Did you know that I am an amazing basketball player? Well, I am. I really am! I have blazing speed up and down the court, and I have a paralyzing first step to the basket. I can dribble between my legs and around my back. I even have a killer-crossover. I should be called “the ankle breaker.” I have unlimited range on my jump shot. I can hit three-pointers that are so deep they should count as four points. All in all, my game has no weaknesses. I am an “offensive assassin.” Now after hearing all of this “trash talk,” you should ask: “What team do you play for?” If you asked me this question, I would reply: “I’m not really into organized basketball. I don’t play on any team. I just play alone in my front yard.”
Isn’t that a pathetic response? How can I possibly claim to be a superstar basketball player on par with Kobe Bryant or LeBron James and not play on a team? That is ridiculous! In order to be a great “hoopster,” I must play ball on a team and showcase my skills! Similarly, Christianity cannot be lived out by reading the Bible, listening to praise songs, and praying by yourself. Christianity is not a solo sport like fishing or golf; it is a team sport like basketball, and the local church is the team. To be on the team requires active participation and partnership in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, the individual who pleases God’s heart partners with a local church. More to the point, the church that pleases God’s heart partners in the gospel. If there is no partnership, there is no church. Instead, there is merely a social club that happens to meet on Sundays. In Philippians 1:1–11,2 Paul pens a joy-filled greeting to his favorite church. In these eleven verses, Paul shares the key themes of this letter and the reasons why he is so pumped about the church at Philippi.
Philippians opens with these words: “Paul3 and Timothy4, bond-servants [slaves] of Christ Jesus” (1:1a).5 Although Paul alone wrote this letter, he includes Timothy in the writing.6 Since Paul is going to send Timothy to them (2:19), he likely wants to elevate Timothy’s authority. Including Timothy in the intro as his right hand man would garner further credibility and respect for Timothy. Paul calls himself and Timothy “bond-servants.”7 Since Paul yearns for the Philippians to continue to model humility, he holds himself and Timothy up as examples. He doesn’t write, “Kiss our rings, hang pictures of us in your homes, and name your sons after us.” Paul isn’t a prima donna who has to be worshipped or a fragile hero who has to be treated with kid gloves.8 If anything, he seeks to run from the spotlight of being a successful evangelist, church planter, pastor, and Scripture writer. Instead, he is partial to the description “bond-servant.” Interestingly, the only other use of the term “bond-servant” in this letter is used of Jesus Christ who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (2:7). Paul is saying: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). In a book of 104 verses, Jesus’ name or title occurs a whopping 51 times.9 It is obvious who is central in Paul’s heart, mind, and theology. Like Paul, we must see Jesus as supreme10 and ourselves as slaves.11
Paul continues his greeting in 1:1b: “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.”12Paul includes the entire church in this greeting. He calls all the Philippians “saints” or “holy ones.”13 A “saint” is God’s name for a believer who is “in Christ Jesus.” This term is not based on what you do; it is dependent upon whose you are. You are a “saint” or a “holy one” because of your identification with Jesus Christ. It is also worth noting that Paul includes the phrase “who are in Philippi.” Here he reminds these saints that they live in two spheres at the same time: “in Christ” and “in Philippi.” It is important to note the order Paul gives here: first in Christ, second in the world. Too many times as Christians we reverse the order. Our position in Christ should drastically affect how we live in our city. If we focus only on being “in Christ” then it will be easy to fall into a pious, monastic, self-absorbed approach to spirituality. If we only concentrate on being “in Philippi” (or in Olympia) then we may easily become absorbed into our culture and be salt that loses its savor. We will become a thermometer rather than a thermostat—one who merely reflects the conditions around us rather than altering them.14 Instead, we must cooperate and remember if there is no partnership, there is no church.
Paul concludes 1:1 by acknowledging “the overseers [elders] and deacons.” Since Paul doesn’t include a greeting to elders and deacons in any of his other letters this must be significant. In light of the content of this letter, he is likely encouraging the elders and deacons to exude humility and unity in the midst of their ministry challenges. This verse clearly shows that there was a distinction between elders and deacons in the early church.15 Nevertheless, the biblical qualifications for both offices are the same, while their functions differ. Elders must be able to teach the Scriptures, and they are responsible for the overall spiritual leadership of the church. Deacons, on the other hand, are responsible for the physical and material needs of the church. This verse also reveals a plurality of elders and deacons in the church.16 The New Testament gives no support for one man running a church; it is always to be a plurality of qualified leadership.17 This insures a necessary system of checks and balances and also keeps one person from receiving the glory, which belongs to Christ alone. While the team of elders is responsible to lead the church, they are to do so as servant leaders. If there is no partnership, there is no church.
Paul’s greeting continues in 1:2 with familiar words: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”18 “Grace” and “peace” must come from both God and Christ. “Grace” is God giving to us what we don’t deserve and can’t repay. Grace results in “peace,” which is a right relationship with God and a tranquility of soul. God’s goodness ought to compel you and me to participate in the local church. While we are thoroughly secure in our relationship with God we must remember that God is “our Father” and Christ is “the Lord.” We have been bought with a price and our bodies are no longer our own. We now are the property of Jesus Christ and are subject to His desires for our life (see 1 Cor 6:19–20). Therefore, we are accepted, but we are accountable as well.
Paul’s formal greeting is now complete (1:1–2), but his introductory thanksgiving stretches from 1:3–11. So, about now Paul is just warming up. Notice the superlative language he uses in 1:3–5: “I thank19 my God [in all20 my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy21 in my every prayer for you all], in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” Paul is thrilled with the Philippians—the man gushes over them!22 Why is he so excited about them? Look again at these three verses. Verse 3 begins, “I thank my God…” Now stop there! Verses 3b–4 is a parenthetical statement. Paul picks up his expression of gratitude in 1:5 where he thanks God for the Philippians’ “participation in the gospel.” Notice the key phrase “participation in the gospel.” This phrase is only used in Philippians. Significantly, the word “gospel” (euaggelion) appears more times per line in Philippians that any other book in the New Testament.23 Paul commends this church because of their participation with him in the gospel. If there is no partnership, there is no church. Before we consider what this “partnership” entails, let’s return to the parenthetical statement in 1:3–4.
Paul frequently remembers the church and always offers up prayers with joy.24 The prayer life that Paul enjoys puts most of us to shame. You may wish you could pray like he does. Surprisingly, it may not be as unattainable as you might think. Paul cultivates the discipline of “remembering” (1:3). He consciously and continually trains his mind to reflect on God’s people. This is a discipline, just like working out or eating healthy. But it works wonders in prayer. Several examples should suffice. When you see a little boy on a bike, instead of just thinking, “What a cute kid,” let this boy remind you to pray for the children in our church (Awana, children’s SS, Kid’s Choir, VBS) and our children’s workers. When you see a young couple in the mall or in a restaurant, don’t just think: “I wish my marriage was like theirs. I wish I was married.” Or the infamous, “I wish I wasn’t married.” Instead, pray for our Family Matters ministry. Pray for the leadership who oversees these ministries. Pray for the couples in our church to build divorce-proof marriages. When you see someone with gray hair, instead of thinking, “I hope I don’t turn gray or get old.” Instead pray for the seniors in our body who have laid the biblical foundation for this church. Pray for widows and widowers, who are lonely and in need, to experience God’s provisions. When you hear a different dialect, instead of thinking to yourself, “Hmm, that’s odd sounding,” instead pray for the persecuted church. Pray that God would strengthen these brothers and sisters as they courageously live for Christ and His gospel.25 When we discipline ourselves to remember we can be effective in our prayers.
I am convinced that how we pray for one another will determine how we treat one another. If we don’t pray, or at best only pray when the person we are praying for is having problems, what will be the outcome of how we view that person when we see them? We will think they always have problems, and they become a burden and not a blessing to us. However, if we are frequently praying prayers of thanksgiving and faith, we will have a positive view of other believers.26As Christian leaders, it is rather easy to become cynical and critical because we deal with so many problems. People come to us when their marriage is in crisis, their child has run away, or they have cancer. They secretly hope that we can solve their problems. Instead of being pessimistic and irritated, I am seeking to thank the Lord for the person’s character, spiritual gift, Christian growth, etc. To the degree that I can do this, I know I will view others the way the apostle Paul does.
Now back to the reason Paul is thankful for the Philippians. Paul is thankful for their “participation in the gospel.” The word for “participation” is a Greek term you are most likely familiar with—koinonia—a word that can be translated “fellowship.”27 The problem with this rendering is when most Americans hear this word they think of coffee, cookies, and conversation. Now, it’s true that drinking coffee and eating cookies has its place, but this is not true koinonia. The word koinonia originally had commercial overtones. If two men bought a boat and started a fishing business, they were said to be in koinonia—a formal business partnership. They shared a common vision and invested together to see the vision become a reality. True Christian fellowship means sharing the same vision of getting the gospel to the world—and then investing personally to make it happen. Thus, there are financial overtones in the word koinonia—as well as a call to personal sacrifice.28 When Paul thanks God for the “participation” of the Philippians, he is thanking God that from the very first day of their conversion, they rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. Embedded in this word koinonia (1:5) are three characteristics of praiseworthy churches:
1. Praiseworthy churches are hospitable. From the very first day he met them, one of them immediately made their home available as a regular meeting place. That’s probably the first thing Paul has in mind when he refers to the Philippians’ tangible partnership. Acts 16:11–13 describes how Paul first connected with these Philippians and what he’s remembering about them. While Paul was on one of his missionary journeys, he came to the city of Philippi. There were no Christians in the city. In fact, there weren’t even enough Jews in the city to have a Jewish synagogue. The best Paul could find was a small Jewish prayer meeting, composed mostly of women, which met under some trees by the river. He joined them, began to speak about Christ, and the Lord “opened the heart” of one of the ladies there (16:14). This woman, Lydia, owned her own import business and had a large house. Lydia believed the gospel, and immediately she made her house available. She begged Paul, “If you consider me to be a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house” (Act 16:15 NET). She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. The rest of Acts 16 describes how Paul stayed in the city for some weeks or months, including his time spent in prison due to some trumped-up charges. By the time he was let out of prison and decided to go on to the next city, Lydia’s house had become a regular meeting place for the believers.
Perhaps you’re saying, “Yea, if I had a home as large as Lydia, I would be hospitable as well. But I live in an apartment or I have a small house with no yard.” If I may be so blunt, I’m rather confident that you would not be hospitable in a larger home. He who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. In my pastoral experience, I have seen a number of families demonstrate astounding hospitality with relatively meager means. I have also seen these same families experience God’s blessing and move into a larger home where they are able to continue their partnership in the gospel. It seems that God feels that He can entrust faithful stewards with greater resources. Now, please understand, I’m not saying, “Become hospitable and God will give you a six bedroom mansion!” That’s “Christian” television…that’s not the Bible. But I will say this: “Be hospitable in obedience to God29, and then don’t be surprised if He blesses you as a result.”
You and I can be hospitable if we don’t try to accomplish too much too soon. It’s easy to want to pull off what the hospitality superheroes are able to do. Yet, we must realize that such people most likely are extroverts who have the spiritual gift of hospitality. They are gifted in ways that we may not be. Thus, if we try to compare or compete with someone else, we will quickly admit defeat and throw in the white towel. But if we disregard the dreamy notion of a clean house and a six course meal and simply invite one person or one family over for dessert or popcorn, we can succeed. We shouldn’t stop there, though. Instead, we should seek to “participate in the gospel” by spiritually encouraging these individuals. That is koinonia. If there is no partnership, there is no church.
[Paul not only remembers the Philippians’ hospitality, he also remembers a second characteristic…]
2. Praiseworthy churches are courageous. The Philippians had to pay a price in their culture when they became Christians, and they paid it willingly. Philippi was a unique city that had a special government status. It was connected to the Roman emperor in ways other cities weren’t. As a result, it was important in Philippi to be politically correct, and that meant worshipping the emperor as if he were a god. Paul remembers that his Christian friends in Philippi were willing to pay the price of refusing emperor worship. He’ll say a little later in this letter: “You’re going through some of the same stuff I had to go through; you’re suffering some of the same things I did because of your Christian faith” (paraphrase). He will also compliment a couple of women in the congregation who contended with him for the gospel (4:3). Their tangible, sustained partnership is evidenced by their willingness to pay a price for their Christian faith.
It wasn’t easy to be a Christian in Philippi 2,000 years ago. It isn’t easy to be a Christian today in America…and it’s not going to get any easier. The majority of our population doesn’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God or Jesus Christ is the only way to God. We must make a decision of our will to stand strong at work, school, and in our neighborhood. As we do so, God will give us greater courage and confidence to boldly proclaim Him. This week, will you contend for the gospel? Will you choose Christ over comfort? If so, God will use you as a partner in His work in and through His church.
[The Philippians were hospitable and courageous, but the final and most important characteristic is…]
3. Praiseworthy churches are generous.30 The believers in Philippi gave cheerfully and sacrificially. More than once these Philippians had sent money to Paul to support him in his travels and preaching. Thus, Philippians serves partly as a thank you note for the church’s financial generosity. From the first day until the time Paul wrote this letter about ten years later, the church at Philippi was the only group that consistently gave to Paul and the work of the Lord. Nevertheless, Paul is not seeking to have his purse padded, rather he desires their reward. Paul says it best in 4:17: “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.” Paul desired the Philippians to have a good showing at the judgment seat of Christ.
Likewise, we must recognize the importance of generous financial giving to the Lord’s work. A large part of koinonia is sharing one’s earthly resources with others for the sake of Christ.31 This will only happen when you first give to the Lord and then trust Him to provide for you. Remember, it is impossible to out give God because He is no man’s debtor. He will meet all of your needs; you can take that to the bank! So decide in your heart what you will give and stick to your commitment. Additionally, teach your children how to be generous. My wife and I grew up in homes where we were required to give to the Lord. We have followed our parents’ training and now require the same of our own children. They do not resent this because they have seen God’s provision and blessing time and time again. It is always exciting when we are able to say, “See how God provides! Isn’t He good?” Again, we don’t give to get; we give because we love God and want to partner with Him in the advancement of His gospel. After all, if there is no partnership, there is no church.
This leads us into the well-known promise of 1:6: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you32 will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”33Although this verse has typically been understood as a salvation/sanctification verse,34 it is dealing with the financial faithfulness of the Philippians.35 The opening words “For I am” are italicized in the NASB, meaning that they are not in the Greek text. Other versions (e.g., NIV, NKJV, KJV) rightly continue the sentence of 1:536 and translate the participle “being confident of this very thing [God’s faithfulness], that He [God] who began a good work [generous financial giving] in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus [the rapture and judgment seat of Christ].”37 This interpretation is confirmed by the similar language in Phil 4 and 2 Cor 8–9.38 Thus, Phil 1:6 is a tremendous promise, which should stimulate us to greater giving. Our support of a missionary may well begin a spiritual avalanche as one impacted life touches and sets off another, and that one another, and another. Who can possibly calculate the minions of lives the Philippians have impacted over the centuries as God has kept their deposit “earning interest” through this letter! It is God’s work from beginning to end; He is simply looking for channels to begin the initial work through. The essential thing to see from this passage is Paul’s perspective on laboring together for the same cause (i.e., the gospel). The Philippians were senders; Paul and his companions were goers. One was the arrow, the other was the bow. Neither was more important than the other for they were interdependent.39
Verses 7–8 supply the subjective rationale for Paul’s confidence. He writes, “For it is only right for me to feel40 this way about you all, because I have you in my heart [or “you have me in your heart,” NRSV], since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers[co–partners]41 of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul never mailed a pink Valentine.42 He had no hearts on his boxers. But he did have strong feelings for the Philippians. The word for “long” (epipotheo) is a very strong word for desire, used of a baby longing for its mother's milk (1 Pet 2:2) and of a thirsty deer for water (Ps 42:1). Not only do we see the intensity of Paul’s love but also the extent of it—“for you all.” The word for “affection” is splagchnon (SPLONK-non). Please humor me; I absolutely love this word. It refers to the entrails, bowels, or guts.43 The Greeks viewed the entrails as the seat of strong emotions. Splagchnon describes a longing of affection and compassion44 so intense it makes your belly ache! Paul so desperately yearns for the Philippians to know his love that he puts himself under an oath—“For God is my witness.” This love was not generated from Paul, but from Christ Himself. My heart is that I have this type of love for the body of Christ and vice versa.
Paul concludes this lengthy introduction with a powerful prayer in 1:9–11. He begins in 1:9 by praying: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” The word “love” (agape) does not have an object attached to it. However, the overall context of the letter reveals that Paul prays especially for the Philippians’ love for one another.45 He prays that their love may “abound still more and more” (1:9a). When Paul says “abound” (perisseuo)46 he doesn’t mean “bound like a deer or a gazelle”; he means “to flow over,” like a carbonated drink poured into a small glass.47 The Philippians have already demonstrated an abundant love, but now Paul prays that their love will “overflow” (NLT) even more. God desires that love be the badge of our discipleship48 and that it only increases as time goes on.49 Of course, loving other believers can be an incredibly difficult task! This is why we need a prayer like Paul’s so much. When we feel incapable of love, we need to call on the Lord and ask Him to increase our love. It can be as simple as saying, “I’m low on love, Lord, and I ask you to fill me to overflowing.” That’s a prayer God will be glad to answer.
Paul prays that the Philippians’ love may overflow in “real knowledge and all discernment” (1:9b). “Knowledge” (epignosis)50 speaks of clear perception in a broad, general sense; while “discernment” (aisthesis)51 emphasizes the particular, practical applications of this knowledge.52 God desires that we speak “the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). Our lives must be characterized by compassion and conviction. If we lack compassion we will have a message but no audience. If we lack conviction we will have an audience but no message.53 Like Jesus, we must be agents of “grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The purpose of the Philippians’ love is found in 1:10: “so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” The word for “approve” (dokimazo) was used of assaying metals, testing for genuine money, or sifting wheat from chaff. Fundamentally it means “to approve after testing.” Thus we are being enjoined to sift through the objects or choices at hand and pour out ourselves for “the things that are excellent.” The word translated “excellent” (diaphero) can be translated “the things that really matter.”54 Often the choice is not between good and bad, but between good and best. That which is best is that which is of enduring value, “the things that really matter.” The goal of this abounding and perceptive love is “that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.” The word for “sincere” (eilikrinees) does not mean “honestly trying hard”; it means “pure, genuine.”55 The emphasis is upon a life of open integrity; one which is devoid of hypocrisy and insincerity.56 The word translated “blameless” (aproskopos) means “without causing others to stumble.”57 The discerning overflow of love (1:9) should lead to a life which is sincere before God and sensitive towards men (1:10). This will result in Christian maturity and honor at the judgment seat of Christ.
Paul’s prayer comes to a crescendo in 1:11 where he writes: “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”58 The word “filled” (pleroo) means “filled to all fullness.” We might say “filled to the rim.” In this context Paul is referring to “fruit” being filled to the rim. When I was a child and visited my Grandma in San Jose, CA, I would often help her pick oranges. I was always impressed with her orange trees because they were filled with bright, round oranges. So much so that many of the branches on the tree seemed like they were on the verge of snapping under the weight of the fruit. Paul is seeking spiritual fruit of this caliber! This “fullness of fruit” only comes “through Jesus Christ.” It is only as we abide in Christ (John 15:4–5) and allow Christ to live His resurrected life through us (Gal 2:20) that we can be fruitful and glorify God.59
Paul’s words can be encouraging, motivating, or indicting. Today, how is God is speaking to you? I am going to share four types of persons in the church. Which one are you?
Parasite. Some people come to church to get things from other people. They come to draw whatever they can from others: attention, support, sympathy, connections, money, etc. Their emphasis is upon getting, not giving. If you are a parasite, you need to become a member of a local church and begin meeting the needs of others.
Patron. Other people come to church because they like a good show (preaching, worship, kids programs). If their needs are met, they will drop some money in the offering. If you are a patron, you need to give generously or sacrificially whether your needs are met or not. You also need to start serving and not just receiving.
Pal. Still others are social animals who just enjoy friendships. They attend all the church functions. They hang out with people outside the church, but it is always at a surface level. There is no true koinonia. If you’re a pal, take your relationships to a deeper spiritual level and partner with the body in advancing the gospel.
Partner.60 Finally, partners are those who transform their culture by advancing the gospel.
Which one of these people are you? I pray that you are a partner. Every church needs more partners to bring about “participation in the gospel.” Remember, if there is no partnership, there is no church.
1 Timothy 3:1–13
Acts 2:42–47; 16:12–40
2 Corinthians 11:23–28
1 Thessalonians 3:9–13
What would a present-day “bond-servant” look like (1:1)? Do others consider me a servant? Why or why not? How am I presently serving those who are closest to me? In what specific ways do I still struggle with selfishness? How can I become more selfless and sacrificial in my home, work, and church relationships? What role does my identity (“saint”) play in this growth process? How can God’s favor (“grace” and “peace”) empower me (1:2)?
When I am going through difficult times am I able to take my eyes off of myself and be thankful for others (1:3–8)? Who is someone in my life that when I think of him or her I break out in a prayer of thanksgiving? Have I ever told this person? If not, will I do so today? Will I pray daily for a greater heart of gratitude for those whom God has placed in my life?
Am I a financially generous person (1:5, 7–8)? Would others say I am a generous person? What would God say about my financial generosity or lack thereof? Am I giving faithfully to my local church? How do I determine what to give and when to give it? In addition my regular church giving, which acts of Christian giving have given me the most fulfillment? Has God laid a particular person on my heart to help financially or in other practical ways? How will I specifically help this troubled person?
What does God’s preservation of my salvation mean to me (1:6)? How does God’s grace in my life motivate me to live an obedient and righteous life? By God’s grace, how will I look and act when God’s work in me is finished and Christ returns? What is the one area of my life that I’d like God to focus His attention on? How will I use Philippians 1:6 to encourage other believers in Christ?
Who am I currently praying for (1:9–11)? What specific prayers do I pray for these individuals? Do my prayers resemble the prayers of the apostle Paul as recorded in the Bible? Read Romans 15:14–33; Ephesians 1:15–23; 3:14–21; Colossians 1:9–14; 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13; and 2 Thessalonians 1:3–12. How will these prayers help me cultivate a deeper and more accurate prayer life?
1 Copyright © 2009 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
2 Swift writes, “These verses [Phil 1:1–11] are a true epistolary prologue because they not only introduce the central theme, but they also foreshadow all the other significant motifs that are developed in the letter.” Robert C. Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 141 (July 1984): 236.
3 The Greek name “Paul” means “little.” In many respects this name was prophetic. Church tradition records that Paul was short, fat, bald, bowlegged, bushy eye-browed, and had protruding eyes. In spite of being “little” from a worldly perspective, Paul was “big” from a heavenly perspective. What a great reminder that our physical makeup does not affect our spiritual impact. God wants to use people like you and me even though we may never measure up to this world’s standards.
4 “Timothy” means “honored by God.”
5 Phil 1:1–2 compose an entire paragraph in the Greek text. They are so meaty that they could be preached as a stand-alone sermon. However, they belong with 1:3–11 so we will just carefully consider each phrase.
