Paul's letter to the Philippians
A bible study by Olav Fjærli
1. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
- Give yourself plenty of time and read the entire letter in one sitting. It should only take you 15-20 minutes.
- Imagine that you are one of the original recipients of the letter. Imagine what it would have been like to receive this letter from Paul. How would it have felt, reading that letter? What were Paul’s instructions? What were his commendations? What did you learn?
- Read Philippians again and highlight, or write down, repeated words or concepts. What are the keywords in this letter? What are Paul’s concerns for the Philippians?
- What prompted Paul to write this letter? (What was the occasion?)
- Read about how the Philippian church began. See Acts 16:9-40.
It would be very helpful to record your findings, insights and questions in a notebook. You don’t have to be clever or eloquent or detailed; no one will read it but you.
Paul’s Ministry Commission
Paul had received his commission to be an apostle (missionary) to the Gentiles (the non-Jews) personally from Jesus Christ in a spectacular vision. (You can read about Paul’s conversion and commssion on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:1-19). Paul was zealously committed to his commission and made three missionary trips, taking the Gospel into new territory, including parts of Asia Minor and Europe. Wherever he travelled, Paul sought to establish churches – communities that would encourage and nurture new Christian converts. Leaders were chosen from among the local believers, to oversee the new churches. Establishing churches and appointing leaders appears to have been an important strategy for Paul’s missionary work (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim 4:14; Titus 1:5). Paul also sent people from his network of colleagues as apostolic envoys to provide extra assistance to a new church; especially if the church was going through difficulties (Philippians 2:21-24).
Persecution and Opposition
Paul’s missionary work brought him into conflict with three main groups of people. He wrote: “I have been… in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles . . . and in danger from false brothers.” (2 Corinthians 11:26)
Paul’s fellow Jews, in particular those who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, opposed Paul’s ministry and teaching. Local Gentiles sometimes felt threatened by the introduction of Paul’s new religion into their society (Acts 19:23ff). The biggest problem to Paul and his ministry however, was the opposition of the Judaisers (false brothers).
Judaisers were Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentile Christian converts essentially become Jewish also. They taught that male Gentile Christians should be circumcised. The Judaisers were a constant annoyance and hindrance to Paul who consistently taught that salvation comes through faith and God’s grace, and that following the Law of Moses and circumcision were not necessary for salvation or entry into the church.
Paul experienced an amazing amount of persecution and hardship because of his ministry (2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:23-28). The church at Philippi was also experiencing opposition and conflict (Philippians 1:28-30; 3:2).
The Beginning of the Church in Philippi
Paul visited Philippi a few times. His first visit was during his second missionary journey. This is recorded in Acts 16:9-40.
Compelled by a vision, Paul travelled to Philippi in Macedonia (Greece). This was the first time the Gospel of Jesus was being taken into Europe. As was his custom, Paul went on the Sabbath to look for a Jewish community, with the intention of sharing the Gospel message. Paul always offered the Gospel to the Jews first (Rom 1:6). Apparently there was no synagogue in Philippi, so Paul went to the river in search of a “place of prayer”. Here he found a group of devout, Jewish women. Paul had no hesitation in sharing the message of Salvation with these women. One woman named Lydia was a “God fearer” – a Gentile convert to Judaism. Lydia accepted the Gospel message that Paul brought, and she became the first Christian believer in Europe.
Lydia was a wealthy business woman who dealt with expensive, purple cloth. Women in Macedonia, in general, held a high status in society (compared with women in other societies of that time.) It is apparent that Lydia was the mistress of her home, and through her influence her entire household (which may have included extended family, servants and other dependants) became believers, and were baptised (Acts 16:15).
Acts 16 also records Paul encounter with a demon possessed slave girl. He delivered the girl from demon-possession which landed him in trouble with her owners (Acts 16:16-18). Because of this, Paul and his ministry companion, Silas, were imprisoned in Philippi; but their imprisonment led to the salvation of the prison guard and his family. (See Acts 16:19-34.) Lydia invited the new, growing group of believers to meet in her home. This was the beginning of the Philippian church (Acts 16:40).
Paul was no snob. He had little regard for social distinctions. Whether it was a wealthy businesswoman, a demon-possessed slave girl or a Roman prison guard, salvation and deliverance through Jesus was freely offered to all (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).
The City of Philippi
Philippi was one of the major cities of Macedonia. It was a relatively wealthy city, situated near gold and silver mines which had become almost exhausted. The Philippian congregation, as a whole, however, was not wealthy.
Philippi was actually a Roman colony within Greece. The city of Philippi was modelled on Rome and laid out in similar fashion. Its style and architecture was Roman. Most of the populace were Roman citizens. Roman citizenship was highly prized in the Roman world and afforded the citizen many rights. (Philippians 3:20.) The Philippians were governed by Roman Law. They dressed as Romans and they mostly spoke Latin. Paul, himself, was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-39).
Paul’s Prison Letters
Paul was imprisoned several times during his ministry but he did not allow it to hinder his evangelistic mission (Acts 28:31). Paul wrote many letters, to individuals and to churches, while imprisoned. Some of these letters have made it into the New Testament. These so-called “prison-letters” are Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. The early church father, Polycarp (69-155), whose own Letter to the Philippians still survives, notes that Paul actually wrote letters (plural) to the Philippians.
We cannot be sure whether Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea or Rome, or even Ephesus, when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. However because Paul mentions the “whole Praetorian guard” (1:13) and “Caesars household” (4:22) in his letter to the Philippians, it seems most likely that Paul wrote this letter towards the end of his imprisonment in Rome. Paul speaks of the real threat of his execution, which also seems to indicate that he is writing from Rome. There is no further appeal once someone has been tried by Caesar in Rome. Paul’s appeal to Caesar is his last resort and could quite possibly result in his execution. Despite his situation, Paul communicates confidence and joy throughout his letter to the Philippian church.
A ”Thankyou” Letter
Paul wrote this letter as a ”thankyou-letter” when he was visited by Epaphroditus who had brought a gift from the Philippians. The Philippian church were generous givers, despite their poverty, and had helped Paul materially several times (Philippians 4:14-18 cf 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). While visiting Paul, Epaphroditus had become gravely ill; but being recovered, Paul was now sending Epaphroditus back to the Philippians with this letter (Philippians 2:25-27).
No doubt, during his visit, Epaphroditus had told Paul all the news of the Philippian church. There is no censure or reprimand from Paul towards the Philippians and yet we can see that there were a few issues that were of concern to him.
From your reading of the letter, can you determine what these issues may have been? (These issues will be discussed during the course of the sessions.)
