Please turn to the book of Philippians. Last time I gave you a little bit of church history, about how the church in Philippi came to be established, and how Paul came to write a letter to them [P]. There was difficulty every step of the way, but through it God furthered His purposes. This letter to the Philippians is motivated by personal matters: Paul reaffirms his ties to the Philippian believers, explaining the unplanned return of Epaphroditus, and weighing in on a personal dispute between a couple of women in the fellowship: Euodia and Syntyche. There are no matters of doctrine or ministry practice to correct. Thankfulness, submission, and self-sacrifice permeate the letter. Paul encourages the believers to follow his model as he follows Christ [Philippians 3:17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.]. And last time I suggested that the Philippian fellowship might serve as an example to us also. So lets have a look at this letter: [P] [Philippians 1:1-11 Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: (remember we met some of them last time – there was a man who appeared to Paul in a vision asking him to come to them, a jailer, Lydia (a cloth merchant), a slave girl who had been possessed by a divining spirit – now the church has grown: elders and deacons have been appointed to take care of it) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the Gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.] A few things stand out to me as I read through the passage: “prayer” mentioned three times, “grace” mentioned twice, the “day of Christ” mentioned twice; “Gospel” mentioned twice and the Philippians working with Paul in that endeavour, the love and affection for this fellowship. “God” is mentioned 6 times and “Jesus Christ” five times. Also thankfulness and joy are mentioned which are key themes in this letter. This is concentrated stuff, jam packed with content.
But I don’t know about you, but I tend to gloss over the introductions to these letters, the first couple of verses. I mean they seem to be a bit of a formula: from … to ….. grace and peace etc. But introductions have significance. It’s the start of the school year, you have to go to the school office and pay fees and fill in paperwork. I go there and introduce myself as Hannah’s Dad – I don’t introduce myself as medical laboratory scientist. But if I am applying for a job telling them I am “Hannah’s Dad” doesn’t have a lot of significance. You tailor how you introduce yourself to the situation. So how you introduce yourself has significance. For example, in Galatians, where Paul’s authority as an apostle is under attack, he introduces himself as [Galatians 1:1 Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead),]. He explains what kind of apostle he is by saying what kind he is not. This sets the stage for the issues he tackles later in the letter. In Philemon, the credential Paul chooses is “prisoner of Christ Jesus.” In the letters to the Thessalonians, Paul just uses his name; no other credential is provided. So what credentials does Paul introduce himself with? Of all the possible credentials that Paul had available, he chooses only one. [P] [Philippians 1:1-2 Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.] Does he choose apostle of Christ Jesus? Prisoner for Christ Jesus? Neither, he chooses a slave of Christ Jesus because it fits best with his objectives for the context. Think about how important obedience, humility, and submission are in the life of a slave or a servant. The path to honour, esteem, and authority for a slave or servant is humble, faithful submission. Paul chooses slave as his credential because the qualities of a faithful servant mesh with his exhortations of the Philippians. He has willingly accepted his circumstances (imprisonment). He views them as ordained by God for the advancement of the gospel and exhorts the Philippians to adopt this perspective. Far from being a victim, Paul rejoices and will continue to rejoice in these circumstances. He’ll unpack the key to this throughout the letter. But fundamentally it begins with a willing, thankful submission to God. The slave credential sets the stage for the exhortations and affirmations that follow. Paul greets the church at Philippi with a blessing – an impartation from God to man. This is not mere greeting, it is bestowing favour from God Himself upon them – supernatural! Paul always seems to start his letters this way: “grace and peace” – you can gloss over it as just a standard formula that he uses – a standard greeting: “χαρις”/“grace” was the standard Greek greeting and “שָׁלוֹם”/“peace” was the Hebrew greeting. But it is more than that – it was always grace and peace because that is always what we as believers need. Grace [P] is absolutely essential: it is by grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8), it is by grace that we stand (Romans 5:2) – without grace we fall away (Galatians 5:4) says that without it we have been severed from Christ! That is how we started – we deserved God’s wrath but He bestowed grace upon us, gave favour that we didn’t deserve and saved us from our terrible and inevitable fate. But not only are we saved by grace, our continued ability to remain standing in our Christian walk is totally by grace. If we turn from grace – we have had it! And it has to come from God! No wonder Paul always imparted the grace of God to the saints. Likewise peace [P] is essential to the Christian life, and like grace it is imparted from God. Jesus given us His peace (John 14:27); He made peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20); having been made righteous by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). The peace of God is wonderful, it passes comprehension and guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7); it is the guides us, ruling in the decisions we make (Colossians 3:15). Jesus is the Prince of Peace – peace is the foundation of His Kingdom rule (Romans 14:17) says that righteousness, peace and joy are the Kingdom of God. Peace is essential if we belong to His Kingdom. This vital grace and peace comes from our Father, God Himself and from Jesus Christ – that is the only source. We need this Divine blessing – that is why Paul always imparted this blessing. Grace and Peace are vital to Christian life, so too is thankfulness [P] – and this permeates the whole of this letter. Paul is always thanking God for the believers – they are His workmanship, His new creation. Paul’s description of how he thanks God for the believers is one complex thought that stretches through from [Philippians 1:3-7 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.]