6 Silva notes, “Although commentators are correct in pointing out that this feature does not indicate coauthorship, it would be a mistake to ignore or downplay its significance. Not only was Timothy actively involved in the evangelization of Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 16–18), but he also appears to have provided special support for Paul during the latter’s imprisonment (Phil. 2:20–22), a factor that accounts for Timothy’s inclusion in the salutations of Colossians and Philemon. There is also good reason to believe (see comments on 2:19–30) that the Philippians had a strong attachment to Timothy. This faithful minister, therefore, constituted a link that bonded the apostle with his Macedonian congregation; it would have been surprising had his name been omitted.” Moisés Silva, Philippians, 2nd ed. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Edited by Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992, 2005), 38.
7 Typically Paul calls himself an “apostle” (1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1),” not a “bond-servant.” The term “apostle” connotes authority while the word “bond-servant” suggests humility. Paul calls himself a “bond-servant” (doulos) in Rom 1:1 and Titus 1:1, yet he also includes the description “apostle” as well. The translators of the Greek OT used doulos to describe Moses, Joshua, David, and various prophets as servants of God (Josh 14:7; 24:29; Ps 105:26; Jer 25:4; Amos 3:7). Yet, Paul’s connotation is based upon the Greco-Roman understanding of doulos. Frank Thielman, Philippians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 34.
8 Charles R. Swindoll, Laugh Again (Dallas: Word, 1992), 36.
9 Have you ever wondered why Paul sometimes says “Jesus Christ” and other times says “Christ Jesus?” They mean the same; it’s a matter of emphasis. “Christ,” of course, is not Jesus’ name but his title: “Messiah, Anointed One.” When Paul says “Messiah Jesus” he is especially emphasizing that title.
10 An excellent resource on this topic is David Bryant, Christ is All: A Joyful Manifesto on the Supremacy of God’s Son, 2nd ed (New Providence, NJ: New Providence Publishers, 2005): www.proclaimhope.org/christisallbook.
11 See Luke 17:7–10, esp. 17:10: “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”
12 Among Paul’s thirteen letters, only three others (Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians) use the term “all” in the greeting, and only Philippians refers to the leaders of the church by their official titles in the opening section of the letter. These abnormalities must be significant.
13 Hagioi is always plural except in Phil 4:21, but even there it is used in a corporate context. To be saved is to be part of a family. This term reflects an OT usage for corporate Israel as a holy people (cf. Exod 13:5; 19:5–6; Deut 7:6; 1 Pet 2:9; and Rev 1:6).
15 For more on elders see 1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9; for more on deacons see Acts 6:1–6; 1 Tim 3:8–13.
16 As far as we know there was only one church in Philippi.
17 See Acts 20:17; 1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Pet 5:1–4, etc.
18 Thielman, Philippians, 36 writes, “As in all but two of his other letters, Paul expands the typical greeting by transforming the term ‘Greetings!’ (charein) into the term ‘grace’ (charis) and by adding the Jewish salutation, ‘peace’ (v. 2). Paul’s change of charein into charis shows that he does not intend for either of his two words of greeting to function as a simple salutation but to carry a deeper significance.”
19 The verb eucharisteo (“to be thankful”) and its cognates occur forty-six times in Paul’s letters. Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 56.
20 The Greek term pas (“all,” “always,” and “every”) is characteristic of Philippians (cf. 1:3, 4, 7, 8, 25; 2:17; 4:4, 5, 6, 8, 13, 21).
21 “Joy” (chara) is emphatic by position in the Greek sentence.
22 Paul begins all of his letters with thanksgiving, except for Galatians. He just could not bring himself to thank God for them because of their doctrinal error.
23 R. Kent Hughes, Philippians: The Fellowship of the Gospel. Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 34. The word appears a total of nine times (see Phil 1:5, 7, 12, 16, 27 [twice]; 2:22; 4:3, 15).
24 In his letters, Paul primarily thanks the Lord for people, not things. The best example of this is Rom 16 where Paul expresses gratitude for 33 people.
25 See also Bruce B. Barton, Livingstone Corporation Staff, Philip Wesley Comfort, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1995), 24.
26 Boice stated, “I think that ninety percent of all the divisions between true believers in this world would disappear entirely if Christians would learn to pray specifically and constantly for one another.” James Boice, Philippians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 49.
27 Perhaps you’ve heard of the book and movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. Well, Paul is writing the book on the Fellowship of the Gospel. Hughes, Philippians, 19.
28 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 61–62, rightly states, “Their partnership (koinonia) involved an active cooperation, in the widest sense with their recent financial support being a signal instance of this koinonia…The meaning is not to be restricted exclusively to the monetary support given by the Philippians to the apostle.”
29 E.g., Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9.
30 This church apparently sent Paul financial help from time to time (cf. 1:5, 7; 4:15). The only other Pauline church from whom we know he accepted help was Thessalonica (cf. 2 Cor 11:9).
31 See Rom 15:16; 2 Cor 8:4; 9:13; and Heb 13:16 where koinonia refers to sharing or giving of money or goods.
32 Since “you” (humin) is a plural pronoun, the “good work” that God is doing is taking place “among” the believers rather than “in” any isolated believer.
33 The Knox translation best captures the nuance of Phil 1:6, where the gift is more primary: “Nor am I less confident, that he who has inspired this generosity in you will bring it to perfection, ready for the day when Jesus Christ comes.”
34 Thielman, Philippians, 38, 40 represents many who see the Philippians’ financial generosity in 1:5 and 7, but not in 1:6.
35 My friend, John Hart, has written extensively on Phil 1:6. I strongly recommend his two part article entitled: “Does Philippians 1:6 Guarantee Progressive Sanctification?” Both articles are available at www.bible.org. Dr. Hart’s research, exegesis, and conclusions are the best I’ve seen on Phil 1:6.
36 Swift writes, “The ergon agathon (“good work”) in verse 6 must be interpreted by the koinōnia of the previous verse. This exegetical point is frequently noted by commentators, though few of them consistently restrict it enough to this sense. This writer holds that verse 6 refers restrictively to the perfecting of the Philippians as workers for the gospel, and to the perfecting of their works in the cause of the gospel. Many exegetes, failing to note this, have thus failed to see that verses 3–6 contain a thematic summary of the entire epistle…Verses 3–6 then, are a cameo of the entire epistle. They introduce the main theme, the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel.” See Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” 237–38.
37 “The day of Christ Jesus” refers to the rapture and judgment seat of Christ (see 1 Cor 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor 1:14; Phil 1:6, 10; 2:16). This is not to be confused with “the day of the Lord,” which is used sixteen times in the OT, the first time being Isa 2:12, which refers to God judging the nations, dealing with idolatry and human pride, and shaking the earth. The “day of the Lord” is mentioned four times in the NT (1 Thess 5:2; 2 Thess 2:2; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 1:10). This day embraces the coming period of judgment and the millennial age and concludes with the cataclysmic dissolution of the universe. The “day of God” (1 Cor 15:24–28; 2 Pet 3:12) is the eternal state beyond all events of time when God is “all in all.” See also Homer A. Kent, Jr. “Philippians.” In Ephesians-Philemon. Vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), Electronic ed. and John Phillips, Exploring Ephesians and Philippians. John Phillips Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2002), 34.
40 Paul uses the verb phroneo (“to feel, think”) twenty-three times in Philippians.
41 This book has an unusual number of compounds with syn which means “joint participation with”:
1:7; 4:14 syn + fellowship (koinonia, same root, 1:5; 2:1; 3:10; 4:14, 16)
1:27 syn + strive (athleo in 4:3 a proper name)
2:2 syn + soul (psuche, same sense in 1:27)
2:17 –18 syn + rejoice (chairo)
2:25; 4:3 syn + worker (ergon, cf. Rom 16:3, 9, 21; 2 Cor 1:24)
2:25 syn + soldier (stratiote, cf. Phlm 2)
3:10 syn + form (morphe)
3:17 syn + initiator (animeomai, same root in 1 Cor 4:16)
42 Hughes, Philippians, 33.
43 BDAG s.v. splangchon 1: “the inward parts of a body, including esp. the viscera, inward parts, entrails.” See the amusing translation of the KJV: “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.”
44 Splagchnon literally means “compassion” and is often used of Christ (Matt 9:36; Mark 1:41)
45 See Paul’s other uses of “love” (agape) in Phil 1:16; 2:1, 2. Paul speaks only sparingly of love for God (Rom 8:28; 1 Cor 8:3), but he emphasizes love in relationships between Christians (1 Thess 4:9; Col 1:4; 3:19; Phlm 5; Eph 4:2; 5:25; 6:23).
46 Paul uses perisseuo (“to abound”) in Phil 1:26; 4:12 [twice], and 18. He also uses the term 21 additional times in his other letters (Rom 3:7; 5:15; 15:13; 1 Cor 8:8; 14:12; 15:58; 2 Cor 1:5 [twice]; 3:9; 4:15; 8:2, 7 [twice]; 9:8 [twice], 12; Eph 1:8; Col 2:7; 1 Thess 3:12; 1 Thess 4:1, 10).
48 Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).
49 This explains why almost all of Paul’s prayers in the NT begin with a petition for love. Love is supreme among the Christian virtues. It alone will last forever (1 Cor 13:13). No matter how much love we have, our love can always increase.
50 Paul uses epignosis (“knowledge”) elsewhere in Rom 1:28; 3:20; 10:2; Eph 1:17; 4:13; Col 1:9, 10; 2:2; 3:10;
1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1; and Phlm 6.
51 Aisthesis does not appear elsewhere in the NT. It does, however, appear 27 times in the Greek OT, 22 of which are in Proverbs. The general meaning refers to the practical action of wisdom (e.g., Prov 1:7; 2:3; 10:14; 11:9; 12:23; 22:12). Cf. BDAG s.v. aisthesis 2: “capacity to understand, discernment…denoting moral understanding.” It seems aisthesis may be closely related to aistheterion (“senses”) in Heb 5:14.
52 See also Silva, Philippians, 49.
54 See BDAG s.v. diaphero 4 and the renderings of the NET, HCSB, and NLT.
55 The only other NT use of eilikrinees is found in 2 Pet 3:1: “This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder.”
56 Eilikrinees comes from two other words that mean “judgment” and “sunlight.” In the first century the shops were often dimly lit which meant that prospective customers would have trouble viewing the wares. When they took the pottery or the fabric into the sunlight, they could see it as it really was. The sunlight revealed the truth. To be pure means to live in such a way that the truth about who we are is clear. It means that people don’t have to wonder about what you are doing in the darkness because you have nothing to hide. You are the same in the darkness as you are in the light.
57 Aproskopos only occurs two other times in the NT. In 1 Cor 10:32 Paul writes, “Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” In Acts 24:16 Luke records Paul’s declaration: “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.” Aproskopos comes from the Greek word family from which we get the English word “scandal.” It originally referred to the bait in a trap that would catch unsuspecting animals. It came to mean a lifestyle that caused others to fall into sin.
58 The language in this prayer is very similar to Paul’s prayer in Colossians. See Silva, Philippians, 48.
59 See Eph 1:12–14 for more on how our lives bring praise to God.
When Handel wrote the “Hallelujah Chorus,” his health and his fortunes had reached an all-time low. His right side had become paralyzed, and all his money was gone. He was heavily in debt and threatened with imprisonment. He was tempted to give up the fight. The odds seemed entirely too great. And it was then he composed his greatest work—Messiah.2
Today you may be going through one of the lowest seasons in your life. Perhaps you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer and you’re wondering what the future holds for you and your loved ones. Maybe you just lost your job and you don’t see how God can provide for you and your family during this time of economic uncertainty. Perhaps your parents are getting a divorce and you’re scared and angry. Maybe a family member or friend just passed away and you don’t know how you can carry on. Whatever you’re going through today, I want you to know there is hope. God wants to work in and through you in the midst of your pain. But as you know, the Christian life can be bittersweet. It’s bitter when you experience suffering and loss. Let’s face it, trials and tragedies are awful! No one loves suffering and hardship.3 Nevertheless, the Christian life is also sweet in the sense that our suffering is never wasted on God. He works His purposes even in the midst of your pain. In fact, God will do some of His best work in and through you when you are in the midst of personal crisis.
Paul shares from personal experience that your perspective in times of pain makes all the difference.4 You’ll see that the question Paul asks himself is not, “Is what’s happening to me fair?” Rather, he poses this question: “Is what’s happening to me accomplishing something for God? Is it furthering His purposes in the world?”5 If you reflect on this question, you will discover that you can have your best witness in your worst circumstances.6 In Philippians 1:12–18a,7 Paul shares two encouraging realities about adversity. These realities will give you even greater confidence in the power of the gospel.
1. Adversity advances God’s kingdom (1:12–14). Paul is going to challenge you to view your adversity in light of its kingdom contribution. In doing so, he insists that adversity does not stymie the gospel; rather, it advances the gospel. Paul puts it like this: “Now I want you to know, brethren,8 that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ9 has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else” (1:12–13). Paul opens with the important phrase: “Now I want you to know.” This phrase introduces something important.10 Here, it functions as a topic sentence for all that follows through 1:26.11 (Paul begins the body of his letter in 1:12 and it runs through 4:9.)12 In 1:12, Paul explains that his “circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” What are Paul’s specific circumstances?13 He is serving a prison sentence in Rome and is most likely in the custody of the “praetorian14 guard.” These are elite troops housed in the emperor’s palace.15 They are a specialized, handpicked, military group. They were Caesar’s own personal bodyguards—strong, courageous, brilliant, sophisticated, young men—kind of a mixture of West Point and the Secret Service. They served in the palace guard for twelve years, protecting Caesar and guarding the prisoners, who, like Paul, had appealed to him. After twelve years they transitioned into other influential careers. Some went on to be the commanding generals of large forces. Others went into public office and became senators or ambassadors to other countries. Still others advanced into the top echelons of business and industry. As a group, they were the movers and shakers of the future, the opinion leaders, and kingmakers of the next generation. They were a powerful and strategic group of young men. If you wanted to influence the Roman Empire,16 you couldn’t pick a better group to start with. Every day Paul grinned to himself because, for two years, one of them wore the other end of his chain, and for six hours, had to stay within four feet of him. He wasn’t chained to them; they were chained to him!17 Literally, Paul had a captive audience with whom he shared Christ, which led to a chain reaction of conversions throughout the whole Roman palace.18
Paul’s imprisonment led to “the greater progress of the gospel” (1:12). The noun “progress” (prokope)19 means “cut before” and speaks of the cutting of a path by pioneers to open the way for an army to advance into new territory.20 Even though Paul’s imprisonment may have seemed like a setback, it actually served to advance the gospel among those in Rome.21 In God’s sovereignty, the Lord ordained Paul’s imprisonment in Rome so many people would hear the gospel who would not otherwise have heard it. Furthermore, many of these people are significant and influential people, who in the future, have a great impact for God. Although God closes a prison door behind Paul, He opens a new door for the gospel. Always remember, Jesus is Lord even in prison! He has His people behind bars so they can spread the gospel! This is why Paul cares more about the progress of the gospel than his own problems. He is confident that God is always at work. And he believes that you can have your best witness in your worst circumstances.
Similarly, God uses your painful circumstances to advance His gospel. You may not like your job, your school, your neighborhood, or your marriage, but God has you “chained up” to some people who need Christ. Have you ever stopped to ponder the fact that God placed you in your school so that you might share Christ? Have you realized that God gave you a particular job in order for you to share Christ with your boss and coworkers? Are you cognizant of the fact that God directed you to buy a house in a particular neighborhood with neighbors who need to hear about His Son? There are no mistakes or coincidences. God has a plan and He is advancing His kingdom through YOU.
Adversity will come to you sooner or later. Unfortunately, you’re not given a choice about most of the things that happen to you. I hate to break this to you, but you’re in one of three situations: Either you’re in a trial right now, or you’re just coming out of a trial, or you’re about to enter a trial and just don’t know it yet. Such is life this side of heaven. But opportunity knocks whenever you experience a tragedy or trial. Thus, you must train yourself to see every tragedy as a divine opportunity to advance the gospel. You may one day lose a child, yet God can use that tragedy to open doors for the good news of Christ. Your spouse may leave you one day for someone else, and God may use your loss for His gain. On a smaller scale, you may get cut from a team or fail to get into the college you wanted to attend. Yet, God may open new doors to reach more students with His gospel. The question is not, “Is what’s happening to me fair?” but instead, “Is what’s happening to me accomplishing something for God? Is what’s happening to me being useful to God in some way? Is it furthering His purposes in the world?”22
Paul concludes this section in 1:14 by explaining another way that God is using his imprisonment: “and that most of the brethren, trusting [having gained confidence23] in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Paul’s prison sentence brought about greater boldness among the Roman Christians.24 Rather than laying low and hiding out, these believers felt inspired by Paul’s courage. Consequently, they are standing up boldly for Christ and proclaiming Him in unprecedented fashion. Apparently, they figure, “If Paul can share Christ in prison, why can’t I do it as a free person?” Likewise, when I hear about my brothers and sisters in places like Sudan, North Korea, China, and India courageously sharing their faith amidst severe persecution, I get motivated to boldly share Christ.
Do you realize that your commitment to boldly share Christ in the difficult circumstances of your life will embolden others to do the same? As a public school teacher, if you find ways to creatively share Christ, when other Christian teachers find out about what you are doing, they are going to want to do the same. As a state employee, if you host a Bible study and other Christian state employees find out about this, they may attempt to do the very same thing. As a public high school student, if you host a prayer gathering and Christian students from other school districts hear about it, they may follow suit in their school. You can have a powerful witness because God emboldens us to proclaim Christ by observing the witness of other believers. It will not be easy, but you can have your best witness in your worst circumstances.
[Adversity advances God’s kingdom because the world is all eyes and ears when Christians suffer. They want to know how you will respond. When you trust Christ in the midst of your adversity the gospel advances in and through you. A second reality of adversity is…]
2. Adversity reveals our priorities (1:15–18a).25In the midst of trials and suffering, you find out what is really important to you. Adversity serves as a true gut check. In these verses you will see how Paul’s true passion and priorities reveal themselves. In 1:15–17 he writes: “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.”26If you read through these verses carefully, you ought to be exclaiming, “Can you believe this? What in the world is going on here? It’s not bad enough that Paul is in prison, now he has some preachers27 who are hoping to rub salt in his wounds! Who are these devils? First of all, we must recognize that these are not false teachers;28 they are selfish teachers.29 Paul is clear in 1:15 and 17: these preachers “preach Christ,” but they do so from “envy and strife” and out of “selfish ambition.” The word translated “selfish ambition” (eritheia) was used to describe a selfish worker interested only in his own pay or a politician in the self-seeking pursuit of office regardless of means. In the same vein, with Paul in prison, there is now a perceived vacancy, and these preachers are all seeking to be the top dog.30 They are petty, territorial, calculating, and focused on self-promotion. They aren’t anti-Christ, they are anti-Paul.31
What bothered these preachers was that Paul was getting too much attention. As far as they were concerned, he was just a little bit too famous—the big shot apostle who came to town as an imperial prisoner, guarded by Caesar’s personal bodyguards. All the Christians in Rome were talking about him and singing his praises. As a result, some of the local pastors got a bit envious of all the attention Paul was getting. Who was he to come into their city and get all the praise after they’d been there for years? So, some of them took advantage of the situation so that they, too, would become more prominent. It was kind of a rivalry with them.32 Perhaps they said things like this: “You know how much we love and respect our dear brother Paul. No one loves him more than we do. However, it seems as if Paul causes trouble wherever he goes. Someone stones him, or they arrest him, or he has to sneak out of town in the middle of the night. We don’t like to mention it, but there are bad rumors about him back in Jerusalem. I personally don’t believe them, but we can’t reject them out of hand. It’s possible he’s guilty of the charges against him. He’s a wonderful preacher, but he seems to stir up trouble in every city. Frankly, I think it’s extremely embarrassing to have an esteemed apostle in jail…and in Rome of all places. Perhaps it would be better if Paul had never come to our city. In any case, he can hardly be our spiritual leader while he’s in jail. Let’s agree to pray for him and ask God to release him and send him somewhere else—preferably a long way from here.”33
Fortunately, Paul could always fall back on those preachers who proclaimed the gospel from goodwill and out of love for him (1:16). These pastors recognized that God had placed Paul exactly where He wanted him. The word translated “appointed” (keimai) was a military term indicating a military assignment or orders. In other words, the good pastors knew that God had assigned Paul to his chains and to a courtroom appearance before Caesar; God had ordered him there to defend the gospel at the highest level in the Roman Empire. They wanted to do their part where they could.
So how does Paul respond to these two types of preachers? In 1:18a, he closes with some astonishing words: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.”34The phrase “What then?” means, “What do I say about that?” or even, “So what?”35 This question refers back to 1:15–17.36 Paul is essentially saying, “All that I know is the gospel is being proclaimed…it is advancing! And that thrills my heart! I rejoice!” His sentiments are that it is better for people with impure motives to preach Christ than they not preach Him at all. After all, “He who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50). Suppressing Paul is like trying to sink a cork in a bath!37
Paul can exude this attitude because he is consumed with the gospel. Ultimately, he is not concerned with his own reputation, ministry, or happiness. Rather, Paul wants the success of the gospel—he longs for it to advance. What an example! All kinds of issues cry for our attention: abortion, pornography, media bias, economic injustice, racial discrimination, classism, sexism, to name a few. These are important issues, but the great danger is that we become so passionate or concerned about these issues that the gospel is marginalized.38 This has been happening in the Protestant church for years! But when the gospel is preached by gospel-focused people, God transforms the culture. The key is “to keep the main thing the main thing.” Life does not revolve around being happily married, raising the perfect family, making a lot of money, or being successful in your job. Life revolves around preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. For Paul, the “main thing” is the gospel. And in the gospel, Paul will rejoice!
Undoubtedly, though, the slander of these preachers hurt Paul deeply. It must have broken his heart to know that some of his brothers were using his prison time against him. Nevertheless, Paul has a big heart and broad shoulders, and he knows people often do the right things for the wrong reasons. This is why in 1 Cor 4:1–5, Paul himself says, “I don’t judge others or myself; I leave that to the Lord Jesus Christ (paraphrase).
It is critical to follow Paul’s example and not get caught up criticizing the methods and motives of other ministries. This is counterproductive for several reasons: (1) Criticism is addictive, because it can turn you away from your own faults and breeds a spirit of self-righteousness and intolerance. I don’t know about you, but I have enough sins and weaknesses to worry about in my own life and ministry. (2) Criticism diverts an extraordinary amount of time and energy away from the positive proclamation of Christ. There are too many Christian witch hunters who are known for who and what they are against. We ought to be for Christ and His gospel, (3) Criticism stirs up divisiveness and disunity before the world. This leads unbelievers to say, “I’d rather be at the bar or the country club where people love me. The church shoots its own wounded and is full of backbiting.” We must be sensitive to this objection and change the world’s perspective. Let us begin by contending for the faith and not with the faithful.39
As you contend for the faith and proclaim Christ, you can experience joy. It’s been said, “If we see Jesus in our circumstances, then we will see our circumstances in Jesus.” Paul lived this! Remember, Paul is writing this letter from a Roman prison. Furthermore, five of Paul’s thirteen letters were written from prison.40 Paul would not let himself give way to self-pity. He knows that in order to exude joy in the midst of adversity he must see adversity from an eternal perspective. The key to his joy was between his ears. Over thirty times in Philippians Paul refers to the mind or to remembering. When joy has leaked out of your life, the leak is between your ears. You must change your thinking so that you can experience joy once again. May you do so today. You can have your best witness in the worst of times.