Paul’s personal warmth and affection for the Philippians is evident throughout his letter. He is very expressive in his deep, heartfelt love and hopes for them (Philippians 1:6-8). He refers to the Philippians as: “. . . you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown . . .” (Philippians 4:1)
2. Paul’s Greeting – Philippians 1:1-2
”Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Christ Jesus, to
all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and
ministers; Grace to you and Peace from God and Father and the Lord Jesus
Things to Think About
· What do you know about Timothy? (See Acts 16:1-3; Philippians 2:19-22; 2 Timothy 1:5-7)
· Other than Timothy, can you name some of Paul’s other co-workers. What do you know about them?
· How does Paul describe himself and Timothy in this greeting? (Compare with other Bible translations.)
· What three groups of people is this letter addressed to? Can you define these three terms?
· Compare Paul’s greeting here with those in other New Testament letters.
Paul and Timothy
Paul seemed never to work alone. There are many names in the New Testament of people, both men and women, who are mentioned as working alongside him in the cause of the Gospel – people such as Silas, Luke, Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila. Being an apostle was dangerous, difficult and often discouraging, so he valued the company and support of his fellow ministers. Paul spoke warmly of many of his colleagues. He regarded Timothy with particular affection, and thought of him as a son (Philippians 2:22; 1 Timothy 1:2).
This letter is clearly written by Paul in the first person, so why does Paul infer that Timothy is a collaborator on the letter?
Timothy was well known to the church at Philippi. Timothy, along with Silas and Luke, had accompanied Paul on his first visit to Philippi when the church was founded (Acts16:1-7:15); and Paul was currently planning on sending Timothy to Philippi as his envoy (Philippians 2:19). Paul was effectively mentoring Timothy to be his successor. Paul wanted the Philippian church to realise that Timothy had his full endorsement and authorisation as an able minister; and so he mentions Timothy in this greeting.
In modern church life, it is important that leaders and ministers build strong, supportive networks of friends and colleagues. Moreover, it is important that we pray for our leaders, as they are frequently the targets of spiritual attack and personal opposition and criticism. Perhaps you can pray for your leaders now.
Servants of God
Paul describes himself and Timothy as servants of the Lord, or more literally, slaves of the Lord. In the Old Testament, people such as Moses (Numbers 12:7-8), Joshua (Joshua 24:29), David (Psalms 89:20) and other prophets, were referred to in Hebrew as servants of the Lord. It was a title that highlighted their authority and appointment as ministers and spokesmen of God.
Paul frequently referred to himself as a doulos-slave. To the Greeks and Romans however, the word slave denoted a person with very few rights, someone at the lower end on the social scale. It seems particularly apt that Paul referred to himself and Timothy as slaves in his letter to the Philipians where humility is one of his major concerns (Philippians 2:3,6-7).
What is absent in this greeting, and in this entire letter, is Paul’s claim of apostleship. (see 2 Corinthians and Galatians where Paul repeatedly asserts his status as an apostle.) Paul founded the Philippian church and continued to have strong ties with it. His apostolic role was never questioned by the Philippians and therefore Paul did not need to mention it. Paul’s authority is evident, however, in what he writes to the Philippians, and in the way he writes to them.
Christians are commonly called by several titles in the New Testament: brothers, believers and saints, etc. “Saints” (Greek: hagioi) is an especially common title for believers. Saints refers to people who have been especially set apart from the common-place and are therefore holy. In the New Testament, saints are ordinary men and women, people like us, who have been set apart and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (cf Ephesians 1:13-14), Paul writes:
”He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-22)
In Christ Jesus, all followers of Jesus are regarded as saints. Being a “saint” does not necessarily imply exceptional moral behaviour or piety.
[Incidentally, there is no scriptural instruction or precedent to pray to a deceased Saint, or even to Mary. We are however, instructed to pray to God the Father, in Jesus’ name, assisted by the Holy Spirit.]
The letter to the Philippians is primarily addressed to the church – the saints. It almost seems that the leaders and ministers were included as an after thought. (Paul’s other letters to churches are addressed to the entire church body without mentioning the leaders.)
Overseers are church leaders who are able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2 & Titus 1:9). An overseer literally means one who “looks upon” or “watches over.”
The leadership position of overseers and elders is one and the same, and the terms are often used interchangeably by New Testament writers. For example, Peter appeals to the elders that they be shepherds (pastors) and overseers of God’s flock (1 Peter 5:1-4 cf Acts 20:28).
The word overseer (used 4 times in the New Testament for church leaders) indicates the responsibility of church leaders – watching over and leading the congregation, while the word elder (used 14 times for church leaders) indicates the quality of church leaders – mature spiritual experience. Overseer appears to be a more Greek term, while elder appears to be a more Jewish term. (In some Bible versions, such as the KJV and NRSV, overseer is translated as bishop.) The word pastor is only used twice as a noun referring to church leaders (Ephesians 4:11; Jude 1:12).
The Apostles John (2 John 1; 3 John 1), Peter (1 Peter 5:1) and perhaps Paul (Phillippians1:9) refer to themselves as elders, however no other man or woman is specifically named in the New Testament as being an overseer, elder or pastor.
The word deacon comes from the Greek word diakonos. Diakonos literally means a servant. In the New Testament, service and ministry are completely synonymous, so diakonos is variously translated minister or servant, and only occasionally as “deacon”.
In modern church usage, the word deacon often refers to stewards of the material and more practical concerns of church life. In New Testament vernacular however, ministers/deacons (diakonoi) were men and women with the highest spiritual integrity and ability, and they functioned as ministers of the Gospel. In 1 Timothy 4:6, Paul tells Timothy that he will be a good minister (diakonos) of Jesus Christ if he points out truth and good teaching to the brothers and sisters.
Whenever the Apostle Paul used the term diakonos he always used it in reference to a minister of the Gospel, not to a steward. Paul referred to several New Testament people, including himself, as diakonoi (ministers): Paul (Romans 15:25; 1 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23, etc), Epaphras (Colossians 1:7), Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-9), Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2), Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:5) and even Jesus Christ (Mark 10:42-45; Romans 15:8).
Many churches believe that by using the terms elders and deacons, they are following the model of early church government. However just employing the titles of elders and deacons (and pastor-shepherds), without understanding their function, calls this belief into question. Moreover, the New Testament does not clearly specify a preferred form or pattern of church government.
New Testament teaching on church leadership is amazingly brief. While Paul gives the bare basic moral qualifications of leaders and ministers in and Titus 1:5-9 , there is almost no teaching on the actual roles of these ministers. It seems that the New Testament churches just grew, adapted and developed their own leadership structures according to their own needs and situation.
Grace and Peace
The blessing found in Philippians is found in the greeting of Paul’s other letters also. The usual Greek greeting, charein, is slightly modifed and “christianised” to charis - grace, and this is combined with the Hebrew greeting of shalom- peace. God want to bless us with his grace and peace, his mercy and harmony, his favour and fullness. These blessings come from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Paul’s Thanks – Philippians 1:3-6
”I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all in view of your participation (koinonia) in the Gospel from the first day until now. 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.” (Philippians 1:3-6)
Things to Think About
· In Paul’s letter to the Phillipian saints contains no reprimands. How does this compare with Paul’s other letters?
