Today is week 1 of our 12 week study on Philippians and we have a lot to cover so we will get right in to the text and unpack the purpose of the book as we go:
1a Paul and Timothy, servants (slaves) of Christ Jesus, to all the saints (those who are set apart) in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons (this shows that Paul made sure the church had proper leadership and he knew of it): 2 Grace to you and peace (grace and shalom are both things we receive freely from the gospel) from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (may we extend this same kind of greeting to one another!)
Right off the bat, we can see the humility and personableness of Paul in this letter. Not only does he not say, “Paul an apostle of Christ” as he does in all his other letters to the churches (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1), but he also places Timothy on the same level as himself and gives no distinction between him (the apostle) and Timothy (the young pastor). This gives flavor to the whole letter!
And we can also see in this greeting, “The threefold repetition of the name – Christ Jesus, Christ Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ – [this] presents the central theme that reappears throughout the letter and unites everything around the person of Christ.” 1
Okay, here’s a little background on the church at Philippi. It is clear that the letter to the Philippians was written when Paul was in prison (1:7, 13, 14). This imprisonment was serious (1:20–24, 30; 2:17), for his trial could result in either life or death for him. Paul links this imprisonment with his ministry, claiming that he had been put there “for the defense of the gospel” (1:16). The letter most likely arrived late in Paul’s imprisonment, after A.D. 60-62, most likely from Rome. At its core, this letter is centered around the mission of the church, what it looks like, and the cost of it.
This letter has its roots from Paul’s second missionary journey that was directed by the Holy Spirit, who led Paul, Silas and Timothy (and eventually Dr. Luke) to Macedonia. Philippi was the leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. It was here that Paul ran into some women praying (where’s the men?), and Paul sat next to them, spoke to them of Jesus, and the gospel, and the Lord opened the heart of Lydia from Thyatira (she is Asian; Thyatira and a seller of purple goods which means she would have been the business owner, so she was wealthy), which means to hear and receive Jesus as Lord. She was baptized along with the rest of her whole household, and insisted that Paul and his men come stay with her (Read 16:11-15).
(Read v. 16-24). We know that spiritual opposition arose quickly in Philippi as a slave girl who had a spirit of divination” (v. 16; literally “a pythonic spirit,” referencing demonic control), persistently for days kept yelling at Paul and his company, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” (17).
Kent Hughes, a commentator on the book of Philippians says that this “was a demonic attempt to co-opt the gospel and destroy it. Paul exorcised the spirit on the spot — and found himself in deep trouble because he had driven out the girl’s owners’ source of income! Paul and Silas were seized and were taken to the “Roman” magistrates, were identified as “Jews”, and were savagely beaten by the…”2 officers of the magistrate.
(Read vv. 25-33). So off to prison go Paul and Silas, and in chains they are singing hymns to God so that all the prisoners and guards can hear them, and then suddenly there is a great earthquake and all the prison doors flung wide open and the chains fell off the prisoners. Paul and Silas remain in prison, Paul tells the guard of the gospel, the guard receives Jesus as well as his whole household and thus we have he beginnings…
Hughes says: “Lydia and her household, the jailer and his household, perhaps other God-fearing women from the riverbank, maybe even the ex-pythoness. The flag of the gospel had been raised on a new continent. We should take note in this day of the science of church growth… this was not a homogeneous (from the same family) church plant but rather the body of Christ in glorious diversity.”3
Paul makes this clear to us the kind of relationship he had with this church: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (1:3-5).