My seminary classmate and dear friend, Mike Paolicelli, was diagnosed with cancer this past January. For the last six months Mike and his wife Janet, along with their two young boys, Titus and Simeon, have been through the most difficult season of their entire lives. Mike has been on the verge of passing away due to various complications throughout this ordeal. He and his family have experienced every human emotion imaginable. Yet, throughout this traumatic ordeal, the Paolicelli’s have not wavered in their faith. They have resolutely believed that God has a purpose in their personal suffering. They have been a model to countless people throughout the world.
This past Tuesday, Mike was in for his tenth chemo treatment. Janet and the boys decided to visit Mike at the start of his treatment. This was a rare occurrence because children are not officially allowed in the cancer infusion area. While Mike was waiting his turn, his boys became a bit rambunctious. (Can you blame them?) Simeon was particularly talkative and loud, causing distraction for the other chemo patients.
Mike’s attending nurse, who had never treated him before, came up to them and said, “Would you like a private room where you and your family can sit?” This had never happened before, so the Paolicelli’s took advantage of this opportunity to have some secluded family time. Eventually, it was time for Janet and the boys to leave and for Mike to begin his first chemical injection.
Just before giving the injection, this nurse said, “So, I hear you’re a pastor?” Mike responded affirmatively.
The nurse replied, “I’m Catholic. But I have so many questions, and I want more.”
Mike asked, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” the nurse said.
“On a scale of 1–10, where 10 is, ‘I am absolutely sure,’ and 1 is, ‘I am absolutely unsure,’ would you say that your sins are forgiven and that if you were to stand before God today, He would let you into heaven?”
“I’m a 5,” replied the nurse.
Mike asked, “Would you like to know for certain your sins are completely forgiven?”
“Yes, I would,” she responded.
Mike then shared the gospel with this nurse and invited her to trust in Christ. The nurse came and sat down with Mike and she prayed to believe in Christ as her Savior!
God used Mike’s cancer and his loud boys to orchestrate a set of circumstances to bring a young nurse in Charlotte, NC to faith in Christ. Mike put it like this: “Does it get any better than this? Don’t think for a minute that God can’t or doesn’t use your difficulties for a purpose larger than yourself. He does.”41 God can use your adversity in the same way. Whatever you’re going through today, pray: “Lord, help me to submit to You and trust You in the midst of my pain. May I only care about how my trial advances your gospel.”
2 Timothy 2:8–10
John 15:18–25; 16:1–4, 33
1. What has been the worst thing that has ever happened to me? How did I feel when this ordeal began? Over time how did my perspective and attitude change? What did God teach me through this traumatic period in my life? How has this low point in my life prepared me to undergo future trials? Read James 1:2–12.
2. In the midst of my adversity, how has God opened doors for me to share Christ? How have people responded when they have observed my joy and confidence in the Lord during these awful circumstances? What questions did people ask me? What comments did they make? How did I respond to their questions and comments? What would I say differently today as a result of studying Philippians 1:12–18?
3. Who has observed my personal suffering? How has my adversity encouraged these individuals to boldly live for Christ and proclaim Him? What testimonies have I heard from others as a result of my life and witness? How can I consciously take my eyes off of myself and verbally encourage those who are in my sphere of influence?
4. What is my attitude toward those Christians who seem to want the worst for me? Read Romans 12:18. How can I flesh this principle out in my own life? How can I adopt Paul’s optimistically eternal perspective? How does Philippians 1:15–17 help me understand God’s sovereignty? How can I use these verses to encourage other brothers and sisters in Christ?
5. Can I honestly say that my passion in life is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ? If not, what keeps me from being consumed with this good news? How can I fan the flame of my zeal for Jesus Christ? Who is the boldest witness I know? Will I strive to spend some time with this person? Will I take steps this week to share Jesus Christ with my neighbors, coworkers, and classmates?
1 Copyright © 2009 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
2 Preaching Today citation: Peter Marshall, Sr., “Who Can Take It?” Preaching Today, Tape No. 131.
3 See the excellent comments on suffering from Frank Thielman, Philippians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 63–73. See also D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).
4 Phil 1:12–18 present Paul as a positive model for all believers. Rather than valuing his own comfort, reputation, and freedom above all else, he put the advancement of God’s plan first. He discerned what was best (1:10). He could maintain a truly joyful attitude even in unpleasant circumstances because he derived his joy from seeing God glorified rather than from seeing himself exalted. His behavior in prison had been pure and blameless (cf. 1:10).
6 This appears to be the NT counterpart to Joseph’s words: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20).
7 The NIV appropriately divides this section (Phil 1:12–18a), into two paragraphs: 1:12–14 and 1:15–18a.
8 Paul uses adelphoi (“brothers and sisters”) nine times in Philippians (1:12, 14; 2:25; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21).
9 Thielman, Philippians, 59 notes, “[The phrase ‘in Christ’] probably not only carries the connotation of being in prison for Christ’s sake but also of participating in Christ’s suffering by being in prison. The purpose of Christ’s suffering was the advancement of God’s redemptive work, and so it was an evil through which God effected great good for humanity (Rom. 3:21–26; 5:12–21; 2 Cor. 5:21). Paul believes that his own suffering, since its origin lies in his efforts to fulfill the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ to which God has called him (2 Cor. 5:18), has the same quality (Phil. 3:10; cf. 2 Cor. 1:5; 4:7–15; Col. 1:24–29). Thus his imprisonment is not simply a result of his Christian commitment but is the necessary means through which Paul fulfills his calling. It is not only ‘for Christ’ but ‘in Christ’ as well.” See also Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 92; Moisés Silva, Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2nd ed. Edited by Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992, 2005), 68.
10 Cf. 2 Cor 13:6; 2 Tim 3:1. See also Thielman, Philippians, 57; Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Philippians,” 2009 ed.: www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/philippians.pdf, 13.
11 Paul does not use the precise phrase “I want you to know” (ginoskein de humas boulomai) elsewhere in his writings (Cf. Col 2:1; see also Rom 1:13; 11:25; 1 Cor 10:1; 11:3; 12:1; 2 Cor 1:8; 1 Thess 4:13 for similar constructions). However, this phrase was common in Paul’s culture and there are several papyri which have the same formula (i.e., “I want you to know,” and then follow it with facts about how the writer is doing, his safety, feelings, and activities). See Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 43 (Waco: Word, 1983), 33.
12 See Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 109–10. It is debated whether the body of the letter begins with 1:12 or 1:27. See Duane F. Watson, “A Rhetorical Analysis of Philippians and Its Implications for the Unity Question,” Novum Testamentum 30 (1988): 61. It is common to take the disclosure formula in 1:12 as the transition into the body of the letter. Compare L. Gregory Bloomquist, The Function of Suffering in Philippians (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 147; Ben Witherington III, Friendship and Finances In Philippi: The Letter of Paul to the Philippians (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1994), 7, 43.
13 Some of the “circumstances” that Paul endured are as follows: He was arrested on the basis of a false accusation (Acts 21:30); he was nearly lynched in the ensuing riot (Acts 21:35–36); he was nearly flogged and had to plead his Roman citizenship to avoid it (Acts 22:25); he was made the object of insults (Acts 23:2); he was maliciously misrepresented (Acts 24:5, 25:6–7); his life was plotted against (Acts 23:12); he was kept in prison because of unscrupulous officials (Acts 24:27); he nearly died in a sea crossing to Rome (Acts 27); and he was imprisoned for two years without ever facing his accusers (Acts 28).
14 The KJV and NKJV have “palace” (see Acts 23:35). Originally the term referred to a Roman general’s tent (praetor), but after the age of Roman conquest it came to be used in an administrative sense to denote the headquarters or residence of the political/military administration (cf. Matt 27:27; John 18:28,33; 19:9; Acts 23:35).
However, in the first century Roman world it was used for the officers who made up the special Imperial Guard.
15 Constable, “Notes on Philippians,” 14 writes, “The praetorian guard probably refers to the soldiers who were members of the regiment assigned to guard many of the high ranking officials in the Roman government. These soldiers were also responsible to guard prisoners who had appealed to Caesar such as Paul. It was an honor to be one of these guards. They would have been with Paul in his hired house where he was under house arrest 24 hours a day (cf. Acts 28:30-31). Paul had the opportunity to witness to many of these high ranking soldiers, and he viewed this as a great blessing.”
16 Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 113–14 also holds to a Roman imprisonment, although Thielman, Philippians, and others shed some doubt on this.
17 Sunukjian, “It’s All About You, Lord.”
18 Within two or three years, the number of Christians in Rome would be described by the Roman historian Tacitus as a “vast multitude.” Boa, Reflections, May 1987.
19 Paul uses prokope (“progress, advancement”) to refer to his own progress and advancement in Judaism as a young man (Gal 1:14). He also uses the term in reference to the progress he wants Timothy to evidence as he gives himself fully to his pastoral concerns (1 Tim 4:15). Paul also uses prokope in a negative sense to refer to the progress in evil that false teachers are engaged in (2 Tim 3:9, 13).
20 This military metaphor would have appealed to the Roman veterans in Philippi (remember that Philippi was a Roman colony and a military outpost; Acts 16:12). See Kenneth Boa, Reflections Newsletter April 1987.
21 Paul mentions the gospel twice in this text (1:12, 16) and he also uses three synonyms: “to speak the Word,” “preach Christ,” and “proclaim Christ.” Hughes writes, “For Paul, the advance of the gospel overrides all else. Everything in Paul’s life is subsumed to this end. If we fail to understand this, we fail to understand Paul.” R. Kent Hughes, Philippians: The Fellowship of the Gospel. Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 48.
22 Sunukjian, “It’s All About You, Lord.”
23 The HCSB captures a better rendering of the Greek participle pepoithotas. Cf. NET, ESV, NRSV, NKJV, NLT. However, the NASB depends upon BDAG s.v. peithio 4 who defines the use of Phil 1:14 as “depend on, trust in”
24 This is a specific reference (Phil 1:13 “in Rome”), not a general reference to include the Christians in Thessalonica, Corinth, and Philippi. The believers in Philippi have notably been faithfully supporting Paul all along (1:5–8).
25 Verses 15–18a form a unit with an inclusio (“bookends”), that is, it begins and ends on the same note: In 1:15 Paul says that “some preach Christ” and in 1:18a he speaks about the fact that “Christ is preached.”
26 For an excellent commentary on these verses see Greg Herrick, “Lesson 4: Paul’s Circumstances: Perspective, Joy, and Mission in Life—Part I (1:12-18a)” in Philippians: The Unconquerable Gospel at www.bible.org.
27 O’Brien, Philippians, 105 rightly notes a positive identification of Paul’s enemies is impossible.
28 If these were false teachers, Paul would have verbally chastised them like in Gal 1:6–9.
29 D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 25.
30 Envy and rivalry regularly come up on Paul’s vice lists (Rom 1:29; Gal 5:20).
31 Hughes, Philippians, 50.
32 Sunukjian, “It’s All About You, Lord.”
33 Ray Pritchard, “Keep Your Eye on the Donut and Not on the Hole” (Phil 1:12–18): www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1998-09-20-Keep-Your-Eye-on-the-Donut-and-Not-on-the-Hole.
34 I love Swindoll’s paraphrase of these verses: “So what if some preach with wrong motives? Furthermore, some may be overly impressed with themselves…and take unfair shots at me. Who cares? What really matters is this; Christ is being proclaimed… and that thought alone intensifies my joy! All the other stuff, I leave to God to handle” (original emphasis). Charles R. Swindoll, Laugh Again (Dallas: Word, 1992), 54–55.
35 Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 24.
36 The Greek conjunction gar (“for, then”) makes this clear.
37 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 45.
38 Hughes, Philippians, 52.
39 Kenneth Boa, Reflections, July 1987.
40 It is an astonishing thought to think of how much of Paul’s writing ministry took place in jail. He wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and 2 Timothy while incarcerated.
41 My friend, Mike Paolicelli, pastors Renew Church in Charlotte, NC. I am privileged to be the chairman of his ministry organization called “God Factor.” I urge you to check out Mike’s website: www.godfactor.com/.
When was the last time you had a really scary dream? Okay, call that dream to mind for just a moment. Was your dream so vivid that when you woke up you wondered if it was real? Those types of dreams are both disturbing and frightening. I had such a dream this past week. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember enough. My top disciple, John Correia, who pastors in Arizona, invited me to go on a trip out of town. Initially, I declined, but eventually he persuaded me to go with him. To make a long dream short, we ended up robbing a bank. That’s right, two pastors robbing a bank! (Don’t worry we’re paid plenty. This was just a crazy dream.) Believe it or not, John and I escaped and made it to our safe house. (Again, this is a dream.) Yet, we knew that we were on the verge of being caught. The police were already on our trail. So John, who is a gun-packing pastor, suggested that he execute me and then kill himself so that we didn’t have to go to jail. He asked me to lie on my stomach, face down on the floor of our safe house while he prepared to pull the trigger. As I was lying there, I was utterly broken before God. My mind was flooded with thoughts of family, friends, church, and Christ. And then all of a sudden I was hit by the horrible reality that I had disgraced my Lord. All I could think about was, “I don’t want to die this way!”
I awoke from this insane dream at 4:59 am—a minute before my alarm was to go off. I’ve never been so grateful to get up that early! The relief I experienced was exhilarating. In those waking moments, my priorities became quite clear to me. Now, the question is: Why does it always take a bizarre dream or a dramatic event to really get my attention? Why can’t I see what truly matters in this life? Do you ever feel like I do? When you wake up, do you ever choose the newspaper over the Bible? When you come home from work do you ever choose TV over your children? Do you ever choose the computer over conversation with your spouse? Do you ever choose relaxation over church? Do you ever choose to increase your standard of living instead of your standard of giving? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions and you’re serious about Christ, you know what its like to shake your head and think, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get my act together?” Philippians 1:18b–26 will challenge you to reexamine your priorities. Paul will exhort you to live to die, die to live. In this passage, he also provides two key motivations for you to rejoice in.
1. Rejoice in your future vindication (1:18b–20). In 1:12–18a, Paul rejoiced in adverse circumstances because he recognized that his best witness could occur in his worst circumstances. Now, he transitions and explains: “Not only have I been rejoicing, but I will rejoice in the future.”2 Paul puts it this way: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this [i.e., my seemingly negative circumstances, 1:12–18a3] will turn out for my deliverance [lit. “salvation”4] through your prayers and the provision5 of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,6 according to my earnest expectation7 and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness,8 Christ will even now, as always, be9 exalted10 in my body, whether by life or by death” (1:18b–20). The reason that Paul can rejoice is that he believes his trials are advantageous to his Christian experience.11 The phrase, “this will turn out for my deliverance,” is an exact quote from Job 13:16 in the Greek Old Testament.12 ‘Job, you must have done something terribly wrong, or else these business reverses, these family deaths, these health issues wouldn’t have happened to you.’ Then Job shot back to them: ‘You are all dead wrong! One day when I am standing before God, you’re going to see how wrong you are. You’re going to see everything “turning out for my salvation.” You’re going to see my vindication, my validation. God’s going to deliver me and put His stamp of approval on me.’ In this same sense, Paul uses the word “deliverance” to refer to his future vindication at the judgment seat of Christ.13 The immediate context supports this view because Paul’s salvation is not dependent upon the prayers of the saints. He is saved, once for all by God’s grace.14 The prayers of the saints and the provision of the Holy Spirit are those things that strengthen Paul in his times of adversity and which gave him courage to stand firm for the gospel.15 Since Paul doesn’t want his words and behavior to bring shame to the cause of Christ,16 he relies upon the Philippians’ prayers and the Holy Spirit’s filling to grant him boldness in the midst of his trials.
I love how Paul concludes this section by saying that he wants Christ “to be exalted in his body whether by life or by death” (1:20b). This is how you should think and live. Despite your circumstances you can exalt Christ. The word “exalted” (megaluno) means “to make great, to enlarge, to make glorious.” We get our English word “megaphone” from this word. A megaphone makes your voice big. Similarly, a magnifying glass makes print big. We are to make Jesus big with our lives and lips! The verb “be exalted” is passive, which means that Christ receives magnification by our actions. There are two types of magnification: microscope and telescope. The microscope makes the little seem big. That is not the picture here. The telescope makes the actually big loom big. This is what Paul is saying: Your task as a Christian is to bring the immensity of who Jesus truly is to the forefront. Do you want your body to be a magnifying glass for the Lord Jesus? Do you want to make Him big to the world? Not life-size, but King-size. If you magnify Jesus, people will be attracted to Him and embrace Him as their Savior. Folks will sit up and take notice of Him. By this you will enhance the world’s estimation of Christ.17
But in order to exalt Christ whether in life or death, you must make one mental adjustment: You must adjust your expectations. Yes, good ole’ expectations! You have them. I have them. All God’s people have them! Think about it: You expect your spouse to love you and respect you. You expect that people will be nice to you, that you’ll have good health, a great marriage, faithful friends, and a successful career. But how do you respond when life doesn’t live up to your expectations? If you’re like most Christians, you become outraged. Yet, I figure since you can’t choose your circumstances, you might as well choose how you will respond to them.18 My motto is: If you can’t beat them, join them. Regardless of what you’re going through today, God can use your adverse circumstances for His glory and your good. Why not say today: “God, whatever comes I am going to trust You to grant me grace to persevere through my trials so that I can be vindicated when I stand before Christ. Live to die, die to live.
[How can you survive your trials? First, you must recognize that God uses the prayers of His people and the power of His Holy Spirit to help you grow in Christ. God’s work in and through you then allows you to rejoice in your future vindication before Christ. The second key motivation is for you to…]
2. Rejoice in your future ministry (1:21–26). Paul continues his life or death theme, but now applies it specifically to his ministry in the local church. His conclusion: The only reason to live is to minister. Paul begins this section by penning the ever familiar 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The word “me” (emoi) stands first in the Greek clause for emphasis. Paul is saying, “I don’t care what anyone else does. Ultimately, I don’t care if I am released from prison. MY passion is Christ! All I care about is Him.” For Paul “to live is Christ” means to live out the life of Christ, which includes His sufferings. This is confirmed by studying the lives of Jesus and the apostle Paul. Both men experienced poverty, slander, rejection, and abuse. Yet, in the midst of their adverse circumstances, Jesus and Paul continually exuded joy and walked intimately with God.
The natural transition in 1:21 is the underlying truth that you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die.
Paul states that death is “gain.” He deliberately chooses the word “gain” (kerdos) because it means “profit or advantage.”19 Death is not loss; death is gain! Yet, this notion is foreign to most of our conversations. We talk about people “losing the battle” with disease. When a loved one dies we often say “we have lost them.” When treatments are exhausted doctors say, “There is nothing more we can do” in an attitude of defeat and resignation. We view death as the ultimate defeat. But this is not Paul’s attitude toward death. He sees it not as defeat, he sees it as victory.20 This should be your mindset as well. When the believer dies he or she leaves behind the suffering and groaning of this life, the rejection and persecution of unbelievers, and immediately enters the presence of God, where sorrow, sadness, and sickness do not exist. That is why death is gain! Our rewards are often not realized on earth—they are realized in eternity. This is why it can be said, “When a Christian dies, he has just begun to live.” So today live to die, die to live. Live with the realization of your imminent death in mind; die to yourself so that you can experience the abundant life on earth and in eternity.
Philippians 1:21 is Paul’s life motto. It’s his abbreviated Personal Missions Statement.21 What is your mission? Why not make it your goal this week to write out a Personal Missions Statement? Just seek God in prayer and ask Him to reveal your Personal Missions Statement. It can be done in as little as an hour. I’d like to share my Personal Missions Statement with you. It may help you or give you some ideas of what you may want to write up. My PMS is this: “I exist to know Jesus Christ intimately and passionately and to exhort and equip others to know Him to the same degree.” I crafted this Personal Missions Statement carefully. My purpose is first, intensely personal. I want to know Jesus Christ intimately and passionately. I don’t just want to know about Jesus, I want to know Jesus intimately. I want to have a love relationship with Him. I also want to know Him passionately. I want to be obsessed with Jesus. I want to be energetic, enthusiastic, and excited about who He is and what He has done. But my Personal Missions Statement also includes my responsibility to others. After the Lord has worked in and through me, I then want to use my primary spiritual gift of exhortation and my calling as a pastor to equip others to know Christ intimately and passionately to the same degree, and Lord willing, to an even greater degree than I do. That is my Personal Missions Statement. This sentence is the reason that I wake up in the morning. It’s what I live for. Granted, I don’t always succeed at fulfilling this responsibility, but it is my aim. It is my calling. Do you have such a mission? If not, I challenge you to write one up. Just complete the following sentence: “I exist to…” Do it this week. It may just change your life.
Paul continues his life/death motif in 1:22–24 where he writes: “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor22 for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed23 from both directions, having the desire to depart24 and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” Paul is in a quandary. If he lives, he wins; if he dies, he wins. This is a dilemma between two wins! It’s like someone offering to give you a BMW or a Lexus. The choice is up to you. You can’t lose! For Paul, the two alternatives are whether he should continue his work in time or see Jesus in eternity. If Paul continues to live in the flesh he writes that it will mean “fruitful labor.” Notice that in Paul’s mind there is only one reason to live in the flesh and that is for further ministry. It is not children, grandkids, hobbies, or pleasure; it is ministry! And not just mediocre maintenance ministry, but what Paul calls “fruitful labor” (karpos ergou). Paul knows that if God grants him life, He will bless him with more fruit. How can you have “fruitful labor”? In 1:19, Paul refers to the prayers of the saints and the filling of the Holy Spirit. If you want fruitful labor, ask a team of people to pray for you and your ministry and ask the Lord to fill you with His Spirit (cf. Eph 5:18). Fruitful labor is the result when your passion is to see Christ made big in your body. This means you wake up in the morning to serve Christ and to show Him off. It means you see all that you do as ministry.
As Paul envisions the possibilities of an even more fruitful ministry, he concludes that he doesn’t know which to choose. In 1:23, he writes that he is “hard pressed.” The word translated “hard pressed” (sunechomai) is used in Luke 12:50 where Jesus speaks of the baptism of suffering that He must undergo. Jesus says that He is “distressed” (sunechomai) and will remain distressed until His death is accomplished. In His deity, Jesus longs to go the cross; in His humanity, Jesus longs to bypass the cross. In the same vein, the decision of life or death is distressing and agonizing for Paul.
Paul confesses that his “desire is to depart and be with Christ” (1:23). The word translated “desire” (epithumian) seems like a rather mellow word. You may be thinking to yourself, “I, too, desire to be with Christ.” However, you may be surprised to learn that this word is used numerous times in the New Testament, but is only translated in a positive sense one other time (1 Thess 2:17). Elsewhere this word is rendered “lust.” Lust is a burning yearning for that which is forbidden. Now this may change your initial take on the seemingly tame word “desire.” The point is: Paul has a strong and intense desire to depart and be with Christ. Thus, you could say that one of the “lusts” of a godly man’s heart is to be with Christ. Paul had an obsessive compulsion, an intense longing to be with Jesus. The implication is that you must share his desire—live to die, die to live.
