Philippians 1:1-26 – 24 Oct 21 – River Community Church
As a part of our worship on Sunday mornings, we periodically highlight some of our ministry partners. There are many reasons why we do this: One, so we know how to pray for the people, ministries, organizations we serve, and also so we might meet and provide for their needs.
And on top of that, it casts vision and continually puts before us the need for evangelism and the advancement of the gospel. I’ll list a few of the ministries we partner with…
Youth Horizons, Embrace, One Link International, FCA. As a church, we partner with the Heart of Kansas Association of Southern Baptists, which supports and develops healthy churches in the region… and then we’re a part of the larger SBC, who through the cooperative program, we’re able to extend our reach globally as we seek to fulfill the great commission.
All of these ministries— from the local, small group level to the international mission board — are examples of how we leverage our time, talents, and treasures for the advancement of the gospel. These are diverse missions operating under one goal— that Christ would be magnified in our lives, in our city, in the nation, and in the world.
These ministry partners are a concrete example of the heart of the message in the book of Philippians, which we start today and will cover over the next four weeks.
As we’ll see this morning, one of the chief concerns for Paul in this letter is the advancement of the gospel. The gospel- the good news about the salvation God has effected in Christ— is the singular passion of Paul’s life. Throughout this letter you can feel his passion overflowing. For Paul, Christ is everything.
In chapter 3, he’ll burst with passion— “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” This was the heartbeat of his life and of his ministry. The gospel was his song. His anthem.
Philippians is a letter written to a community of believers who were his gospel partners. They were deeply involved in supporting Paul’s mission.
This is personal correspondence. And God, in his great mercy, has preserved it through the ages so that we can know him and that we’d be blessed by it.
This morning, I want to give a brief overview of the book as a whole and then we’ll dive into chapter 1. We’ll just look at verses 1-26 this week, and then we’ll take the last chunk of chapter 1 through chapter 2 next week.
Philippi was a Roman military colony in northwest Greece. The people received Roman citizenship. It was home to a lot of military veterans. The culture is very “pro Empire,” which is a source of conflict in the Philippian church. The Roman civic religion at the time was one of devotion to the emperor. The emperor received god-like status. The people would call him “Lord and Savior.”
This Emperor cult was so pervasive, if you wanted to participate in society in any public event, it would include some form of giving honor to the emperor. A prime contemporary example of this is what we see in North Korea with Kim Jong-un where he’s seen as this divine benevolent protector of the people.
The Philippians confess Jesus as the true Lord and Savior, which implied, Caesar wasn’t. This is a point of tension reflecting their dual citizenship… They are Roman citizens, but also citizens of God’s kingdom. This is the backdrop of the opposition that they are facing as they refuse to engage in emperor worship.
Paul’s affection for them goes deep. He planted the church at Philippi. You can read about it in Acts 16:11-40. The Philippians also have a history of support and generosity toward Paul. He mentions them in 2 Cor 8:1-5 where he says out of their poverty and joy they overflowed in generosity toward him.
Their generosity is the occasion for Paul writing now. He is imprisoned in Rome, though the circumstances behind this imprisonment is largely unknown. Philippians respond to news of his imprisonment by sending a gift (probably something as basic as food) through their mutual friend Epaphroditus, as an expression of their commitment of friendship.
Epaphroditus tells Paul about the happenings back in Philippi — Roman opposition and suffering at the hands of their neighbors and some signs of internal discord (harmful attitudes of selfishness/posturing) in the church.
Paul’s main purpose in the letter is for the advancement of the gospel. He does this primarily in two ways.
First, he wants to show how his present suffering/imprisonment is advancing the gospel. And he wants to have them draw the connections to their own suffering and how that may serve to advance the gospel. And second, he wants to point out how destructive selfishness is to their community and the advancement of the gospel in their city.
After Paul dictates this letter, he’ll send Epaphroditus back with it. Then, after the trial, he’s going to send Timothy to Philippi to tell them the results, before he himself is able to see them again face to face. All of this suggests Paul’s confidence that he would be released.
As we dive into chapter 1, one of the main themes I want us to take hold of this morning is Paul’s desire to see their progress in the faith for the advancement of the gospel.
Just as Paul reflects on his situation and how it serves to advance the gospel, he wants the Philippians to make the connection to reflect on how God is at work in them to advance the gospel. So it’s no stretch for us to reflect on our lives, that we might do the same. That we would grow in our faith that Christ would be magnified in our lives — At Spirit, at Koch, at WSU, in board meetings, in the home…
The letter begins:
Paul and Timothy, servants[a] of Christ Jesus,
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the standard greeting typical of all Paul’s letters but what’s notable here is his use of the title “slave” or “servant” instead of apostle. It’s not that Paul’s denying his apostleship, but he’s emphasizing a major theme of this letter: selfless, loving service to others. From the very beginning he’s introducing one of the major themes.
