TEXT: Philippians 1:1-30
This study focuses on one of the prison epistles of Paul when he was in confinement in Rome. Aside from Philippians, others are the epistle to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Philippi was a chief city in the western part of Macedonia. Paul’s Macedonian call in Troas during his second missionary journey led to the founding of the church in Philippi with the conversion of Lydia, the Philippian jailor and others (Acts 16:1-40). Paul’s particular fatherly affection, kindness and tender
care for the Philippian church which he was instrumental in planting was quite remarkable and understandable.
Aside the extraordinary way he was directed by the Lord to preach the gospel there (Acts 16:9), it was at Philippi that he was scourged and imprisoned (Acts 16:23,24; 1 Thessalonians 2:2). Also, the brethren there were so loving and kind that they regularly sent presents to him even when other churches did not show much care (Philippians 4:15-18; 1:7). Paul was particularly impressed by the rapid growth of this church from its small beginning to a flourishing church of godly, loving, dynamic, steadfast and eminent saints with bishops and deacons among them.
The central theme of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians is joy. It teaches us that Christians can be joyful even in the midst of hardship and suffering because of their faith in Christ. He wrote the epistle to reveal the fact that his imprisonment had not impeded but hastened the spread of the gospel. As Christians, we should understand that our suffering and persecution on account of our faith is a testimony of our steadfastness and identification with Christ (Acts 5:41,42; 1 Peter 2:21- 23). In this epistle, he mentioned steadfastness, humility, submission, love, unity, etc. as some of the essential virtues concerning the Christian life.
CHRIST-LIKE JOY AND AFFECTION FOR SAINTS: (Philippians 1:1-8; Colossians 1:3,4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10; 3:6-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3,4; 2 John 4; 3 John 3-6)
Though Paul alone was divinely inspired to write the epistle, he joined Timothy as co-author. This expresses his humility and regard for others. We also observe that in spite of the high office he occupied as an apostle, he simply identified himself and his associate as “the servants of Jesus Christ”.
A minister is essentially a servant who labors in prayer, preaching, counselling and exhortation to perfect the saints and edify the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). As a servant of Christ, Paul appreciated the dignity of service. He counted it a great privilege to be involved in the royal service of the supreme Master. His humble description of himself as a servant and bondman of Christ is a challenge to those who see it as a mean thing to serve Christ. By his humble acceptance of the position of a servant, he indicts
those who feel too great, exalted and reputable to offer divine service. Without any doubt, Paul was one of the greatest of men, but he still answered the call of Christ and worked as a servant. Every minister who is called and commissioned by Christ must have the qualities of a servant. First, a servant of God must be faithful – he neither adds to nor subtracts from the message of his Master (Numbers 12:7). Of Timothy, Paul wrote: “…Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord…” (1 Corinthians 4:17). Second, those who serve the Lord must be “fervent in Spirit” (Romans 12:11). Third, a servant must be fearless (Acts 4:20). It is significant also to note that the Christians here were addressed as saints while they were still alive, not after they had died. Saints are those whose sins have been forgiven and their lives transformed, washed and cleansed by the
blood of the Lamb and made pure to live a life of practical holiness. Nobody becomes a saint outside Christ or after death.
Paul the apostle proceeded to give thanks to God for the saints at Philippi. Though they were out of sight and despite the scourging, imprisonment and other forms of maltreatment he suffered to preach the gospel to them; he remembered Philippi with joy. Also, he remembered them in prayer: “Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy” (Philippians 1:4). Paul was always concerned for the converts whom he continuously prayed for. He further exhorted them to remain steadfast in all situations, whether in his presence or absence until Christ comes. Thanksgiving is an important aspect of believers’ prayer. Therefore, in whatever situation we find ourselves, we should learn to give thanks to God.
Paul thanked God for their consistent fellowship in the gospel (Philippians 1:5). It is comforting to ministers when those who sincerely receive and embrace the gospel abide in the faith. He also thanked God for the confidence he had concerning the genuineness and enduring quality of their spiritual experiences (Philippians 1:6). His thanksgiving was equally for their companionship and communion with him in the suffering, defence and communication of the gospel. They were partakers of his affliction by sympathy, concern and readiness to assist him (Philippians 1:7). Church members ought to be a constant source of joy and thanksgiving to their leaders so that they will be able to discharge their onerous duties effectively and profitably (Hebrews 13:17).