Another key word that is easy to read over at first glance is the verb “depart” (analuo).25 However, in the Greek Old Testament this term was used of breaking up camp and reflects the camp-life of the Israelites in the wilderness in contrast with their permanent dwellings in the promised land. Likely, Paul, the old tentmaker, resorts to the language of his trade. In this term, he sees camp-life is exchanged at death for home-life with Christ” (cf. 2 Cor 5:1–8).26 What a beautiful and picturesque concept.
Paul insists that the prospect of being with Christ is “very much better.” He uses three Greek words (pollo mallon kreisson) that could be translated “better beyond all expression.” This expresses the highest superlative Paul could think of. The bottom line is: It is far better for a Christian to die than to live, although few of us believe it. We want to live long and prosperous and then retire, vacation, and help raise our grandchildren. Yet, Paul’s mindset is far different. He actually yearns for death. He beckons his dying day. He is able to do this because he is absolutely convinced that the moment he passes from this life, he will be in the presence of Jesus. As he says in 2 Cor 5:8, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. What a comfort! Paul understood the truth that you are not prepared to live until you are prepared to die.
Can you say that you have the same confidence as Paul? If not, you can. You can be 100% assured that you will spend eternity with Jesus. Simply believe in Jesus to rescue you from your sins. Transfer your trust from yourself and your good works to Jesus Christ’s work and person alone, and you will live with Him forever. If you make this decision, please contact me and I would be happy to send you some materials that will help you grow in your new faith. The greatest joy on earth is the clear prospect of heaven.
In spite of Paul’s godly lust for his heavenly home, he states in 1:24 that “to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” The word “necessary” (avagnaioteron) speaks of Paul’s need to be alive so that he can minister to others. God still has more work for Paul to accomplish in the lives of the Philippian believers. They need Paul more than he needs to go to heaven at this time in his life. Paul is willing to temporarily forestall his desire to go home to be with Christ in order to fulfill their need. The principle here is that as long as you are alive on earth God has a purpose for your being here. Therefore, you must ask, “Why does God have me here on earth?” The only reason Paul longed to stay behind is for the purpose of ministry.
This ties right into Paul’s conclusion in 1:25–26: “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all27 for your progress28 and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.”29 After weighing all the evidence, Paul figures that he will probably live a little longer. He evidently believes this because the case his accusers had brought against him was not strong (cf. Acts 23:29; 25:25; 26:31-32).30 This conclusion is confirmed by the evidence in the Pastoral Epistles and the early church fathers, which points to Paul’s release from Roman imprisonment in A.D. 62 and several additional years of ministry until his second Roman imprisonment.31 Paul is saying he is “convinced” (pepoithos) that if he lives on in the flesh, he will do so for the Philippians. He says he will “remain” (meno) and “continue” for their “progress and joy in the faith.” The word for “progress” (prokopeen) means “to go forward and advance” (cf. 1:12). Paul desires not only the progress of the gospel but also the advancement in maturity by those who had responded to the gospel (Col 1:28). This is the reason God has Paul upon earth.
So I must ask the question: What are you doing to advance the faith of others? How are you presently bringing about others’ joy in the faith? Your answer to these questions is critically important, for this is why you’ve been left on planet earth. Have you ever considered that your marriage is ministry? Did you know that the most fulfilling fruit you can achieve is in your spouse? Another great ministry must be your children. If you impact and influence each of your children, you won’t just see individual lives changed. You may eventually see generations transformed.
Did you know that your work is your ministry? You are in full-time ministry whether you know it or not. You don’t have to be a pastor like I am. You may be a doctor, an engineer, a mechanic, a secretary, a housewife, or a retiree. It really doesn’t matter what you do. God has called you into the ministry—full time!
Of course, your church can also be a place of ministry. You can perform countless acts of service. You can work in the sound or video ministries, greet, usher, teach children or adults, serve in the nursery, or work on the grounds. Furthermore, you can also volunteer to cook meals, transport people in need, write letters to encourage others, use the phone to minister to those who suffer, pray, and give financially. The goal is that each and every person serves in one small way with excellence. Remember, the reason that you are still here is to serve God and others. Live to die, die to live.
There’s a ritual that takes place at the beginning of every professional ball game called “the pre-game speech” or “chalk talk.” Before the players take the field or court, the coach gets everyone together and reminds the team of the basics of their game. Typically, these speeches take place in the locker room with a dry erase board that allows the coach to draw up some plays. He then makes statements such as: “You guys have worked hard and prepared for this moment. I believe in you. You just need to play your game and take it to them!” Every week the coach says the same stuff but one way or another he gets the team focused and fired up for the game.
Like the apostle Paul, I consider myself a coach who is called to rally a team to victory. I want you to know that I believe in you and have high hopes for you. I also want to pump you up! Tragically, you may wrestle with this type of “emotionalism.” You may say, “Just give me the truth of God’s Word. I don’t want a lot of emotionalism that will fade by Sunday evening or maybe Monday morning.” While I can appreciate this, I believe one of the grave dangers in Bible churches is truth delivered without passion. This results in dry orthodoxy and can lead to arrogance. However, God calls you to a passionate pursuit of all that He is in exchange for all that you are. So what do have you to live for? What is your ruling passion? I’m confident that if you live to die, die to live, like Paul, you too may be used by God to affect the entire course of human history. If your church adopts this mentality, she can touch the world for Jesus Christ. Today, will you live your life for Jesus Christ with the expectation that He may come today or you may pass from this life? Will you deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Christ? This is the only way to live—live to die, die to live.
2 Corinthians 4:7–5:10
2 Corinthians 5:11–21
2 Timothy 4:1–8
1. How do I view my circumstances (1:18b–20)? Do I typically conclude that when bad things happen nothing good can come out of my circumstances? How can I begin to make a mental/spiritual paradigm shift? Apart from the apostle Paul, who is a godly example of someone who lives above his/her circumstances? What can I learn from this individual?
2. How have I seen the Holy Spirit empower me in the midst of adverse circumstances (1:19)? Do I consciously rely on the Holy Spirit to fill me so that I can carry out God’s will? Read Ephesians 5:18; Proverbs 3:5–6; and Hebrews 11:6. Am I currently aware of anything in my life that is grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit? Will I confess it the Lord (and others) today?
3. What do I truly live for (1:21)? Would people confirm that this is the passion of my life? How would I fill in the following blank: “For to me, to live is _____________________________?” Write out a Personal Missions Statement this week: “I exist to________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
4. What does it mean to experience “fruitful labor” (1:22)? Do I view my life as an opportunity for fruitful labor for Christ (1:22–24)? If so, what does this look like? How can I see God bring about a greater increase of fruit in my life and ministry? Read John 15:1–11. Is there someone in my life who will hold me accountable to serve those in my sphere of influence?
5. Is my vision to help others grow in their faith (1:25–26)? How do I go about this on a daily basis? Who am I specifically helping grow spiritually? Is this person helping others mature spiritually? Read 2 Timothy 2:1–2. What can I do differently to ensure that I am “transferring truth to the next generation?”
1 Copyright © 2009 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
2 The Nestle-Aland27 (NA27) Greek text marks the beginning of a new paragraph with Phil 1:18b. This is supported by Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 107–8 and Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 126–30. Conversely, Melick and Silva argue for the start of a new paragraph at 1:18a. See Richard R. Melick, Jr., Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. The New American Commentary, Vol. 32. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1991), 78–79 and Moisés Silva, Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2nd ed. Edited by Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992, 2005), 68–69.
3 Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 25.
4 The word translated “deliverance” is the Greek noun soteria, which is usually translated “salvation.” Most English versions opt for the rendering “deliverance” because the translators believe that Paul is speaking of being delivered from jail (e.g., NASB, NET, ESV, HCSB, NIV, NKJV, NLT; see also Ralph P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 20 argues for this view). However, this is not the best interpretation. Although Paul hints that he expects to be released (1:25–26), he also acknowledges that he might instead glorify Christ by his death (1:20–23). Other scholars believe Paul was referring to his ultimate spiritual salvation. That is, whether or not he would be delivered by the Roman court, he would be delivered from God’s final judgment. Sumney, Philippians, 25, rightly acknowledges that this is the least likely interpretation. Still others suggest Paul is referring to his apostleship and being delivered from the envious preachers of Phil 1:15–17. Sumney, Philippians, 25, suggests that the best option may be this last view combined with the vindication view explained in this sermon.
5 The word translated “provision” (epichoregia) is only used elsewhere in the NT in Eph 4:16: “...from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies [epichoregia], according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” The word was originally used for a wealthy person who bore the expenses of a city-state drama choir. These productions were very expensive. It took someone very wealthy to pick up the tab. God, who is incalculably wealthy, has granted a “provision” or “supply” of the Spirit so that Paul could continue to honor Christ.
6 The Holy Spirit makes Christ’s presence real in the lives of believers. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 134–35 explains, “This is how Christ lives in him—by his Spirit (Rom 8:9–10). The reason for this unusual qualifier lies in the context. Paul’s concern throughout the ‘explanation’ is on Christ and the gospel. In anticipation of the final clause expressing the nature of his ‘salvation/vindication,’ Paul knows that Christ will be glorified in his life or death only as he is filled with the Spirit of Christ himself. That is, it is Christ resident in him by the Spirit who will be the cause of Paul’s—and therefore the gospel’s—not being brought to shame and of Christ’s being magnified through him.”
7 The word translated “earnest expectation” (apokaradokia) pictures a person straining his neck to see what is ahead. Paul isn’t so much concerned with his temporary trials, he is looking ahead to the testimony he will leave and Christ’s ultimate fulfillment of His promises. The only other use of apokaradokia in the NT is Rom 8:19: “For the anxious longing [apokaradokia] of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.”
8 This Greek word has the basic meaning of “a boldness to speak” (1) in the presence of a superior (God, a judge, a king, etc.) or (2) in tense situations (cf. Acts 4:13, 29, 31; Eph 3:12; 1 Tim 3:13; Heb 10:9; 1 John 4:17). This was Paul’s recurrent prayer (cf. Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3).
9 Constable writes, “The use of the passive ‘be exalted’ rather than the active ‘I exalt Christ’ is unusual. It reflects Paul’s conviction that essentially the Christian life involves following the leading of God’s indwelling Spirit rather than seizing the initiative and doing things for God (cf. Gal. 5:18).” Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Philippians,” 2009 ed.: www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/philippians.pdf, 17.
10 Cf. Rom 5:4 and context which, though using a slightly different form of the verb, expresses similar convictions. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 136, suggests that Paul is “picking up a motif from the Psalms, where the same words (‘shame’ and ‘be exalted’) often stand in collocation (e.g., Ps 34:3-5 [LXX 33:4-6]; 35:26-27 [LXX 34:26-27]).”
11 Silva, Philippians, 70, writes, “For greater detail on Paul’s conception, compare Rom. 5:3–5; in that passage, which provides an interesting parallel, the apostle describes the process that leads from tribulation (thlipsis) to a hope that does not make us ashamed.”
12 For a helpful discussion see Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1989), 21–24.
13 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 108–10 and Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 128–32 also use the term “vindication,” yet they understand Paul’s vindication to be in reference to his eternal salvation.
14 E.g., Romans 8:29–39; Eph 1:3–14; 2 Tim 1:12.
16 Kenneth Boa, Reflections Newsletter, July 1987.
17 Grant C. Richison, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians”: versebyversecommentary.com/1995/10/17/philippians-120b/.
18 Bonnie B. Thurston and Judith M. Ryan, Philippians and Philemon. Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 62.
19 See BDAG s.v. kerdos.
21 Probably no verse better summarizes Paul’s life than Phil 1:21. However, Paul’s words in Gal 2:20 are certainly comparable: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
22 Paul uses the term “fruit” (karpos) to refer to his missionary endeavors in Rom 1:13: “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit [karpos] among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.”
23 Interestingly, Paul’s only other use of the verb sunecho (“hard-pressed”) is found in 2 Cor 5:14: “For the love of Christ controls [sunecho] us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died.”
24 The only other NT use of analuo (“depart”) is found in Luke 12:36: “Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns [analuo] from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.”
25 Analuo was used for the losing of an anchor. The great Greek grammarian, A.T. Robertson, translates the term, “To weigh anchor and out to sea.”
26 Alec Motyer, The Message of Philippians. The Bible Speaks Today series (Leicester, England/Downers Grove, IL InterVarsity, 1984), 88.
27 Note the use again of the adjective ‘all’ when Paul mentions the Philippian believers. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 152 writes, “This otherwise unnecessary mention of ‘all’ most likely points to the friction that is currently at work among them.”
28 Thielman writes, “The term prokope (‘advancement, progress’) appears in only one other passage in the New Testament (1 Tim. 4:15), and Paul’s use of it at the beginning and end of this section probably has a deeper meaning than is readily apparent, especially in translation. He is showing his readers both the boundaries of the section itself and its primary concern, although at one level the purpose of the section is to inform the Philippians about Paul’s circumstances. At a deeper level it shows how God is advancing ‘the gospel’ and ‘the faith’ through those circumstances. Frank Thielman, Philippians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 58.
29 The Greek phrase may be translated “your boasting may overflow in Christ Jesus because of me,” or possibly, “your boasting in me may overflow in Christ Jesus.” BDAG s.v. kauchema 1 translates this phrase as “what you can be proud of.” Silva, Philippians, 75, convincingly argues for the translation: “so that your boasting may abound in Christ Jesus through my ministry when I return to you.”
30 Constable, “Notes on Philippians,” 18.
31 Kenneth Boa, Reflections Newsletter, September 1987.
A sword requires hard steel to maintain a sharp edge. However, swords made solely of hard steel are found to be so brittle that they often shatter in battle. In contrast, soft steel does not break, but readily becomes dull, failing to be effective in fierce warfare. The Japanese, therefore, became skilled craftsman in the art of sword making. Their swords are the finest in the world. The Japanese create swords from both hard and soft steel. They combine multiple sheets of both strengths of metal, heating, folding, and pummeling them together over and over until they have up to 33,000 paper thin laminations of metal—each layer no more than 100,000th of an inch thick. The result is a finely crafted weapon of extreme pliability with a blade that will retain a deadly, sharp edge.
Just as Japanese sword makers repeatedly hammer together layers of metal to produce a sword that will be strong enough to withstand breaking, so God allows suffering to forge character into the lives of His children. Just as a sword made of hard metal will easily break in battle, so the independent believer will break in adversity. The hard steel in our lives is God’s Word; the soft steel in our lives is dependence on God and His church. These two components are both necessary to produce vessels that glorify God.2 Eventually, believers are shaped into beautiful weapons or models of usefulness.
Today, I hope to remind you of your privilege to model the gospel. Perhaps you don’t like the word model because you don’t see yourself as a particularly attractive person. I’m with you! I don’t get particularly excited about looking into the mirror either. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be physically attractive to be a gospel model; instead, you must be spiritually attractive. In Philippians 1:27–30,3 Paul exhorts you to model the gospel through perseverance, unity, boldness, and suffering.4 When you excel in these Christian disciplines, the world sits up and takes notice. Unbelievers in your life may not be eager for Jesus or salvation, but if you live a godly life, they may eventually become open to the gospel. Paul provides two challenges that will enable you to model the gospel.
1. Stand strong for Christ (1:27–28). You can stand strong for Christ by exemplifying courage and unity even in the midst of persecution. This section begins with the adverb “only” (monon),5 pointing to a sense of urgency and priority. I can see Paul holding up his index finger to signify “only” or “just one thing”6 as he adamantly declares his bottom line:7“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel8 of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). Paul writes “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.”9 This command begins the body of this letter that runs through 4:9. Moreover, this command serves as the overarching theme of the entire book. So Paul gives the key command and then proceeds to explain and to illustrate what constitutes worthy conduct.10 The phrase “conduct yourselves” (politeuesthe) literally means “live as citizens.”11 The verb Paul uses (politeuomai) is related to our English word politics. It is a word built upon the Greek word for “city” (polis) and has overtones of citizenship responsibilities.12 Paul is making a play on the Philippians’ “dual citizenship.”13 The Philippians live in a free Roman city, and thus understand from their own experience what it means to live as citizens.14 Paul is picking up on that motif and elevating it to include their heavenly citizenship as well. This is especially clear by Paul’s use of the noun form of politeuomai in 3:20a where Paul writes, “For our citizenship [politeuma] is in heaven.” Paul is suggesting that you are a citizen of heaven, and while you are on earth you ought to behave like heaven’s citizen.
To live your life as a citizen “worthy15 of the gospel of Christ” means to represent Christ in all you say and do. The term “worthy” (axios) pictures weighing something on the scales. The idea is that your manner of life should weigh as much as the gospel you claim to be committed to.16 People are not nearly as interested in discussing absolute, objective truth claims. People are even less interested in discussing theology or philosophy, but most people are interested in the practical questions of how to live.
At our church, we call this, “Living the Life,” which is our third vision strategy. It is not enough to just learn the Word; we must live the gospel out in every area of life, including our earthly citizenship. What type of citizen are you? Do you speak well of our President, our governor, and various political officials? Or are you critical of anyone who isn’t as conservative as you are? Obviously, this will not open doors to the gospel?17 Are you a law abiding citizen? Do you seek to have a positive attitude in your community, or are you a pessimistic doomsday soothsayer? Additionally, what type of spouse are you? Do your coworkers and neighbors see something different in your marriage? Do they come to you in the midst of their relational strife? Do those who know you see you loving your kids and spending time with them, while they are pulling out their hair and running away from their own kids? Perhaps they want to know how you can enjoy your kids so much. All that it takes is for you to live a different (notice I didn’t say odd) life before those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. Today, will you model the gospel before your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers? Will you help others learn how to live the gospel? Will you help others become citizens of heaven and learn to live like the King?
Paul expects great things from the Philippians whether he is able to come see them or whether he just hears a good report. What a great comment! Paul expects that the impact of a worthy church would be known far and wide. This should be your desire as well. It is critical to believe in your church and to speak well of your church. So many people are critical of their church and their leadership. This is easy for any believer to do. It doesn’t take any skill or spiritual maturity to notice weaknesses in the church. Anyone can be critical of the church! However, self-control and godliness come into play when you choose to believe the best about your church and her leadership. When you have a high view of what God can accomplish in and through your church, you will come with expectation. You will serve with zeal! You will talk to others with optimism! Who knows? The church may just rise to your highs hopes of her.
Paul yearns to hear about the church “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27b). The word translated “stand firm” (steko) described a Roman military formation in which the soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back with their shields up and their spears outward. It was the strongest possible defensive position. The word was also used of a soldier who defended his position at all costs, even to the point of sacrificing his own life.18 To stand firm means to hold your ground regardless of the danger or the opposition. Figuratively, it means to hold fast to a belief, a conviction, or a principle without compromise, regardless of personal cost.
You must have a military mindset and hold down the fort of your church. Impacting the world begins as Christians stand together “in one spirit.” As followers of Jesus, we need each other. Like soldiers, we too, are to join arms and hearts, offering encouragement and hope in our struggles. We are not to divide. Unfortunately, we do, often over very trivial issues. There are already too many barriers in the body of Christ—barriers of race, geography, worship style, mode of baptism, and denominational affiliation. To make matters worse, we spend far too much time squabbling over non-essential issues (e.g., the charismatic gifts, end times, the timing of the universe, divorce and remarriage, etc) and not enough time preaching the gospel of Christ. This is a scandal that hinders God’s work. When will we understand that unity makes the gospel beautiful? Jesus promised that all men would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34–35).19
Paul has just used political and military word pictures, now he moves to the world of athletics.20 All this in one verse! The word translated “striving together” (sunathleo) gives us our English word “athletics.”21 Paul pictures the church as a team, and he reminds the Philippians that it is teamwork that wins victories. It’s like a coach saying to his players, “We win together and we lose together.” The local church is not made up of superstars. The church is a team in which Christ is the superstar, and we are joined together with Him to compete. In this case, we play as a team to advance the truth of God and promote His kingdom. Our proper motivation and common goal is “for the faith of the gospel.”22
One of Aesop’s fables is about a father who had seven sons. To each son he gave a stick. Each was asked to break his stick. No problem there; it was easily done. Then the father took another seven sticks and bound them together. He then asked each of his seven sons to break the sticks. Not one of them could break the sticks which had been bound together as one.23 Similarly, on our own, you and I will be snapped in two by Satan and our own flesh. We need the accountability, encouragement, and comfort that come from being in community with other believers.
Paul concludes this section in 1:28 with some unusual words that require a bit of explanation: “in no way24 alarmed by your opponents--which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” Paul says that standing strong for Christ entails refusing to be intimidated by your opponents. The word translated “alarmed” (ptyresthai) is not found elsewhere in the entire Greek Bible (OT and NT). But it is used on occasion in Classical Greek of timid horses that shy upon being startled at some unexpected object.25 It could denote the uncontrollable stampede which ensues when a herd of horses are spooked or alarmed for some reason.26 It is obvious from this that these opponents were trying to throw the church into panic in an attempt to dismantle it. Yet, the Philippians were not to become frightened to the point of running from their opposition. As believers we should not go looking for a fight, but neither do we run away from it if it happens.27
There has been a lot of ink spilled on exactly who these opponents are, but ultimately no one knows with any degree of certainty.28 The point that Paul is making is: Make no mistake, if you open up your mouth about Jesus Christ, you will have enemies. When you say “Jesus is the only way,” people will call you arrogant. If you declare, “You must be born again,” someone is sure to call you a fanatic. If you say the Bible is the Word of God, someone else will think you’re an ignorant hick. If you say, “I know I’m going to heaven,” you’ll be accused of thinking you’re better than everyone else. Finally, if you dare to call adultery wrong and homosexuality sinful, someone is bound to call you a narrow-minded, judgmental bigot. And so it goes. If you’re a bold Christian, you will annoy the world precisely because you are a citizen of heaven and live by different principles.
Nevertheless, your bold witness in the face of persecution serves two purposes. First, your bold witness is a sign to your opponents that they will be destroyed. How is it a “sign” (endeixis) to them? Because when they see you stand firm, deep in their heart they know it’s not natural for someone to stand against the ridicule or hostility of a group. Deep in their heart they know that when a group begins to browbeat and threaten or attack, people cave in. They know the normal human response is that when you see you’re going to be rejected for a view, you find some way to back off from it. When they see you continue to stand without being intimidated, it makes a disturbing impression on them, because something inexplicable is happening. They see a quiet strength inside you that they don’t have. They see a certainty and strength that can only be explained as coming from somewhere or Someone else. And deep in their heart a convicting voice says to them, “He’s right, she’s right, and unless you change, you’ll be under the judgment of the God who is in them.” When you stand for the truth and are not scared off, a profound impression is made on them that unless they change, they’ll be under the judgment of God. Although most people deny and suppress the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, He still beckons them to consider spiritual realities. Knowing this, you and I must seek to model the gospel.
Your bold witness serves a second purpose—it’s a sign of salvation for you. Salvation from what? Whenever you come across the noun “salvation” (soteria) or the verb “save” (sozo), it is important to ask: What is the context of this rescue or deliverance? In Phil 1:27–28, Paul is likely referring to believers triumphantly glorifying Christ through temporal difficulties, whether they escape them or not. The salvation also points to our future hope of reigning with Christ. Throughout the New Testament, suffering is often connected with reward (e.g., Matt 5:10–12; Rom 8:17; Heb 10:32–35; 11:24–26). Thus, it is critical that you and I endure so that we experience the fullness of Christ’s reign (2 Tim 2:11–13).