. It is really a prayer – he gives thanks in every prayer he makes, remembering them – you look at Paul’s prayers, they are full of thankfulness. So let’s take a look at each part. (Phil 1:5) describes the focus of Paul’s thanksgiving: the Philippians’ faithful partnership with him in his ministry of the Gospel – they are working together with him – they may be in Philippi, he in Rome but they are working with him – by their prayers, their financial gifts, sending Epaphroditus – they are actively involved. Haydn goes to India, John goes to the prison – but we are working with them in what they are doing. (Phil 1:6) elaborates on the big idea of giving thanks; it provides the basis for his thankfulness – why is Paul thankful? Verse 6 gives the answer: [Philippians 1:6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;]. Paul does several things here to focus attention here on this – making it a main point. He wants the Philippians to understand their situation. He says: “this very thing” or “this same thing” [P] it refers ahead to a key idea—drawing more attention to it. Instead of just saying: “ I am confident that God who began a work in you will finish it” – he says “I am convinced of this same thing” – what thing? It draws your attention to what “this thing” is – it is like saying “listen to this!” “Get this!” It gets you anticipating what comes next. What follows is really important: the fact is that God finishes what He begins, and especially the good work in their lives. He is absolutely convinced, assured, that this will come about. There is no possibility that God will not finish the work that He has embarked upon – and that work is us! Hallelujah! It is the assurance that God, the Author and originator of life, will be faithful to complete the work He started. He will not abandon us. Hallelujah! Have you ever embarked on something and then realized that you have bitten off more than you can chew? When we all lived back with mum and dad there was a built in bench seat and inside it was full of sewing things, material and patterns, and at the bottom there was a pile of clothes that my sister had started to make but then given up on. God does not give up on what He starts! He doesn’t think: “Yes, Trixie is coming along nicely, I’ll finish that one up; but why on earth did I take on Paul?! I don’t think I can make anything out of Him. I think I’ll give up on that one. Write him off as a hopeless case.” God knows what we are like, He knew that when He chose us, and is able to finish what He started. Stan restored an old vintage car a “Bean” – it was a bit of a wreck, it needed parts, it needed to be repainted, upholstered. Stan had in mind to bring it back to the perfect condition it was when it first left the factory. Now, I don’t know whether he felt like packing it all in part way through as he encountered problems. But he completed the project. And God does something like that – not just a restoration, a new creation! In the beginning God created man and He stated that what He had made was “good” – it was perfect – and He is doing a good work. But His goal is to make us perfect – spotless, without blemish or wrinkle, holy before Him! [Colossians 1:21-22 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him,] Many times I look at myself in despair – but God knows what He has taken on – He is able to do it. He who began this good work will complete it! Hallelujah! Who is this: “He” who is going to complete this good work? Then why doesn’t Paul says “God”? Instead of calling Him “God”, Paul uses “He who began a good work in you”. Now that is a bit risky, because his audience has to figure out who Paul is referring to – I mean you could insert Buddha or Mohammad! But Paul is forcing us to think about God in a specific way [P] — in this specific context; and he has a reason for doing so. I mean, what comes to mind when you think of “God”? What events or qualities do you think about first? It could be any one of a host of things: God as Creator, or as the God of Israel, the Giver of life, the immortal One, the transcendent One. Paul purposely avoids referring directly to God – instead, he uses this expression that makes us think about God in a particular way in this particular context instead of just picking whatever manner we want. By changing from the expected name, Paul intentionally shapes our conception of God based on where he is headed in this passage. Paul is forcing us to think about the particular quality he highlights. They had encountered difficulties and problems – we looked at a bit of that last time – despite the negative appearance of the circumstances God is still in control and still accomplishing His purposes in the life of Paul and in our own lives. Beginning the “good work” was not a mistake that will be left incomplete. Adopting God’s perspective on the situation requires us to give up our wrong perspectives. Him embarking on the work is the certain guarantee that it will be accomplished, completed, brought to a perfect completion! We can have complete confidence, absolute assurance that He will do it. [1 Thessalonians 5:24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.] The One who begins is the One who will finish it. It is Him from beginning to end. Glory His Name! The day of Jesus Christ is coming when God’s purposes will be brought to the goal He intended from the beginning. That is why Paul gives thanks! God is in control! Hallelujah! He is going to finish the good and perfect work He embarked on. Paul says in: [Philippians 1:7 For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.] – he is affirming that this is the proper way to think about things, implying that the Philippians should think this way too – that is: place their confidence in God to do the job. To often we feel that it is up to us – People say: “What are you doing to save the world and further God’s Kingdom?” We agonize over what we should be doing as Christians and how we should live, how we are to get our lives in order as they should be. They