The word “partnership” in Greek is koinonia, “fellowship”; a pledge of communion; a linking of arms together — Paul feels a warm “fellowship in the gospel” with the Philippians. “And we shall see that this is not a church social fellowship as Christians today often think of the word, but a robust fellowship that rides on their mutual commitment to the gospel.” 4
I say all this because if we don’t get the passion, the intimacy, and the urgency with which Paul writes this letter, we will miss God’s heart in it. This community (this koinonia) is bound together not only by the gospel, but through lives that have given everything up for the provision of one another and the advancement of this great news which is God’s mission. This is a band of bros, with sisters in it, but there’s issues:
DISUNITY: There is disunity. Paul repeatedly urged them to be of one mind: 1:27; 2:1-5, 14; 4:2: I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord). In these passages, Paul addresses self-ambition, self-interest, grumbling, and arguments. “Paul condemns disunity and calls for unity in the church so that it will give a clear witness to the gospel in the public square.” 5
SUFFERING: There is suffering. Paul describes his experience of being in prison and facing execution (1:12-26), he explains that Christians are called to suffer for Christ’s sake (1:29), he quotes an old hymn that speaks of Christ’s death on the cross (2:8) and on and on Paul talks about suffering throughout this letter (2:17, 27-30; 3:8, 10; 4:12)
OPPOSITION: There is opposition. Paul expresses awareness in this letter that there are those who vehemently want the church of Jesus to crumble, to be destroyed. To do that, they will attack the faith of the Christians, so he pleads with them to stand “firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” (1:27b-28a). He writes that they live in the midst of a “crooked and twisted generation” (2:15); He warns them to watch out for “the dogs… the evildoers… those who mutilate the flesh.” (3:2); He sorrowfully writes about those who have become “an enemy of the cross” (3:18-19); He also mentions those who oppose him and mean him harm (1:15-17).6
With these 3 ever apparent occasions in which Paul writes this letter, Paul is discipling the church at Philippi by modeling to them a new way to live among the disunity, the suffering and the opposition, and not get off mission.
Paul models to them joy unspeakable. In chains and rejoicing. Worshipping while suffering. Praying for the opposition and caring more for the advancement of the gospel than yourself. Paul wants the Philippian church to learn how to live on mission for the gospel of Jesus in community with joy!
The problem is that we are more “connected” that we’ve ever been, yet more lonely than ever. Loneliness is one of the most dangerous and widespread problems in America today. Some estimate that loneliness has already reached epidemic proportions and say that if it continues to spread, it could seriously erode the emotional strength of our country… and I’m not talking about those who aren’t Christians.
A recent poll said that 92% of the Christians attending a recent Bible conference admitted in a survey that feelings of loneliness are a major problem in their lives. They all shared a basic symptom: a sense of despair at feeling unloved and a fear of being unwanted or unaccepted. This is a tragic commentary on the people about whom Christ said: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
This is a problem because we are connected, but not because of the gospel. We are selfishly connected. But connected to people I’m not so sure of? Carve time out of my life to be uncomfortable with those who are far from Jesus? That’s asking too much. Meet once a week in a CG and do other things with them throughout the week to bless others so that they will the the risen Savior displayed in my life in a sacrificial way? I don’t have time! I’m busy bro! (There’s your sign!) We were created to be in relationship with one another. Okay, let’s unpack vv. 3-5 a little further:
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, Paul tells us about the frequency of thanksgiving in his prayers… “always!” He remembers the Philippians in every prayer, and he always thanks God for them. He also says “you all”, meaning the whole church, again, he’s working towards unity and getting rid of the divisions among Christians and speaking against individualism. The whole church brings Paul “joy” (which is a major theme of this book because it is found 14 times).
Why do the Philippians bring him joy? Paul tells us in the next verse.
5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Gk. koinonia: this word is used 6 times in this letter / it means fellowship; a pledge of communion to one another; a linking of arms together, involving mutual interests and sharing).
The gospel has the transforming power to create a community (koinonia) of believers in Christ. When a community is centered around the good news of Jesus, then it will share mutual interests no matter what the cultural differences, socio-economic difference, racial difference, etc… It will also share in joy like Paul. Joy is a by-product of living on mission. Love and truth create mission. If you know the truth and love people, then you will be on mission. (examples: think about having the answer for a friend who’s hurt, etc)
This is why your faith is not a private matter. If you think your faith is private, then you either do not know or fully believe in the truth that redeemed you, or you do not have love for others, which means God’s love is not in you. This truth with love for people drives mission, incarnational, Christ-in-you kind of living.
Thus the joy of living for God’s mission and partnering in that mission with other believers. Mission creates joy. Look at Hebrews 12:2: looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Do you have a lack of joy in your life? If you have a lack of joy in your life, then you have a lack of mission in your life. You need mission. You were created for mission. There is a tight link between joy and mission (being sent; sent-ness).
For the joy that was set before Him (the mission of God!). Jesus wants to send you on mission so that you will have the fullness of His joy (John 15:11; 17:13).
Children know this well. They love mission. Heroic quests. World saving mission. That’s what every great book, movie, story is about that most excites you. And before we destroy children’s passion for mission (before they become boring cynics like us), they all have a desire to do something heroic or adventurous for a living (a doctor, a firefighter, a lion tamer, a forest ranger).