One of the important questions in this passage is: What does the word “that” (“but of salvation for you, and that [touto] too, from God,” 1:28b) refer to? It seems clear whatever “that” is it comes “from God.” At first glance, it seems that Paul is referring to “salvation” as “that” which comes from God. This makes biblical and logical sense. Salvation is from God and the closest referent to “that” is “salvation.” However, in the Greek language, terms are given genders—masculine, feminine, neuter—so terms that belong together can be matched up. When the gender of the relevant terms in 1:28 is considered, it becomes clear that the neuter “that” does not refer to the feminine “salvation”29 but to the whole concept of striving and suffering in the preceding context (1:27–28a). What’s the point? Somehow, suffering comes from God. I’m not saying evil comes from God. But it is God who allows you to suffer. This principle will be fleshed out further in 1:29–30.
[If you want to live a worthy life and model the gospel, you must stand strong for Christ. Paul’s second challenge to live a worthy life is to…]
2. Suffer well for Christ (1:29–30).30In order to suffer well for Christ, you must recognize the nature of suffering and observe positive examples of suffering. Paul states, “For31 to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,32 experiencing the same conflict [agon]33 which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me”34(1:29–30). Paul explains that suffering is “a grace disguised.”35 The word “granted” (echaristhe) is built off the Greek word for “grace” (charis).36 Paul’s point is: God gives two grace gifts—salvation and suffering. Of course, every believer wants the gift of salvation, but the gift of suffering is the “gift that nobody wants!” We’re tempted to look for the receipt. Like a Christmas gift we don’t want, we’re tempted to try and return this gift! But God says: “There’s no receipt. The gift of suffering is too important and too significant.”37 Suffering is a gift of God’s grace!38
Paul doesn’t just offer up some pious platitudes; the man is a practitioner. In fact, in 1:30 he uses himself as an example and indicates the Philippians have seen him suffer. Nearly ten years earlier they had seen Paul thrown into a Philippian jail and then run out of town for his faith (Acts 16:19–34). And now at the time of this writing he is in prison in Rome.39 Yet, Paul counts suffering for the gospel a grace gift. The reason: Suffering changed his life and shaped his eternal perspective.
Indeed, nothing will facilitate growth quicker and better than suffering. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it’s true. From a human perspective, suffering stinks; but from a godly perspective, suffering is for your good. God wants to sanctify you. Like Jesus, we must be perfected through sufferings (Heb 2:10). Today, will you begin to see your problems as privileges? When you are rejected at work, at school, or in the neighborhood, will you rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer with Christ? When your spouse, your children, or you relatives call you a fanatic or a freak, will you bless the Lord and continue to exude love and compassion? Through your suffering, God will permit you to model the gospel to those who need a witness.
Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist, lived during the Holocaust and was a prisoner in a Jewish concentration camp during WWII. While seeking to survive the horror of this imprisonment, Frankl began observing his fellow prisoners in the hope of discovering what coping mechanism would help him endure this horrendous existence. What Frankl discovered was this: Those individuals who could not accept what was happening to them and could not make their present suffering fit with their faith, or couldn’t find its meaning in their world view, despaired, lost hope, and eventually gave up and died. Those prisoners who found a meaning from their faith, were then able to find hope for a future beyond their present suffering, and so could accept what they were enduring as a part of their existence. It was these prisoners who survived.
You may not find yourself in a concentration camp right now; nevertheless, you may be suffering for Christ. If so, ask God to enable you to have His perspective. Pray for the supernatural ability to receive suffering as a gift that God will use to grow you in Him and allow you to model the gospel to a hurting and confused world. Remember, the book of Philippians is about changing your mind. Words related to the mind, to thinking, and to remembering occur almost three dozen times! This is the most prevalent idea throughout the letter. Today, God wants you to encounter Him anew and afresh so that you see your need to depend upon Him and His church. He wants you to maintain courage and perseverance in the most difficult circumstances. As you do so, He will use you in ways that you never thought possible. Model the gospel and see what Jesus Himself will do in and through you.
Acts 2:42–46; 4:32
2 Corinthians 11:23–29; 12:7–10
Job 1–2; Job 38–39
1 Peter 1:6–7
1. How does my church exemplify the gospel (1:27)? What specific strengths in the areas of unity, courage, and perseverance can I cite? What would people in the community say about my church? In what ways am I helping my church be a model to my community? How am I currently holding back my church from becoming all that she could be? Is there a pattern of behavior (e.g., laziness, carnality, bitterness) that I need to confess so I can make spiritual progress both individually and corporately?
2. What impresses me most about other Christians? What excites me most about a church? How do my answers differ from Paul’s perspective? How can I begin to change the way I define a successful Christian life or church? Why does it matter how I judge a successful Christian or church? How will this change my perspective and behavior?
3. How do I “strive together for the faith of the gospel” with other believers (1:28)? Do I seek to maintain unity in the body of Christ? If so, how? In what ways do I exhibit love for the body of Christ? Would those who know me say that I love the church and uphold unity? Read Ephesians 4:1–6 and John 17.
4. Am I currently intimidated by an unbeliever (1:28)? If so, why does this individual intimidate me? What is the worst thing that this person can do to me? Read Matthew 10:32–33 and 2 Timothy 1:7–8. How can I overcome the fear of man? Is there a bold believer I respect who can help me courageously witness for Christ?
5. When (if ever) have I suffered for Christ (1:29–30)? What was this experience like? What has God taught me through the persecution that I have endured? Read 2 Timothy 3:12; Acts 14:22. How has suffering been a gift in my life? How can I begin to see the positive fruit that only occurs through suffering?
3 Phil 1:27–30 forms one extended sentence in the Greek text.
4 In this short section, Paul moves from information (Phil 1:12–26) to exhortation (1:27–30). Richard R. Melick, Jr., Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. The New American Commentary, Vol. 32 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1991), 88.
5 It is unfortunate that the word “only” (monos) is omitted from the NIV text.
6 The HCSB renders monos as “Just one thing.” What a great translation!
7 Fee states that monos controls Paul’s argument from Phil 1:27 to 2:18. Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 161.
8 In Phil 1, Paul uses the word “gospel” (euaggelion) six times: 1:5, 7, 12, 16, 27 (twice). He also alludes to it in other terminology several more times: “to speak the word of God” (1:14); “preaching Christ” (1:15); “proclaim Christ” (1:17); “Christ is proclaimed” (1:18); “Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted” (1:20); “to live is Christ” (1:21).
9 Thielman writes, “Beginning with 1:27, verbs in the imperative mood are scattered evenly throughout the letter (2:2, 5, 12, 14, 29, 3:1, 2, 15, 16, 17; 4:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 21).” Frank Thielman, Philippians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 90 n. 1.
10 Swift writes, “A ‘worthy walk,’ then, means specifically the achievement of true Christian unity among themselves, and steadfastness against enemies of the gospel.” Robert C. Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 141:563 (July-Sept 1984): 243.
11 The noun form of politeuomai is used in Phil 3:20: “For our citizenship [politeuma] is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
12 The verb politeuomai only occurs elsewhere in the NT in Acts 23:1.
13 Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 161.
14 This word is especially appropriate to use in a letter to people who took great pride in their Roman citizenship (cf. Acts 16:12, 20–21).
15 Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 162, suggests the adverb “worthily” points to a metaphorical interpretation.
16 The early Christians were first called “the Way” (cf. Acts 9:2; 18:25–26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). These believers were called to live worthy lives (cf. Eph. 4:1, 17; 5:2, 15; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12).
17 We must remember Paul’s words: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:5–6).
18 Hawthorne suggests that steko “conveys the idea of firmness or steadfastness, or unflinching courage like that possessed by soldiers who determinedly refuse to leave their posts irrespective of how severely the battle rages.” Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 43 (Waco: Word, 1983), 56. Paul uses the term stekete seven times in his letters (Rom 14:4; 1 Cor 16:13; Gal 5:1; Phil 1:27; 4:1; 1 Thess 3:8; 2 Thess 2:15). In most cases it means to “stand firm” according to one’s conviction regarding their faith (i.e., belief in the Lord) and with the power the Lord provides (cf. Phil 4:13).
19 Ray Pritchard, “Joy in the Trenches” (Phil 1:27–30): www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1998-10-04-Joy-in-the-Trenches/.
20 Hawthorne, Philippians, 57; Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 90. It is also possible that sunathleo carries the imagery of the military campaign (BDAG s.v. sunathleo) or a gladiator’s fight in an arena (O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 150–1).
21 Sunathleo is found elsewhere only in Phil 4:3.
22 The phrase “the faith of the gospel” can mean one of three things: “the faith that is the gospel” (genitive of apposition), “faith in the gospel” (objective genitive), or “the faith that originates from the gospel” (genitive of source). The final option is the best. See also O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 152.
23 Quoted in Sam Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy: The Message of Philippians. Truth for Today Commentary Series (Belfast, Ireland/Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 2004), 64.
24 Paul makes a strong point by using a Greek emphatic double negative me…medeni (“in no way”).
25 Hawthorne, Philippians, 58, quoting the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon.
26 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 152; Martin, Philippians, 89.
27 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 65.
28 The opponents could be (1) local Jews, although there was no synagogue mentioned in Philippi; (2) traveling Jewish opponents, as in Acts 17:13, or like the Judaizers of the Galatian churches (Phil 3:2–6); (3) local pagans (Acts 16:16–21); or (4) local civil authorities (Acts 16:21–40).
29 The antecedent touto (‘that”) in the phrase “and that from (or by) God” cannot be “sign” or “salvation (or saved)” both of which are feminine in the Greek text. This is a similar construction to Eph 2:8–9 where the touto (“this”) refers not to “grace” or “faith,” which are also feminine, but to the whole process of salvation.
30 Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 173, aptly writes, “One of the reasons most of us in the West do not know more about the content of vv. 29-30 is that we have so poorly heeded the threefold exhortation that precedes…”
31 Silva, Philippians, 83 writes, “Verse 29 begins with the causal conjunction hoti (“for, because”), and it would be a mistake to ignore its significance. The conjunction gar (“for”) is used frequently as a transitional particle and thus one cannot always assume a causal function. Paul’s use of hoti rather than gar makes clear that 1:29 is intended as the reason or explanation for the surprising statement in 1:28, particularly the emphatic clause at the end, ‘and this from God.’”
32 The suffering that Paul has in mind “is specifically suffering ‘for the gospel,’ and not the more general ‘slings and arrows that flesh is heir to.’ (For Paul’s thoughts on that see Rom 8:17–30.)” See Bonnie B. Thurston and Judith M. Ryan, Philippians and Philemon. Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 71.
33 The term “conflict” (agon) occurs in Paul’s letters four times (Col 2:1; 1 Thess 2:2; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7) and the cognate verb agonizomai six times (1 Cor 9:25; Col 1:29; 4:12; 1 Tim 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). He uses it to refer to an intense struggle or wrestling, including both inner conflicts and outer pressures as well.
34 People sometimes want to know why it ought to be considered a privilege to suffer for Christ. For starters, we might consider that he suffered for us. We might also think about the glory of entering into the sharing of His experience. But one of the reasons that is most important is that God uses sufferings in our lives to perfect us. For more, see C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (HarperCollins, 2001).
35 See Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998). This is an outstanding book that chronicles the story of a Christian college professor who loses his wife and young daughter in an automobile accident.
36 Here, to grant means “to give freely and graciously as a favor.” See BDAG s.v. charizomai 1.
38 See also O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 158, Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 71; Thielman, Philippians, 100–1; Silva, Philippians, 83.
39 Paul describes his life during the time between these two imprisonments in 2 Cor 11:23–28: “Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.”
I’m sure you have noticed that there is a great deal of disunity in the world today. Since 9/11, we have been so polarized from different groups that we are now experiencing both global and domestic isolation. Presently, there is tremendous polarity between democrats and republicans. We face a group of Islamic radicals that want us economically crippled so they can move in for the kill. The United Nations community that was founded upon the principle of global unity has split into either supporters of the USA or haters of the USA. The idea of unity seems like a far fetched fantasy. There has never been a time in our country when company loyalty and unity has been so poor. Corporations blatantly lie about their earnings to keep business afloat; employees sue their employers because they are suffering fatigue for working eight hours a day. The bookstore shelves are littered with “how to” tips for managers to unify their departments. The University campuses are beginning to resemble the same seeds of violence and anger that fueled the 60s. Professors are becoming more and more intolerant of opposing worldviews, which basically means that they are intolerant in establishing their view of tolerance, absolute in their quest to make you become a relativist. And if you don’t conform to their non-conformity you will flunk out of their class.
Worse yet, the home and the church are no better than the world. Our homes have all but lost their once impenetrable defenses. Forty percent of children will go to sleep tonight without a father around. The divorce rate for couples is up to 56% with almost no difference in the church or out of the church. The idea of unity in the home is almost a joke. We are also facing massive division within the churches of America. There are over 6,000 factions and branches of denominational separation in the “Christian Church.” Where we once stood as an example of unity, we now are ridiculed and mocked because we can’t even agree on the most basic assumptions the Bible makes. Do you have to believe in God to be a Christian? Does it have to be the God of the Bible? Can you be a Christian without believing in Christ? Does the only book that teaches us about God have to be believed or can I just come up with whatever I want? Along with denominational differences, local churches are facing increased polarization from those that attend their church. Pastors are openly mocked and ridiculed. Gossip reigns supreme. Men and women who call themselves Christians don’t see the need to be unified with other believers because they feel they have their own “personal” relationship with Jesus and that’s good enough. Infighting, bickering, impatience, immorality, and a total disregard for the lost is common and unity, kindness, patience, and a zeal for those outside of the family of God is uncommon.3
But instead of bemoaning these tragic realities, we must welcome the challenge of uniting as brothers and sisters in Christ. This seems like an impossible and overwhelming endeavor…and it is! But that is where the supernatural strength of the Lord enters in. In Philippians 2:1–4, Paul uses an “if-then” logical argument.4 He says: “If certain things are true, then we are obligated to do certain things.” So in these few short verses you will come to understand why you should be unified with other Christians and how to fulfill this great goal.5 Of course, the great temptation is to go after those who disagree with us and make our lives difficult and put these people in their place. You may be surprised to learn that Paul is going to urge you to put people in their place (but perhaps not in the way that you might think).
1. Express what God has created in you (2:1–2).6 In these two verses, Paul reveals that true unity can occur when the body of Christ recognizes and appropriates her identity in Christ.7 Paul begins this section with the word “therefore” (oun).8 This marks a shift from the subject of the church’s struggle with its external enemies (1:27–30) to the equally threatening problem of internal division.9 In other words, Paul’s focus has moved from without to within.10 He understands that it is of little value to be unified against opposition from without and then fail to be unified within. Unity is critical to the mission of the church. Unity also expresses the theme of Philippians to live as heavenly citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27).
In 2:1, Paul shares why you and I should be unified with the body of Christ. His approach is not to tell you what you should do, but rather what has already been done to you by God. Paul writes, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion…” Each of these phrases begins with the word “if” (ei), but this is not an expression of doubt. Instead, Paul is assuming the certainty of each of these descriptions.11 He is saying, “If this is true—and I know it is…” If I address the high school graduates in our church by saying: “If you have been encouraged by the preaching here, if you have appreciated the worship, if you have grown in the Lord through youth group, then when you go off to college this fall, don’t forget to find a home church.12 I am optimistic enough to assume that the young people of our church have been blessed by God’s work. Since this is true, I expect that they will continue to worship and serve the Lord.
Paul begins his discussion on unity by appealing to the Philippians’ relationship “in Christ.”13 He does not focus on their relationships toward one another. Biblical unity is not dependent upon natural oneness but upon supernatural bonding. Paul indentifies four blessings that stem from being in Christ. Each of these blessings stem from the immediately preceding paragraph (1:27–30) on suffering.14
On the basis of Paul’s appeal in 2:1, he makes four more statements that relate to our unity as members of the body of Christ. Paul is essentially saying, ‘If you love me, make me happy by showing the inner beauty which God has created in you since you were converted. Live together in harmony.’ In 2:2, Paul issues the lone command in this section16: “make my joy complete by17 being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”18The command translated “make complete” (pleroo) means literally “to make full or to fill.”19 In 1:3–4, Paul states that he already has joy because of the Philippians, but now he asks that this joy be filled to the brim.20 Paul doesn’t get excited about money, possessions, acclaim, or ministry success; he receives joy from the unity of God’s people! I have to ask if this is true for me as well. What bring me joy and a sense of ultimate fulfillment? Have you ever ordered a soft drink at an amusement park and when the drink came it was filled with three-quarters ice? That is maddening, especially since it cost $4.00! The cup gave the impression of being filled to the brim, but it was filled with a cheap substitute—ice. Similarly, you may seek joy in things that don’t really matter in this life or in the next. Yet, God urges you to seek your fulfillment and chief joy in that which matters in time and in eternity—the unity of the body of Christ. Paul follows up his command with four responses to our identity in Christ.21
W. Clement Stone once said, “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.”29 The only way that you and I can have a consistently positive attitude is by recognizing what Jesus has done in us. It is only through being aware of your identity of Christ.30
[How can you express what God has created in you? First, you must recognize an appropriate your identity in Christ. Second, you must make a decision of the will to unite with the body of Christ. The second response is followed up further in 2:3–4 where Paul says…]
2. Dismiss what sin has caused in you (2:3–4). In these verses, Paul gives the means by which to fulfill 2:2. In 2:3, he gives two negatives to avoid and two positives to follow; and in 2:4, a negative and a positive. Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Negatively in 2:3, he says, “Do nothing31 from selfishness or empty conceit.” We are not to be motivated by “selfishness.”32 Most of us would like to think of ourselves as unselfish creatures. Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we are not. The word rendered “selfishness” (eritheia) appears nowhere else in the New Testament.33 However, Aristotle used it to describe the self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means.34 It’s ugly self promotion that steps on the necks of others to lift oneself up. It’s pride intent on advancing itself.
How do we overcome selfishness? We have children and attend church. If you are fortunate enough to have children, you can quickly determine your level of selflessness. After a long hard day when your boy wants to wrestle and you want to watch TV, which do you choose? When your little girl asks you to read her a book, and you’d rather be golfing or shopping, which do you choose? When your children are teenagers (without their license) and want you to drive them all over town, do you put their interests first? God challenges us daily to be selfless as we interact with our children. At work or even in church, we are also tempted to be selfish. It’s easy to get caught up in our project or our ministry. Yet, the Bible is clear that we are to serve others selflessly. This strikes at the very core of our being. It means we are willing to forgo our own comfort, our own preferences, our own schedule, and our own desires for another’s benefit.
The word translated “empty conceit” (lit. “empty glory”)35 is a graphic description of the glory this world affords us. Picture a balloon full of hot air and you’ve got the right idea. It may appear beautiful and attractive but it is, in fact, empty. One day the glory of humankind will wither like a scorched flower when the light of God’s glory has risen upon the earth. In that day all the glory of man will be seen as absolutely vain and empty. Thus to live for the glories of this day is a very hollow pursuit (cf. John 5:44). John Wooden, former coach of the UCLA Bruins basketball team gives this helpful advice: “Talent is God given—be humble. Fame is man given—be thankful. Conceit is self given—be careful.”36
Paul now moves from the negative to the positive. Instead of being consumed with self-promotion, he says, “but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (2:3b). Here, Paul calls for “humility of mind.”37 But what is humility?38 It seems that most believers want humility, but no one really knows what it means.39 I think most of us have just concluded that it sounds better than “hubris.” Humility means seeing yourself realistically—as God sees you. Not higher than you are—but not lower, either. Humility doesn’t mean that you put yourself down, but that you lift others up.40 Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. The goal is that Jesus Christ increase and that we decrease (John 3:30). One word of caution though: The more we make humility our aim, the more we’re tempted to become proud of our motives. Humility is like a slippery watermelon seed. Once you get it under your finger and you think you have it, it slips away from your grasp.41 Our focus is not to be on pursuing humility but pursuing Jesus and seeking to be Christlike. As we seek Christ and become like Him, humility will naturally and inevitably follow.42
Paul says it like this: “regard one another as more important than yourselves.”43The word “regard” (hegeomai)44 speaks of accounting or reckoning. Practically speaking this means when you go home to your family, you must deliberately regard your spouse as more important than yourself. When you go to work you must consciously regard your co-workers as more important than yourself. Before you pick up the phone you must regard that person on the other end as more important than yourself. Before you reply to that email you must regard that person as more important than yourself. This will require supernatural responses throughout the day. But the rewards are great. Paul Moody said, “Greatness is not measured by how many people are your servants, but by how many people you serve.”45 This demands regarding others as more important.
I should point out that various English versions (NIV, NRSV, KJV/NKJV, NLT) offer the translation “better” instead of “more important” (NASB, NET, HCSB) or “more significant” (ESV). The English word “better” is awkward and doesn’t quite capture what Paul is saying.46 It raises the question, “How can I consider someone better than me when I know they’re not? I can sing solos better than they can; my voice is better, and that's an objective fact. I can lead a meeting better—everyone knows that. I can organize an activity better; I know how to do it. How can I consider someone better when I know realistically that they’re not?” The word “better” doesn’t quite capture what Paul is saying.47 There will always be people who are better or worse than you are. Regarding others as more important than yourself has nothing to do with gifting, skill, personality, or ministry responsibility; it has to do with understanding the value, dignity, and worth of other believers. Whenever you look into the eyes of another believer, regard that brother or sister as more significant than yourself. This is not only beneficial to the individual, but it will also teach you humility.
Paul’s final word is especially relevant: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also48 for the interests of others” (2:4). My favorite word in this entire section is the verb “look” (skopeo), which means “to pay careful attention to, look out for, notice.”49 If you have ever collected coins, stamps, or baseball cards, you know what it’s like to look closely at objects you care about. You may even take out a magnifying glass and spend long quantities of time discerning the quality of your collectible. Similarly, God wants you to study believers to an even greater extent. He then wants you to prioritize their interests over your own. However, a word of caution is in order. Many Christians assume that we are to pursue the interests of others with all that is within us. ‘No rest for the righteous; there will be plenty of time for rest in heaven! While we’re one earth, we must minister to the death.’ However, this can often lead to the neglect of one’s marriage, family, and personal walk with Christ. Sadly, this is done in the name of ministry! Many well-intentioned people lose their children, end in divorce, and burn out on ministry and the church. Others remain intact, but develop a root of bitterness and resentment toward the church and other believers (Heb 12:15). This festers until it destroys them and those around them. Far better to care for your own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs so that you can care for others for many decades of ministries. Paul is simply saying: There’s nothing wrong with looking out for your own personal interests; however, if that is all that you look out for, beware.
Do you look out for the interests of others? When you talk to others, do you talk about yourself or them? God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. He expects you to listen twice as much as you talk. The goal should be to ask questions such as: How are you doing spiritually? How is your marriage and family? Is work going well? What has God been teaching you? How can I be praying for you?50 Do you pray more for others than you do yourself? Are you seeking to ask certain mature Christians to pray for you so that you can pray for others? Do you genuinely long for the success of others more than yourself? Do you get as excited about what God is doing in and through others as you do about what He is doing in and through you? Do you find satisfaction in seeing your spiritual children surpass you in the work they are called to do? Do you want other life-giving churches in your county to succeed more than your church? Do you study the persecuted church and lift these precious brothers and sisters in Christ up in prayer? If so, you’re applying this verse.
