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Main theme: Rejoicing in the Lord. The words “joy” or “rejoicing” appear 11 times in this letter. It can rightfully be termed: “The letter of joy”.
Date written: Approximately AD 61.
Author: Paul, the apostle.
Place: Written from a prison in Rome.
Cast: Paul writes this letter to thank the Philippians for their financial and physical support.
B. CHRIST’S SELF-DENUNCIATION AND EXALTATION (2:5-11)
- When God the Father looked for a trustworthy person to appoint as Head over all of His creation, both heaven and earth; someone that would never grab it for himself, He found such a person in his Son Christ Jesus.
- To qualify for that lofty position, He laid aside all His privileges as Son of God, retaining only His character, became man and even in that capacity he lowered himself to the very lowest levels of human existence, becoming a servant to one and all and, in the end even dying on a cross like a criminal.
- This is set out beautifully in chapter 2 verses 6 to 8: “Who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.”
- Once He had run the complete course of self denunciation, His Father exalted Him to the very highest position attainable as said in verses 9 to 11: ”Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
- As human beings we tend to pursue every opportunity that leads to recognition and fame and once we have it, we hold on to it for dear life. (Just see how many presidents of state find it well-nigh impossible to surrender their chair to someone else after their term of service has expired.) Even in Christian circles, even in churches, the same spirit of wanting to be somebody often surfaces and leads to strife and bitterness. If a church would ask its senior pastor to step down and take over the function of the janitor, sweeping the floors and picking up the rubbish around the church and travel by bicycle while one of the elders takes over the overseeing of the church, preaching on Sundays and driving around in the pastor’s motorcar, you will see the sparks flying. Church officials tend to cling to their positions and privileges same as worldly people.
- That is why Paul admonishes his congregation at Philippi to let this attitude that was in Christ, also be them. Christ laid down His comfort in heaven and slept without a bed or even a pillow. He gave up His angel servants and became a servant Himself, a servant of men, even wrapping a cloth around Himself and washing their feet. He gave up His creative power and when He was hungry, He did not transform the stones around Him into bread. He gave up His power, allowing human beings to arrest and crucify Him. He gave up His authority and allowed Himself to be questioned and tried in the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin and in the Roman courts of Herod and Pilate. He gave up His eternal Son/Father fellowship and experienced the horror of being separated from His Father while hanging on the cross. He gave up the joy of His pure life while taking the filth of our sin upon Himself.
- So Paul’s advice to the Philippians is to follow Christ’s example. Humility in this life, willingness to serve others, even the lowest of humanity and willingness to be emptied, pleases God and qualifies you to be exalted in the life hereafter.
C. PAUL’S RECIPE: “DIE THAT YOU MAY LIVE”
- Paul displayed very much the same attitude as Christ right from his conversion. In chapter 3:4-8, he describes the lofty position he had had, firstly by heritage: he was an Israelite ( a member of God’s chosen nation) from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew from the Hebrews, circumcised on the eighth day after his birth exactly as prescribed by the law. His religious position in life was that of a Pharisee but he was much more than the common run of Pharisees: he displayed an exceptional zeal, was irreproachable in his keeping of the Law and was designated and authorized by the Sanhedrin to persecute the Christian community. He was indeed held in the highest esteem by the leaders of His religion. These were the things in which he prided himself, the things around which his whole life revolved.
- On becoming a Christian however, he no longer counted these things as gain, as things that enriched him spiritually, but saw them as things that made him spiritually poor; as red entries on his balance sheet. He saw these things as human excrement, as that which passes from the human body when he relieves himself. It has an unbearable rotten smell and a person covers it up in a hole in the ground or flushes it away with water for he does not want to have any further contact with it. That is how Paul saw the things which he so much esteemed during the first part of his life. Now, in his new life, they defiled him and stood in the way of his laying hold of the riches which Christ offers.
- Now Christ and everything that Christ gives, is what he counts as gain, what makes him to be a rich man. First of all there is the righteousness (being right with God on account of Christ’s work on the cross) which comes by faith.
- Secondly, by laying down self exertion in the flesh, he became a partaker of the power worked by the Holy Spirit in those that have been resurrected from spiritual death.
- He also became a partaker in the sufferings of Christ to the point where his old sinful life was largely brought to death.
- What he aims to gain is:
- An in-depth experiential knowledge of Christ.
- Being conformed to Christ’s death which means that his old sinful nature will no longer manifest.
- A life throbbing with the same power as that by which Christ was resurrected from the dead.
- Having part in Christ’s sufferings.
- He knew full well that he had not attained to that level yet, but was pursuing it with all his energy and power to grab it for himself.
- In so doing he closes his mind to the things that have gone by so that such thoughts will not distract his attention and he stretches himself out into the future to lay hold of this covetable price which in fact is what God has called him to do.
- This is indeed the attitude which every Christian should have.