In verses 3-11, Paul demonstrates how prayer, thanksgiving, and joy are hallmarks that distinguish the Christian life.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,[a] both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
It’s easy for us today to overlook the significance of beginning his letter with thanksgiving, but this is something unique to the time period and it reflects a distinct Christian worldview— it reflects how the gospel transformed Paul’s life and his mind.
Ancient letters would begin with a health wish… the equivalent of our overused “I hope this email finds you well…” Paul begins his letter not with well wishing, but thanking God for his friends and what God’s doing in their lives.
Thanksgiving takes the form of prayer. The deepest form of thanksgiving is prayer directed back to God— the “Father of Lights” from whom every good and perfect gift comes (James 1:17).
Later in chapter 2 especially, Paul will emphasize humility and service. But real humility and service starts with thanksgiving and prayer. It starts with a mindset. In thanksgiving, we recognize our humility (our position) before God and recognize all that he provides for us. And that kind of life, that kind of mindset, transforms the way we live.
This “thanksgiving + prayer” kind of life results in a life of joy.
Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit— it’s evidence of a Spirit-filled life. Joy is not to be confused with fake happiness… but deep satisfaction in God that transcends circumstances.
The Spirit—present with Paul in prison—sustains him, filling him with a deep sense of contentment that transcends his present circumstances.
So joy does allow room for sorrow, for the tragic, for grieving… in 2 Cor Paul speaks of being “sorrowful yet always rejoicing”
When you see Spirit-filled joy, it’s powerful… because it’s evidence of something only the Spirit could produce in the face of unimaginable suffering.
The basis of Paul’s thanksgiving and joy is the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel in verse 5.
Here we see the singular passion of Paul’s life— the advancement of the gospel. The advancement of the gospel, in spite of whatever circumstance, is a cause for joy.
The word “partnership” means participation in something. It comes from the same word that Paul uses in verse 7 to say that they are also “partakers with me of grace.”
They are participants of God’s grace (God’s grace is not something we just passively receive… it fuels our action)… so they are participants of God’s grace and participants together in spreading the gospel.
So because of their partnership in the gospel, Paul thanks God for them and expresses confidence that it will continue— that confidence is not based on their efforts but what God is doing in them. And then Paul asks God for increased love and fruitfulness in their lives and in their community.
In verses 12-26, Paul offers reflections on his imprisonment. Again, this is a letter of friendship, so Paul is saying “here’s what’s going on with me” and then he’ll get into “what’s going on with you.”
Verses 12-18 is about perspective. Paul reflects on how his specific life circumstances are serving to further the gospel.
12 I want you to know, brothers,[a] that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard[b] and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word[c] without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Paul expresses confidence in God’s sovereignty. This is a consistent theme we find throughout Scripture. The summary conclusion of Joseph’s life in Genesis 50:20 — after being betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery— “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
In one sense this verse can be misused and turned into a platitude… “it’s all part of God’s plan.” And when used like that, it can be very hurtful to people. But that’s true of all verses. Any verse could be misused and turned into just a bumper sticker.
But on the other hand… this verse and Paul’s perspective is very consoling. Think of that, to view your life as under the sovereign care of the Good Shepherd. Paul’s perspective finds meaning in circumstances that otherwise are trying to strip that meaning away.
And so while I welcome the caution not to turn this verse and sentiments like it into platitudes… we need to see how this perspective is a way to inject hope into circumstances that otherwise have no hope.
I listened to a lecture a while back with Dallas Willard and he was asked “Where was God on 9/11?” Part of his answer was to say, “God is where the suffering is.”
Paul’s perspective of seeing his imprisonment as helping to advance the gospel doesn’t require him to try to erase or ignore the hardship. God is where the suffering is. The Spirit’s presence with Paul produces joy.
Paul’s overarching perspective is that God is at work in all things to make his great name known to others.
Even in prison, Paul has opportunity to proclaim the gospel so that Caesar’s own imperial guards hear it and other Christians are encouraged and have become more confident in their faith because of Paul’s boldness.
There are some in Rome who appear to be glad Paul is in prison and that means they think they can preach Christ better than him… and others who are preaching out of love. And Paul’s perspective is, regardless of what other people’s motives are— Christ is being proclaimed— and that’s cause for rejoicing.