· In what way(s) have the Philippians been partnering/sharing/contributing in the Gospel (v5)?
· What is Paul saying in verse 6? What is the “good work”?
· What will happen on “The Day of Christ” (v6 &10)?
Paul’s Prayer of Thanks (1:3-4)
Paul continues to follow the letter writing conventions of the day by following his greeting and blessing with a word of thanks. Paul enthusiastically thanks God for the Philippians and uses the word all four times in the verses 3-4. His warm remembrances and joyful prayers are for every member of the entire church. This effusive prayer of thanks is similar to that in several of Paul’s other letters.
The Greek word, koinonia, was a very fashionable word in church life in the 70s and was used mainly in the context of Christian social events. However koinonia has a much richer range of meaning for Christians. Koinonia can be translated as partnership, communion, participation and fellowship. It can even mean generosity. The real meaning of this word is: “sharing something in common”. Koinonia, and its cognates, are often used in the New Testament in the context of sharing a common faith, sharing a ministry, or sharing material possessions. Paul uses this word several times in this letter (1:5, 7; 2:1; 3:10; 4:14); and in others. Koinonia is occasionally prefixed (with syn) to further emphasise the meaning of reciprocal sharing (1:7; 4:14).
Partnering in Mission
God wants us to partner and share with him in his mission to bring the gospel of hope, mercy, justice and salvation to others. By partnering with God in his work, we also become partakers of his blessing and rewards.
God also wants us to partner and join with other believers so that together we can minister with shared strength, support and encouragement. This collaboration of Christians working together for the progress of the Gospel should be one of the Church’s main activities.
The Philippian church had been involved in the work of the Gospel from its earliest days (Philippians 1:5; 4:2-3,15). One way that they were doing this was by financially supporting Paul in his ministry. Because of their financial support, Paul regarded the Philippians as co-partners in his ministry, and as such they were also co-partakers with him of God’s grace (Philippians 1:5, 1:7; 3:10).
The Grace of Giving
The singer Keith Green has famously said that “God can’t cash out-of-state cheques.” By saying this, he was encouraging people to go and actively minister on the front lines of evangelistic missions and not just financially support others who were actually involved. This encouragement is commendable, however in the letter to the Philippians, we can see that Paul regards financial support as real participation and partnership in the Gospel.
The city of Philippi was situated near gold and silver mines and was not a poor city, and yet it seems that the church was not at all wealthy. Despite their “depths of poverty”, the churches of Macedonia, which included Philippi, were often very generous in supporting Paul’s ministry (2 Corinthians 8:1-6).
The Philippians were also supporting Paul’s ministry in other ways also. An important help to Paul was their prayers. (More on prayer later.) Is there a ministry that you can actively partner with in prayer and finances?
Confidence and Trust
Another word which Paul uses a few times in this letter is pepoithos (1:6, 14, 25; 2:24; 3:3-4). This word is the perfect tense of peitho (persuade) and it means having been persuaded, or having become convinced. (Paul is fond of this word and he uses it in many of his other letters too, especially 2 Corinthians.)
What is the “good work” that Paul is referring to in verse 6? The “good work” may be the generous gift that Paul received through Epaphroditus. (Compare the language of Philippians 1:6 to 2 Corinthians 8: 6-8.) On the other hand, the “good work” is more likely to mean God’s initial gift of saving faith (Ephesians 2:8-10 cf 1 Corinthians 1:4). Paul is convinced that God, who began the good work in the Philippian church, will continue to work within the church and the lives of the believers (Philippians 2:13), to bring the good work of faith to maturity and perfection.
Many Christians have seen Christian conversion as the end goal. But conversion is really just the beginning. The Christian life is a journey of discoveries, decisions and determination towards the destination of spiritual maturity and perfection.
What does Christian maturity look like? It looks like Jesus! Jesus is our example of perfect compassion and wisdom; of perfect obedience to the Father and the Holy Spirit; of perfect ethical and moral behaviour
Our aim should be to become completely Christ-likeness. Our end goal is perfection!!! While the common slogan: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” is certainly true, God wants us to intentionally aim for perfection. Paul knew this, so one of his main aims in ministry was to help Christians become spiritually mature and Christ-like. (Romans 8:29; Galatians 4:19)
“…our prayer is for your perfection… Aim for perfection…” (2 Corinthians 13:9 & 11)
”We proclaim [Jesus], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)
At the same time, Paul knew that he himself had not yet reached spiritual maturity and perfection. Paul did not let personal set backs, disappointments and failures stop him. He kept striving for this goal! See Philippians 3:11-15.
The Day of Christ
Paul is the only New Testament author to use the term the Day of Christ. In Philippians he used this term three times (Philippians 1:6,10; 2:16). The Day of Christ is when Jesus returns to earth and his true identity and kingship is revealed to the whole earth (1 Corinthians 1:8; 13:10; 15:48-54; 2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:4; 1 Peter 1:5). Our full redemption and perfection will be finally accomplished on that day. We need to persevere and progress in our Christian faith until then so that we will receive this final culmination of our salvation. On the Day of Christ believers will meet Jesus face to face and be powerfully transformed into his likeness (Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2).
The Day of Christ is not to be confused with the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is a time of wrath, retribution and judgement upon the earth. There is a lot of confusion about end times (eschatological) events; however it seems that the Day of Christ occurs at the conclusion of the Day of the Lord, and there may even be some overlap.
”Our citizenship is in heaven from which we also are eagerly waiting for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of his glory by the exertion of the power that he has, even to subject everything to himself.” (Philippians 3:21)
4. Paul’s Affection – Philippians 1:7-11
”It is right that I think/feel this way about you because I have you in my heart, for whether I am in chains/imprisoned, or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you are co-sharers of God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in real knowledge and discernment so that you may be able to approve what is best and may be pure and blameless until the Day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:7-11)
Things to Think About
· What do you think Paul would have been like to meet in person?
· How would you describe Paul’s affection for the Philippians? (1:3-8)
· When you pray for people, what do you generally pray for?
· What things, specifically, does Paul pray for in verses 9-10? How do these things compare with your priorities as a Christian?
· How do love and knowledge and discernment go together?
Paul’s Affectionate Heart
Paul is portrayed by some as a stern, uncompromising man. Some have even suggested that Paul did not like women. However if we read the New Testament without these negative preconceptions, we see Paul as a man with an affectionate and passionate, pastoral heart. As pointed out before, Paul was no snob. Paul befriended people from all sections of society, including slaves, women and foreigners. His ministry co-workers also came from all levels of society. Paul was a loyal friend and an encouraging ministry colleague.