- He sums it up with these words: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (1:21)
- Whereas before his conversion he would have desired a very long life on earth so as to have the maximum time to enjoy his privileges as a Jew and as a religious leader, he now sees his treasures all laid up in heaven. Therefore his first choice would be to enter into heaven right away to enjoy them, but he will not do so for selfish reasons. He realises that the better way would be not to please himself but to make himself available in this world for another period of time since he may still be used by God to bless others, including the Philippians. Herein he also displays the attitude of Christ, always putting the good of the Father and the Son and of others, above his own.
D. HOW TO EXPERIENCE THE PEACE OF GOD (4:4-9)
This portion of Scripture contains a number of principles which we may regard as stepping stones towards a life steeped in the peace of God. Let us look at these:
- Rejoice in the Lord at all times (V4).
- Be friendly to all people (God is watching you). (4:5)
- Do not fret about your needs – commit them to God by way of earnest supplication; then thank Him for what He is going to do; consider it done and get on with your life (4:6).
- Keep a strict watch on what you are thinking; exclude thoughts that are unclean, angry, morbid or in any way dishonouring to God (V8).
- Fill your mind with thoughts that are true, honourable, right, pure, lovely and admirable (V8). This is not purporting to be a complete list of what we should be thinking, but an indication of what heavenly thoughts are. Thinking happy thoughts makes one happy. Look at a person who is thinking about something which gives him pleasure and you will see it displayed by way of a smile on his face.
- Saturating your life with such deeds and thoughts will result in a blissful atmosphere, an aroma of godly peace within your heart which passes all understanding for it is not dependent on earthly stimuli (4:7,9).
E. GOD’S PART AND YOUR PART (2:12,13)
- God works it in; you work it out.
- In these two short verses Paul discloses the secret of Christian living:
- By grace and by his Holy Spirit, God works into your life the ability to overcome the flesh and to live a victorious life.
- You, however, have to work it out. The onus is on you to see to it that His grace is worked out in thoughts, words and deeds of the Spirit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
- He strengthens your will but you have to exercise it to cultivate these characteristics in your life. That means that you are to trust God, pray for the continual flow of his Spirit, confess when you have failed and thank Him for the change you are experiencing.
- He is faithful and will always bring His side; but are you and I faithful in bringing ours?
F. REJOYCING IN THE LORD (4:4, etc)
- When visiting a prisoner in goal, one usually takes him something nice to eat and thinks of some encouraging words to speak to him to uplift his spirit. Paul, however, was a completely different kind of prisoner. On entering his cell, you would find a smiling man, jumping up, welcoming you with an outstretched hand, enquiring about your welfare and endeavouring to encourage you. How come?
- The secret for his joyfulness lay in the fact that its source was outside of the prison, even outside of this world. He found his joy in his fellowshipping with the living Christ who never changes, Who is the same yesterday today and forever. This river of joy was continually flowing from Christ, right through the walls of the prison and into his cell. Steel doors and strong locks could not keep it locked out.
- I am sure that as a human being, he would also have found joy in a good plate of steaming food, a nice hot bath, a fine set of clothes and the companionship of his friends, but all of these combined, could not be compared to the deep down satisfaction he derived from being in such close contact with the Lord Jesus.
- Do you agree that Christians should obey God’s commands such as: “Love your neighbour as yourself?” I am sure you do. Well, these words addressed to us in Philippians 4:4 are also a command: “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” This command is to be obeyed.
- Rejoicing in the Lord under all circumstances does not come of itself; it is to be practised; it is to be pursued with all your heart until it becomes a lifestyle. The tendency to moan, complain and pity yourself, is to be denounced, to be tread underfoot continually until joy flows naturally from your new nature in Christ.
- Lift up your face to heaven at least once every five minutes and smile unto the Lord for 30 seconds whether you feel like it or not, and you will discover that the smile on your face will seep down into your heart.
- Persevere to do this for a couple of months and it will become a lifestyle enabling you to rejoice in the Lord like Paul even when locked up in the prison of unpleasant circumstances.
G. PAUL’S INTERACTION WITH GOD’S PEOPLE
- THE CHURCH AT PHILIPPI
- This was the first congregation which Paul established on the mainland of Europe and it became a gateway to the rest of the country. The first people he ministered to at Philippi, was Lydia and her group of believers that had gathered near to the river for a prayer meeting. He also encountered severe opposition and landed up in jail for having driven the demons out of a slave girl. God intervened, the jailer and his household accepted Christ and were baptised and Paul and Silas were released from jail and left Philippi (Acts 16).
- From the outset the Philippians supported his ministry as he went about preaching Christ. When he was jailed in Rome they not only contributed financially, but sent one of their leaders, Epaphroditus, there to minister to him in person (2:25).
- This was a congregation that brought no grief to Paul, only joy. It reflected even in his prayers . Whereas he was in tears when praying for some of the other congregations, when he prayed for the church at Philippi, he did so joyfully (1:4).
- In the opening of his letter he expresses his regard for them, calling them saints and especially also mentions their leaders (1:1).
