v. 15). However, Paul wasn’t giving up here either. To the degree that they had already attained, they should strive to live by the same rule, to be of the same mind (v. 16).
It is safe to say that most people can readily see this determination to press on a personal level. If we are honest, and take the word of God and the image of Christ as the standard, we can all admit to falling short. However, how many view giving up on bad doctrine as part of sanctification? This is in fact what is involved, not only as individuals but also as a corporate exercise (Cf. Rom. 12:16; Gal. 5:10; 6:16; Heb. 6:1-3). It has to start, as Paul put it, with the “mature.” (v. 15 Cf. I Cor. 2:6) He also made clear that this unity of mind must come back to God’s revelation (Cf. Hos. 6:3). We need to fight the good fight of faith-that which we also committed ourselves to before many witnesses (I Tim. 6:12). Christ’s letter to the churches of Revelation shows that there is a corporate aspect to sanctification, in doctrine and life (Chps. 2-3). At the very least we need to strengthen those things which remain. However, the goal must be maturity, individually and corporately, in doctrine and life.
Philippians 3:17-4:1 Walking And Standing Firm In The Hope.
Paul wanted the brethren to not only heed his teaching but to do so in such a way that they followed his example as a pattern on how they should live or walk (v. 17 Cf. I Cor. 4:16). We should only imitate those who imitate Christ (I Cor. 11:1). Then we will be authentic. Paul challenged his young protégé Titus, to set in his life a pattern of good works (2:7-8). As in Paul’s day so in ours, their are many who do not walk the talk. This discrepancy between claiming Christ but not living for Him, makes them enemies of the cross (vv. 18-19 Cf. Rom. 8:5; II Cor. 11:15; I Tim. 6:5). We live like those who are ambassadors with passports from another country, with a hope that those who think that this life is all there is do not know (Cf. Eph. 2:19). However, Paul’s hope is not escape from this world but rather the remaking of it. On a personal level his desire was indeed to go and be with Christ, but the eschatological hope was to have Christ return to this earth and for His people to have new resurrected bodies like His (vv. 20-21 Cf. Acts 1:11; I Cor. 15:43-53; I Jn. 3:2). This is where Paul wanted then to stand (4:1 Cf. 1:27).