Philippians 1-2

Philippians 1‑2  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome was now drawing to a close (2:24), though as yet he had not stood before the bar of the emperor Nero, to whose judgment he had appealed when arraigned before Festus at Caesarea. Meanwhile the Philippian saints, profiting by the departure of Epaphroditus to Paul, sent him a substantial token of their love and fellowship in the gospel (iv. 18); and Paul, reciprocating their kindness, not then for the first time manifested (4:15, 16), wrote this letter to be conveyed to them by Epaphroditus, his brother, fellow-workman, and fellow-soldier, but their messenger and minister to his wants. Truly he was not long in their debt; for the return he gave them, all must have felt, far more than compensated for that which they had expended upon him Each, however, did their part. They ministered to his temporal need; he ministered of Christ to their souls, and described the token of their love as an odor of sweet savor, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God. (4:18) Their ministry to the apostle betokened the activity of Christian life in them. So writing to these saints be dwells on that theme; hence the epistle is hortatory and practical, the affection of his heart for them being plainly manifested. (4:1) The occasion and probable date of the epistle briefly noticed, let us now look at its contents.
As in the epistles to the Thessalonians, and in that to Philemon, so in this one, Paul does not present himself in his apostolic character; but conjoining Timothy with himself as a ‘servant of Christ Jesus, he writes to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi with the bishops and deacons, wishing them all grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:1, 2) The Philippian assembly was evidently well provided with office bearers; and the mention of bishops here, and in Acts 20:2828Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28), proves that the notion of episcopacy current in modern days derives no support from the practice of the apostles. Both in Europe and in Asia there could be more than one bishop in the same assembly. Grace and peace he wished them; for they are always needed. None knew that better than Paul; and the source of grace being opened up to God’s saints, and the God of peace being their God, he could express his wishes for the continued outflow to them of grace, and the constant ministry of peace; for the peace here spoken of is not peace of conscience, but peace of heart-the peace of Christ, that which He gave His people, and which, writing to the Colossian saints, Paul desired should rule in their hearts.
But more, he could give thanks for them, and he did. Years had passed since he had seen them, but he had not forgotten them. “I thank my God,” he writes, “upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” Fellowship in the gospel had always characterized that assembly. (4:15) It characterized it still. (1:7; iv. 14) Now, that fellowship betokened not only love to him, but a real work of grace in their souls-a work commenced, instrumentally, by Paul and his company (Acts 16:1313And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. (Acts 16:13)), but really by God, who will perfect in His goodness that which He has begun in His grace. To Him, then, Paul turns for confidence about the saints: “Being confident of this one thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (vs. 6) And to the furtherance of Paul’s joy, he had not to rest simply on the remembrance of that which they once had been in the first fervor of their love; for the coming of Epaphroditus with their tribute of affection told him of their continued interest in him, and in the work of God with which he was so closely associated. So he points to that as a further proof of the reality of their conversion. “Even,” he writes, “as it is right for me to think this of you all, because you have me in your heart;1 inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye are all partakers of my grace.” Happy Paul, to have such continued evidence of the fruitfulness of his labors among them. Blessed too surely they were who furnished such proofs. Deeds, not words merely, was it with them. And what honor was put on them to have fellowship with Paul in the grace of furthering the interests of Christ and the kingdom of God I They were not ashamed of him, the prisoner. They identified themselves with him.
Thus the energy of Christian life was displayed in them. So he was confident about them, their unabated affection to him confirming it, and his longing desire after them in the bowels of Christ Jesus strengthening it. (vs. 8) And that earnest desire on his part found expression in prayer to God (vss. 9-11), that their love might abound yet more and more in full knowledge, end in all judgment, or perception, so as to approve the things that are more excellent; that they might be sincere2 and without offense unto the day of Christ; being filled with the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. Nothing short of this would satisfy him. After this he tells them how the work of God was progressing in Rome, and what he was assured was the Lord’s mind concerning himself. Then manifesting his interest in them, he turns round to encourage their hearts in the circumstances in which they were placed, and to minister what he saw was the truth suited for them. Such is a brief summary of this short but most valuable letter.
How refreshing it must have been to him, instead of having to meet something wrong at Philippi, to tell them of that which was going forward in Rome He would have them know that what had happened unto him had fallen out rather for the furtherance of the gospel. It was seen now in all the Pretorium, 3and to all others, that instead of his being a malefactor, he was really a prisoner for Christ. In the camp, in the palace, in the city, it was apparent that a testimony was going forth which had Christ for its subject, and of which Paul was the marked exponent and witness. Besides this, the greater part of the brethren, having confidence in the Lord through his bonds, were much more bold to speak the Word without fear. Thus laborers multiplied, and that in Rome itself, and before any sentence from the emperor had been given in his favor. It was not that a few were emboldened, but the mass of them -the many. They spoke, they preached. If then the apostle’s mouth was at present shut, the mouths of many were opened, and Christ was proclaimed.
Yet all were not sincere in this work. Some indeed preached Christ of love, knowing that Paul was set for the defense of the gospel; but others, animated by personal hostility to him, preached Christ of contention, supposing to add affliction to his bonds. Who were these? it may be asked. Their names have for centuries been wrapped in obscurity; whilst he, to whose bonds they sought to add affliction, is widely owned as one of the most devoted and most honored servants of that Lord, whom they also professed to serve; for it was Christ who was preached. Hence Paul could rejoice, and did rejoice. And looking beyond the motives of those who preached Christ, yet not sincerely, he saw the advancement of God’s kingdom, which means the final triumph of Christ. Hence he knew it would turn to his salvation through their supplication, and the supply of the Spirit of Christ Jesus, “according,” as he adds,” to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed; but in all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die gain.” Yet to live in the flesh was worth the while. Personally, however, he would be a gainer by death. What then should he choose? His gain, or the saints’ profit? Coming to that point his choice is made. To abide in the flesh was more needful for them. Hence he knew, and could announce beforehand, the successful issue of his appeal to the emperor, since their joy, and the furtherance of their faith, would be promoted by his being again among them, that their boasting might abound in Christ Jesus through him by his presence with them at Philippi. What unselfishness was this! The interests of Christ, and those of His saints, in this governed him.