In his letter, Paul expresses his affection for the Philippians effusively. He has them in his heart (1:7). He longs for them with the same affection and compassion that Jesus displayed (1:8). The word for affection used here is translated literally in the old King James Version as “bowels”. In ancient times the bowels were considered as the seat of deep emotion. Even today we talk about “gut feelings”. Thankfully, modern Bible versions translate the sense of the word rather than its literal meaning.
Paul is not shy about honestly sharing his feelings and emotions with the churches. In Philippians he shares his affection and joy. In other letters, Paul freely shares his distress and his tears (e.g. 2 Corinthians 2:4). How does this compare with your church leaders? Would you like your church leaders to share their honest emotions with church members? Their highs and lows?
Paul is also an optimist. Paul is convinced in God’s ability to work powerfully and effectively within individual people, and within the church. And he is convinced that God’s work will be accomplished.
His letters at some points may seem harsh and uncompromising, but in real life, Paul was a faith-filled, optimistic, gracious and loving leader. He was also smart, educated, passionate, persistent and resilient. God used all of these qualities, plus he empowered Paul to be a remarkably effective apostle. What personal qualities do you have that God can use in ministry?
The Defence and Confirmation of the Gospel
Even while Paul is away and in prison, the Philippians remain partners in Paul’s ministry and sharers in God’s grace. (“Chains” may refer to literal shackles or imprisonment.)
The defence (apologia) and confirmation (bebaiosis) of the gospel may simply refer to Paul’s defence of the gospel against detractors and false teachers, and confirmation may refer to his preaching and proclamation. However both apologia and bebaiosis are also technical legal terms. Perhaps Paul is alluding to his legal trial where he would have the opportunity to publicly defend and confirm the Gospel. (Paul uses similar words apologia and kerugma (proclamation) in 2 Timothy 4:16-17 where he speaks about another legal trial.) So what Paul seems to be saying here is that whether he is locked away, or whether he is publicly defending the Gospel while on trial, the Philippians are sharers with him of God’ grace. Paul continues with the legal terminology in verse 8: “God is my witness . . .”
Love and Discernment
Paul’s prayer for the Philippian church is that their “love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” Paul not only associates love with knowledge, he emphasises this connection. The word translated as discernment (NASB), or depth of insight (NIV), is used only this one time in the New Testament. It is a word used in Greek philosophy to mean moral insight. For the Christian it probably means spiritual insight.
Christian love should be one of our highest virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13). However in contemporary Christianity, love is often portrayed in superficial, sentimental ways. Real Christian love has very little to do with sentimentality. God wants love that is based on real knowledge and depth of insight, and not shallow sentimentality. He wants love that is not just grounded in knowledge, but abounds in knowledge. Heart and brains! Love and knowledge! Christian love involves our feelings (emotions), knowledge (intellect) and our will (volition); and real love will produce action, not just sentimental gestures.
Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is that they will be discerning. We need to be discerning too. God wants us to discern what is ethically, morally and spiritually best, and focus on these things (Philippians 4:8). We need to attach our affections to the most excellent and worthwhile things. We need to approve (test or prove) God’s will and discern God’s ways. Romans 12:2 says:
”Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
One very effective way of renewing our minds and gaining spiritual discernment is through regular Bible reading, assisted by the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 5:14 says that “solid food” (weightier Biblical theology) is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to discern, or distinguish, good from evil.
If we continually apply knowledge and discernment in our lives and are able to approve the things that are excellent, we will be pure (transparent) and blameless on the Day of Christ (v10).
Fruit of Righteousness
Paul speaks about “having been being filled with the fruit of righteousness” (v11). “Fruit” is the result, or product, of God working in our lives through Jesus Christ, by the agency of the Holy Spirit. (cf Galatians 5:22 and Ephesians 5:9). Ephesians 5:9 links the fruit of light: goodness, righteousness and truth, with finding out what pleases God.
”For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth; and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. . . . Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:9-17)
Paul’s ambition was to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9), and to bring glory and praise to God. This should be our goal too. We can only please God when we discern his will and act on it in obedience and righteousness.
Do you find it difficult to discern God’s will? We all do at times. Keep seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, and keep reading the Bible. He wants to reveal his will to you.
”. . . we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10)
5. Motives in Ministry – Philippians 1:12-18
”Now I want you to know brothers [and sisters], that what has happened to me has really served to further the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains most of the brothers [and sisters] in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of love and goodwill. The latter do so in love knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes and I will continue to rejoice.” (Philippians 1:12-18)
Things to Think About
· How has Paul’s imprisonment caused the gospel to progress?
· What was Paul’s “crime”?
· How would Paul’s imprisonment have encouraged others to speak the word of God more courageously?
· What are the “false motives” for preaching the gospel mentioned in these verses?
· What are the “true motives” for preaching the gospel mentioned in these verses?
· Were the jealous ministers preaching heresies or false doctrine?
· What do you think of people who minister from false motivations such as wealth, fame, prestige, etc?
· Why is Paul happy [rejoicing]?
Persecution and Progress
When reading this passage we get a real sense that the Philippians were concerned about Paul’s situation as a prisoner, and that Paul is trying to ease these concerns. Paul is under arrest and facing the possibility of execution, and yet here he sounds quite “upbeat” for the sake of the Philippians. Paul wants the Philippians to know that rather than hindering the advance of the gospel, his imprisonment has actually facilitated its progress.
Many times in the history of Christianity, obstacles, difficulties and persecution became opportunities for a greater broadcast of the Christian message. When the (very) early church was being persecuted, immediately after the stoning of Stephen, Christians left Jerusalem and spread the gospel further afield. (See Acts 8:1, 4). When Wesley and the early Methodists were barred from preaching in Anglican churches they preached outdoors to crowds that were larger than most church buildings could accommodate.
Despite imprisonment, Paul never stopped proclaiming the message of salvation. His prison guards heard the gospel, his visitors heard the gospel (Acts 28:16,30-31), and the churches he had ties with continued to be encouraged in the gospel through his letters and through certain people that Paul sent to them as ministers.
Paul tells the Philippians that the whole palace guard has heard his story. The palace guard, literally the praetorium, can refer to a governor’s palace in any of the Roman provinces. (It is by no means certain that Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from Rome.) Each praetorium was assigned several thousand soldiers. Some of the soldiers would have been on a roster and assigned to guard Paul. These soldiers had heard Paul’s account of his unusual “crime” – the cause of Christ; and the story had circulated among the guards and to many others.
Paul’s crime was that he continued to preach the message of Salvation through Jesus Christ even when it caused controversy and contention. Jewish leaders were angered by Paul’s message, which they regarded as blasphemous and divisive. Greco-Romans were very suspicious of new religions which they feared might upset their way of life. On several occasions Paul’s preaching had caused civil disturbances and even riots. Paul, however was undeterred by hostility and persecution and continually sought opportunities to preach the Gospel. Would you would keep proclaiming the Gospel, even in hostile circumstances?
