Philippians 4 – Think On These Things

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As Paul closes his letter, he returns to the subject of unity, once again encouraging them to be unified in their actions and thinking.  He even names a few people whom he asks the rest of the church to help in being more unified.  It is interesting that he doesn’t put them down here, but rather builds them up as those who are faithful in their work for the Gospel.  They have worked alongside Paul for the advance of the Gospel but struggle now with unity together.

How often does that ring true in our congregations?  We are all in this together, working to share the Gospel and Christ’s love for all people, but we cannot seem to get along with each other well.  Sometimes it’s because of current issues, but far too often it has to do with us holding on to things in the past that continue to divide us, even if the original issue has been solved or is no longer relevant.

How can we move toward greater unity in the midst of such struggles?  Paul says to think on things that are noble, pure, lovely, etc.  He encourages them to show gentleness to everyone as well.

Perhaps, if we are indeed looking for the good, seeking out what God is doing in our lives and all around us, and keeping the focus on the “peace of Christ” rather than on the abundance of negative things that are so prevalent around us.

The reality is that the Church is full of imperfect people.  We do things that end up causing hurt but we also have a choice in that moment, to focus on the negative and the injury to ourselves, or to share the same mind as Christ, identifying and forgiving sins committed against us, not allowing those things to cause division among us.



Philippians 3 – Press On

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While it doesn’t seem that there was a specific threat to the unity of the church in Philippi, Paul knows from experience that there are those both in the faith and outside of it who will come lurking eventually.  We have seen this in his other letters as well to the church in Ephesus, the churches in Galatia, the church in Rome, and his multiple letters to the church in Corinth.

So Paul takes this opportunity to exhort the church in Philippi towards greater unity and the collective goal, that they may not be sidetracked by the “Judaizers” who preach circumcision or any other group that might try to push its way in.

Paul’s way of doing this, interestingly enough, is by citing himself as an example.  Indeed he was the Jew of all Jews, a leader in the community before he met Christ on the road to Damascus.  However, what Paul realized very quickly is that all of it was for nothing, and is not merely a distraction from the true goal of following Christ Jesus.

He talks about this in terms of a race, an apt metaphor if ever there was one.  This isn’t, however, a 100M sprint, it’s a marathon.  In other places, Paul talks about training his body for this long race, not getting distracted by those who would offer an “easy win.”  I imagine it would be pretty tempting, in the middle of a 25K run, if someone offered a ride to the finish line.  Essentially, that is what the Judaizers were doing, offering a physical act as the true way of Christian identity.

To this, Paul says no.  Don’t take the ride, don’t listen to the lies.  We press on toward the goal for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.



Philippians 2 – Be Like Jesus

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As Paul continues to encourage the community of faith in Philippi, he both encourages them in their walk of faith and warns them of some potential dangers that might crop up in the church.  The chief among them is disunity and division.

When we experience good times of prosperity and growth, our tendency is to want to hold on to them.  While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can lead to selfish actions geared at personal gain, something that is antithetical to the message of the Gospel and the purpose of the Church.  Paul warns against this citing the benefits and encouragement from Union with Christ that are meant to be turned outward, not inward.

How we know this and see this is the example of Jesus Christ, His life, work, and especially His death.  Jesus, stepping out of heaven, humbled himself by taking on human flesh.  In this humility, not only did He put on the skin of a mortal being, He also submitted Himself to the will of the Father, fulfilling the Law by living the life that we could not and also dying the death that we deserved.  Paul writes that Jesus “took on the very nature of a servant.”

The cross was Jesus ultimate act of servanthood and humility. At the same time, it was also His greatest glorification.

The best way to avoid division and disunity is to take on these same traits, being like Jesus and turning all the benefits of being His child outward towards the world.  When we do this, we realize very quickly that it isn’t about us, it’s about God and showing His love and sharing His Good News.

As Paul continues in this chapter, he commends several people to the church in Philippi, all of whom are living out what Paul has encouraged the people there to do.  These are people who will encourage and strengthen the community when they arrive there, all because they are striving to be like Jesus.



Philippians 1 – Advance of the Gospel

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Paul opens his letter to the church in Philippi on a decidedly happy note, not because of what is going on with him, but because of what he hears ash been going on in the church there.  He calls them “partners” in the Gospel and is overjoyed by the growth that has been taking place there, which he has heard about even in Rome.

It is not just the church in Philippi that is giving Paul a reason to celebrate, though.  Yes, they have been moving forward in the right direction, following God’s lead and seeing the Gospel advance whereas other churches that Paul wrote to were not.  But Paul himself is seeing the advance of the Gospel even in his own context where it was much less expected.

At the time of his writing, Paul was imprisoned in Rome under house arrest.  It would be understandable for us, as Paul talks about his chains, that he would be in a rather sour mood.  Yet he continues to rejoice because even in that context, the Gospel is moving forward!

Though Paul was in prison, the Gospel continued to advance.

Throughout Scripture, there are a myriad of narratives about God using seemingly bad situations for the good of those involved in them.  Once again, God is using Paul’s imprisonment for the advance of the Gospel.  This, Paul says, is also true when it comes to those preaching the Gospel.  Some do it for selfish reasons while others preach out of love.

