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Philippians 1

January 1st, 2012 by Vic

Philippians 1
January 1, 2012
“Letter to friends”
 
Like all letters of the 1st Century, Paul begins by introducing himself, complementing the recipients, updating his personal situation and then stating the reason for writing.  Today our emails and text messaging has eliminated all letter writing protocol. 
 
Paul planted the church in Philippi because of his Macedonian vision.  Remember the jailer and his household were saved in Philippi (Acts 16).
 
The words joy and rejoicing recur 14 times in Philippians. That is more than any of his other letters.  For Paul joy is more than an emotion.  It is the state of mind that understands God is above all events.  It is connected to peace. Nehemiah said that the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and the joy of the Lord was their strength (Neh 8:10).  Paul also testifies to having joy. How could a pastor/friend write to us about joy from a prison?  Why is he writing to us about joy?  Are we discouraged because it looks like Paul’s ministry is over?  Is there a conflict in the church?  Paul will hint at a few answers in the letter.  The word sin does not occur in this letter.   
 
1-2.  In all other letters Paul calls his fellow workers ‘brothers’.  Paul frequently describes himself as a slave, servant, apostle, or prisoner of Christ Jesus.  This introduction is unique because it describes both himself and Timothy as servants of Christ Jesus.  They are equals in ministry.  This is your first clue that Paul is focusing on unity.  For Paul to be a slave of Christ Jesus is the only way to be truly free from the tyranny of sin.  This is the only time he uses this label for a brother.  Paul is going to stress throughout this letter that the greatest person will be the servant of all and both he and Timothy are servants.
 
Notice that Paul addresses this letter first to all the saints, then the overseers who were deacons.  When I give a report to the Nazarene District Assembly it is proper to begin with greetings to the General Superintendent in charge, then the District Superintendent, and finally all the delegates.  Paul addresses the congregation first and the leaders second.
 
The inclusive word ‘all’ is rare in Paul’s other letters.  However, the phrase ‘all of you’ is frequent in this letter.  He sees the congregation as one in Christ. 
 
The word ‘saint’ is a translation of ‘holy ones’ and does not primarily refer to the ethical character of a person, but to their special set apart relationship to God.  This letter is written to all God’s set apart people in Christ Jesus.  We are part of the new fellowship set apart, separated and dedicated to God.  We are incorporated in Christ Jesus.  Our relationship to God impels us to (be holy) practice goodness, justice, and love.
 
Bishops (episcopes) and deacons are not listed in Paul’s lists of officers of the church in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.  They are only mentioned separately in 1 Timothy 3.  Both terms are plural so there was no single overseer in charge over a single deacon.  The grammar allows us to identify 2 separate offices or one office of overseer with the function of deacon.  It is possible to translate the expression, ‘overseers and deacons’ as ‘overseers who are deacons’ or ‘overseers who serve’. 
 
Paul is choosing his words carefully to express the need for humility in the church rather than hierarchy.  In the Church, seniority does not put one leader above another (Paul and Timothy are both slaves of Christ Jesus).  Church supervisors are called to serve by virtue of their office.
 
Paul’s word for grace (charis) is slightly different than the common Greek word for ‘greetings’ (chairein).  Peace was the Hebrew greeting.  It is God who is greeting them with grace and peace.
 
3-11.  As we found in the letter to the Romans, Christian maturity displays a thankful heart.  Paul begins by giving thanks for their partnership (koinonia) in the gospel.  When he prays for them he has joy because God is working in their lives.  God had prompted them to send a gift at just the right time and He will continue to do good works through them.  Paul is confident about the church of Philippi because he is confident in God who is at work in the church.
 
Paul expresses his ‘feelings’ 10 times in this letter (1:7; 2:2,5; 3:15,19:4:2,10).  Also he expresses attitudes like:  He is thankful (3).  He has joy (4).  He is confident in God (6).  He longs to see them (8).
 
Paul prays that their love may abound, overflow and be extremely rich.  This is not just a love for each other or for Paul, but that they may be persons characterized by a godly love.  This love is discriminating.  It is to be accompanied by knowledge and understanding.  Love must fasten itself on the things which are worth loving.  Life gives us a vast array of difficult choices that clamor for our affection.  Your love must be regulated by knowledge and discernment.
 
Paul wants us to make the best choices possible so we can be the best people possible.  Be pure, free from stain, sincere (without wax) because you have been in the sunlight (like hanging your sheets on the line).  Be blameless, harmless, not offensive so you don’t cause someone to stumble.  Be loaded with the good fruit of righteousness and goodness.  Your conduct should please God.  Your good deeds should point to God and cause others to praise God.
 
