How do you live as a Christian in a non Christian world? How do you respond when those around you are hostile to your faith? Paul wrote this letter to encourage the persecuted Christians of the church in Philippi and to strengthen them in the difficulties they faced. Paul wrote while in prison; he too was suffering for his faith; but he demonstrated that a Christian can have joy in Christ regardless of the circumstances. Philippi was a small Roman colony in the province of Macedonia, located about ten miles from the Aegean Sea. Philippi was an important city because of its strategic position on the Via Egnatia, the major east-west Roman route through Macedonia. Philippi heard the Good News of Christ from Paul on his second missionary journey about 50 AD. From the beginning there was opposition to Paul’s preaching. During his brief stay there he was thrown in prison and then asked to leave town; but not before a group of new believers had been established. Six years or so later Paul visited as part of his third missionary journey. After that it is possible he never saw the Philippian Christians again. Epaphroditus had brought a money gift to Paul from the Philippians and was returning to Philippi, so Paul sent this warm letter of encouragement. He was aware that the Philippians were being persecuted and he wanted to support and strengthen them in part by sharing with them his experience as a prisoner for Christ’s sake. As you read watch for the repeated use of the words joy and rejoice throughout the letter. Note Paul’s ability to find joy and contentment in any circumstance. Look for clues to the source of his joy. Notice that Paul held up Christ as the model for Christians to follow and included a beautiful psalm of praise to Jesus. Here are a couple themes to look for as well. First, joy. Paul modeled joy in the midst of suffering and he guided the Philippians in their situation of persecution. His joy came from his union with Christ, his communion with other Christians, and the promise of the resurrection. Second, humility. Believers are called to imitate Christ, who modeled humility, by emptying Himself in order to obey God and serve others, even to the point of death on the cross. Both Timothy and Epaphroditus exemplified the selfless attitude Paul wanted the community to emulate. In contrast, Euodia and Syntyche were at odds with each other. Third, thanksgiving. Paul commended Epaphroditus for his life endangering service to the apostle. He also acknowledged and thanked the Philippians for their missionary partnership and gift to himself. Paul had served them sacrificially and they had responded in kind. He commended them for their Christian maturity, affirmed that they had never received spiritual benefits from giving and assured them of God’s reward.
Timothy was one of Paul’s most trusted co workers and messengers. He is listed as co sender in five other letters as well. Both of these men called themselves slaves for Christ meaning they were completely devoted to Christ and His service. Paul called the Philippians God’s holy people and they have been made so by the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. In the early church, church leaders provided spiritual leadership while deacons attended to practical matters. Paul took the next eight verses to thank God for the recipients of his letter and he prayed for them. His joy came from how the Philippians had partnered with him in spreading the Good News, and from the confidence that they would continue his good work in them. They were also partners financially, with the Philippians supporting him monetarily. God began the good work in the Philippians. He takes the initiative to work His salvation in His people. Paul was joyful because he and the Philippians suffered and witnessed together. The Philippians knew love because of the Spirit’s work in and through them and Paul prayed that this would continue and grow, touching others. Righteous character cannot be produced by human effort but comes only through the Spirit of Christ working in people’s hearts. Glory and praise to God is the ultimate purpose for which God’s people live. And, Paul rejoiced that his imprisonment had resulted in the spread of the Good News. It is clear that even being imprisoned, Paul had been sharing the Good News because the whole palace guard knew he was there because he was preaching Jesus Christ. Because Paul was fearless in sharing the Good News, even while in prison, it gave strength and courage to other believers to proclaim the Good News as well. It seems that there were some believers who were critical of Paul but even so, the message about Christ was being preached. So, Paul rejoiced. He also knew that as the Philippians prayed for him, he would soon be released from prison. Paul lets it be known that living means doing everything for the glory of Jesus Christ and he knew he would bring honor to Jesus by the way he lived. He longed to die to be with Jesus but he also knew God was still using him in mighty ways. For believers death holds no fear, for death leads directly into the presence of Christ. Paul encouraged the Philippian Christians to live in such a way that their lives are worthy of the Good News, particularly by standing strong in the face of persecution. As foreigners in this world, the Philippian believers are to live as citizens of heaven. And Paul reminded them that what the world considers dishonorable, Christians consider an honor because it is for Him, it honors Christ. Paul also mentioned that he and the Philippians are in this struggle together. They both faced opposition and persecution. So far only Paul was imprisoned.