Many years ago, in Dallas at a NCAA basketball Final Four playoffs, a head coach was asked, “Why has your team done so well? What is it about this team that has made it come as far as it has, because everybody wants to know about success?” He said, “We have a motto on our team, and the motto is this: ‘Good people do for themselves; great people do for others.’”51 I love this! Perhaps you are like me and you aren’t satisfied with being “good”; you want to be great. Well, this coach nailed it! “Great people do for others.”
On the hit TV show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, whole communities work together to provide a new home for a family in need. It is amazing to watch the cast and crew of the show as they rally the town, the builders, and each other in order to complete the project within seven days. Then, when it’s time to bring the family home, all those people get the chance to celebrate the accomplishment together. Even viewers feel they have a chance to participate in the celebration.
Now, imagine the excitement and joy we would experience as a community of believers if we banded together in the name of God to effect change in our homes, communities, states, nation, and world! It would be remarkable to see what would happen if we all worked together for God’s purpose. We can and we should. If you are facing a challenge in your life, don't try to go it alone. Surround yourself with people who love the Lord; then ask them to work with you to accomplish His will. You will find you are stronger in your efforts, and when it comes time to give thanks for what God has done, there will be a pervasive sense of joy for everyone involved.52
Romans 12:9–13, 16
1. Am I aware of the spiritual provisions God has given me (2:1)? If so, which of the provisions listed in 2:1 is the most meaningful to me? Do I daily live out my Christian life with gratitude to God for His gracious gifts? Or, do I live my Christian life to gain God’s favor? This week, will I stop and reflect on God’s unconditional love for me?
2. How do I apply and employ God’s provisions in my relationships with other believers (2:2)? Do I love my Christian brothers and sisters with Christ’s unconditional love? Do I bring my pastor joy by living in harmony with my fellow believers? How do I exude Christian unity in my church? How do I model unity among other believers at my work, neighborhood, and in my community?
3. Chuck Swindoll says, “Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to what happens.” How do I react when other believers treat me poorly? Do I believe the best about my brother or sister and give him/her the benefit of the doubt, or do I immediately question other believers’ motives and fly off the handle in anger? How can I learn to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19)?
4. When do I sense that I am the most selfish (2:3)? What brings selfishness out of me (outside of the obvious—sin)? Am I prone to be more selfish when I am stressed, busy, or tired? Am I the most selfish with my spouse, my kids, my time, my hobbies, my money, my food, etc.? How can I overcome my selfishness (2:3)? Who can help hold me accountable to elevate others?
5. What can I do this week to intentionally promote goodwill and unity among the Christian brothers and sisters at my church (2:4)? How large is the circle of my prayers? Do I pray for more than just my family and me? Will I begin diligently praying for others in my church? How can I truly “look out for the interests of others” this week?”
2 I would have preferred to have preached the entire unit of Phil 2:1–11; however, I had severe time limitations (communion Sunday, etc.). Since 2:5–11 is so critical I didn’t want to rush through this text.
3 This opening illustration has been adapted and revised from David Fairchild, “True Unity” (Phil 2:1–5): www.kaleochurch.com/sermons/sermon-series/philippians/.
4 Phil 2:1–4 is one long sentence in the Greek text (see also 1:27–30).
5 See Eph 4:1–6 where Paul refers to being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
6 This outline is from Doug McIntosh, “The Mind of Christ” (Phil 2:1–11): www.cornerstonebibch.org/html/Sermons/Philippians/Phil03.pdf.
7 I take a minority view and agree with O’Brien that Phil 2:1 refers solely to God’s expressions toward believers instead of some phrases referring to the response of the Philippians. For a defense of this view see Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 165–76, see esp. 175–76.
8 For other uses of the conjunction oun in Philippians see 2:23, 28, 29; 3:15. The NIV chooses to omit oun from its translation.
9 See David Alan Black, “Paul and Christian Unity: A Formal Analysis of Philippians 2:1–4,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 28:3 (Sept 1985): 301.
10 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 164.
11 In cases like this, the Greek word ei (“if”) can be translated “since.” O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 165.
12 Revised from Ray Pritchard, “Getting Along With Cantankerous Christians” (Phil 2:1–4): www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1998–10–18–Getting–Along–With–Cantankerous–Christians/.
13 Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” (en Christo) a total of seventy–three times in eleven of his thirteen letters. This phrase is used ten times in the 104 verses of Philippians. Only Romans (thirteen times) and 1 Corinthians (eleven times) use this phrase more.
14 Frank Thielman, Philippians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 96.
15 “Compassion” (oiktirmos) is chiefly an attribute of God in the OT (Pss 24:6; 50:1; 102:4; 144:9).
16 Gk. plerosate, aorist active imperative. This is the lone command in Phil 2:1–4.
17 This is an unusual rendering of the conjunction hina, which typically denotes purpose (“in order that”). Yet, this rendering is rightly supported by O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 177; Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 476; and Moisés Silva, Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2nd ed. Edited by Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992, 2005), 90.
18 In Christ’s prayer found in John 17 we are given insight into the reasons why unity among believers is absolutely essential. Jesus says, “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (17:23). Here, we see two critical purposes for unity. First, for sanctification (progressive holiness): “that they may be perfected (i.e., made mature, complete) in unity.” Second, for evangelism: “so that the world may know that You sent Me.” Paul wants them to be one in mind, love, spirit, and purpose. What a dynamic church we could have if we were characterized in this way. If we want to fill up God’s joy then we must do these same things.
19 BDAG s.v. pleroo 1.
20 BDAG s.v. pleroo 3: “to bring to completion that which was already begun, complete, finish.”
21 It is worth noting that both the first and last phrases refer to the mind. In both clauses, a form of the Greek verb phroneo (“to think”) is present.
22 The phrase “the same mind” (to auto phronete) occurs in Paul four times (Rom 12:16; 15:5; 2 Cor 13:11; Phil 4:2). The term phronete isn’t so much an expression of intellectual agreement, but that the Philippians are one in intent and disposition. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 178.
23 Charles R. Swindoll, Laugh Again (Dallas: Word, 1992), 80–81.
24 Sam Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy: The Message of Philippians. Truth for Today Commentary Series (Belfast, Ireland/Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 2004), 69.
25 Jesus put it well in John 13:34–35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love (agapao) one another, even as I have loved (agapao) you, that you also love (agapao) one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love (agape) for one another.”
26 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 73.
27 Preaching Today citation: E. Stanly Jones, Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 3.
28 Pritchard, “Getting Along With Cantankerous Christians.”
29 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 68.
30 If you are looking for more on your identity in Christ, I will be glad to send you my worksheet entitled “Reflection of Who You Are in Christ.”
31 Lit. “Not according to selfish ambition.” There is no main verb in this verse; the subjunctive (phronhte, “be of the same mind”) is implied here as well. Thus, although most translations supply the verb “do” at the beginning of 2:3 (e.g., “do nothing from selfish ambition”), the idea is even stronger than that: “Don’t even think any thoughts motivated by selfish ambition.” See NET Bible Study Notes at net.bible.org/home.php.
32 Gk. eritheian, cf. Phil 1:17; see also Rom 2:8; 2 Cor 12:20; Gal 5:20; Jas 3:14, 16.
33 Paul uses the cognate kenodoxos in Gal 5:26, where it appears to be understood as involving a spirit of envy and provocation. This is suggestive of its meaning in Phil 2:3. See also Silva, Philippians, 90.
34 BDAG s.v. eritheia.
35 Gk. kenodozian, used only here in the NT.
36 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 75.
37 Gk. tapeinophrosune, see Acts 20:19; Eph 4:2; Col 2:18, 23; 3:12; 1 Pet 5:5.
38 A.W. Tozer said, “Humility is as scarce as an albino robin.” Quoted in Gorge Sweeting, Who Said That? (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 244.
39 When Augustine was asked to list the three central principles of the Christian life, he replied: “One, humility. Two, humility. Three, humility.” Quoted in Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 76.
40 Kent Crockett, Making Today Count for Eternity (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2001), 129.
41 Michael P. Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989).
42 For an extremely helpful book on humility, see Andrew Murray, Humility: www.worldinvisible.com/library/murray/5f00.0565/5f00.0565.c.htm.
43 Gk. huperecho. The other two instances a form of this word occurs in Philippians, it is translated “surpassing” (3:8; 4:7).
44 BDAG s.v. hegeomai 2 defines this word as “to engage in an intellectual process, think, consider, regard” (Phil 2:3 6, 25; 3:7, 8; Acts 26:22; 2 Cor 9:5; 1 Thess 5:13; 2 Thess 3:15; 1 Tim 1:12; 6:1; Heb 10:29; 11:11, 26; Jas 1:2; 2 Pet 1:13; 2:13; 3:15).
45 Crockett, Making Today Count for Eternity, 129.
46 However, note the definition of BDAG s.v. huperecho 3: “to surpass in quality or value, be better than, surpass, excel.”
48 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 185 notes that the phrase “but also” (alla kai) includes the priority of looking out for others.
49 Gk. skopountes, see Phil 3:17; Luke 11:35; Rom 16:17; 2 Cor 4:18; Gal 6:1. BDAG s.v. skopeo defines this word as “to pay careful attention to, look (out) for, notice.”
50 Cf. Rom 15:2–3; 1 Cor 10:24, 33; Gal 6:2.
51 Preaching Today citation: Phil Lineberger, “Great People Do for Others,” Preaching Today, Tape 62.
52 David Jeremiah, “Home Makeover,” Today Turning Point, 9/25/08.
In Lewis Carroll’s famous book, Through the Looking Glass, Alice steps through the mirror in the living room to find a world on the opposite side where everything is backwards: Alice wants to go forward, but every time she moves, she ends up back where she started; she tries to go left and ends up right; up is down and fast is slow. Similarly, Christianity is a kind of looking glass world where everything works on principles opposite to those of the world around us. To be blessed, be a blessing to others. To receive love, give love. To be honored, first be humble. To truly live, die to yourself. To gain the unseen, let go of the seen. To receive, first give. To save your life, lose it. To lead, be a servant. To be first, be last.2
In Philippians 2:5–11, Paul will explain that the way up is down. That’s right: Down is up, up is down. The way to be great is to go lower. The way up is down. The logical flow of Philippians has been building up to this great truth. After addressing the church as a unified whole (1:1–2), Paul offers a prayer for them to achieve this unity (1:3–11). He then gives his own life as a model (1:12–26; cf. 4:9) and urges the church to live lives of humility and unity without (1:27–30) and within the church (2:1–4).3 Finally, Paul arrives at a crescendo and turns his attention to the powerful example of Christ Himself in 2:5–11.4 This is one of the most important passages in the entire Bible.5 Many scholars believe that this is the best passage in the Bible to defend and explain that Jesus Christ is God.6 However, this sermon will not be a systematic theology lesson because it is found in a context that stresses the need for unity in the local church.7 In these verses, Paul issues two commitments to living an upside-down life.
1. Imitate Christ’s model of humility (2:5-8). The way that you can imitate Christ’s example is by giving up your “rights.” Paul begins this section with a command to “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Verse 5 builds a bridge between 2:1–4 and 2:6–11.8 It serves as a transition from Paul’s exhortation to his illustration.9 The word “this” (touto) refers back to 2:1–4,10 particularly 2:3 where Paul encourages believers to have “humility of mind.” To “have this attitude”11 means “to develop an attitude based upon careful thought.”12 Paul is inviting you to rethink your attitude based upon Christ’s attitudes (2:6) and actions (2:7–8). Mark Twain once said, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”13 I think we’ve all felt this way from time to time. Obviously, living up to the attitude of Christ is not easy. It’s a pursuit that humbles every believer to dust; nevertheless, we are commanded to pursue this lofty goal. How is your attitude today? Does it line up with Jesus Christ or with your natural tendencies and inclinations?
Scientists have succeeded in causing chickens to sound like quail. Researchers took tissue from parts of the quail brain thought to control the bird’s call and implanted it in the brains of five chicken embryos. The experiment worked! The hatched chicks sounded like quail rather than chickens. When you believed in Christ, God implanted His mind into yours and you become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). However, unlike the chickens who sound like quail forever, you will not sound and act like Christ for the rest of your life without continually fostering and putting on His mind (Rom 12:2). This can be done through daily Bible reading, listening to praise and worship music or an audio Bible, fellowshipping with other Christians who encourage you in your walk with the Lord, and spending time getting to know Christ Himself through prayer. Though there are a variety of things you can do to renew your Christlike mind, the key is to do something every day.14 I think it’s easy to make the mistake of trying to accomplish too much too soon. Of course, when we fail to achieve our goals, it’s tempting to want to quit because we feel like a failure. However, God’s heart is that you and I would take baby steps and make forward progress each day. In other words, don’t try to cram; instead, just do at least one thing to cultivate the mind of Christ. Today, you can grow in grace and truth by asking God to give you an attitude adjustment. Perhaps you need to acknowledge a bitter and vindictive attitude? Maybe you are a chronic complainer who needs to see God’s perspective for your suffering and trials? Regardless, every Christian can benefit from an attitude tune-up. Ask God to search your heart today and reveal the attitudes that grieve Him.15
Paul now fleshes out his fundamental command in 2:6–8 by using Jesus as his illustration/model. In 2:6, he writes, “…although He [Jesus] existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped…” Before Christ invaded this planet, He existed in the form of God. Notice Paul does not say that Jesus “came to exist” or “entered into existence.” Instead, he uses a present tense participle translated “existed” to indicate ongoing existence. Since the time frame of the passage is clearly eternity past, Paul asserts that Jesus Christ existed eternally “in the form of God.” The English word “form” can be misleading here because it suggests shape or outward appearance. Yet, the Greek word translated “form” (morphe) refers to the essential nature of something or someone.16 In this context, Paul is saying that Jesus’ nature and character corresponds with God.17 In Paul’s day, the word morphe was used of a Roman stamp. Official government documents were sealed with wax. While the wax was still hot, they would press a ring or stamp into it bearing the emperor’s insignia. The impression made in the wax was an exact representation of the insignia on the ring. We do something similar today when we wet a rubber stamp with ink and then stamp it on a piece of paper. The impression on the paper is the exact image of what is on the rubber stamp. Paul says, “That’s the relationship Jesus Christ bears to God the Father. Jesus is the exact representation of who and what God is. Jesus has never been a junior partner to God, but rather a full-fledged member of the Godhead, equal with the Almighty Father in every way, shape, and form, from eternity past. So when you and I talk about Jesus Christ, we are not talking about someone less than God. We are talking about someone who is the “express image” of God.18
Though Jesus was fully God, He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”19 Jesus was not grasping to get something; He already possessed deity. However, He did not regard being equal with God something to be used for His own advantage.20 Though equal with God or equally God, Jesus did not seize this as an opportunity to further His own interests at the expense of the Father.21 Jesus willingly released all of His personal rights. Some have suggested that the expression is identical to the phrase “in the form of God.”22 More likely, however, the expressions differ.“The form of God” speaks of Jesus’ essence or nature as God, whereas “equality with God” speaks of the glories or prerogatives of God. Together the two expressions are “among the strongest expressions of Christ’s deity in the New Testament.”23 Therefore, it is imperative that I emphasize to you that Jesus Christ is God. Perhaps you’re saying, “Isn’t that a given?” It may have been in years past, but this can no longer be assumed…even in evangelical churches. Research from April of this year (2009) reveals that 22% of Christians strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on earth, with an additional 17% agreeing somewhat.24 This is tragic! Jesus Christ claimed to be God and He demonstrated that He was and is God! If Jesus is not God, then life has no purpose and salvation is a farce.25 We might as well go party! Fortunately, the Bible is clear that we can stake our present life and the life to come on the deity of Jesus and the salvation that He offers.
Instead of holding on to His personal rights, 2:7 explains that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant being made in the likeness of men.” Jesus came down from heaven to earth in the greatest stoop of all time. Instead of climbing the ladder, Jesus stepped down, one rung at a time.26 But this leads to a question: What does the phrase “emptied Himself”27 mean? We can be sure of one thing: This phrase doesn’t mean that Jesus emptied Himself of any of His divine attributes (emptying by subtraction). If Jesus did such a thing for even one moment, He would cease to be God.28 Fortunately, the next clause in 2:7 explains the meaning of “emptied Himself”—“taking the form of a bond-servant being made in the likeness of men.” Jesus’ act of “emptying” Himself was in His act of “taking” on a human nature. It was emptying by addition. In other words, Jesus, being God, “emptied Himself” by adding humanity.29 Thus, the phrase “emptied Himself” is only a metaphor, just like when Paul says, “I am being poured out like a drink offering” (2 Tim 4:6). Similarly, Paul is not suggesting that Jesus’ internal organs or His human attributes were poured out like liquid from a bottle. The point that he is trying to make is that Jesus Christ practiced self-denial and self-sacrifice for our sake and became “God-in-a-bod!” What an astounding, unfathomable thought. Jesus left the glory and splendor of heaven and came to dwell on earth to serve others. He understood the way up is down.
Paul fleshes out this concept further by stating that Jesus took “the form of a bond-servant being made in the likeness of men” (2:7b). Paul could have said that Jesus took on the form of a human being. That would be humiliation enough for God. There is a general Greek word for humanity that Paul could have used here, or he could have used a word that means a male as opposed to a female. But Paul uses neither of these. Instead, he chooses the more specific term doulos, which means “slave” or “bond-servant.” In other words, Jesus became a particular kind of man, a slave, the lowest position a person could become in the Roman world. He wasn’t born in a mansion or a king’s palace, but in a dirty stable among the animals. The Almighty God appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The King of the Universe, the Lord of glory, voluntarily became a pauper for our sake. He had to borrow a place to be born, a boat to preach from, a place to sleep, a donkey to ride upon, an upper room to use for the last supper, and a tomb in which to be buried. He created the world but the world did not know Him. He was insulted, humiliated, and rejected by the people He made.30 The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation. Jesus went as low as He could possibly go. This means no matter what you go through, no matter how low you may get, you can never sink so far that Jesus cannot get under you and lift you up. He can identify with you in any situation, no matter how hard: poverty, loneliness, homelessness, rejection, you name it.31
Jesus descended the ladder and arrives at the bottom rung in 2:8. Paul writes, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This verse reminds us that Jesus “humbled himself.” No one humbled Jesus; He willingly and graciously offered Himself to death. The implication is that you and I should do the same. As you read this verse, it is easy to sense Paul’s astonishment. He can’t believe that Jesus—God Himself—died! But to think that He experienced “even death on a cross” is mindboggling! The Romans reserved the agonizing death of crucifixion for slaves and foreigners, and the Jews viewed death on a cross as a curse from God.32 Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. The weight of the victim’s body hanging from his wrists caused his joints to dislocate as he tried to push up on his feet to breathe and keep from suffocating. Eventually, the victim was no longer able to push himself up and finally suffocated. Jesus endured that horrible trauma, not to mention the spikes through His wrists or the pain of the cross’ rough wood scraping against His back, shredded from the beating He had received with a cat-of-nine-tails. Jesus suffered as no one else, but it wasn’t the physical pain that caused Him the most suffering. Neither was it the taunting and humiliation He endured from His enemies as they watched Him die. The agony Jesus endured on the cross was the abandonment He suffered as God the Father turned His back on His son (Matt 27:46). The price that Jesus paid for humankind is staggering. Paul urges you to ponder the wonder of Jesus. As you reflect upon Him today, may you be overwhelmed by all this great God has accomplished for you. The way up is down.
Athanasius (296–373), Bishop of Alexandria, noted that crucifixion was the only death a man can die with arms outstretched. He said that Jesus died like that to invite people of all nations and all generations to come to Him.33 Today, will you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior? Will you transfer your trust in yourself to Jesus perfect person and His perfect work? The moment you do, you will cross over from death to life and spend eternity with God (John 5:24; 1 John 5:9–13).
Interestingly, the primary thrust of this passage is not evangelistic. Instead, it is written with the express purpose of motivating believers to be humble and unified. Today, do you need to die so that a relationship can live? What does your wife want or need from you? What does your husband desire from you? What do your children need from you? Leaders are not to abuse their power and position to further their own interests, but to pursue the best interests of others.34 Instead of grabbing for their “rights,” they begin to give to relationships. Instead of using others as means to their own ends, they serve others as ends in themselves. In your work life, instead of striving for upward mobility, why not pursue downward mobility?35 Remember, the way up is down.
After reflecting on Jesus’ downward mobility culminating with His death on the cross, you may declare, “Lord, I would die for You or for someone I love.” As Fred Craddock has said, “To give my life for Christ appears glorious. To pour myself out for others…to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom—I’ll do it. I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory. We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all. But the reality for most of us is that He sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, ‘Get lost.’ Go to a committee meeting. Give up a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.”36 Yet, there are no shortcuts in the Christian life. If you want to follow the model of humility, you must take the high road, which requires getting low for others! It requires continually serving regardless of personal cost. This is how you imitate the model of humility. The way up is down.
[Jesus’ humiliation is not the end of the story. God raised Jesus up from the grave of His humanity and exalted Him in heaven as the God-man. Thus, the second commitment that Paul gives is…]
2. Appropriate Christ’s lordship of creation (2:9–11). True biblical humility occurs when one recognizes the greatness of Jesus Christ. Paul explains: “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that37 at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:9–11). The phrase “for this reason”38 shows a cause-effect relationship between Christ’s self-humbling (2:8) and His exaltation (2:9). First, there was the cradle, then the cross, and then the crown. In these verses, Paul imparts two significant blessings to the humble Christ.
The three regions described in 2:10 seem to be heaven, earth, and hell. The beings in heaven that Paul refers to are angels and believers who have died and whose spirits have gone into the Lord’s presence. Those on earth are people still alive on the earth. Those under the earth are unbelievers awaiting resurrection and Satan and his angelic beings. All will acknowledge Jesus’ lordship one day (1 Cor 15:27; Eph 1:20–21).46 The whole purpose of the working out of salvation is the glory of God the Father. The end is attained when men yield to His will and acknowledge Christ as Lord.47
These great verses are a reminder that worship is a choice for us now, but one day, every human being and spirit being will worship God for all time. There are no atheists or agnostics in hell. The world may not bow or confess to Jesus today, but it’s going to bow sooner or later. On that day, it won’t matter what anyone thinks, because every person is going to recognize that God sent Jesus to die for Him. There are two ways of honoring Jesus’ name: voluntarily or involuntarily. Those who do it now, show faith at work; those who do it on the last day, will do it by sight.48
Again, I must press you to believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, if you have never done so. Please don’t postpone this decision. There is no guarantee that tomorrow will come. Today is your opportunity to bow the knee and confess with the tongue. Fix this thought clearly in your mind. Jesus will have the last word! He will be vindicated before the entire universe. Even His enemies will bow before Him. In the end no opposition against Him will stand. This is not universal salvation, but it is universal confession. Not all will be saved but all will confess that Jesus is Lord. Here is your choice: Trust Him today as your Savior from sin and spend eternity with God and with those who love Him, or confess49 Him when you stand before Him as the Lord of creation and spend eternity separated from Him.
