We begin a new book study today. We will be looking at Paul’s letter to the Philippians for the next few months. I am excited to study this book because it is all about Jesus and his church. I want to encourage you to read through the book in its entirety for context, and also to consider the Swordsmanship questions week by week so that we all come prepared to hear from God in his Word.
Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Philippians. And while you’re doing that, I will try to get us up to speed and provide a bit of background to the letter. Philippi was a leading city of Macedonia and a Roman colony. Paul went to the city on his second missionary journey and his time spent there is documented in Acts 16. It is here that we are reminded of how Paul ended up there and some of the encounters he had while he was there. If you remember, Paul and Barnabas were traveling through Derbe and Lystra where they came upon Timothy. Paul asked Timothy to join them on their journey.
Along the way, the text indicates that the Holy Spirit prevented them from going into Bithynia. So they went to Troas. And while they were in Troas, Paul receives a vision during the night of a man in Macedonia urging Paul to come there. This leads Paul to conclude that this where they should proceed next with the gospel. So, they set out by boat to Macedonia. And this led them more specifically to Philippi. They enter Philippi and (as was Paul’s custom) began to look for the synagogue where they could present the message of the gospel. Finding none, they went out to the riverside and encountered some women. One of whom was Lydia who became the first convert in Philippi.
Then they were going to a place of prayer and were met by the slave girl who was demonic. In the name of Jesus Christ, Paul commands the demon to come out. You would have thought that this was a happy ending. However, there were some who had profited from her divination and seized Paul and Silas and brought them before the authorities. But instead of referring to the casting out of demons, they charged them with random accusations so as to incite the authorities and the city against them. They got beat up and thrown into prison.
And yet the adventure continues. Paul and Silas, feet secured in stocks in prison, begin to sing hymns. Well, wouldn’t you? Things are going great! People are falsely accusing you, beating you up, and the authorities buy into it and throw you in the slammer. They were singing to God… and the people listened.
Side note… Christians are watched by the world. I’ve said this before. Some preachers will lead you to believe that when you trust in Jesus Christ, you are now called to live victoriously. For the child of God, there is no more poverty or illness or suffering. Not so! I would suggest to you that more often than not, the opposite is true. For as the Christian and the non-Christian experience very similar circumstances in life, it should be the Christian singing hymns. Do you know what I mean? It is the Christian who should consider circumstances in light of eternity and with respect to the testimony of Jesus. We realize that this world is not the end. And we recognize that every circumstance in life is an opportunity to bring God glory. When we respond in faith to trials and rejoice in adverse life situations, God looks really good!
Watch as the rest of this story plays out. Suddenly, an earthquake. The doors opened and bonds were unfastened. The jailer wakes and imagines the worst. But none of the prisoners escaped. In this moment, the jailer realizes that the God they serve is the true God. And he believes in Jesus. And his family believes in Jesus. So, this is Philippi. It is a city that is corrupt and has a remarkable variety of divinities and cults. And yet the Gospel is being proclaimed and the Kingdom of God is increased in dramatic fashion.
Time passes and Paul continues to move from city to city. And when Paul wants to visit some of his friends in Philippi, he finds himself in prison. Though uncertain as to where his imprisonment is located, most suggest he is in Rome. It appears as though he is able to correspond and receive visitors for Epaphroditus provides provisions and also returns with this letter to the church that he was instrumental in planting.
Let’s read the beginning of the letter. READ vv. 1-11. The first point as we get under way is Slaves and Saints. In the first verse, Paul opens the letter by introducing himself as the author and those to whom he is writing. Here he likely includes Timothy by virtue of association. Timothy is not present with him, but admired and respected as Paul’s co-labourer.
Notice that Paul does not list an impressive resume of accomplishments and post-graduate degrees. What matters to Paul is his association to Jesus Christ. We’ve discussed this before, but “servant” is a relatively weak translation of the word “doulos.” It should have the understanding of “slave.” What is consistent throughout Scripture is a Master/Slave theme. Before you trust in Jesus, one is a slave to sin, the world, the Enemy. When one repents and believes in Jesus, his allegiances are transferred. He now serves a different Master. And he is a good Master. The best, in fact. We discussed recently the concept found in Exodus 21 where a slave has an opportunity to go free and yet willingly submits to his master for life by having his master bore his ear with an awl. This is a wonderful picture of the submission of the Christian to his Master.
Believers have been bought with a price. They no longer belong to themselves but to the one who redeemed them. We have been tainted with sinful models of slavery in North America and often struggle with the concept of a good Master. Would you prefer to be slave to the Enemy?
Notice next who the letter is written to. Paul says it is written to “saints.” What? Are they dead? This is sort of how Roman Catholics define sainthood, right? I don’t know much about criteria, but aren’t saints those who have died and are somehow confirmed by authorities to sainthood? Paul’s letters often have a very different understanding of what it means to be a saint. In his letters, it would seem to indicate that saints are indeed living.
