Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

Philippians 2011

Opening Remarks

Philippians 1:1-11

Lesson audio


Writing a Letter

One of the most significant events in biblical interpretation was the discovery of a mail boat in Alexandria, Egypt. None of the letters were concerned with Christianity; but they were ordinary letters of the time. This gave us to understand that the letters in the New Testament followed the normal pattern of letters being written at that time. In short, God did not invent a new form of literature; he used what was at hand.

The typical letter of the day began with the salutation:

·         Like a modern business memo, the salutation included a rather formal note telling us to whom the letter was addressed.

·         There was also a brief mention of who is writing the letter, again similar to a modern memo.

·         These were followed by a formal greeting.

So while the letters read today as being a bit on the stuffy side, in those days it would've been seen as proper formality. The letters are in fact very businesslike. This is true even though Paul is writing to old friends at Philippi.

The City of Philippi

Map of regionPhilippi was a Roman colony in Greece. That means it was originally settled by Roman soldiers who had retired from the Army. This meant that the city would be particularly loyal to Rome; serving as a thorn in the side of the Greeks should they choose to revolt. It is also a city with which Paul has a close connection. You might recall these events from the book of Acts:

·         Paul was given the vision of the Macedonian calling to him to come over to that area and preach the gospel.

·         In response to this he went to Philippi, and there met Lydia, the "seller of purple." There was evidently no Jewish synagogue in the city, which means there were very few Jews in the city. This is to be expected in a Roman colony. Lydia invited the apostle and his friends to her home, and that was the beginning of the church in Philippi.

·         The most prominent incident recorded for us is Paul driving out the demon from the slave girl who foretold the future. This caused a riot, and eventually resulted in Paul and Barnabas being thrown in prison.

·         At midnight, when Paul and Barnabas were singing hymns, God's kind Providence sent an earthquake to release them. The jailer was converted. You'll also recall that the magistrates were frightened to know that Paul was Roman, and they had beaten him without a trial. It seemed politic Paul and Barnabas to move on.

Paul Writes from Rome

Of course, Paul is not writing from Philippi. He's writing from Rome. In fact, he's writing from a prison in Rome, where he is chained to a couple of members of the Praetorian Guard. Eventually, this will lead to his martyrdom. In the meanwhile he sees it as a marvelous opportunity to evangelize the soldiers chained to him. Sometimes your circumstances are more of a matter of your attitude.


We begin at the beginning:

Philippians 1:1-2 NASB  Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:  (2)  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul and Timothy

If you will notice, there is something unusual about the salutation. In most of his letters Paul refers to himself as an apostle. Here he refers to himself (and Timothy) as bond servants. To be an apostle was a high rank indeed; being a bondservant is not. The reason is simple. Paul does not need to defend his authority as an apostle to a church with he spent so much time. Rather, he reminds them that his life is one of service. We may see in this simple phrase three things:

·         First, we see the humility of the man. His concern is for the unity of the church, not for his own authority.

·         Then we see his honor to Christ. He is not just a bondservant; he  is a bondservant of Christ. No matter how high your station in the church, you are still a servant. Indeed, as our Lord told us, he who would be ruler of all must be servant of all.

·         We should also see in this the utter devotion Paul has to Christ. One who is truly in love with Christ leads an extravagant lifestyle — extravagant, in service.

To the Saints

The word "Saint" sometimes troubles Protestant Christians. It conjures up a vision of a plaster Saint stuck to the dashboard of your car. This, however, is not the original meaning. Rather, a saint is one who is separate to God. This is a person who lives in the world, but is not of the world. How does one do this? Paul gives you a hand here: the Saints "in Christ Jesus." You remain separate from the world by staying in Christ Jesus. This is why you are taught to have a prayer life, a devotional life, a life of study of the Scriptures as well is a public life as a Christian.

Paul then calls out two groups of people separately. One of these is translated here, "overseers." The word can also be translated elder or bishop. It is the word from which we get our word, Episcopal. The other group, deacons, comes from a different word. They have different functions. The overseers are responsible for maintaining the doctrine of the church; later, they will be responsible for the administration of the church in a local area. Interestingly, it seems that Paul often appointed only one Bishop to a church. However, as is seen here, in the early church we had more than one at a given church. Deacons were particular servants of the church; they were formally assigned to specific duties. So you have here the leadership of the church. Paul identifies them separately to make sure that no one thinks that his letter applies to the rank-and-file, but not the officers.

Formal Greeting

Paul's formal greeting here is "grace and peace." In doing this he combines to traditional greetings: one from the Greek, and one from the Hebrew. Grace is the greeting to the Greeks, for he conveys the idea that God has brought his forgive missed mankind as a whole, not just the Jews. The traditional Jewish greeting is peace (or as we would have it today, shalom). So he combines the ideas of forgiveness and harmony.