“What does it matter?”  Paul says.  “The important thing is that in every way… Christ is preached.”

Sometimes we get caught up in denominationalism, questioning the motives of certain preachers, or criticizing the actions of other faith communities.  Paul, however, is not concerned with the minutia of what is going on in different churches as long as the Gospel is being faithfully preached.  Now, this isn’t a license to preach and teach whatever we want.  Yet, whatever the human motives are, when the Word of God goes out, it will not return empty.



Introduction to Philippians

Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is uniquely positive in character, thanking the church for the gift it sent him while he was imprisoned in Rome.  Throughout the letter, though, Paul takes the opportunity to encourage the church in the midst of persecution and to exhort them to humility and unity within the faith community there.

The city of Philippi had a very unique and sorted history, being named after a Greek king, Philip the second, who conquered the city and named it after himself.  In the time of the Roman Empire, Philippi was a prosperous city which was located on the main highway that connected the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire with Rome itself.  This road, known as the Egnatian Way, was both the lifeline of the city and also the reason for its prosperity.  Philippi was also unique in that very few Jews lived within the city.  This may account for the fact that Paul’s letter to the church here contains no direct quotations of the Old Testament.

Philippi was located in Macedonia, in what is now northern Greece. Photo Credit: www.holylandphotos.org

Philippi was located in Macedonia, in what is now northern Greece.
Photo Credit: www.holylandphotos.org

Acts 16 records Paul’s first visit to the city of Philippi in roughly A.D. 50-51, on his second missionary journey.  Following a vision that God gave him, Paul and his traveling companions made the journey to Macedonia and preached the Gospel to those he met there.  Out of that came the conversion of Lydia, a particularly prominent woman in the early church whose hospitality and leadership are noted by Paul in Scripture.

The book of Philippians expresses a very practical and yet rigorous type of Christian living, commending its readers to follow the very example of Christ as it is expressed in chapter 2.  This is widely considered to be one of the most profound Christological passages in the New Testament.



Philippians 2:1-11 "Be Like Me"



Day 343: Philippians 1-4; True Joy

The book of Philippians is another one of the prison epistles (letters) that is written by Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome.  This letter is often called Paul’s joy letter, because he expresses a great deal of joy amid all of the persecution and suffering that he is enduring.  He states that he is imprisoned for the Gospel, yet he takes great joy in it because it has served to advance the message of the Gospel into the Roman guards that have been around him.  I think it interesting that we often worry about “the right opportunity” to spread the message of Jesus Christ and talk about always being ready and aware of it, yet Paul’s example here is that every opportunity no matter how bad it seems, is the right opportunity to share the Gospel!

As I read this book today, I feel that there needs to be an explanation of what Paul means when he says “joy” or even “rejoice.”  Clearly Paul is not in the best of circumstances, and he really doesn’t have any reason to feel happy, upbeat, or anything of the sort.  In fact, his living conditions in a Roman prison, even under house arrest, would have been rather deplorable by today’s standards.  Yet Paul still says that he has joy in his suffering, and even that he “will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

So what is Paul some sort of super Christian or something like that?  I would say that we all hold Paul in pretty high esteem, but he is human like the rest of us, there is no doubt.  The different here is the idea of what joy really is.  We often equate happiness with joy, as if somehow they were the same thing, but they are not.  Happiness is something that we want.  We do things to make ourselves happy; purchase things, give things, create things, even play things all in an effort to make ourselves happy.  Happiness is an emotion, it depends on our circumstances, and is often fleeting.  We could spend our whole lives trying to find things, jobs, toys, and people to make us eternally happy and always end up disappointed.

Joy on the other hand comes only from Jesus Christ.  Joy runs deeper and is stronger becomes from a source outside of ourselves.  The introduction to Philippians in the NIV Life Application Study Bible says that “joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and work in our lives – that He will be there no matter what.  Happiness depends on happenings, but Joy depends on Christ.”  This is why Paul can write from prison in such a joyful tone!  He knows that there is more to life than happiness, and that his circumstances here on earth, though difficult, do not compare and cannot change His identity in Christ Jesus.  Again, it is because of the joy that he has in Christ Jesus that he can write, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

More than this, Paul can say to the church in Philippi, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

As we have often talked about, living a Christian life in a Christ-like way isn’t a matter of rules and restriction but freedom from sin.  Because of what Christ has done for us we are free from the Law and from sin, and free to live for Christ.  This is why Paul writes these things.  Out of the joy that you have found in Christ Jesus, live in such a way that your life reflects this joy in every possible way… especially in the unity you have with other believers.  I wonder if people would walk into my church on a Sunday and wonder what in the world was going on because of all that joy that was flowing around that place.  I wonder if those that go to my church would, if the difficult times of life, know that they could find themselves in a place that, in the midst of their suffering and find those that would be willing to both support them in their sufferings and still uphold them with joy because of the hope that they have in Christ Jesus.  I wonder if this is something that is prominent in the greater Church today… or if we spend a lot of time walking around with our heads down because we’re not happy.

Brothers and Sisters we have a hope that is much greater than all the happiness this life has to offer, and we find it in Christ Jesus!

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.