In the previous chapter I said that this letter to the Philippian church was written by Paul the Apostle while he was in a Roman prison awaiting trial somewhere around 60-62 AD. He had received news and a gift from them delivered by Epaphroditus who fell ill while in Rome. After his recovery, Paul sent Epaphroditus back to Philippi with this letter. Unlike his other letters to various churches he had established, the letter to the Philippians contained no rebukes or condemnation. Paul was pleased with the maturity and generosity of these brethren and his letter to them was filled with joy and encouragement.
Greeting — Philippians 1:1-2
1Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:
Many things had changed since Paul established this church some 10-12 years previously (49-50 AD). First of all, Timothy was named with Paul as a co-worker (Paul and Timothy). When the church was first established, Timothy was starting his ministry as a general helper doing the work that John-Mark had done with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. At this point, however, he had matured and been given more important responsibilities.
The term "bond servant" referred to slaves. Paul was an Apostle and Timothy was an evangelist. Paul had been called to Apostleship (ambassador) by Christ Himself on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19), and Timothy was tasked to be an evangelist (proclaimer/preacher) by the authority of the elders (I Timothy 4:14) through the laying on of their hands. Both men had authority in the church as those gifted with particular roles as leaders. In relation to the church, therefore, they were leaders with authority. In relation to Christ, however, they were slaves whose only task was to do His will.
The term "Jesus Christ" does not have any difference in meaning than the term "Christ Jesus." One says, "The anointed One, Jesus." The other says, "Jesus, the anointed One."
Not only had there been changes with Paul and Timothy, there had also been changes in the church at Philippi. This congregation, begun with Lydia and her household (Acts 16:13-15), had now grown to the point where it had multiple elders and deacons. The Philippian assembly was a fully matured church from an organizational perspective and, as Paul will show in his letter, one that he will encourage to strive for spiritual maturity as well.
In this first verse Paul drew a circle that included himself, Timothy, the saints (members of the church at Philippi), as well as their leaders and ministers as those who had a common faith and devotion to Jesus Christ. They were all bound to a common Lord as they served in different positions and ministries.
2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The blessing is one, even though two words are used to describe it. Grace refers to God's favor, especially in planning and completing man's salvation through Christ. The word, grace, is code for all that God has done to save us. Peace is another code word referring to the result of grace in the sinner's life.
Here are some of the benefits that flow from being at peace with God because we are under His grace:
- No guilt, fear or shame.
- Freedom to experience joy and confidence.
- A greater knowledge of God, His will as well as His purpose for one's life.
Paul reminds them of their common belief and the core truth of the gospel that led them to this grace and peace: the belief that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God. He states that this peace comes from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and places these two in equal positions as Deity.
The idea behind the blessing is that only God can give man "grace and peace" which are spiritual gifts. By joining God the Father and the Lord Jesus, Paul acknowledges and expresses the faith that binds the Philippian church, Timothy and himself together: the shared belief that Jesus Christ is God.
Paul's Prayer — Philippians 1:3-11
Paul has greeted them and offered a blessing which he used in other letters (Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:3; II Timothy 1:2). This blessing expressed a universal truth applicable to all churches for all time: grace and peace come from God the Father and God the Son, and is bestowed on those who believe that God the Father sent God the Son.
In his prayer Paul goes on to express his feelings and hopes for this particular church.
3I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.
Paul does not go into detail about the content of his prayers on their behalf but does describe the feeling of gratitude he experiences when praying for them. In other words, he is thankful to God when he thinks about and prays for the Philippian brethren.
The other emotion he mentions is joy. He is joyful when praying. Again, he does not give details, but from this brief description of his prayer life on their behalf we can conclude that his work with this church was successful and satisfying, unlike his ministry to the Corinthians or Ephesians where he had to admonish and rebuke; or the Galatians where he had to seriously warn the church of its possible destruction because of apostasy. The letter to the Philippians, however, has no negative sections, no warnings and no corrections concerning what they taught or how they acted. The only detail mentioned is the help that they have provided him for his work from the very beginning when the church was first established.
Paul's prayer life is a reflection of their relationship over a decade where he has joyfully given thanks to God for this faithful and generous congregation that has carefully followed his teaching. They had grown in size and maturity, and shown their gratitude by providing for his needs, the latest example being the gift sent to him through Epaphroditus which led to the writing of this letter.
6For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
This is the key thought of the letter and from this idea Paul will develop the main teaching section which will begin in chapter 1 verse 27.
He goes from referencing their faithfulness and generosity in the past and present to what he prays for and desires for them in the future: that God will bring them to full Christian maturity ready for the coming of Christ.
Based on their conduct and development so far (something he has actually seen) he is confident that God (who has accomplished this spiritual growth in them) will continue to fully mature these Christians in the future (something he cannot see now, but is assured of by faith).
7For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. 8For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Paul reaches back to what he has already said about the Philippians (their faithfulness and generosity) when he declares that based on their past actions and attitudes, it is only right or appropriate for him to say the following:
- He has them in his heart: For the Greeks, the "heart" referred to more than simple emotion but included the mind, feelings and will (Lenski p. 712). In other words, he did not simply feel affection for them, they were part of him in that they were in his thoughts and affected his feelings and decisions.
- This close association resulted in the feeling that they (the entire church) were partners with him in the work of the gospel (including his imprisonment).
- Because of this partnership, they also shared in the rewards (grace and peace) that came to those who proclaimed the gospel.