12-26 Paul gives us an update of his situation.  He is in prison.  I think he is in the Caesarea prison (Acts 24-25).  Some think he was writing while under house arrest in Rome and Paul was able to testify before Caesar Nero before returning to visit Philippi.  Both possibilities have supporters.  Either way, Paul corrects some rumors.  Contrary to what some were saying, his imprisonment has not hindered the progress of the gospel.  The gospel has been spreading more and more through the ranks of the military.  His limitations and sufferings have actually ‘advanced’ the gospel.  An ‘advance’ division of the military cut down trees, widened roads, etc. This allowed the army to move quickly.  Paul recognized that God was using his imprisonment as an ‘advance’ to bring the gospel into higher levels of Roman society than ever before.  An army would follow.  Christianity gained a lot of publicity because of Paul’s suffering and imprisonment.
 
Another result of his imprisonment was that other Christians gained confidence and courage and they dared to preach more than they did before.  Paul rejoiced because the gospel was being preached (18) even though some preached with selfish motives.  Maybe they were in it for the money.  Maybe they wanted to be the new leader.  Maybe they wanted to make all Christians like practicing Jews.  Paul believed in the power of the gospel to change lives.  The power of the gospel does not depend on the character or cleverness of the preacher.  God could override the selfish attitudes of the preacher.  Paul did not express indignation or irritation.  He expressed joy because he believed that God could make all things work together for good.
 
Paul expresses joy because Christ is preached (18) and for two other reasons (19).  He knew he would be delivered (19) and Christ would be honored (20) because of their prayers and the help given by the Spirit.  A couple words suggest that Paul is reflecting on the story of Job and his final vindication.  Paul anticipates his trial as a platform for proclaiming the gospel.  We can make any situation an obstacle or an opportunity.  In tough situations you can become bitter or better.
 
“To me living is Christ, dying is gain.”  Life is worthwhile work (22).  Death is to be with Christ (23).  Life is for the benefit of others (24).  Paul’s situation has forced him to think in new ways about life and death.  For Paul life could be summed up in Christ, filled up with Christ, inspired by Christ, and done to bring praise to Christ.  Paul found life a heavy load to carry.  Death is a gain to those whose life has become unbearable.  Paul left the choice up to God (22).  Paul does not say he desires to die.  He does not desire to be a martyr.  He has a desire to be with Christ and please Christ.
 
The word ‘depart’ (23) is used to describe an army striking camp and moving on.  It is also used of a ship weighing anchor and sailing off.  In another situation it is used to speak of the solution of a difficult problem.
 
Pagans viewed death as a release from earthly troubles.  Some expressed a hope for immortality but had no basis for their hope.  Paul saw in death a continuing relationship with Christ.  Life which is Christ is not destroyed by death, but enriched.  The Christian, upon dying, goes immediately into the presence of the Lord, where he enjoys conscious personal fellowship without having a body.
 
Paul does not speculate on this interim condition.  He just says it exists.  He says death cannot separate us from the love of Christ.
 
Paul is convinced that the Philippians need him so he knows what God’s choice for the immediate future will be.  He is looking forward to visiting them so their joy would overflow (26).
 
27-30  After sharing his innermost feelings, Paul turns now to give instructions to the church. 
 
The adverb could be translated “only and always” or “the one essential thing” or “be sure.”  The verb (polituomai) is unusual.  It only appears here and in Acts 23:1 where Paul is testifying before the Roman governors.  It means to live as a citizen with all its rights and responsibilities.  To the Greek a good citizen was not one who just lived in the city, but one who participated in maintaining the community.
 
To live worthy of the gospel is to live as a good citizen in our earthly community and also as a citizen of heaven.  As we have duties and privileges with the state we have duties and privileges in the Christian community.
 
To live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ is also to live in harmony with each other in community.  We are to be standing firm in one Spirit and struggling together in one mind for the faith.  Soldiers and athletes stand firm together against the adversary.  The word is ‘sunathlew’ from which we get the word athlete.  It means to engage in competition with someone.  Unity is essential to maintain our competition against the opposition. 
 
Don’t be intimidated (28) by those who oppose you.  This word only appears here in the Greek Bible.  It is used in classical Greek of timid horses that shy at some unexpected movement or object.  Critics think your suffering is a sign that you will be defeated and destroyed.  But you know that God will use your suffering for salvation and you will be vindicated.  Your enemies think your loyalty to the truth will lead to your persecution and death.  You have a different perspective.  You know God works all things together for good. 
 
A Christian who is willing to stand up together with other Christians for the faith of the gospel can expect to suffer.  Believing and suffering go together now as they have in the past.  Believing in Christ and suffering for Christ are grace gifts from God.  God chooses His best soldiers for the hardest tasks.
 
Paul is in prison and has joy.  Your situation is probably not any worse than Paul’s.  You can have joy if you believe that God is over all and working all things out for good.  You can be walking worthily in the will and ways of Jesus, united with the brethren in Christ, standing firm together in faith, giving thanks for God’s grace and refusing to be intimidated by the enemy.

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