It’s important to say Paul is rejoicing because of Christ being magnified… not rejoicing in his imprisonment itself. Rather, he’s rejoicing at how despite the hardship, God is at work transforming lives for the kingdom.
The key to Paul’s joy is his perspective. Eternal perspective. Seeing his circumstances in light of reality. We’ve often talked about looking at your situation through a soda straw… and how the need to expand your perspective.
How do we learn that? How do we learn to see thing’s from God’s perspective?
I think we find the answers in what we’ve read so far.
One way we learn perspective is through personal disciplines. We learn to move through life in thanksgiving and prayer. Don’t over spiritualize this… Don’t make this “mysterious” or super pious… When I run, lately, I’ll just pray “God, thank you for legs, thank you for lungs, thank you for a healthy heart, thank you for my body.” That may seem insignificant but it’s a small way of training your mind to see yourself through God’s perspective – to see your life and all that you have as a gift from God.
We also learn perspective through God’s Word, Spirit and his people.
Who are God’s people in this letter? Don’t forget about Timothy, who’s probably the one writing this letter as Paul dictates it. So it’s no stretch of the imagination that Paul and Timothy were reminding each other of hope, reminding each other of what’s true. And of course, the Philippians’ partnership— Christian community. The people of God are an integral part of learning to see things from God’s perspective.
We also learn it through the Word. God has given his people his word. Paul writes this Spirit-inspired letter and it will be read aloud to the gathered community in Philippi. So you have the word of God, through the Spirit, shaping hearts and giving perspective to the people of God.
And then the people of God speak hope, and truth, and love into each other’s lives… we help each other make sense of our circumstances.
We see this at work, when in vs 19, Paul says, “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.”
So in the final section for this morning vs 20-26, Paul reflects on the outcome of his trial and his utmost desire that Christ would be magnified.
19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Verses 20-21, rightly so, are well known verses that are the anthem of Paul’s life. He’s reflecting on the expected outcome of his trial— Paul believes he’s going to be released, but his deepest desire is that in whatever outcome— whether if he’s executed or if he gets acquitted, Christ would be honored (magnified) in his life.
Paul then begins to reflect on the question of if its better to live or to die (depart) and be with Christ… He’s not suicidal here— this is not a passive death wish or a desire to escape trials. In fact, it suggests the opposite: Paul has every expectation that things will turn out in his favor. He expects to live. So, what he’s doing by asking this question is instructing the Philippians.
He wants to point them to their future hope… the “not yet” aspect of their faith. If Paul were to die, he would be with Christ, he would receive the long sought after goal of his life. And that serves to give them hope to endure their present circumstances. As you endure, look forward to your future glory with Christ.
And he also wants them to know that God sees it fit that it’s better for them if Paul stays so that he can continue with them for their joy and progress in their faith.
Paul is emphatic in this: that above all Christ would be magnified, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” What’s important is that Christ would be exalted.
How do we live like Paul here? How do we live so that the gospel becomes the singular passion of our lives?
Another way of asking this might be, How do we live so that “gospel-centered” is not just a tag line?
The answer is similar to what we said in learning how to have God’s perspective… Living connected to God’s resources- his Word, Spirit, and people.
Life in community is one way we reframe how the gospel impinges on our daily lives.
We live as participants of God’s grace as we are participants in Christian community. Because it’s there (here) where we learn how to experience and live out the gospel.
And the more you love the gospel, the more passionate you become about evangelism (the advancement of the gospel).
For Paul, evangelism is an essential element of his understanding of the gospel. Because the gospel is quite literally news about something that has happened… it implies the spread of that news.
There’s no shortage of news stories that dominates our social life and that could dominate your conversation if you let it. Terry talked a few weeks ago about infusing grace and life-giving speech into your conversations. Living in such a way that reveals beauty.
We have such an opportunity in our society right now to live as people of hope. When I was at Officer Training School, the Commandant met with all the student chaplains— there weren’t very many of us. He was a big advocate of the chaplain corps and he said “people need hope right now. Things are just dark. I need you to go out there and give hope to people.”
He recognized the need of the Air Force. Of course the Air Force needs days and dollars… but its greatest need is for airmen to have hope. That’s true in the AF, that’s true everywhere.
I’m challenged myself on this. I’m praying that God would give me opportunity to grow in evangelism. To live as a person of hope… to not let other stories drown out the anthem of Christ. To live in such a way that Christ would be magnified in my body.
I want to conclude by circling back to Paul’s prayer in verse 9-11 and may it be our prayer for our lives this morning. Let me pray for us.
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Amen.