What I find most helpful in understanding what it means to be a saint are Paul’s words to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul begins again with addressing his authorship and the recipients of the letter. In verse 2, he writes this: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is a nice summary of what it means to be a Christian. Christians together make up the church of God. We are those who are “sanctified” or “set apart” in Christ Jesus. We are no longer on mission for ourselves but for his sake. And we are called to be “saints together.” And what this means is summed up in the following phrase: “saints are all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You don’t need a stamp from some high authority in the church to receive the label. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, you are a saint! You can put that on your resume and see how your next job interview goes. At the very least, it will strike up good conversation. And Paul includes the overseers and deacons in the address.
I hope you can see how these two characterizations complement each other. We are both slaves and saints. And both are good things. We belong to the Master and set apart for his mission.
Our next point is Spiritual Teammates. In verse 3, Paul opens the section speaking of his frequent prayers on behalf of the Philippians. Put yourself in his place for a moment. He had the privilege of watching the gospel of Jesus explode on the scene. It was spreading like wildfire. He was likely excited by new converts beginning to study the Scriptures and plant churches and even sending out their own missionaries. And now he finds himself in prison and unable to physically assist them any further. Paul finds that the extent of his ministry to them is to be able to write and pray. Some may find that restrictive. And yet, we now reap the benefits of his confinement. This letter is Exhibit A.
His recollection of the Philippians caused Paul to rejoice and to thank God – all the while in prison. This caused me to think. Not that I am envious of his situation, but time spent in prison has the potential to improve one’s prayer life. Wouldn’t you think? Why is that? No distractions? Do you think that our spirituality suffers from an abundance of distractions?
Why was Paul so joyful while praying for the Philippians? Verse 5 tells us. It is because of their partnership in the gospel. And then look down to verse 7. Paul says that they are also partakers with him of grace. They were spiritual teammates. Chronologically speaking, the latter would have happened first. It was the grace of God that invaded the lives of Paul and the Philippians that altered their allegiances. It was like they went from being Leafs fans to Flyers’ fans. It was THAT good!
And ultimately they had nothing to do with it. Look at verse 6. This is the second reason that he is joyful in prayer. Literally, it reads “being confident of this.” With certainty, Paul prays with joy knowing that salvation rests in the hand of God. Putting yourself back in the place of Paul… He’s sitting in prison. He’s responsible for relatively new believers. And he can do little to help them, keep them from being deceived, and from falling away. Yet he can joyfully pray for them because of his theology. Paul’s knowledge of the Scriptures and the illumination of the Spirit lead him to conclude that he can rest easy.
This is the importance of knowing theology. Back in April, I heard John MacArthur speak on “The Theology of Sleep.” Not having a clue what this was going to be about, I was intrigued by the sermon title. He proceeded to encourage others that his understanding of the breadth of Scripture, his theology, allowed him to sleep. As a pastor who understood what Scripture speaks of here allows him to sleep at night. In other words, salvation comes from God alone. And when God saves someone, he has promised to keep the believer for eternity. The Christian remains secure with God until the day that Jesus comes to claim his own. So, ultimately Paul can rest (though in prison) knowing that those who converted to Christianity will be preserved by God.
So when did God “begin” the work? That’s a trickier issue. Was it when they believed? Got baptized? Joined the church? Or did God begin the work before? Well, if you take a cursory look at Scripture, isn’t it consistent to understand that this began even before we were made? Ephesians 1 tells us that God chose us in him before the foundation of the world. It is likely that the work began in us when he chose us. Can you get your mind around that one? Before the creation of the universe God chose believers to salvation and promised that they would enter eternity with him.
So Paul can conclude that those who were converted were his spiritual teammates and his eternal teammates. And because of this he considers them partners for the sake of the gospel. Despite his imprisonment, Paul is confident that the church in Philippi continues to declare the message of the gospel. Though he can no longer roam freely and preach freely, he can be sure that he has equipped the believers to pick up where he left off. He has prepared them to be faithful.
Paul also speaks of them being partakers with him of grace both in imprisonment and defense of the gospel in verse 7. Let’s think through this one a bit. How could they partake in Paul’s imprisonment? If Paul was falsely accused and sentenced to a prison sentence, you might reconsider your association with him. Yet the Philippians continued to maintain their connection with him and his message. And it wasn’t a popular message. It was one that got you persecuted. And so for this young church to continue to associate with it would confirm the message. It’s kind of like the situation I worked through last week. When we obey God’s word it leads to a countercultural life that may draw the ire of the world. And the midst of persecution, when we continue to associate with Jesus and his message, we confirm the gospel.
Have we lost some of this “spiritual teamsmanship” today? Has North American culture (even church culture) neglected the idea that Christians have a unique bond that transcends time? I don’t think that we recognize this enough. Have you ever considered that from before the foundation of the world, God chose us for salvation AND that he predestined that we would be his church in Squamish in defense and confirmation of the gospel?