Motivation for Ministry
Paul points out to the Philippians that his imprisonment has encouraged many Christian brothers and sisters to be more courageous and fearless in speaking the Word of God. These brothers and sisters had seen Paul’s ability to endure his situation and they had seen the grace that God had given him. Buoyed by Paul’s example,they were able to speak the message of Christianity more boldly.
Some of these people were speaking out of love. What is your motivation for ministry and service? (In 2 Corinthians 5:11-14, Paul reveals that his two main motivators are love and fear! In the Bible, fear often refers to a respectful reverence and awe of God.)
Paul had a unique calling, and he had unique abilities. It is evident that some ministers were jealous of Paul’s renown and success in ministry. With Paul locked away, these ministers took the opportunity to further their own “careers” and “status” as ministers. Sadly, rivalry and jealousy between Christian ministers is not a new, or rare, phenomenon.
Paul’s rivals were motivated in ministry by selfish ambition rather than altruistic motives. Moreover they were hoping that their increased success, now that Paul was “out of the picture”, would prove to be irritating and distressing for Paul. The word used here: thlipsis is often translated as “trouble” or “tribulation”; it has the literal sense of causing friction. These jealous ministers expected Paul to be unhappy and troubled about their ministry success; however Paul is happy that the gospel message of salvation in Jesus is being proclaimed. It is interesting that Paul doesn’t criticise these “trouble makers” more harshly.
While I am sure that Paul is sincere in saying that he is genuinely happy that the gospel is being broadcast, I can’t help wondering whether this statement is primarily for the Philippians’ benefit, so that they won’t be so concerned about him. I also wonder whether Paul is expressing his joy so that his rivals will know that their hopes for aggravating Paul have failed.
Today it is obvious that some ministers are using ministry as a way to get rich and famous. How do you feel about people who minister with motives of wealth, power or prestige?
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul criticises those that use godliness as a means of financial gain (1 Timothy 6:5); however he also teaches that Christian ministers who work hard should be paid well (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
One thing is clear from this passage. These rival ministers may not have had the best motives, but they were not preaching heresy or false doctrine. Throughout Paul’s letters, he is consistently vigorous in his denunciation and condemnation of false teachers and deceivers. Are we too soft on people who preach and teach things that are obviously not Biblical? What do you think should happen when someone teaches something that is unBiblical in a church service or in a Bible study meeting?
6. Paul’s Courage – Philippians 1:19-27
” Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:19-27)
Things to think about:
· What, specifically, will bring about Paul’s deliverance (v19)?
· Paul hopes that he will not be disgraced (v20-21). What might cause him to be disgraced?
· What is Paul saying in verse 21-26?
· In what ways can we conduct our lives in a way worthy of the Gospel (v27)?
The Provision of Prayer
God uses our prayers! Paul knew this, so he often asked that people pray for him and his mission. In this passage Paul told the Philippians that he is relying on their prayers for his deliverance. In other letters he asked for prayer so that he might have more opportunities to proclaim the Gospel message.
Prayer can be powerful (James 5:19) – particularly prayer that is guided by God and in line with his will.
Prayer is a powerful way of partnering with God in achieving his purposes. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ prayed to his Father and said: “Let your Kingdom come; let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This should be our prayer too!
I want to see God’s will being achieved in my life, in my friends’ lives, in the life of my church, and in my community; and prayer is where this often begins.
Seeking God’s will and praying for it to be fulfilled can be exciting. I feel very close to God when I am joining with him in prayer for his power to be released and his will accomplished. . . . The key of course is to discern and recognise God’s will. This can take time as we open our hearts and minds to God in prayer so that he can direct our thoughts.
So often when one of our friends is going through a difficult time we will say that we are praying for them. Saying that we will pray for them is not just a lovely thing to say to make our friend feel loved, it is a powerful, spiritual duty. When we pray we should approach God with expectation and faith that he will hear us and help us and grant our request. When praying we also need to be aware if God is guiding our thoughts to pray more specifically or differently.
The Greek word used in verse 19 for deliverance is the same word commonly used for salvation. It is very unlikely that Paul is speaking about his salvation here. Paul’s salvation is not in any way dependent on anyone’s prayers. It is also unlikely that Paul is thinking of deliverance in the usual sense of the word.
There are two clues as to Paul’s meaning in this verse. The first clue is in the following verse where Paul shows us his real concern. Paul’s earnest hope is that he will not be ashamed or disgraced. The other clue is that the phrase: “This will turn out for my deliverance” is a direct quote from Job 13:16.
”Indeed this will turn out for my deliverance . Listen carefully to my words . Let your ears take in what I say. Now that I have prepared my case.I know that I will be vindicated.” (Job 13:16-18)
Like Job, Paul is looking for vindication before God. Paul hopes that his testimony – his faithful defense and confirmation of the gospel – will vindicate him. True vindication for Paul, however, is not dependent on his acquittal and release from prison. Paul is conscious of the fact that even if he presents his case courageously and faithfully, he may not be exonerated of his “crime” and may still be executed because of his testimony. For Paul, true vindication means remaining steadfast to Christ and his message despite opposition and hardship.
The possibility of death is not a deterrent for Paul. It does not cause Paul to alter his testimony. In life or in death, Paul was determined to be courageous and bold and not diminish his witness.
Paul was depending on the prayers of the Philippians and on the undergirding strength and support of the Holy Spirit for his vindication. It is prayer and the Holy Spirit that will enable Paul to stay strong and not disgrace himself and his testimony of Jesus Christ. Prayer and the Holy Spirit is closely associated here. Paul regarded the Philippian’s prayer as being answered by the Spirit’s increased activity on his behalf. Paul placed his confidence, not in his own courage, but on the action of the Holy Spirit.
In Life or Death
Since his conversion, Paul had constantly endeavoured to be an ambassador and representative of Jesus Christ, and to display the Spirit of Christ within him (Ephesians 6:19-20) (2 Corinthians 5:20).
”I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Paul’s life was all about Jesus and his mission. Death would mean that his mission would be over, but it also meant that Paul would be even closer to his Lord. Paul is torn and struggled between the two options of life or death. He tells the Philippians: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Paul’s love for Christ meant that he wanted to tell as many people as he could about Jesus, and help them to become established and flourishing in the faith. So Paul concludes his deliberation with the resolve that he will continue to live so that he can continue to minister. This statement represents his personal convictions based on what seemed to be probable in the light of all the factors. The need of many for his apostolic ministry outweighed his own need to be with Christ immediately.
Perhaps Paul is candidly revealing his thoughts of life and death so that the Philippians would not to become disheartened or disillusioned if he were to die.
Philippians is well known for its theme of joy. In this passage, Paul mentions “rejoicing” in verse 18, “joy in the faith” in verse 25, and “overflowing exultation” at Paul’s return in verse 26. This is despite the fact that this passage is talking about struggles and suffering and even the prospect of death.