Surprisingly, the primary application of this passage is for the believer. The implication of Paul’s argument is that many believers need to bow the knee and confess with the tongue that Jesus is God in every area of their lives. In the course of my Christian life, there have been areas that I have included or excluded Jesus from. What I was saying is: “Jesus, you can be God in this area, but you can’t be God over this area. I want to keep this area for myself and I will be my own God.” Paul’s point is: One day you and I will bow the knee and confess with the tongue at the judgment seat of Christ that Jesus is God/Lord over every area of our lives. This is Paul’s point in Rom 14:11 when he quotes Isa 45:23.50 My desire is to bow now and confess now that Jesus is God over area of my life. What area of your life have you excluded Jesus from (e.g., your marriage, family, work, church, personal life)? Today, will you invite Him to take over this area of your life because He is Lord and God?
The good news of this passage is that God will exalt believers who humble themselves. In the future, God will reward a life lived now in self-denial. That is the obvious implication of Paul’s illustration. Perhaps you think it is selfish to serve the Lord for a reward? Was it selfish for Jesus to endure what He did because He knew He would receive a reward? Motivation is the key. If you submit to God and to others for the glory of God rather than for selfish glory, as Jesus did, your motivation is correct51 and He will reward you. The way up is down.
John 1:1–3; 8:58
Hebrews 4:14–15; 5:1–10
1. How does my attitude reflect Christ’s attitude (2:5)? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would I rate myself? How would others rate me (e.g., spouse, children, grandchildren, coworkers, boss, neighbors, pastors)? Presently, in what area of my life do I have the greatest challenge in my attitude? What can I do this week to improve my attitude? Who can help me with an attitude adjustment?
2. What astonishes me the most about Jesus’ humility (2:6–8)? What portions of His life and ministry really stand out to me? In what specific ways do I humble myself before others? How can I follow Christ’s example and live as a “bond-servant?” Who are the most difficult people in my life to serve? This week, how can I show these people God’s sacrificial love?
3. How is Jesus currently being exalted in my personal life? What am I doing to ensure that my family is exalting the Lord Jesus? How is my church seeking to exalt Jesus and point others to Him? When am I the most prone to take credit for something? How can I naturally deflect the praise to God?
4. Who do I have a relationship with who needs to hear the good news of the gospel? What can I do this week to share Christ with this individual? How can I imitate Jesus’ example and use practical service to open a door for the gospel?
5. In my Christian life, how do I strive to submit to Christ’s lordship (2:10–11)? What area am I presently struggling to relinquish to the Lord? How is this area holding me back in my Christian life? Who can help me submit this area to Christ?
2 See Prov 18:12; Matt 5:3–10; 6:19–21; 19:27–30; 20:26–27; Mark 10:42–45; Luke 6:38; 9:23–24; John 12:25.
3 Herrick makes some excellent linguistic connections between Phil 1:1–2:4 and 2:5–11. Greg Herrick, “Exhortation to Unity—The Example of Christ” (2:5–11) in Philippians: The Unconquerable Gospel: www.bible.org.
4 Many scholars believe that Paul is quoting a hymn in Phil 2:5–11. See Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 186; Ralph P. Martin and Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 43, rev., Bruce M. Metzger, ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 99. Other scholars argue that this is not a hymn, but rather a Pauline prose. See Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 192–97; Frank Thielman, Philippians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 110–13.
5 Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 39 writes, “By anyone’s reckoning, 2:6–11 constitutes the single most significant block of material in Philippians.”
6 See also John 1:1–18.
7 Brockmuehl has likened Phil 2:5–11 to “the soaring, unanswerable language of a Bach cantata which is best understood by being heard out to the end—and then heard again.” Markus Brockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians. Black’s New Testament Commentary (London: A & C Black Limited, 1998), 105.
8 Probably the clearest portrait of Jesus Christ in the NT is found in Phil 2:5–11. Constable writes, “The parallels in thought and action between these verses, which describe Jesus’ humility, and John 13:3–17, which records Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, are striking.” Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Philippians,” 2009 ed.: www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/philippians.pdf, 25.
9 David J. MacLeod, “Imitating the Incarnation of Christ: An Exposition of Philippians 2:5–8,” Bibliotheca Sacra 158:631 (July 2001): 310.
10 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 204.
11 The word translated “attitude” (phroneo) refers to the mind and is used twice in Phil 2:2. Phroneite (“you all think”) is a present active imperative. For other forms of this word, see Phil 1:7; 2:2; 3:15, 19; 4:2, 10.
12 BDAG s.v. phroneo.
13 Quoted in Sam Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy: The Message of Philippians. Truth for Today Commentary Series (Belfast, Ireland/Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 2004), 76.
14 David Jeremiah, “Think Like Jesus,” Turning Point Daily Devotional, 6/17/09.
15 Ps 139:23–24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”
16 BDAG s.v. morphe.
18 Tony Evans, Returning to Your First Love (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 176.
19 This phrase translates one Greek word (harpagmon), which means “something already possessed,” and therefore, “to be clutched onto” or “held closely” so as to protect. This is a very rare word. It appears only here in the NT, never in the LXX, and very seldom in pagan Greek literature.
20 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 215–16; Moisés Silva, Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2nd ed. Edited by Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992, 2005), 103–4.
21 This passage has been debated down throughout church history. The debate centers around: was Christ merely “like” God (“of similar substance”) or was He fully and completely God (“of the same substance”)? Thanks to the courage and tenacity of Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, the church stood behind the true and orthodox position that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. Undiminished deity took on perfect and sinless humanity at the incarnation. We may not be able to fully comprehend this mystery, but we must acknowledge it to be true because the Bible says so. See Bob Deffinbaugh, “The Ultimate in Humility–Leaving the Comfort Zone” (Phil. 2:3-11) in To Live is Christ: A Study of the Book of Philippians: www.bible.org.
22 E.g. Gerald Hawthorne, Philippians. WBC (Nashville: Nelson, 1983), 84.
23 Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 207–8.
25 For an excellent study on Jesus’ deity, see the various editions of C.S. Lewis classic work Mere Christianity: www.amazon.com/gp/seller/search.html?index=stripbooks&keywords=Mere+Christianity&x=45&y=10.
26 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 77.
27 Other renderings include: “made himself nothing” (ESV, NIV) and “made Himself of no reputation” (NKJV). Paul never uses this term in a literal fashion. In the four other places where Paul uses this verb (Rom 4:14; 1 Cor 1:17; 9:15; 2 Cor 9:3), he uses it in a metaphorical, not a literal sense. Most occurrences of the word carry the meaning of making a boast “empty” or “vain.” The verb “emptied” can mean “to pour out” and this better fits the context.
28 Admittedly, Jesus willing chose to veil the full extent of His glory (Matt 17:2; 28:2–3; Mark 9:23). He also chose of His own will to limit the use of some of His divine attributes (Matt 24:36). But He did not in any way, shape, or form eliminate any aspect of His deity.
29 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 217.
30 Ken Boa, Reflections Newsletter, May 1988.
31 Tony Evans, Who is This King of Glory? (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 50-51.
32 See especially Deut 21:23 and Gal 3:13.
33 Quoted in Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 81.
34 Deffinbaugh, “The Ultimate in Humility–Leaving the Comfort Zone.”
35 This last thought comes from one of my mentors, Barry Davis, “Philippians in Nelsons New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 1550.
36 Preaching Today Citation: Darryl Bell, Maple Grove, MN. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 4.
37 It is difficult to tell whether hina (“so that”) should be purpose or result, both make good sense.
38 The word dio means, “therefore, for this reason.” It is translated “therefore” in the ESV, NRSV, NIV, and NKJV.
39 BDAG s.v. huperupsoo a.
40 Hughes, Philippians, 91.
41 Billy Sunday once said, “There are 256 names given in the Bible for the Lord Jesus Christ, and I suppose this was because He was infinitely beyond all that any one name could express.” Preaching Today Citation: Billy Sunday in a sermon, “Wonderful,” quoted in The Real Billy Sunday. Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 2.
42 See also Herrick, Philippians, 58.
43 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 238 gives four reasons for this understanding: (1) in the hina clause (“so that”) of Phil 2:10–11, which is subordinate to the main clause in 2:9, Jesus is identified with kurios (Yahweh); (2) it is best to regard to Iesous and to onoma to huper pan onoma as juxtaposed; (3) for a Jew like Paul the superlative name was “Yahweh.” Since the phrase in 2:10 can mean “the name of Jesus,” it is best to understand it is referring to the name Yahweh; and (4) kurios gives symmetry to the hymn: theos (2:6) becomes doulos (2:7) and is exalted to kurios (2:11).
44 The bowing of the knee is a symbol of submission and an act of worship (cf. Isa 45:22–23).
45 Isa 45:14: “He [Yahweh] has no peer; there is no other God.”
46 The question arises with these two purpose clauses as to whether every knee will gladly bow and every tongue gladly confess—that Christ is Lord. The answer in this passage seems to be “no.” There will be many who under the sheer weight of the obvious, will, under compulsion, acknowledge His sovereignty. They will be forced to concede His place of power and rule, but they will do so with much shame. This agrees with the Isaiah passage, especially 45:24 that says that all who have raged against Him will be put to shame.
47 Cf. Eph 1:15, 12, 14; John 7:18; 8:50; 17:1.
48 R.T. Kendall, Meekness and Majesty (Scotland: Christian Focus, 1992), 186–87.
49 Paul uses a strong, intensified verb “confess” (exomologeo) that means “agree with” or “say the same thing as.” BDAG s.v. exomologeo 3: “to declare openly in acknowledgment, profess, acknowledge.”
50 Thielman, Philippians, 122 n. 32.
51 Constable, “Notes on Philippians,” 31.
David Smith of Phoenix, Arizona is a remarkable man. In 2003, at the age of twenty–six Smith weighed 650 pounds. He couldn’t walk 500 feet and couldn’t fit in a car. Worst yet, he was suicidal. How did he get to this point? Smith says his problems began after his family moved to the Phoenix area when he was seven and he was sexually molested by his best friend. Unable to deal with the experience, he cut himself off from everyone and found comfort in eating. A large child to begin with, he quickly became not just one of the tallest kids in his class, but also the heaviest. He became the victim of bullies and gangs who would physically and emotionally beat him up. In his biographical sketch, Smith wrote, “I have been spit on; I have had dirt clots, rocks, bolts, basketballs, books, even feces among other things thrown at me. I started to hate people. Nobody wanted to be my friend. I didn’t even want friends anymore; I just wanted to be left alone.” The physical abuse ended in high school, but the emotional abuse continued. It got so bad, that Smith dropped out of school at the age of seventeen. He didn’t want to take it anymore. And then he got hit with another emotional trauma. His mother, the only person he allowed himself to show any emotion to, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She fought the disease for five years, but in the end it took her life. This drove Smith to eat even more.
Eventually, Smith realized that he wanted to change the course of his life. So he contacted a local Phoenix television station that had a feature hosted by fitness and nutrition guru Chris Powell. After some initial hesitation, Powell took Smith on as a client. Powell started Smith with baby steps that quickly became giant strides. The weight melted off—a phenomenal average of more than fifteen pounds a month. By 2007, just twenty–six months after he decided to transform himself and his life, Smith had lost 410 pounds from a starting weight of 650. Today, Smith is a cut and confident thirty–two year old stud who has women oohing and aahing over him. Even more impressive is the fact that he is now a certified personal trainer who is helping others transform their physical, mental, and emotional health.2
David Smith transformed his physical body because he was tired of watching his life waste away. One of the primary motivations for Smith to lose all of his weight was to have a relationship with a woman. Thus, TLC (The Learning Channel) entitled Smith’s story, “The 650-pound Virgin.”3 Now, if a young man is that motivated to work out to change his life, how much more so should Christians possess a drive to work out to become spiritually healthy and shapely? Today, God issues the challenge: “Work out or waste away.” In Philippians 2:12–18, Paul provides three tips on how to avoid wasting away.
1. Work out the unity (2:12–13). In our fitness-crazed culture, people often refer to working out the chest, arms, or legs. Some work out with weights, others prefer cardio. But in these first two verses, Paul speaks of working out the unity in the body of Christ. He writes in 2:12: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” This passage begins with the conjunction “so then” (hoste),4 which indicates that Paul is referring back to what he has previously written (1:27–2:11).5 Specifically, the term “obeyed”6 points back to Christ’s obedience in laying down His life (2:8).7 However, before Paul speaks of obedience or issues a command, he addresses the Philippians as “my beloved.”8 Paul wants the Philippians to know how much he loves them. Likewise, if you and I want to impact people they need to know how much we love them. Paul follows up his expression of love by encouraging the Philippians to “keep up their good work” (cf. 1:27).9 He indicates that they have a history of obedience10 in his presence and in his absence. The measure of our effectiveness in ministry is greatly determined by how people live in our absence. We have accomplished very little if our disciples and fellow believers only live for God when we’re around and then go back to disobedience or complacency when we leave. Those that we invest in must learn to feel responsible to God, not to us. This entails urging our disciples and mentorees not to cling to us, but to cling to Christ. In other words, they should obey the Lord whether other people are watching or not.11 Now that Paul has affirmed his readers he is ready to exhort them to further action.
The command that Paul gives is to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12c). It is frequently pointed out that Paul does not say “work for your salvation,” or “work toward your salvation,” or even “work at your salvation.” Rather he says “work out your salvation.”12 However, this observation misses the point. Paul is not talking about one’s individual salvation from hell. Instead, he is commanding the church to corporately13 “work out” their “salvation” (soteria) or present deliverance14 by applying the truths Paul elaborated upon in 2:6–11. This is evident from the grammar and the context. Grammatically, all of the verbs in 2:12–13 are plural in reference to the church. The pronoun “your” (heauton) is a reflexive plural, which means “work it out among yourselves.” Thus, Paul is not commanding personal introspection, but that we should look out for each other. Contextually, “salvation” has two nuances: Positively, salvation refers to achieving a unity based on imitation of the mind of Christ (2:1–11).15 Negatively, salvation is further defined below as doing “all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14; cf. 2:3).16 The Philippians, then, are to produce the fruit of their salvation, that is, peace, love, and harmony in the Spirit.17 Rather than fighting with each other, Paul commands the Philippians, and us, to work out our salvation by encouraging each other to grow in humility and unity. This is also expressed in the phrase “fear and trembling,”18 which can best be summed up by the word “humility.”19 Humility is the basis for sacrificial service and unity. Humility is the attitude Paul has called for (2:3–4) and is illustrated by the example of Jesus (2:5–11).20 So work out or waste away.
In 2:13, Paul explains the reason (“for”) that we can work out our salvation: “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”21 I love this verse! Paul places theos (“God”) first in the sentence for emphasis. He doesn’t just say, “God works in you”; he says, “It is God who is at work in you.” In other words, God doesn’t work and has not worked because man has worked.
He is at work regardless! Paul uses two little phrases “to will” and “to work” to describe God’s activity. Both the desire and the deed belong to God; both the prompting and the performing are attributed to Him. Nevertheless, it is only as we cooperate with Him that we see the true potential of our lives realized.22 Both sides of the coin are needed: dependence (God’s sovereignty) and discipline (human responsibility).23 We are responsible to live and work in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we must always recognize that it is only because God works and has worked that man is capable of any eternally significant work. This verse is one of the most comforting in the New Testament. Sometimes we want to do right but seem to lack the energy or ability. At other times, it can seem that we don’t even want to do right. This verse assures us that God provides the desire to do His will when we do not have it. If we find that we do not want to do right, we can ask God to work in us to create a desire to do His will. This verse gives us confidence that God desires both to motivate and to enable us.
When my kids were younger, whenever we went grocery shopping as a family, they always wanted to push the cart. Now they could barely push a grocery cart because their hands barely reached the bar. Furthermore, their vision was blocked by the wire mesh and the accumulation of boxes and bags. Nevertheless, I would let them push the cart while I stood behind them with my hands resting on the bar, guiding their every move. As the cart wove in and out of the aisles it was obvious to everyone who was making our cart move. But what was obvious to me and every onlooker was not always known to my children. They were proud of their efforts in controlling the cart. Nevertheless, my children were able to move what they could never move because of their father’s strength. Similarly, in the Christian life, it is God who works.24 You can move things for the Lord that are way beyond you because of your Heavenly Father’s strength. So keep pushing the cart, keep walking, but remember that your cart will stay on course and move a heavy load because of the powerful hands above you.25 Today, you may be suffering and encountering hardship. You may feel weak and miserable. If so, call on God. He will hear your cry and respond to you. In our time of need we must recognize that God alone can give us the necessary desire and energy to do what He has called us to do. Work out or waste away.
[When we work out what God has worked in, we can work the unity. A second tip is…]
2. Light up the night (2:14–16). Paul challenges the church to brightly shine Christ’s love to a world that desperately needs to see a visible expression of Him. In 2:14 he writes, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” At first glance, this verse appears to mark a shift in Paul’s train of thought. But a closer look reveals three reasons why this verse is bound up with the passage that precedes it. First, Paul has been exhorting his readers to develop a spirit of likemindedness and unity and the key offenses against this unity within the community of believers are grumbling and disputing. Second, to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” as individuals and as a community requires nothing less than the grace of God, and this is the point of 2:12–13. This command is so contrary to natural human inclinations that it is unattainable without the work of the Holy Spirit. Third, grumbling is precisely the opposite of the Christlike attitude in 2:5–11 that the Philippians were encouraged to model. The central point of that passage is the Lord’s willingness to renounce His rights and become a servant of others. Grumblers, on the other hand, proudly cling to their “rights” and expect others to serve.
Paul begins 2:14 with “all things” (panta). This adjective is placed first in the Greek sentence for emphasis. Paul’s point is that absolutely positively nothing is to be done in a spirit of grumbling or disputing.26 Therefore, we must encourage those who have the gift of grumbling and disputing to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (2:12). Interestingly, an often overlooked observation is that the opposite of “fear and trembling” is “grumbling or disputing.”27 What exactly is grumbling?28 It isn’t loud, boisterous, grousing, but rather low-toned, discontented muttering. It is negative, muted comments, complaining, and whining.29 You can identify a grumbler from yards away by their body language. Grumblers often wear frowns, appear visibly weary, and incessantly shake their head. They also like to sigh deeply. This typically causes caring persons to ask, “What’s wrong?” The grumbler then responds with a list of grievances. Logically speaking, grumbling leads to disputing. “Disputing”30 is vocal, ill-natured argumentation, verbal expressions of disagreement that stir up suspicions and distrust, doubt, and other disturbing feelings in others. Obviously, there is nothing good to say about either grumbling or disputing. Whimpering, whining, and complaining Christians are sinning, because they are being disobedient to God’s clear command in 2:14.
Grumbling and disputing is rampant in the church. Let’s face it, in the flesh we are all attracted to the “poison of pessimism.”31 We enjoy negativity, conflict, and a good fight. So we will verbally drive a brother or sister under the bus or at least listen to the travesty happening at the mouth of another. Either way you are guilty of sin: either as an instigator or as an accomplice. Seriously, if you knew what I know that you’ve said about me or our leadership, you would not be here in church today! You would be too ashamed! What you may not recognize is people love to share with their pastor or other leaders the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is some fleshly prestige in doing so. Consequently, I know what you’ve said about me…and if I don’t know now, I will in the next few days or weeks.
Perhaps, you’re saying, “Keith, you’re scaring me!” Of course, I am…and you should be frightened! But even more disturbing than me hearing what you’ve said, please realize that Jesus hears every word that you utter, and He will require you to give an account for it in the day of judgment (Matt 12:36). Now that’s scary! However, I want you to know that I, too, struggle with grumbling and disputing. Like you, I am guilty of gossip, slander, and a multitude of sins of the tongue. My greatest strength is also my greatest weakness. Knowing this about myself, my goal is to keep short accounts and confess my verbal sins when they occur. As much as I want to be perfect in my speech, I know that I am not, and while I am in this body, I never will be (Jas 3:2). I don’t expect more from you than I do myself. I hold myself to the highest standard, and as a teacher, whether I like it or not, God holds me to this standard as well (Jas 3:1). So we are in this battle together. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we must seek to overcome sin together as a church family. We must do everything we can to promote health and holiness among ourselves. We must keep short accounts and seek to go to every length possible to avoid grumbling and disputing. Work out or waste away.
In 2:15–16, Paul provides the purpose behind not grumbling or disputing: “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless [external purity32] and innocent [internal purity33], children of God above reproach34 in the midst of a crooked35 and perverse36 generation,37 among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” Whenever he preached this passage, the late, great Ray Stedman used to say, “Ours is a world of crooks and perverts.” How aptly put! In these verses, Paul draws upon two primary Old Testament passages. First, when Paul refers to “a crooked and perverse generation,” he is alluding to the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:5. In the bittersweet song Moses gave to the assembly of Israel just prior to his exodus from this earth, he sharply contrasted the faithfulness of God and the faithlessness of His people. In a sense, the Israelites were working out their salvation in the wilderness. Unfortunately, there is a whole lot of grumbling and complaining.38 Consequently, Israel disappoints the Lord and disgraces His name in the eyes of others. Moses’ words refer to Israel, but in Phil 2:15 Paul universalizes this phrase to refer to the unbelieving world. His point is simple: We too live “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation”39 that is filled with the sins of grumbling and disputing. We must not make Israel’s mistake and sin with our tongue. Second, Paul uses an analogy from Daniel 12:3, where Daniel likens the “wise” to stars that shine in the universe.40 Paul’s point is that we are shinning stars. He isn’t commanding us to shine; he is saying that we do shine!41 We are “lights [or stars42] in the world! 43 There’s no need to shout, scream, or make a scene. Just shine!44 Live a life free of grumbling and disputing. Look for other stars, for Christians shine best not as individual stars but in clusters.
In 2:15–16, Paul also shares three consequences that stem from grumbling and disputing.
Two small children were not happy about being on a plane. Their cries of complaint filled the cabin. Just before takeoff, a flight attendant stopped next to them and said with a big smile, “What is all this squawking up here?” After charming the fussy three-year-old and his younger sister for a few minutes, the flight attendant bent down and whispered very seriously, “I must remind you this is a non-squawking flight.” The little ones became unbelievably quiet, which made everyone feel better. Let’s face it; it’s a long journey when you have to sit in the squawking section.51 Likewise, the church’s journey to glory can be painful and laborious when there’s squawking. That is why I would like to call EBF to become a non-squawking church! This doesn’t mean I’m trying to use brute biblical force to shut people up. Far from it! I just want to make sure that we aren’t unnecessarily whining. If you do have a concern, share it with one pastor or elder and then sign up for being a part of the solution to your concern. Work out or waste away.
[Light up the night by refusing to grumble or dispute. Paul’s third tip is…]
3. Rejoice in the ministry (2:17–18).52 Paul insists that we should have joy in the ministry. In 2:17–18, Paul writes, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” Paul sees himself as a drink offering—one that has been poured out for Jesus and others.53 In the sacrificial system under the Old Covenant, the priests would take the animal sacrifices and spread them on the altar to be consumed by fire. Then they would take a drink offering and pour it on top of that searing hot flame. Inevitably, the liquid would turn into steam and it would go up in a wisp of smoke. Paul is saying: I love people, and I am here to serve people and to sacrifice for people so much that, if necessary, I am willing for my life to just go up in steam to the Lord that I may be a blessing to other people.54 But please note: Paul’s focus is upon the sacrifice of the Philippians. His sacrifice is a modest drink offering.55 In other words, the ministry of others is more important to Paul than his own ministry. He yearns for the success of others. Consequently, in 2:17b–18, Paul uses a form of the word “rejoice” four times!56 If your ministry is currently a burden or an obligation, you may be in the wrong ministry. God wants you to rejoice in your ministry and the ministries of others. He wants you to offer yourself to Him and to others as a pleasing sacrifice. As you do so, you will find the fulfillment that God intends for you to have in ministry.