Of course, grace and peace come from God our Father. He reminds the Philippians that their forgiveness and harmony does not come from themselves, but from God. The ancient church used to say that all good things come from God, through Christ by the Holy Spirit. There is something of that distinction here as well.

I Thank My God

Philippians 1:3-7 NASB  I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,  (4)  always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,  (5)  in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.  (6)  For 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.  (7)  For 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.

Paul's Prayer

Paul now reveals little bit of his prayer life. It's interesting to see how often Christians of an earlier time felt that their prayers were largely those of thanksgiving. While many of us rush to prayer with our list of requests, Paul begins with thanksgiving. Note, please, that he is consistent in this: he says he does it in every prayer for them. What might be even more surprising is that he prays with joy. So many of us look at prayer is something somber and dull.

The source of this thanksgiving is the Fact that these people have participated in the sharing of the gospel from the very first day he got there until he started this letter. The word participation in this passage is actually the word that is normally translated fellowship. (I am not sure why the NIV and the NASB translate it this way.) Put shortly, these are people who have shared his ministry for a long time — and he is grateful.

Confidence through Christ

Very quietly, Paul gives us an insight on the mind of this time. Most of the Philippians had worshiped the Greek gods before they became Christians. Much of what they believed, therefore, came from those Greek gods. In particular, it was not unusual for a Greek God (in the legends) to change his mind and leave some human being in the lurch. Paul assures them the Christ Jesus does not do any such thing. Whether or not the Christian is brought to the completeness desired is a matter for the Christian; Jesus Christ will always do his part.

Paul puts a time limit on these things: the return of Christ. Notice how casually he accepts the idea that Christ will return. The early church took the warnings of Jesus seriously, and felt that he might return at any moment. We sit almost 2000 years later, and we think that nothing has happened, and therefore nothing will happen. But the warnings of Christ are still there. People may think you're a fanatic or weirdo for believing that he will return. Let them. When he will return, I do not know. But I have God's word on it: he will return.

In this translation, Paul refers to them as "partakers of grace with me." Nothing binds people together quite as much as shared, profound experience. Paul consistently refers to himself as the greatest of sinners, and therefore the greatest recipient of grace. It's the great reason why he doesn't think his circumstances matter — in a sense, he deserves to be locked up for what he did to the church. After that forgiveness, no circumstances seem to matter to Paul. He is in prison — most of us would consider an embarrassment, at the least. Think of it this way: suppose your senior pastor was locked up. Wouldn't you feel just a bit embarrassed, at the least, when someone mentioned that? Paul shows no such embarrassment. He knows that the people is writing to are not ashamed of him, but happily share his imprisonment for the gospel.

What I Want for My Friends

Philippians 1:8-11 NASB  (8)  For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.  (9)  And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,  (10)  so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;  (11)  having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Love May Abound

In verse nine, we see a phrase that tells us a great deal about Christian love:

·         First, love is to abound in knowledge. The word in the Greek is epignosis; it means a full knowledge, a complete knowledge. Christian love is not particularly a feeling, but a learned, intentional act of the will.

·         Next, it is to abound in all discernment. The word can also be translated insight, or good judgment. Love is blind, but Christian love works with its eyes open.

That's a different picture than that which we normally see portrayed when someone talks about love. It reflects a change in our society. We see love is something which is an emotion that happens to you; they saw love is something you decided to do. Because it's a decision, it should be taken with full knowledge and you should use insider good judgment in the choices you make. It's almost impossible to get this across to some Christians.

It's not just that love is to abound, it's that love is to abound still more and more. The word in the original Greek can also be translated, "overflow." That's the kind of love we are to have; not parsimonious and measured love but one that is more than sufficient to all occasions.

Sincere and Blameless

Paul slides in here a concept which you occasionally see in the letters. It is that the Christian is to discern those things which are true, beautiful and excellent and approve of them. Any form of excellence is to be approved. The object here is to train your life so that you are sincere and blameless. If you see something good, praise it — whether it hurts your ego or not.

·         The word "sincere" in the Greek means something that has been tested in the sunlight. The idea is that your conduct has been seen and approved. This is easiest to do if your conduct follows this rule of approving what is excellent.

·         The word "blameless" carries with it in the original the idea of actively inoffensive. It means that you go out of your way not to offend other people, but rather praise their good works simply because their good works deserve it.

Fruit of Righteousness

It sometimes surprises people to find that the fruit of righteousness comes from discipline. Let's take a look at the Scripture:

Hebrews 12:11 NASB  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

This is the only other place in the New Testament where the phrase "fruit of righteousness” occurs.  This, I hope, makes clear the idea that Christian love is not simply an emotional response (that's actually compassion) but something which we learn, which comes from training and discipline.

What often surprises the Christian is the driving cause of this discipline: glory and praise to God. The greatest of Saints have always known this; the highest act of man is glory and praise to God. As a beginning Christian this seems a little bit strange, but the more you get to know God is the more you realize that he deserves it. It's always a good question: does your life bring glory and praise to God?

 Home     Next