- Then he pronounces God’s grace and peace over them (1:1).
- He longed for them with the tenderness of Christ Himself (1:8).
- He had full confidence that they would allow the Lord Who started the good work in their hearts, to complete it (1:6).
- He sees them as a beautiful kingly crown on his ministry (4:1). (A crown was usually made of gold and inlaid with diamonds and other precious gems; in this spiritual crown, every believer sparkled.)
- He realised that his imprisonment might cause them to lose faith in the power of Christ to deliver his servants from the hands of the enemies. Therefore he explained that Christ allowed this to happen to him in order that the Gospel may be brought to the Caesar’s guards and that many of them had indeed accepted Christ as Saviour (1:12-14).
- He touches on the fact that while he was in prison, there were some preachers that preached the Gospel with the purpose of opposing him and drawing people away from him. This too may have caused the Philippians anxiety and questioning of God’s providence, therefore he explained to them that he does not take offence to this for the main issue was that the Gospel be preached and not who preached the Gospel (1:15-20).
- He also admonishes them in certain areas of their walk with God for they too, though being a good example to the other congregations, were not perfect and had to attend to certain areas of their lives (2:1-5; 4:2).
- He also taught them in order that they might have a deeper understanding of certain aspects of the Gospel.
- TIMOTHY (2:19-23).
- Paul acknowledges Timothy as a valued co-worker by mentioning him by name in the beginning of his letter (1:1).
- He speaks of him very tenderly saying that he served him as a son would serve his father (2:22).
- He recommends him in that he does not seek his own interests (2:20,21).
- He trusts him above all others to serve the interests of the Philippians and thereafter to return to Paul and give him an in-depth report on them (2:20,22).
- EPAPHRODITUS (2:25-30).
- Paul also has a high regard for Epaphroditus, referring to him as a brother, co-worker, co-soldier and a servant of his needs (2:25).
- He recounts how he risked his life to serve him, which service brought him to the verge of death (2:30).
- Paul therefore requests the Philippi congregation to hold him in high esteem as is right towards such precious men of God (2:29).
- (By the way: the fact that Epaphroditus became so ill that he almost died while being with Paul through whose ministry God had healed many other people, shows that Christian healing does not come automatically with the pressing of a button but that it rests with God.)
- IN CONCLUSION.
From the above we see that Paul was not a self centered leader but had a high regard for all of God’s people and especially for those that gave themselves in the service of God and of Christ.
H. UNITY (2:1-4, 4:2)
- He admonishes the Philippians to keep peace with one-another, especially naming Euodia and Syntyche, two ladies that were playing a leading role in the congregation but seemed to have found it difficult to get along with one another.
- Reprimanding them was an act of love as when the doctor cuts out a malignant growth, which, if allowed to grow, will in the end destroy the whole body.
- Pride and self-interest cause discord, whereas humility and the placing of other’s interests above one’s own, draw people together.
- Disunity within congregations are the main reasons for their splitting up.
- Unity and love within a congregation draw unbelievers to that congregation.
- Unity is the end purpose of Christ’s work of salvation (Eph 1:10).
I. SUFFERING FOR CHRIST (1:29)
Paul teaches that suffering for Christ is a privilege. Does this make sense? Yes it does.
- Retaining our joy in the midst of suffering has a powerful impact on other people, drawing them to Christ.
- It also exposes superficial believers, causing them to fall away from the faith which they pretended to have.
- Lastly it takes one’s eyes of earthly comforts, focusing them on Christ alone.
J. MATERIAL NEEDS (4:10-19)
- As a traveling evangelist, pastor and apostle, Paul never experienced the comfort and security of a pastor residing in the midst of his congregation and was therefore, to a high degree, dependent upon God to supply in his needs.
- Under these circumstances he learnt the valuable lesson of being content with what God supplied whether it was just about nothing, or such an abundance that he could personally not appropriate it all. Sometimes he had a full stomach but at other times and empty one (4:12). He could cope with all these circumstances by the power which God imparted to him.
- He had therefore not appealed to the Philippian congregation to support him, though he was very grateful when they did so (4:10).
- What pleased him even more than their gift, was thinking of the heavenly reward they would receive from God for their generous gift to him (4:17).
- Paul also knew full well that members of the Philippians congregation would at times also be in short supply of the necessities of life. Having continually lived a life of trusting God for these daily needs and experiencing his faithful privation he could confidently assure them that the God who was taking care of him would supply in all their needs from his abundant riches and by Christ Jesus (4:19).
- This verse has been a tremendous help to missionaries and all of God’s saints that were not having a regular income like a monthly salary, but had to trust God meal by meal as a pet waits on his master.
K. VERSES WORTHWHILE TO MEMORIZE
1:21; 1:29; 2:3; 2:5-8; 2:12c-13; 2:14; 3:8; 3:10; 3:14; 4:4-7; 4:11-13; 4:19.
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