In the midst of their persecution, Paul encourages the Philippians to be united and to live a humble life like Christ. Paul’s rhetorical questions expect positive answers. Those who have a real experience of Christ should live together in harmony and love. He encouraged them to not be selfish because self- centeredness is antithetical to genuine care for others. Verses 6-11 is an early Christian hymn about Christ’s Pre existence and divine nature, incarnation, and death, exaltation, and lordship. Jesus gave up divine privileges, literally emptied Himself of His divinity, and he took on the position of a slave. Jesus was obedient to the will of the Father and it was in obedience to Him that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. In the Roman world, crucifixion was meant for the worst of the worst criminals. As a result of Jesus’ obedience God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the name that is higher than any other name. Jesus has supreme power and authority. Because of this, the entire creation, including spiritual powers and angels, humans on earth, and those who have died, will one day acknowledge the authority of Jesus Christ as Lord. Every tongue will confess BUT this does not imply universal salvation because not all will confess Him as Lord freely out of love and devotion. Lord, which is a divine title representing the Old Testament name of Yahweh, is frequently applied to Jesus in the New Testament.
Paul encouraged believers to remain in their faith and to live faithful, obedient, and pure lives modeled after Christ. Obeying God means believers must reckon with God’s judgement like everyone else. So believers are called to live before Him obediently, with deep reverence and fear. God continues to work in and through believers and if we stay focused on Him then there will be no complaining and arguing, which is a sign of self centeredness. Instead, we are called to sacrificial love, shining like bright lights which will draw people to us. Paul also told the Philippians that as believers they must maintain their faith in Christ’s life giving Good News. God is faithful but believers must also remain faithful. Paul often uses athletic language as a metaphor for the Christian life. Here it is not a sprint but more of a marathon. He will rejoice even if he loses his life, pouring it out as a drink offering. Both Jews and pagans often poured out a libation of wine either on a sacrifice or at the base of the altar in honor of the deity. Paul’s entire life was an offering to God. Faithful service is a cause for rejoicing, because nothing done for God is done in vain. Here Paul commended Timothy who he hoped to send to the Philippians in the near future. Timothy had accompanied Paul on his first trip to Philippi. Timothy stood out as a person whose whole life was sacrificially devoted to what matters to Jesus Christ and to the welfare of His people. Paul is confident he will soon be set free and can then come to Philippi. Paul also commended Epaphroditus, a messenger from the church in Philippi. He describes him as a fellow soldier, suggesting there are difficulties, opposition, and dangers encountered in doing Christ’s work. Epaphroditus’s recovery from a nearly fatal illness is attributed to God’s mercy, on both Paul who was already in prison, and Epaphroditus. He deserved their honor because he risked his life for Christ in their behalf.