were involved with Paul, in all he was doing they were there with him – and likewise they were partakers of GRACE with him. What was perfecting them: their efforts? Or the GRACE of God?! It was God in His grace who started the work and it is His grace alone that will accomplish and complete that work. It is not cold correctness and dispassionate compliance to some legalistic ideal – what characterizes the new life of Christ is LOVE – That is the command Jesus left: to love God with your whole being and to love your neighbour as yourself. It is a heart thing! See how they are on Paul’s heart: “because I have you in my heart” (Phil 1:7); [Philippians 1:8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.] The love of God is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Spirit whom God has given to us – not by our efforts. This is our big need, and this is what Paul prays for the believers in Philippi: [Philippians 1:9-11 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.] Paul describes what he prays for the Philippians. Like he did in (Phil 1:6) [P] Paul highlights the content of his prayer with a “this” which refers to what is ahead – it is like: “Hey, get this!” in English. Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is highlighted because it forms the big idea for this section of the letter. This longing of Paul’s heart for the Philippians finds its expression in prayer – prayer is the deepest expression of our heart. And Paul shares his heart with the Philippians – gives them an insight into what is on his heart, what his heart is for them before God Himself – he shares the prayer that comes from the depths of his heart. And what does he pray for them?:
- His prayer is that their love abound [P] – this is fundamental, all the rest flows from it. We sometimes strive for the fruit of righteousness, for the characteristics that we approve – but if it doesn’t come from love it is of no value [1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.]
- He prays that their love would abound, emphasizing still more and more. This assumes a love is already present, that they already have love; and focuses more on its development. As I said last time, the Philippians were a fellowship which was characterized by practical love – they did love, but Paul’s heart’s desire for them is that it about still more and more! Love is not enough – it must abound. And abounding love isn’t enough, it must abound more. And that is not enough it must abound still more and more. There can always be more love! Does this love come from them trying and striving to be loving – no, it is: [Romans 5:5 the love of God which has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.] It comes from God it is His love, not our own – that is why He prays to God for it! Remember it is He who started the work that also completes it.
- But it is not just a warm fuzzy love that overlooks evil and accepts all – the love that Paul prayed for had to be in a real knowledge and all discernment [P] – Despite the saying, love is not blind! – it must see and discern what is right and what is good and what is not, what is of God and what is not. Love doesn’t blindly accept all – it approves that which is excellent, rejecting that which is not.
- And this love has a purpose: to what end? (Phil 1:10) provides the answer: that they might “be able to discern what is excellent in order to be sincere (pure) and blameless at Christ’s return.” [P] Love has an effect, it produces something in us. Jesus said: [John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”] [Romans 13:8-10 he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.] So love in true knowledge and discernment will cause us to walk in God’s will – we will be pure and blameless. This is the completed work that God will bring about on the day of Christ. Bless His Name! He is working on us. Praise His Name! Charles Wesley wrote: "Finish then Thy new creation; Pure and spotless may we be; Let us see our whole salvation; Perfectly restored in Thee! Changed from glory into glory; Till in heaven we take our place; Till we cast our crowns before Thee; Lost in wonder, love and praise."
- (Phil 1:11) elaborates on this idea of being sincere/pure and blameless by describing what brings these things about [Philippians 1:11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.]. Being filled with the fruit of righteousness is the key [P]. Lest we think that this fruit is something we can obtain through our own activity, Paul qualifies it as the kind that comes through Jesus Christ. Paul’s prayer is that on that day of Christ, when He returns, they will be filled with righteousness, blameless – it is the fruit of righteousness – we have righteousness credited to us by faith, we are reckoned as righteous – but this is that righteousness worked out in practice, in deeds, in fruit. But look where it comes from – it comes through Jesus Christ. It is His doing! He who started the work brings it to completion. It is His work from beginning to end! [P] Hallelujah!
- The goal is there: that the good work be complete – brought to perfection. When does this happen? On the day of Christ (cf. Phil 1:6). Then we will be sincere and blameless. How will this come about?: through our love abounding in the true knowledge and discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit. Paul prayed a similar thing for the Colossian believers: [Colossians 1:9-12 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.]
- He started a work in us, when we believed in Him He forgave our sin and made us righteous, gave us His very own life. It is that life alone that is righteous. It is that life that He gives us that is lived out in us that is righteous. It is not our righteousness! Look if I did some great and good righteous deed – I could be proud of that. It would bring me honour and renown – glory. But the glory does not go to us; but it says that it “to the praise and glory of God”. [P] Because it is His doing! Praise His Name! He started the work and He will complete it on the day of Christ. It is not our doing but rather His doing from beginning to end! So praise and glory can only go to Him and Him alone! [Ephesians 1:9-12 He made known to us His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.] [Romans 11:33-36 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.]