Many English translations use the word boast in verse 26. While this is a literal translation of one of Paul’s favourite words kauchema, surely the real meaning here is “joyful exultation”. Paul anticipates that the Philippians will be overjoyed when he is released and able to return to them.
A Manner Worthy of the Gospel
After Paul’s extraordinary show of dedication to ministry, Paul instructs the Philippians that, regardless of what happens to him, they are to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.
Paul repeats this instruction, with only slight variations, in several of his other letters. In Philippians he uses the word politeusthe for conduct which literally means “to live as a citizen”. Paul challenges the Philippians, many of whom were Roman citizens, to live by a higher code of behaviour – as citizens of heaven.
What does it mean to live or behave in a manner worthy of the gospel? Are you living your life in a manner worthy of the gospel? In Ephesians 4:1-3 Paul gives some specific advice on this. Here, as in Philippians 1:27, Paul emphasises unity:
”I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
7. Suffering and Standing – Philippians 1:27-30
” Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:27-30)
Things to Think About:
· What is Paul looking for among the Philippians?
· How does Paul view suffering?
· What does Paul advise when facing opposition?
· What is the nature of Paul’s struggle?
The Influence of Church Leadership
Looking ahead in Philippians 4:2-3, we see that two ministers in the Philippian church did not shame the same view on some matter. Their disagreement was bringing disunity into the church. I have often observed that whatever is happening among the church leaders will also happen among theother church members; even when what is happening among the leaders is never openly talked about. For example: if the leaders are prayerful, the church will be prayerful; if the leaders are lazy in ministry, the church will be lazy in ministry, etc. I have seen this dynamic occur so often that I take it to be a general principle: If the leaders are living it, the church will live it – whether good or bad, whether spoken or unspoken.This is why authentically living and modelling Christian behaviour, and not just teaching about it, is so vital! The attitudes, behaviours, and habits of a church and its members are usually a direct reflection of the attitudes, behaviours and habits of its leaders . . . usually.
Lack of unity has been one of the major issues of the church throughout its history. However real unity is much more than holding to the same doctrines, belonging to the same church denomination, or falling into line under the same church government.
Unity is a pervasive theme in Philippians. (Paul’s frequent use of the word koinonia-partnership and the prefix sun-together in Philippians has been mentioned previously.) In Philippians, Paul addresses the issue of unity with various expressions: “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man” (1:27), “being united with Christ” (2:1), “being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (2:2).
In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul writes that true unity cannot occur unless believers are spiritually united with Jesus Christ, and have a genuine and real knowledge of him. This includes having an experiential knowledge of Jesus, and not just an intellectual knowledge. Unity develops as believers minister and work together, each using their different gifts and abilities cooperatively to encourage and build up the church. Paul goes on to say that the goal of unity can only be reached when believers “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Since most of us are quite a way away from attaining the “fullness of Christ”, is it any wonder that unity is often lacking in our churches? At best, unity is a work in progress; yet authentic unity in the church is a goal we should be aiming for.
Standing Firm in One Spirit
Paul urges the Philippians to stand firm in one spirit. “Standing”, or “standing firm”, is often mentioned in the Bible in association with warfare. In the New Testament “standing” is associated with spiritual warfare. Christians should be courageous and strong, standing firm, and resolutely resisting the attacks of the devil with the mighty power of God (1 Corinthians 6:13; Ephesians 6:10-18; James 4:7; cf Philippians 4:1).
1 Peter 5:8-9 says: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in your faith . . .”
The phrase “one spirit” is ambiguous in Philippians 1:27, and there are two possible ways of interpreting Paul’s meaning. Paul may be encouraging the Philippians to stand firm with (1) the same disposition of spirit; or he may be saying that he wants the Philippians to stand firm (2) in the power of the one Holy Spirit (cf Ephesians 4:4). Standing firm against spiritual opposition is only possible because of God’s power, available to us through the Holy Spirit; so the second option seems much more likely. Each one of us is to stand firm through the power of the one and the same Holy Spirit.
Contending as One Man
Sunathleo – contend ,is used twice in Philippians; in 1:27 and in 4:3. It means: to contend on the side of someone; to cooperate vigorously with a person; or, to make every effort in the cause of, or support of something.
“One man” (NIV) is literally “one soul-psyche” in the Greek. The NASB translates this as “one mind”.
The Christian life is a struggle at times. If the church wants to be strong and victorious over the enemy, and effective and fruitful in mission, Christians must strive and contend together, united with the same mind and heart.
Whether we realise it or not, we are in an ongoing battle against spiritual powers (Eph 6:12). Spiritual opposition, however, often presents itself through ordinary human beings. Who were the opponents of the Philippians? Were they Jewish false teachers? Were they pagan members of Philippian society? Where they Roman authorities?
In the light of Paul’s discussion in 3:2-6 it seems clear that Jewish hostility was present. But there is nothing in 1:28 that restricts the reference to Jewish opponents. What is virtually certain is that these were external foes, not false teachers within the church. It is most likely that Paul was speaking generally of adversaries of the church of whatever kind. Whether Jewish or pagan, they usually employed the same tactics, and the need for courage and unity among the believers was crucial. Failure of the church to be intimidated by enemies is a token of the ultimate failure of the enemies of God.
After the terrifying and alarming events of September 11, 2001, Americans were encouraged to get on with “business as usual” and not let the terrorist attacks affect their way of life. This was going to be a sign to the terrorists that their appalling plan had failed. (In fact, the September 11 attacks have left a definite mark on American society.) Paul was employing a similar principle in verse 28. Paul wanted the Philippians to remain undeterred in the face of frightening opposition. This will show their opponents that they are destined for destruction, but that the Christians are destined for salvation. Perhaps “salvation” has the meaning of “vindication” here as it does in verse 19: God will vindicate the Philippians if they remain courageous despite opposition.
The Gift of Suffering
Suffering is a recurrent theme in the New Testament; a theme that is largely ignored by the modern Evangelical church, and even denied by some Pentecostal churches. Christians have often lived in cultures and situations that were hostile to their faith and have had to endure suffering and persecution. In some parts of the world, and in some sections of society, many Christians are still suffering brutal persecution for their faith.
Jesus, and the New Testament authors, did not shy away from the topic of suffering. They spoke openly about the reality of suffering and the potential for persecution. Paradoxically they associate suffering with joy. The New Testament authors regarded suffering as a privilege because they saw it as a way of identifying and sharing in Christ’s suffering. (See Philippians 3:10)
Suffering has a way of testing and proving our faith, refining it, and making it strong, mature and resilient (1 Peter 1:6-7). Suffering can be one of the most effective ways to bring about spiritual maturity in Christians. If we truly want to be followers of Jesus, and if we are serious about becoming more and more like him, we should not shy away from suffering – we should count it a joy. Paul told the Philippians that their suffering had been granted to them. It was a gift. They were to suffer as Paul was suffering. Were the Philippians to experience imprisonment? The exact nature of suffering is unclear here.