How completely was the enemy baffled as regards Paul. The preaching of Christ not sincerely did not oppress him, however much he might have grieved over those who did it. Death in prospect did not trouble him. To live too was for Paul to serve Christ. Over such an one the enemy by these assaults could gain no advantage.
Turning now to the Philippians, Paul would seek in the power of the Spirit to foil the attempts of Satan to dishearten those whom he loved so well. (vss. 27-30) Their interest in him he owned, and had responded to. He would make manifest his unabated interest in them. “Only,” he writes, “let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of the Christ.” For this he was anxious. There was a manner of life in harmony with it. That he desired they should evidence. But before developing this, he makes plain the satisfaction it would give him, whether of seeing them or hearing of them, to learn that they stood fast in one spirit, with one soul striving together for or with the faith of the gospel. In what nobler contest could they be engaged? How many an ardent person has been nerved to deeds of heroism by the spirit of patriotism? But the love of one’s country, unless the interests of Christ are connected with it, can be but of passing importance. A true interest in the gospel and in its conflicts is a very different matter. It was this last that he desired to have strengthened in their souls. And to this end be encouraged them not to be terrified in anything by their opposers, to such an evident token of perdition, but to the saints of their salvation, and that of God. To look around at the trials, like Peter at the waves, would not do. To look up, and to look forward can at such times alone sustain and strengthen. To the future then he turns them. To the end of the conflict he points them, reminding them of the honor put on them, not only to believe on Christ, but also to suffer for Him, having the same conflict which they saw in Paul when scourged and imprisoned at Philippi, and which they heard he had part in, as the prisoner of Christ Jesus in Rome.
What room could there be for the enemy to gain any advantage over them, if such considerations had weight? Their conflict assured them of salvation from God, and reminded them of the honor put on them for Christ’s sake. But when force cannot stop God’s work, corruption may mar it. Of the enemy’s wiles Paul was not ignorant. So he proceeded to exhort them to fulfill, or fill up, his joy by their thinking the same thing, which he explains more at length by the having the same love, being of one accord, or joined in soul, and thinking the one thing. (2:1, 2) Entering now more at length on the subject of walking worthy of the gospel, he first supplies them with precepts (vss. 3, 4), by which to regulate their conduct toward each other, and then points them to the perfect example, the Lord Jesus Christ (vss. 5-9), who for the glory of God, and the welfare of others, emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, taking His place in the likeness of men, the lowest in rank of God’s intelligent creatures. How low had He stooped! yet lower would He go, stooping to death, the death of the cross. His humiliation thus set forth step by step, from the glory to the cross and to the grave; His exaltation is also described, the attestation of God’s marked approval of Him who emptied Himself. Hence the Lord is brought before us as an example, an example none can equal; for no one has come from the height of glory to the death of the cross, and to the grave, but He who voluntarily stooped so low. Now if the Master thus stooped, if He who is our life could thus act, lowly thoughts of self and care for others should be exemplified in each one of us who are His. We learn what He did. We are reminded too in what light God regards it. Never throughout eternity shall any intelligent creature, whether lost or saved, be allowed to forget the humiliation of the Son of God, or to refuse the rendering of homage at the mention of that name given Him before His birth by the angel.
With the example of the Lord thus set before them, these saints were exhorted to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling; for it was God who worked in them the willing and the working effectually of His good pleasure. All the energy came from Him, and He bestowed it on them. Hence there was no reason to slacken their work because Paul was not with them. God worked in them both the willing and the doing, wherever the apostle might be. Thus furnished with all that they needed, they were responsible to use it. (vss. 12, 13) Further, he reminded them that they were God’s children, and fruit of his labor. He would have them therefore to be blameless and harmless, irreproachable children4 of God, and really light bearers in the world, holding forth the word of life, so as to be Paul’s boast in the day of Christ that he had not run in vain nor labored in vain.
What a standard was set before them in the example of the Master! Who can look at it? some may ask. Who has attempted to follow it? others may inquire. We learn as the answer to such questions how Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, each in their own way, had evidently profited by it, the Spirit of Christ being displayed in these devoted servants of God, each of whom traded with the pound entrusted to him, and with the talents given to him. Had God’s glory and the welfare of souls moved the Lord to humble Himself even to death? Paul, learning of the Master, was ready to suffer martyrdom if needed (vs. 17), and would deprive himself of the comfort of Epaphroditus’s presence and service to further the joy of these beloved Philippian saints. (vs. 28) In Timothy was developed the true spirit of service in the gospel. He sought the things of Christ Jesus, and showed a genuine interest in the welfare of the Philippians (vss. 19-22) Epaphroditus was characterized by devotion in personal service to Paul (vs. 30), and by unfeigned love for his brethren at Philippi. (vs. 26) Thus each of these in their own way illustrated the working of the life of God in the soul. Beautiful pictures of Christian self-denial-making God’s interests and those of the saints the real objects.
C. E. S.
1. So we should read the clause
2. ἐιλικρινἠς, lit. examined by the sun’s light; hence genuine, pure. It occurs also in 2 Peter 3:11This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: (2 Peter 3:1)
3. The large camp situated outside the city walls
4. Children (τέκνα), not sons (ὑιὁι), is the term here employed. He was speaking of the activity of the nature; hence the birth-tie was the thought before him