Have you ever asked a kid what they want to do when they grow up and they say “Well, I kind’ve been wanting to work in a cubicle when I grow up. I’d love to spend 8 hours a day in front of a computer screen, pushing paper around, then clock out at 5.” You don’t hear that from children because they desire mission, and there is a joy about that mission because there is a link between joy and being sent (mission).
It’s like all the baby boomers who went on peace marches in the 60’s and 70’s and marches against capitalism and hated the corporate machine and said they’d never have their own business. Then you got the 80’s and 90’s and they all caved in and gave in to what they hates. They got drawn in by the machine.
Why? They lost their mission (love and truth) because they all bought in to the belief that there was no truth, it was all relative, so overtime there was nothing to live for anymore, except individual fulfillment. And therefore all promises, commitments, and passions all took second fiddle to my fulfillment and what ever gets in the way of my fulfillment wasn’t important anymore.
There was no higher cause to live for than my individual happiness, and that destroys happiness. If there’s no higher cause than my joy, then there is nothing to live for but myself/my joy. There’s nothing left to die for. Essentially, by exaggerating our significance (or we can say raising our needs to the highest level), we lost our signifi-cance and joy.
Here’s the irony though: when we give up our significance and joy, we gain infinite significance and joy.
This is true because God, through Jesus Christ has infused you with Himself and His power, He has opened your hearts in the midst it’s darkness and lifeless realm, and has put His well of living water in your soul, to send you (give you a mission) to go into this world to be an ambassador (a display) of what God is really like. The rest of your life now is to show off to the world this great God connected with His good news.
6 And I am sure of this (being confident of this), that he who began a good work in you will bring it to (carry it on to) completion at (until) the day of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s joyful thanksgiving for the partnership in the gospel with the Philippians comes from the “confidence” that he believes this is all the “good work” of God! And if it is God’s good work, then Paul is sure that it will be completed. And this is God’s mission that is much bigger than himself, therefore the joy of being on mission for God.
But what is this good work? There is much debate as to what Paul is referring to here. Many readers believe that Paul is referring to the individual salvation of each believer, which is not necessarily a false understanding, but it is not the full understanding of this passage.
That is actually an individualistic, post Enlightenment way of viewing salvation though. Paul is talking about the koinonia (plural) in the gospel. God created this koinonia and God will see it through. The people of God, not the person of God. (temple=me or temple=church? both, but more often Scriptures refer to the latter).
The good work that God began was a corporate (or we can also say a ‘cosmic’) formation of a people who are set apart for God’s eternal glory. Those who belong to this koinonia also belong to God who chose them before the foundation of the world to be a people called out by God to know Him, enjoy Him and His entire creation:
So that (here’s the mission!) they can infuse the world with this incarnate view of Jesus who redeems those who are far from God. God’s plan of redemption is cosmic in scope and we must not over individualize it, even though we all must come to know Christ individually.
What our humanistic (man-centered) and consumeristic (a pre-occupation of acquiring material goods) culture has created, is this me-centered Christianity, to where our view of God isn’t much bigger than our view of ourselves. (individualistic, rationalistic, dualistic, spiritualistic – these are the 4 areas other cultures outside of the Western culture have been critiqued on for the last 30 years – and they’re all saying it)
Our view of our salvation should be a cosmic view first, then a communal one, which leads us to our realization of our individual salvation in which our eyes were opened and hearts were won by the Lord and we surrendered to Jesus!! This is the epitome of gospel partnership.
This is the basis for gospel communities. If it all depends on you, then you have to be the one to maintain it and make things happen. But this is not how our Lord taught us to get things done. Remember the night before He was betrayed and then crucified? What did He tell His disciples?
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:4-5, 11)
May we have eyes to see God’s cosmic plan of redemption, in which God has called to Himself a community of faith unto Himself, to know Him, enjoy and to make His glory known. And within His cosmic plan, He had you in mind and called you to Himself to be a part of this grand story of redemption that will one day come to completion: personally, communally and cosmically.
It is with this urgency and with this confidence that we invite you into this journey of being God’s display people who love God and people. Who share life together. Who deal with our own junk so we can be healthy to minister to others. Healing + Community + Leadership Training = Missional Disciple (take time to unpack).