INTERCESSION FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH OF BELIEVERS (Philippians 1:9-11; Ephesians 1:16-19; 3:14-19; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 2 Peter 3:18; 1Corinthians 5:8; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2:17; Galatians 5:22,23)
Full of joy that the Philippian Christians were abiding in the faith, Paul the apostle prayed that “[their] love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That [they] may approve things that are excellent; that [they] may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11). First, he prayed that their love should grow “more and more”. The greatest and new commandment of Christ to all believers is to love God, fellow believers and all men. God is love and any professing believer who does not have this virtue does not know or have Him. And since the grace of God is boundless, believers should understand that divine love can be so shed abroad to overflowing in their hearts than what they presently have. Second, he prayed that they may approve the things which are excellent (verse 10). It is childish to just love and approve all things indiscriminately as right and scriptural. Such simplicity would make them to be gullible and easy prey for enemies of the gospel.
Three, he prayed that they might be honest, sincere and upright-hearted people. Deceit, hypocrisy and double-dealing are not attributes of a true Christian. Openness, transparency and “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” mark the life of a true Christian. Four, he prayed that they might be inoffensive people. We are to live in all good conscience before God and exercise
ourselves to always have a conscience void of offence towards God and men (Acts 23:1; 24:16). Five, that they will remain blameless till the end (Ephesians 5:27; Jude 24). The reason is that no one will be able to see the Lord who is not living a consistent holy life (Hebrews 12:14). Six, that they might bring forth the fruit of righteousness in abundance (Philippians 1:11). It is instructive that Paul’s prayer for his converts, both in Philippi and other places, centered on spiritual things rather than mundane matters.
CHRISTIANS’ TRIUMPH IN SUFFERING FOR THE GOSPEL (Philippians 1:12-19; Matthew 26:36; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 4:8; 6:3; 11:23)
Paul’s suffering emanated from two sources. First, he suffered imprisonment from the avowed enemies of the faith who intended to destroy him and prevent the spread of the gospel. Second, he suffered from false friends who preached Christ out of contention and envy. The preaching of the gospel usually encounters oppositions because Satan and his cohorts want to hinder the salvation of men, discourage preachers of the gospel, encourage the spread of falsehood and prevent the accomplishment of God’s will on earth. When God’s people obey the Great Commission, Satan and his cohorts always instigate opposition against them. Believers should, therefore, not be surprised at Satan-inspired anti-gospel rules and regulations, mockery, persecution, etc. from religious groups, heretics, backsliders, pseudo-Christian groups, and merchant men and women whose unwholesome means of livelihood are threatened by the mass conversion of their patrons, supporters and followers (Acts 16:19). Paul affirms that his suffering had a paradoxical outcome: “…the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” (verse 12). It afforded him the opportunity of preaching the gospel to kings and judges in palaces where he stood trial and to
inmates in prison. This has also challenged many brethren to be bold and fearless in preaching Christ. While some were sincere in preaching the gospel, others were doing so out of pretense. He rejoices that whichever way, “Christ is preached” (verses 12-19). Like Paul the apostle, suffering believers and ministers should know that since God will never change, all things will work together for their good and for the realization of God’s purpose and glory. So, a true child of God should not resort to self-pity, regret, despair, murmuring, grumbling and despondency during opposition and persecution. Rather, he should turn opposition to opportunity in order to demonstrate godly disposition (Genesis 41:14; Daniel 3:27; 6:22; Jeremiah 38:10; Acts 12:7; 16:26).
CHRISTIANS’ CONSECRATION AND STEADFASTNESS (Philippians 1:20-30; 2:14-16; Galatians 5:1; Job 11:14, 15; 27:5,6; 17:9; 1 Corinthians 15:58)
The “earnest expectation” and “hope” of Paul the apostle was not to be ashamed in anything. He constantly desires that Christ would be magnified in and through him both in life and death. His consecration is, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (verse 21). While he passionately desires to continue to minister to the Philippians, he had a greater passion and pull to “depart,
and to be with Christ; which is far better”. The blessedness of living with Christ in an unending union, joy and rest is always far better for genuine Christians. This is the reason Apostle Peter did not want to return from the mount of transfiguration. And Paul, having been to the third heavens and seen its resplendent beauty, cannot but conclude that the final home-going for the righteous and holy is always “far better”. While he lives on earth, he would do Christ’s bidding to continue to feed His flock. “…I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ…”. It is expected that every born-again Christian be as consecrated and heaven- conscious as Paul by laying all on the altar and becoming committed to God, the church and to the progress of the gospel (2 Chronicles 29:5; Psalm 118:27).
The Apostle concludes the chapter with exhortation on Christian conduct that befits Christ’s gospel. They are exhorted to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (verse 27). Attributes of steadfastness, unity and courage are required of Christians so as not to cringe, be cowered or terrified by the adversary. One basic truth for every Christian either in the Philippian or present-day church is: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (verse 29). The Apostle affirms that he had past and current experience of suffering for Christ which the Philippian believers knew. And if he was not terrified and discouraged, every believer should maintain firm conviction of godly principles amidst trials, oppositions and sufferings till the end.