It is somewhat reassuring to know that when we suffer, our sufferings are not unique. Other believers have experienced similar experiences. I have personally found it amazingly comforting to know that Jesus has experienced the same sufferings that on occasion I (to a much lesser degree) have experienced . God does not leave us comfortless.
For many Western Christians, those who live relatively comfortable lives, the concept of suffering is mostly foreign and may well explain why our churches and spiritual life are lacklustre. It is suffering and persecution that brings an utter dependence on God and his Spirit. Suffering increases and refines our faith making it like gold (James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Peter’s first letter was written to people who were suffering slander, insults, fear and persecution because of their faith in Christ. Peter writes to them:
”. . . for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
”Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful
trial that you are suffering as though something strange were happening to
you. But rejoice that you participate/share in the sufferings of Christ
so that you will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
8. Harmony and Humility – Philippians 2:1-5
” If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and [one in] purpose [or mind]. Do nothing out of selfish ambition [envy/strife] or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus .” (Philippians 2:1-5)
Things to Think About:
· What will make Paul’s joy complete (2:2)?
· What is the basis for Paul’s appeal for unity (2:1)? Are you experiencing these blessings from God?
· What features does Paul encourage in relationships (2:3-4)? Generally speaking, how does this compare with your interactions in society?
Unity and Union
The beginning of chapter 2 is a continuation of Paul’s call for unity in the Philippian church. Paul begins this section with several rhetorical questions: If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ; if any loving comfort; if any fellowship with the Spirit; if any tenderness and compassion . . .? The tacit assumption is that the Philippian Christians have indeed been encouraged by being in union with Christ, they have been comforted by his love, they do enjoy fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and they do experience tenderness and compassion, all because they belong to Jesus Christ - because they are in Christ. This important phrase “in Christ” (or “in the Lord”, or “in him”, etc) is a frequently used formula in Philippians; and it is used over 170 times in the New Testament.
Personal union with Christ is in fact the basic reality of salvation for Paul. To be in Christ is to be saved. It is to be in an intimate personal relationship with Christ the Saviour. From this relationship flows all the particular benefits of salvation . . .
Paul makes the clear connection between unity and union in Christ, with the unity and union of believers. As mentioned last week, true unity in the church cannot occur unless people are genuinely united with Jesus Christ, and have a genuine, experiential knowledge of him.
Opinions and Attitudes
In view of the tremendous blessings that the Philippians have received in Christ, Paul urges them to be united in harmony. Paul calls for this unity in four ways: he wants the Philippians (i) to have the same mind or the same thinking (phroneo), (ii) to have the same love (as in 2:1), (iii) be joined together in spirit (as in 1:27), and (iv) be of one mind (phroneo).
Paul uses the word phroneo and its cognates many times in Philippians; twice in 2:1. Phroneo is much more than just a mental exercise. “It is the outworking of thought as it determines motives; and through motives, the conduct of the person involved. Paul wants the Philippians to think the same way and have the same mind; that is, to have similar attitudes, concerns and intentions.
It seems that the disunity among the Philippians was caused by some differences of opinion. Paul wants the Philippians to have the same mind (attitudes, concerns, intentions) and be in harmony on some undisclosed subject. This does not mean that it is necessary for us to always have the same opinions in church life on matters of faith or practise. Even Paul disagreed with other apostles at times. Often it is good to have differences of opinion as this will stretch our understanding of God, his word, his mission, and his world. However we must be very wary not to let differences of opinion destroy an individual’s faith, or the mission and testimony of the church.
Like-mindedness, harmony and unity among the Philippian believers will make Paul’s joy full and complete.
Our Attitudes to Others
Selfishness and its relatives: envy, jealousy and contentiousness, conceit, pride and arrogance, have no place in any Christian’s personality. Selfishness and self-centredness are the antithesis of genuine Christianity. To follow Jesus Christ means to “die to self”. This can be a tough call, one that challenged Christians throughout most of the past two millennia. However “dying to self” is not necessarily grim. “Dying to self” means living for God and his will, which can often be joyful, very satisfying and very rewarding. Part of our journey towards spiritual maturity is that we continue to live for God and for other people, instead of following other, ultimately empty and meaningless ambitions.
Jealousy and rivalry seems to have been behind the discord in the Philippians church. Instead of being envious and contentious (cf 1:16), or following empty ambitions, we are to be humble.(2:3) The personal quality of humility is a quintessential characteristic of Jesus Christ and his true followers!
Paul gives us clear and practical advice on how to live with humility towards others. Firstly he says: “Regard one another as more important [or better] than yourselves” and secondly: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
This straight forward advice is something that we can put into practise immediately. If you haven’t done this already, realise now that other people are more important than you are; and begin to show a real interest in other people’s interests.
Our Attitudes to Ourselves
Paul writes that we should have the same humble and selfless attitude as Jesus Christ. How does this express itself in our attitudes about ourselves? Allowing for differences in personalities, Christians should feel neither timid nor arrogant; we should feel neither inferior nor superior to anyone.
We have been adopted as children of God, heirs of an incomprehensively glorious future. God wants his fullness displayed in us, and he wants us to be partakers in his divine nature – this is what humankind was created for. While our status as God’s image bearers has been sullied by sin, we should not go around moping and defeated. We should simply receive God’s forgiveness with profound gratitude and humility, and walk humbly but surely in the newness of life that Jesus has secured for us.
9. The Creed of Philippians 2:6-11
Philippians chapter 2 opens with Paul reminding the Philippians of the spiritual fellowship, encouragement and consolation they have received in Christ (Philippians 2:1-5). With these wonderful blessings in mind, Paul urged the believers to be like Jesus Christ who willingly humbled himself for the sake of others.
Paul chose to include the creed (in verses 6-11) in his letter to the Philippians to show the extent of Christ’s humility and sacrifice. This creed profoundly expresses the willing sacrifice and surrender of Jesus Christ, who despite his glorious pre-existence, came to earth in human form (his incarnation) in order to carry out his mission of redemption. While on earth he obediently endured humiliation, even the ultimate humiliation and degradation of crucifixion. This obedience is rewarded with sublime exaltation that commands universal worship.
The Poetry of Philippians 2:6-11
The verses in this passage are arranged in couplets and they feature poetic devices. This evidence of prose has led many theologians to postulate that this passage may in fact be the words of a very early Christian hymn, poem, confession or creed. While we cannot know with any certainty which of these literary genres this passage belongs to, it clearly contains all the aspects commonly found in creeds. It contains dogma, liturgy, confession, polemic and doxology.
These verses also have the characteristics of early Christian hymns. The Christological scheme presented in Philippians 2:6-11, of Christ’s pre-existence, humiliation and exaltation, omitting the resurrection, was a very common theme of many early church hymns.