I like the illustration that was used in a recent Journey class. It was when Louie Giglio spoke of the Georgia football game. Do you remember? As the 92,000 plus people come to watch a game, they all dress in red. All you see is red. In the same way, those of us who have repented of sin and trusted in Jesus are now ‘clothed’ with Jesus Christ. So that when God looks from heaven, he can see his team. When the world looks at Christians, they see we’re on the same team. And when we look around, we recognize that we are on the same team. We are on a spiritual team with a spiritual mission and message.
You often see the headlines of those who cause division in sports locker rooms and on the field. And there is often talk of having “chemistry” on a team that yields positive results. How much more should we, having Jesus Christ as our foundation and having an eternal bond, demonstrate that our lives have been changed and that we are focused and unified in mission? There is no place for infighting and division on this team.
Consider how Paul felt about his teammates. He thanks God “in all his remembrance, always in every prayer, for you all.” He says in verse 7 that it is right for him to feel this way. Based on these truths of partnership of the gospel, he holds them dear in his heart. He often viewed his converts as spiritual children. They were more than a project. They were his heart. In verse 8, Paul says that God can attest to his true feelings toward the believers. He yearns for them with the affection that is made possible because of Jesus Christ. We know that this wasn’t always the case. Before meeting Jesus, Paul (or Saul) did not have this affection for Christians. In fact, he persecuted them. My, how things have changed!
This is what happens when there is Gospel Fruit. That is our third point: Gospel Fruit. When grace invades our lives and we repent of our sin and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, things change dramatically. One of the characteristics that continues to emerge in our studies is that of “love.” When we understand our altered destiny and team reassignments, there should be an abundance of love for God and one another.
And here it seems that Paul recognizes this and continues to pray that their love would abound more and more in verse 9. Not blindly. But with knowledge and discernment. I think this coincides with what we’ve discussed in recent weeks. It is in our pursuit of knowledge of God and his plans for us that we become more keenly aware of his magnificence. This, in turn, alters our affections toward him. This means more than an emotion, but an inclination to obey as well. So, considering the supernatural event that is our conversion should rock us to the core. It wasn’t merely a “remodelling” job, it was an “overhaul.” We’ve gone from death to life, darkness to light, a lie to the Truth, eternal punishment to an eternity with our Creator. The Gospel shines ever so brightly that it continues to change the way we live. Gazing on God’s holiness allows us to turn away from lesser earthly enticements. We love him more. We love the brothers and sister more. And God is glorified.
We begin to more clearly understand and identify and “approve what is excellent” according to verse 10. One commentator adds, “the Philippians who were in Christ were to make such choices of what was vital on the basis of an ever increasing love—a love that penetrated more deeply into the knowledge of God and the treasures of Christ, and imparted to the Christian a keener and more delicate moral sense for specific situations.” Paul has said that he has regarded everything as loss for the sake of the incomparable value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. He now strives for the goal in order to win the prize. He has become increasingly aware of things that are “excellent.”
We can present ourselves pure and blameless when the Lord Jesus returns. Oh that we would live our lives as if he were coming back. I know. We acknowledge Jesus is coming back. But often our lives don’t reflect the reality. I’ve heard it said that we should live as if Jesus could return any moment. This is true. But we should also live as if he tarries thousands more years. What’s the difference? We want to honor him. We will stand before him one day and our speech and actions will be laid bare.
In verse 11, Paul includes that they would be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. The things mentioned are the fruit that comes because of righteousness. The righteousness that the believer has does not originate in himself. It comes from Jesus alone. 2 Corinthians 5:21 “21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus took our sin and gave us his righteousness. No longer does God look at us in our wretchedness but as clothed with Jesus Christ.
And Paul ends the section from where he began. He gives all the credit to God. All of the fruit of righteousness points to God. It is his working in us. The world is to notice our good deeds and glorify God in heaven. We would do well to imitate Paul’s pattern here. He acknowledges God in all things. He thanks him continually in prayer for the wonderful things he has done in his people. He acknowledges that it is God who works in us and will complete the work. He encourages the believers to love and grow in their knowledge of God. And then he gives him all the glory with the results.
So this paragraph sets the tone of what is to come with the rest of the letter. He opens with a thanksgiving report, an expression of his love and concern for the readers, and intercessory prayer.
I hope that you will be profoundly challenged by the person and work of Jesus Christ. In this book we will see that Jesus Christ is the believer’s life purpose in chapter 1, Jesus is the believer’s life pattern in chapter 2, the believer’s life prize in chapter 3, and the believer’s life power in chapter 4.
More than anything, it is my prayer that you have trusted in Jesus Christ and are growing in him. I pray that he would invade your life and convince you that you need to repent and trust in him. And when you do, the words in this letter will jump off the page at you because you will understand truth to the core. It will open you up like no other book. Be warned! And challenged!