- God, who is the sole witness to his prayers, is the only one other than Paul himself, who knows and understands how much he misses direct communication with them. He has been confined in prison for at least four years (two years at Herod's palace and two years in Rome awaiting trial). He has not been with them for nearly a decade and longs to be reunited with these faithful and kind brethren in person. His love and longing for them is pure and genuine Christian love without any sinful or worldly elements.
9And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Paul began this section by declaring that he prayed for them, and did so often and with joy. In the following verses he shares the content of these prayers on their behalf.
In verse 9, he prays that their love will grow according to knowledge. Not simple affection or attraction based on feelings, but the kind of love motivated by the knowledge of God's will, expressed and guided by wisdom from above. For example, the kind of love Paul talks about in Romans 14 where the knowledge of the strong Christian helps him to avoid harming the weak Christian (a believer with a weak conscience easily provoked to feeling guilty about matters that are not in themselves sinful - I.E. eating the meat from animals that were sacrificed in pagan rituals and then sold at the public marketplace was not in itself sinful but caused some Christians to feel guilty if they used this meat in their cooking). Paul explained that he would rather give up eating meat altogether if in continuing to do so he caused a brother to either feel guilty by association or violate his own conscience by following Paul's example in the eating of such meat (such an attitude was a mark of one who practiced 'agape' type love).
Paul did not want his freedom in this matter to cause someone conflicted by this issue to violate his conscience by doing something which was not expressly condemned in general but went against his personal code of what was right or wrong and thus fall into condemnation from his own conscience (Romans 14:23).
In I Corinthians 8:1 Paul says that knowledge not guided by love leads to pride, and conversely, love not tempered by knowledge and wisdom is often unfruitful and can lead to sin (I.E. spoiling a favorite child). In I Corinthians 13:2 Paul says that to have all knowledge but no love is to be nothing.
Our capacity and ability to love is increased as our knowledge increases. For example, you like someone you meet for the first time and as you get to know them better, your feelings either grow or are diminished. The element that causes the increase or decrease is your knowledge of that person.
Paul prays that their ability to love will increase as they gain real knowledge and discernment about God, His word and His will. Not general knowledge from below but, as I mentioned before, the knowledge and discernment that comes from above. The Bible teaches that spiritual love, referred to as 'agape,' is a combination of knowledge, wisdom, faith and hope.
- Knowledge of God's will:
- We must love God and our neighbor as self (Mark 12:30-31). This is God's will.
- Agape love is based on a decision, not a feeling. We love in response to God's direction, not personal feelings.
- Agape loves because it knows and obeys God's will, not because the object of love is worthy or desirable.
- Faith and Hope:
- Again, in I Corinthians 13 Paul says that love believes all things and hopes all things in the sense that this kind of love seeks to believe and hope in the best of others. In other words, agape love is not suspicious, fearful, negative or critical. This is the kind of love that Paul prays they will cultivate and practice.
10so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;
The development of this kind of love in their Christian character will serve them well on the day of judgment (day of Christ).
"Approve the things that are excellent..." refers to their conduct and attitude guided by Christian (agape) love. At the judgment, those who love as Christ loved belong to Christ, and those who do not will be judged for that.
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
- John 13:35
11having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
If they continue to be filled with the fruit (the results that come from cultivating this kind of love) which was modeled and made possible through Christ, they will thus render glory and honor to God. Of course, the fruit of righteousness produced in cultivating love is described in several places:
- I Corinthians 13:47 - Patience, kindness, trust, humility, civility, generosity, meekness, forgiving, righteous, perseverant, long-suffering.
- Galatians 5:22 - Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
In Corinthians, Paul describes these things in terms of what love does or does not do; in Galatians, he describes them as what a person who loves is like or becomes.
Paul, therefore, prays that the Philippians cultivate Christian love according to spiritual knowledge and wisdom because in doing so they will glorify God and be ready for the judgment when Christ comes.
Paul greets a church for which he clearly has great affection. His thoughts of them provoke him to give thanks to God. The way they conduct themselves assures him that Christ is at work in them and will complete the process of change He has begun. He misses and thanks them for their help and gifts, noting that in this way they share in his mission work. He prays that they will continue to grow in Christian love because it is in this way that they will honor God and maintain (not earn) their salvation.
This ends our review of the brief greeting and prayer section of Philippians. In the following passages Paul will focus on his personal affairs and condition (Philippians 1:12-26).
Our Maturity in Christ is Measured by Our Love
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
- I Timothy 1:5
Paul describes the fully mature Christian who has been accurately taught God's word:
- Love (agape): This person understands the who, how and why of love.
- Purity: This person's love is sincere.
- Clear conscience: He has no doubt about being in Christ and no fear of the past.
- She knows and obeys the truth.
The applications are the same for us today. The goal of the preaching and teaching in our congregation is for members to love each other, have an understanding of our faith and maintain a clear conscience. The letter to the Philippians describes the basic method to accomplish this objective: cultivate agape love in our hearts as Christians. This experience will help us develop other spiritual skills that need building up as well.
For example, you may be a person who often criticizes others. This weakness can be avoided if the next time you are tempted to offer a negative opinion, try saying what love would say (perhaps even saying nothing). Skip giving your opinion, pass the conversation along to others when you can ("be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to grow angry" James 1:19). This is a good idea at any time but especially helpful for a critical person who tends to talk too much.
The "work" of growing in Christ requires that we grow in love. Cultivating love produces spiritual fruit, and spiritual fruit brings us a reward: we honor God and experience greater assurance of our salvation in Christ.