The words of this passage can be arranged as a chiasm which represents the descent and ascent of Jesus Christ. The climax of the chiasm is in verse 9.
”Who, being in the form (morphe) of God, did not regard it robbery to be equal with God . But he emptied himself taking the form (morphe) of a slave, being in the likeness of human beings. And being found in appearance (schema) as a human, he humbled himself,being obedient unto death, even death on a cross.Therefore also God highly exalted him in the highest placeand granted to him a Name that is above every Name.That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, to the glory and praise of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)
This passage in Philippians uses uncommon words, and words used differently to the way Paul generally used them in his epistles. This seems to indicate that Paul was not the original author of this creed-hymn. The fact that there is no mention of salvation or the resurrection in this hymn further suggests that it is not Paul’s composition, as salvation, justification and Christ’s resurrection were subjects of vital importance to Paul (2 Corinthians 15:1ff). However it is important to point out that the purpose of this creed-hymn was not to show what Christ’s work means for us in regards to salvation, but to show what it meant for Christ himself in regards to his ultimate exaltation.
THE CREED: LINE BY LINE
Equal with God
6a Who, being in the form (morphe) of God . . .
This passage begins with “who”. Other parts of the New Testament which are thought to be fragments of early hymns, etc, also begin with “who”. These other fragments are found in: Colossians 1:15, 1 Timothy 3:16 and Hebrews 1:13.
Form (morphe) implies internal as well as external form, compared with schema which refers only to outward appearance. Morphe refers to that form which truly and fully expresses the being that underlies it.
6b. . . did not regard it robbery to be equal with God . . .
Jesus, being equal with God, did not need to steal, grasp or clutch at divinity. It was already rightfully his. There were others however, who had become proud and tried to grasp at divinity illegitimately – with grave consequences.
Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thinking it would make them like God (Genesis 3:5). Their action brought the curses of sin and death upon all mankind.
Isaiah 14:12-20 prophesied about the destruction and fall of “the morning star, son of the dawn”, (probably Satan), who aspired to elevate himself and make himself like “the Most High”. The ruler of Tyre (who may also represent Satan), was also not content with his already high position, and thought himself equal to God. This too led to his disastrous downfall (Ezekiel 28:1-19).
In a way we do share in God’s divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We are made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27), and God wants us to be become like Jesus. These are good and godly aims; however we need to be wary of the sins of pride and arrogance, and not think of ourselves more highly than we should (Romans 12:3).
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
7 But he emptied himself taking the form (morphe) of a slave (doulos), being in the likeness of human beings.
Not only did Jesus not try to clutch at divine majesty, he willingly relinquished his exalted position and laid aside his divine privileges to become a human being. The word: ekenosen used in verse 7, literally means “he emptied himself”. This word has led to the kenosis theory which has been the subject of countless theological articles and books. Kenosis refers to Jesus’ temporary renunciation and surrender of divine power and privilege.
Even though Jesus was God, he never relied on his divinity during his earthly life. He chose not to use his own power. Jesus did not do any miracles before his baptism in the Jordan River, at which point he was baptised with water and with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-34). It was only after his baptism with the Holy Spirit that Jesus began his earthly mission, ministering in teaching, healing and deliverance. Jesus lived and ministered on earth as a human being, totally dependent on the Holy Spirit, and as such he is an example that we can try to follow.
In the Form of a Slave
Jesus did not come to reign or rule on earth; he came to serve. Jesus was recognised as a Rabbi, but he spent much of his time with ordinary people and even outcasts – caring for them and ministering to them. Jesus did not just condescend to become a human being; he became a person of lowly status – a slave.
”whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)
Across the Roman Empire, during the first century AD, slaves made up more than half of the population. While some slaves were mistreated, many were not. Slaves, however, had very few rights compared with Roman citizens. Roman citizenship was prized, and a Roman citizen had a higher status than the many non-citizens, foreigners and slaves that lived throughout the Roman Empire. Philippi was a Roman colony and many of its inhabitants were Roman citizens. We can assume that many members of the Philippian church were also Roman citizens. What would it have meant for these citizens within the church to view their Lord and Saviour as a slave?
8 And being found in appearance (schema) as a human, he humbled himself, being obedient unto death, even death on a cross!
Crucifixion was a shameful, disgraceful way to die. The Romans used it only on slaves and foreigners, not on their own citizens. The Jews regarded crucifixion as a curse, believing that victims of crucifixion were cut off from God (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 2:13). This creed is describing Christ’s humiliation, degradation and alienation to the lowest possible extent.
For the Romans at Philippi, verse 8 would have made a profound, almost incomprehensible statement. The Romans and Greeks considered honour, glory and pride as virtues. Shame and humility was seen as a weakness. The humility and obedience that the New Testament teaches, and that Jesus exemplified, would have been a completely counter-cultural concept for the Philippian Christians.
Jesus’ obedience meant that he never stepped outside of God’s will. Jesus never eased his situation with his own divine abilities. Jesus remained humble and obedient to death – even death on a cross!
Jesus Christ’s Exaltation
9 Therefore also God highly exalted him in the highest place and granted to him a Name that is above every Name . . .
Jesus Christ’s extraordinary display of obedience and humility was for our benefit. Jesus plumbed the lowest depths of human existence when he paid the price for our sins with his sacrificial death on the cross. Having successfully completed his act of redemption with his resurrection from death, he was ready to return to heaven and resume his glorious position at the right hand of God the Father. Having reached the lowest depths, he was to be, literally, “super-exalted” by God.
God the Father has bestowed on Jesus a Name that is above every other Name. Some theologians think that “name” really refers to character or position rather than an actual name. However the very next verse would indicate that it is the very name of “Jesus” that is being elevated and honoured, perhaps even higher than God’s name Yahweh. The “therefore” at the beginning of verse 9 indicates that Jesus is granted this honour because of his exemplary humility and obedience.
Cosmic Praise and Worship
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow: in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 And every tongue confess the Lord Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God the Father.
At some point in time in the future every person on the planet will acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ; and that he is the true Messiah. Some perhaps, unwillingly. Jesus’ authority will be universal and even cosmic, with angels, people and devils all worshipping and paying homage to the Saviour Lord. Compare with Revelation 5:13!
The Bible insists that we may only worship the one true God and no one else. This show of worship towards Jesus, shows that Jesus is God, with the Father. Furthermore, the word, “Lord”, used throughout the New Testament in reference to Jesus, was used in the Greek Old Testament as referring to Yahweh. Jesus is Yahweh, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. These three are the one true God.
This confession in Philippians 2:6-11 is a prelude to the day when all of creation will resound with universal praise to Jesus Christ, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
This creed closes with the doxology: “. . . to the glory and praise of God the Father.” Recognition of Christ’s lordship fulfils the purpose of the Father and so brings glory to God.
”Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ”To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:11-13)