Chapter three opens with Paul warning the believers against being influenced by Jewish Christians who argued that circumcision is necessary for salvation. And then he spoke of his own conversion from Judaism to Christ. Paul speaks an insult on the traditional Jewish practice of calling Gentiles dogs. He also warned about those requiring circumcision which the Jews understood as identifying a true man of God. But, those who put their trust in Jesus Christ are the ones who are truly circumcised in heart. If anyone could rely on Jewish credentials Paul could. He practiced the strict obedience to the Jewish law and was extremely zealous for the Jewish religion. He was circumcised at eight days old. Paul was a Pharisee, the Jewish sect known for their strict observance of the law. He persecuted the church. Now Paul considered all of these things worthless because they pale in comparison to what Christ has done. A believers relationship with God is defined by knowing Christ and nothing else. Gaining Christ means we also gain the gift of eternal salvation. Everything else is meaningless. Believers become one with Christ by trusting Him for salvation and sharing His life. We become righteous, not by observing the law of Moses, but through faith in Christ. This is God’s way of making us right with Himself. Salvation cannot be earned put only received as a free gift. In knowing Christ, believers know and are accepted by God. And believers experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead, both now and in eternity. To experience the resurrection from the dead is to be saved from judgement and receive eternal life. Paul was aware of God’s holiness and the severity of the final judgement and he knew he must persevere in his pursuit of Christ and salvation.
Using himself as an example Paul encouraged the Philippians to pursue Christ and the hope of heaven with determination and strength. He was even willing to give up everything else for the ultimate goal, the heavenly prize of eternal life. Those who are spiritually mature will share Paul’s perspective that eternal things are most important in life. Believers cannot backslide because as believers our conduct must be consistent with our spiritual understanding. The identity of the enemies is not known and there are several possibilities. They could have been Jews or Jewish Christians proud of their circumcision, whose emphasis on observant Judaism contradicted the cross of Christ. They might have been pseudo believers living a worldly, immoral life. Or, they may have been professing believers who had rejected Paul’s cross centered view of the Good News. Christ’s crucifixion as a criminal was scandalous and offensive to many. These enemies have their appetite as their god, referring to their greed, sensuality, and self interest. They brag about shameful things, referring to immorality. And their eternal destruction is the ultimate judgement of God for those who reject Christ and live self centered, sinful lives. They cannot see beyond this life, the here and now. By contrast, believers know their real home is in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ. We wait for Him to return and when that happens He will change these earthly bodies into glorious resurrected bodies.
Paul begins to wrap things up, asking the Philippians to stay true to the Lord. Their continuing faithfulness to Christ was a deep source of joy to Paul. It was the victors crown for all his hard work. It seems that there was a small dispute in the church and Paul encouraged the two women to work things out. God’s people are called to live in harmony together. Nowhere do we find out the cause of the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche. Paul references his true partner Syzygus, but this can either be a name or a description. Nothing more is known here and nothing more is known about Clement either. Those whose names are written in the book of life are true believers, destined to receive eternal life. Paul called for rejoicing, praying, and thanking. Joy and rejoicing are responses to the Good News. Joy is not dependent on circumstances because joy can be found in anything. Believers need not worry about anything because the Heavenly Father loves His children and cares about their needs. He has invited believers to pray about any and everything. The life of trusting God will bring peace. Paul urged the Philippians to focus on God’s good gifts so that even during suffering and persecution, their lives will be exemplary and their minds and hearts will be filled with peace. Paul taught them everything by word or example about the kind of life God desires. In closing Paul thanked them for their financial support but as a slave for Christ, Paul has learned to be content no matter what. He has been hungry and he has been full. He has been hot and cold. His life was filled with the joy that comes from doing the will of God no matter the cost. And because Paul has made Christ the center of everything he does, he can do anything in the strength of Jesus Christ. Paul relied on Christ’s strength who lived in and worked through him. In fact, the Philippians were the only church that provided Paul any financial support. He was not asking for help. In fact Paul preferred to support himself. Then he was not beholden to anyone but Christ. The gifts that the Philippians had sent by way of Epaphroditus was like a sweet smelling sacrifice.
Paul concluded with an expression of praise to God. (Verse 20). Those in Caesar’s household were believers employed in the service of the Roman government, perhaps even those Paul evangelized in prison. They might have been especially close to Paul and concerned for his welfare. Again Paul ended his letter the same way he began, invoking the grace of the lord Jesus Christ in those to whom he writes. Believers depend on God’s Grace to sustain them.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W