This past week I read a story about Madonna. You know Madonna, right? Well, I am referring another Madonna—78 year old Sister Madonna Buder. Buder began competing in triathlons after she turned fifty!
Since that time she has completed more than 320 triathlons. Even more impressive, Buder has even completed 40 Ironman class events which consist of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26 mile run. This is astonishing! When asked about her exploits, Buder responds: “Well, you know, as long as God is giving you your health, there’s no reason to stop.” How does this relate to her work as a nun? Buder answers, “There is no limit, no boundaries to when and where you can commune with God. It doesn’t have to be in church all the time.”57 WOW!
Today, God wants you to live a life characterized by perseverance. While you may not choose to complete triathlons and Ironman events, you are called to work out and grow in Christ. May you look for any and every opportunity to promote health and unity in the church. Work out or waste away. Those are your only choices.
Exodus 15: 22–25
John 15:11; 16:24; 17:13
Romans 14:17–18; 15:13
1. In what specific ways have I sought to work out my salvation in my church family (2:12)? How have I sensed God working in me (2:13)? In what ways has He increased my desire and obedience? How have I responded to Him in the past several weeks? In what practical ways have I grown spiritually in the last six months? What dominant truth has the Lord taught me? What step of obedience have I taken?
2. Why is it so hard for me to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14)? How have I violated this command this week? Have I confessed my sin of whining to God and the person I shared with? What one person can I talk with about my legitimate concerns or issues? Read Romans 1:18–32 (1:21–22); 1 Corinthians 10:1–11 (10:8); and 2 Timothy 3:1–9 (3:2). How do these verses categorize grumbling and ingratitude? What difference does this make in shaping my perspective on whining?
3. Paul exhorts Christians to be “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (2:15). Billy Graham once said, “Every generation is strategic. We are not responsible for the past generation, and we cannot bear full responsibility for the next one; but we do have our generation. God will hold us responsible as to how well we fulfill our responsibilities to this age and take advantage of our opportunities.” Do I agree with this statement? Why or why not? What can I do to ensure that I am a wise and responsible steward of my generation? How am I currently fulfilling this mandate?
4. As Christians, we are to hold out the word of life (2:16). How is my life functioning as a “light” that brings pleasure to my leaders and my God? In what way has the world noticed my godly behavior? How has this served as a witness? Where can I improve? Who will hold me accountable?
5. How do I sacrifice myself for my local church (2:17–18)? When did I begin serving in the church? What brought me to this place? Was it an experience, a person, or something I read? What has God taught me through my service? How has serving in ministry brought others joy? How has my service brought me joy? What would I say to others who are contemplating whether or not to serve?
2 “Looking for love, 650-pound virgin loses 410”: www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31845266/ns/today_relationships/.
3 TLC aired Smith’s story on 7/12/09. I suspect it will run again.
4 Paul uses hoste (“so then”) in Phil 1:13 and 4:1.
5 Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 273–74; Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 231.
6 Paul doesn’t explicitly say who the Philippians are obeying, but the context implies that they are obeying him. Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 52.
7 The word translated “obey” (hupakouein) contains the ideas of hearing, especially the divine word as proclaimed, and submitting to what is heard. The Philippians had received the word of God from Paul and were encouraged to translate that into action in their everyday lives. So we, too, are responsible to hear the word of God and put it into practice in our lives (see Matt 7:24–27; 1 Thess 2:13; Jas 1:22–25).
8 Paul uses the term “beloved” (agapetos) often to describe those converted under his ministry (cf. Rom. 11:28; 12:19; 16:8, 9, 12; 1 Cor 4:14, 17; 10:14; 15:58; 2 Cor 7:1; 12:19; Eph 6:21; Phil 4:1 [twice]; Col 4:7, 9, 14; 1 Tim 6:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Phlm 1, 2, 16). This intimate friendship and bond of love permeates the entire letter to the Philippians (see 1:3–11, 12; 2:20; 3:1; 4:1, 10).
9 He is not calling for repentance, as we see him doing with the Corinthians (2 Cor 7:9–10; 12:21), or as our Lord does in Revelation (2:5, 16, 21–22; 3:3, 19). As far as Paul was concerned, they had “always” obeyed (cf. 2 Cor 7:15; 10:6; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 3:4; Phlm 21).
10 They had obeyed not only in the initial reception of the gospel (Acts 16:14, 32–33), but ever since that time as well (approx. ten years).
11 See Bill Hybels, Who You Are When No One’s Looking (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1987).
12 The translation “work out” (katergazomai) is potentially misleading since one meaning of “work out” is to exercise something we already have (e.g., “he works out three times a week”). That is not what the Greek word means. It can only legitimately be translated “work out” in the sense of accomplishing something (as in “he worked out a solution to the budget deficit”). The idea that the “work out” is the key to understanding this verse is unsupported by the meaning of the Greek word in question or the context.
13 See Ralph P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 115–16; Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 43 (Waco: Word, 1983), 98. Various English versions include the word “own” (“your own salvation”). See ESV, HSB, NRSV, NKJV, and KJV. However, this word is not in the Greek text. The focus is on corporate salvation.
14 The other usages of “salvation” (soteria) in Philippians have a temporal, present tense meaning (1:19, 28). This sense is also used in Matt 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; John 12:25; 1 Pet 1:9, etc. Working out our salvation is a life-long process, as can be seen by the present tense of the imperative (katergazesthe).
15 It is virtually the same thing as “conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel” (Phil 1:27). Paul had in mind the present aspect of our salvation in which we are laborers together with God (1 Cor 3:9; cf. Titus 3:8). See Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Philippians (www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/philippians.pdf, 2009), 32; Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 235.
16 Swift writes, “This is consistent with the two previous occurrences of sotherian in the book where the context suggests ‘deliverance’ (1:19, 28).” See Robert C. Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 141:563 (July-Sept 1984): 245.
17 In justification and glorification God does all the work (Eph 2:9; Jude 24). We “work out” our salvation (i.e., sanctification) by keeping in step with the Holy Spirit who leads us in the will of God (Gal 5:16). In Phil 2:12–13, the particular aspect of sanctification in view involves achieving unity through humility. Paul is not concerned here with the eternal welfare of the soul of the individual. The individual believer is not now being called to self-activity, to the active pursuit of the will of God to a personal application of salvation. Rather the context suggests that this command is to be understood in a corporate sense. The entire church, which had grown spiritually ill (2:3–4), is charged now with taking whatever steps are necessary to restore itself to health and wholeness (see Hawthorne, Philippians, 98). Admittedly, since individuals make up the local church there is certainly relevance to the individual as well (see Moisés Silva, Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2nd ed. Edited by Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992, 2005], 118–22.) Nevertheless, Paul’s primary intention seems to be the corporate body.
18 The phrase “fear and trembling” is also used in 1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 7:15; and Eph 6:5. In 2 Cor 7:15; Eph 6:5; and Phil 2:12, and the expression is closely associated with “obedience.” Notice that Paul has just pointed out that our Lord’s humility was demonstrated by His obedience (Phil 2:8). “Fear and trembling” are also used together in the Greek OT (LXX) in Ps 2:11: “Worship the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling.” This Psalm is in clear reference to the millennial kingdom and the King’s exaltation in it. Thus, I believe we are being exhorted to emulate the life illustrated by Christ in Phil 2:5–8 in order that we may also be exalted in the same way (though not to the same degree!) as He was.
19 The Greek words phobos (“fear”) and tromos (“trembling”) both imply fear in a negative sense. Yet, Paul’s use of the terms in other contexts refers to “awe and reverence in the presence of God” [O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 284; see discussion on 282–84]. The translation “awe and reverence” was chosen to portray the attitude the believer should have toward God as he considers his behavior in light of God working through Jesus Christ (2:6–11) and in the believer’s life (2:13) to accomplish their salvation. See NET Study Notes.
20 Our faith should be worked out with humility because we know that no good work is truly our work; rather it is God’s work. He is the One working in us prompting us to desire and to carry out His will. How can we be proud of any good thing we do when we know that anything good really has come from God (see 1 Cor 4:7; Jas 1:17)?
21 Herrick writes, “Though he doesn’t specifically mention it, the apostle can be thinking of none other than the Holy Spirit who lives in us in fulfillment of the new covenant (Jer 31:31–33; 2 Cor 3:4–18). The Spirit indwells us permanently (2 Cor 1:20–21; Eph 1:13–14), fills us for worship (Eph 5:18), enables us to surrender our lives (Rom 7:6), delivers us out of sin (Gal 1:4; 5:16–24; Rom 8:2–3, 13), and generally enables us to understand Christ (Rom 1:16; Eph 1:18; John 16:13–14). He is a Spirit who is constantly working to glorify Christ and create unity in the body of Christ—undoubtedly one of his primary efforts within the Philippian church (cf. Eph 4:3). Thus the Philippians were to come in ‘humility and dependence’ upon God as they worked out their salvation. They were to be careful not to become arrogant as if some of them were better than others (cf. Phil 2:3–4; 3:7–11). The Spirit is the One who would work in them to carry out God’s will; they were totally bankrupt in and of themselves (cf. Eph 2:1; John 15:6). He not only gave them the desire to do God’s will, such as seeking the needs of others ahead of themselves (as Jesus did in 2:6–11), he also have them the energy or will to do it. God has provided such a complete salvation! One of the primary means that God has established for us to experience such empowerment is prayer. Paul has already mentioned this in connection with his desire to exalt Christ in his body (1:19–20), but he will mention prayer again near the close of the letter (4:6–7).”
22 Sam Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy: The Message of Philippians (Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald, 2004), 89.
23 Deffinbaugh notes, “All too often Christians try to distinguish between ‘our work’ and ‘God’s work,’ as though they can be neatly isolated and compartmentalized. In my opinion, this is like trying to distinguish between our Lord’s humanity and His deity. Since the incarnation, He is the God-man, and I don’t think we do well to try to distinguish between our Lord’s deity and His humanity.” Bob Deffinbaugh, “Fleshing Out Your Faith” (Phil 2:12–18). To Live Is Christ: A Study of the Book of Philippians (www.bible.org: Biblical Studies Press, 2000).
24 The informed Christian, who knows the Lord through His word, and in prayer, will say with the apostle Paul: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor 15:10).
26 “Grumbling” looks at the initial activity and “disputing” is what results (2:2; 4:2; cf. 1 Cor 10:10).
27 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 291.
28 The term goggusmos occurs only three times in the NT outside of Phil 2:14. In John 7:12 the term is used to refer to the whispering or secretive talk engaged in by the people regarding the person of Jesus: “There were many in the crowd grumbling about him, some said he was a good man and others said he was a deceiver.” In Acts 6:1 the Grecian Jews “grumbled” against the Hebraic Jews (i.e., strife was developing) because widows among the Grecian Jews were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The complaining and divisiveness was quickly cut off, however, when the apostles dealt with the issue. They understood that such attitudes are lethal to church unity and witness. In 1 Pet 4:9 the apostle commands the various Christians in the churches to offer hospitality to one another and to do so without grumbling. One can see from the examples in Acts 6:1 and 1 Pet 4:9 the close connection between this word and selfishness ambition which we saw in 2:3. The verb occurs eight times: Matt 20:11; Luke 5:30; John 6:41, 43, 61; 7:32; 1 Cor 10:10 [2x]. The great warning of what grumbling and disputing can lead to is Israel’s ten instances of complaining in the wilderness. That behavior culminated in the Israelites refusal to enter and occupy the Promised Land from Kadesh–barnea (Num 13–14). We frustrate God’s work of producing unity, which He does by reproducing the mind of Christ in us (i.e., humility), when we complain and argue (cf. 1:19, 28).
29 BDAG s.v. goggusmos: “utterance made in a low tone of voice, behind-the-scenes talk.”
30 The term “arguing” (dialogismos) occurs 14 times in the NT and is never used in a purely favorable light (cf. Luke 2:35). It appears in conjunction with the antagonistic thinking of the Pharisees as they opposed the ministry of Jesus (Luke 5:22; 6:8) and the self–centered arrogance of the disciples (Luke 9:47) as they “reasoned” about who would be the greatest in the kingdom (i.e., immediately after Jesus had predicted his death [Luke 9:45]). Further, James refers to those who despise the poor as “judges with evil thoughts.” In Luke 24:38–39 the term refers to “doubts” in the minds of the apostles regarding Jesus’ resurrection. Further, Paul tells Timothy that men are to lift holy hands in prayer and to do so without “disputes” (1 Tim 2:8). Thus, the term signifies contentious behavior probably connected in some way with an arrogant attitude. The Philippians, Paul says, are to do everything without this kind of attitude.
31 Charles R. Swindoll, Laugh Again (Dallas: Word, 1992), 98.
32 “Blameless” (amemptos) means “without blame” (cf. 3:6) because we deal with our sins as we should. It does not mean unblemished (amomos) nor unblameable (anegkletos and anepileptos). The term amemptoi occurs five times in the NT. In Luke 1:6 Zechariah and Elizabeth’s piety is regarded as “blameless” in terms of the manner in which they kept “all the commands and righteous requirements of the Lord.” In 1 Thess 2:13 Paul prays that the love the Thessalonians have for each other may overflow so that their hearts will be strong, blameless in holiness before the Lord. In this passage amemptoi is inextricably bound up with love for other Christians. The term is also used twice in Philippians. In 3:6 Paul refers to his former Pharisaic way of life under the Law as “faultless” or “without blame.” The sense of the term in 2:15 is “to be beyond reproach” (cf. Job 1:1; 4:17). Cf. BAGD, 45, s.v. amemptos. If the Philippians continue to grumble and complain they will give occasion for outsiders to find fault with them and their gospel. Instead they are to give no reason for accusation; they are to be blameless.
33 “Innocent” or “pure” (akeraioi) means unadulterated, unmixed with anything defiling (cf. Rom 16:19). The term akeraioi is related to the verb kerannumi which means to “mix” or “mingle.” The noun akeraios (note the negative prefix a) was used to refer to undiluted wine or unalloyed metals. It occurs only three times in NT. In Matt 10:16 Jesus wants the disciples to be as wise as serpents and as “innocent” as doves. In Rom 16:19 Paul says that he wants the Romans to be wise about what is good and “innocent” about what is evil. In Phil 2:15 it refers to the opposite of grumbling or disputing. The “innocence” that Paul has in mind in Philippians is broad and covers every area of their lives, but it specifically has in focus the need to refrain from in–fighting and divisive behavior. Thus, as the Philippians—and therefore all Christians—grow in blamelessness and purity they will truly reflect their lineage as children of God (tekna theou) above reproach (amoma; see Eph 5:27; Jude 24). They are to reflect the attitude and values of their Father (cf. John 1:12; Rom 8:16; Gal 3:28; 1 John 3:1, 2) without blemish. It should be noted: Some commentators argue that the terms “blameless” and “innocent” refer to the future when Christ returns to judge. This interpretation is ruled out, however, on the grounds that Paul is talking about their present character in light of their role in a crooked and depraved generation. Paul is not referring in this text to some future eschatological period, but instead to the “here and now.”
34 Paul then added the idea of being unblemished (amomos). Above “reproach” is a description used of sacrificial lambs offered on the altar and means “free of blemish,” which connotes both internal and external purity. The children of God are to be free from defilement and so not chargeable with justifiable criticism even though living in the midst of a twisted and perverted generation (cf. Deut 32:5).
35 The term “crooked” (skolia) is used three other times in the NT. In Luke 3:5 it is used metaphorically (i.e., morally) to refer to the straightening of crooked roads, i.e., the crooked state of affairs, so that the coming of the Messiah to Israel would not be hindered. The generation of Jews who rejected the Messiah were regarded as a corrupt (skolia) generation of people under the judgment of God (Acts 2:40). In 1 Peter 2:18 Peter refers to certain masters as “corrupt,” meaning that they are unjust and harsh in their treatment of slaves (cf. 2:19). See BAGD, s.v. skolios, #2.
36 The term “perverse” (diestrammenes) occurs in Matt 17:17 where Jesus refers to his generation as “perverse” because of their lack of faith and stubborn unbelief. Paul accused Elymas of perverting the right ways of the Lord because he tried to turn the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, from the Lord (Acts 13:10). He also warned the Ephesian elders about men who would arise in their midst to pervert the truth or teaching about the Lord in order to draw men after themselves (Acts 20:30). The two terms crooked and perverse together in this context are taken directly from Deut 32:5. The difference in Phil 2:15 is that Paul refers to the unsaved world in Philippi as “crooked and perverse” whereas Moses referred to the Israelites (i.e., God’s people) as “crooked and perverse.” Paul probably has in mind the people in Philippi who are trying to oppose the church (1:28) or the legalists of chapter three who are perverting the gospel (3:2ff).
37 The word “generation” (geneas) can refer to a group of people several generations long, not just to one generation of people (e.g., Matt 12:39). Here it probably refers to unbelievers as a whole (cf. Matt 17:17; Acts 2:40).
38 See Exod 15–17; Num 11; 14; 16–17; 20–21.
39 The root of the terms “crooked” and “perverse” is related to the OT concept of the righteousness of God which is described as a “measuring reed” (a straight edge or ruler). Any deviation from His standard was described in terms of “crooked” or “bent.” These terms are translated by “sin,” “iniquity,” or “trespass” in English. Notice that in this context it is the Church who is called on to be the light in a darkened world.
40 See NET alternative reading in 2:15.
41 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 295–96; Silva, 127.
42 Various English versions render the Greek word phosteres as “stars” (e.g., HSB, NIV, NRSV).
43 Christians are lights in a dark world (Matt 5:14; cf. Dan 12:3). The Light of the World now indwells us (John 8:12). Paul wants his readers to bear a strong witness rather than having their light shaded by sin or uncleanness (cf. Matt 5:15–16).
44 Jesus said as much in Matt 5:16: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
45 BDAG s.v. epechontes 1: “to maintain a grasp on someone or something, hold fast.”
46 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 297; Thielman 140.
47 Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” 245.
48 There are allusions and direct references to the judgment seat of Christ throughout the epistle (e.g., 1:19; 2:12, 15–16; 3:12–14; 4:15–17).
49 As Thielman says: “Here and elsewhere, Paul describes his apostolic labor as a race in which he runs and which, if stumbling blocks do not intrude, will result in a prize (1 Cor 9:24–27; 2 Tim 4:6–8; cf. Gal 2:2). These stumbling blocks may include Paul’s own faithlessness to his call (1 Cor 9:24–27), hindrances placed before him by other Christians (Gal 2:2), or, as here, the faithlessness of the churches whom God had placed in his care. Paul enriches this metaphor with one drawn from Isaiah. In Isaiah 49:4 the Servant of the Lord expresses dismay that he appears to ‘have labored to no purpose,’ to ‘have spent [his] strength in vain for nothing’; but he also expresses his confidence that his reward is in the Lord’s hands. Later the prophet promises that in the final day, when God creates new heavens and a new earth, his people ‘will not toil in vain’ (Isa. 65:23).” Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 140–141.
50 A similar idea can be found in 1 Cor 3:6–15; 9:26; Gal 2:2; 4:11; and 1 Thess 3:5.
51 David C. McCasland, “Thank You For Not Squawking,” Our Daily Bread 5/9/1996: www.rbc.org/devotionals/our-daily-bread/1996/05/09/devotion.aspx.
52 Swift 246 suggests that Phil 2:17–18 are a hinge, a transition between 2:12–16 and 2:19–30.
53 Paul used the same metaphor in 2 Tim 4:6. “The sacrifice and service” employs only one article with the two nouns, and probably is a hendiadys meaning “sacrificial service.” The apostle is thinking of their various Christian ministries performed as a spiritual sacrifice to God (4:18; Heb 13:15) and springing from their faith.
54 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 94.
55 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 310.
56 Paul says that even if he was being poured out as a sacrifice as a result of their faith, he has joy (chairo) and rejoice[s] (sugchairo) together with [them]. And in the same way, [they] also should be glad (chairete) and rejoice together with [him] (sugchairete). Thus, we return to the example of Paul himself who, no matter what the circumstances, experiences joy and calls others to rejoice with him.
I have been accused of being a sexist who is insensitive to the needs of women. At least one woman has sat in my office and complained that I use too many sports illustrations and have a hankering for referring to “manly men.” As I told this woman, “I am truly sorry you feel that way. I always strive to be sensitive to women and to balance my preaching with plenty of feminine illustrations and applications. However, if you are looking for me to change, I can assure you that I will not. The reason is simple: I believe that manly men are essential for building healthy churches.”
Now the phrase “manly men” may raise some questions (and some eyebrows) so I need to briefly explain myself. When I speak of manly men, I am not referring to men who like to hunt, fish, barbeque, work on cars, sport chest hair, and watch football. I am not talking about men who wear boxers instead of briefs. Okay, let me retract that. From what I’ve heard many manly men wear “whitey tighties.” Seriously, I define manly men as men who have a passion for Christ and His church. Such spiritual studs can come in any size, shape, and style; however, they all love the Lord and are serious about building God’s kingdom.
Today you’ll learn about two men who epitomize manliness. Their names are Timothy and Epaphroditus. I’m sure they won’t mind if we call them Tim and Pappy for short. The apostle Paul honors the lives of these two men in Philippians 2:19–30. I must tell you, this is unusual. Paul customarily refers to people by name at the end of his letters. He does so here because these two men serve as models of his argument.2 Tim and Pappy are living examples of men who have exhibited humility and unity, and who work out their salvation (2:12) based on service to the Lord and to others (2:1–4).3 Throughout this passage, there is an echo that serves as a resounding gong: Manly men make the ministry.4 This truth will be apparent as we examine the lives of Tim and Pappy. Two defining principles emanate from their lives.
1. Manly men are selfless servants (2:19–24). A truly manly man is a man whose submissive mind is seen in his servant’s attitude. In 2:19 Paul writes, “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.” Paul’s use of “hope” (elpizo) here is more than a wish—it is a “confident expectation.” The use of the phrase “in the Lord Jesus” is not akin to our contemporary glib comment, “Lord willing.” Instead, it shows that Paul doesn’t make decisions based simply on common sense or on what he thinks is best, but he submits everything to the Lord and His will.5 This ought to be true for every manly man as well. Masculine ministry is achieved as manly men submit themselves to the manliest man who has ever lived—the God-man—the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is confident that Jesus will permit him to send Timothy to the Philippian church. He even says that he expects to be encouraged by their condition. The verb “encouraged” (eupsucheo) is used only here in the NT. In Paul’s day, this word appeared on ancient Greek gravestones and in letters of condolence. The word carries the idea of “may it be well with your soul.”6 Paul believes the best about this church. What an example he is. Do you expect to find encouragement and comfort from what God is doing in and through your church? Or do you find it easy to be cynical, critical, and pessimistic? As a manly man, you have a responsibility to lead your family in optimism. If you are single, you also have a responsibility in the church to set an example of confident hope and expectation for your church family. Today, what are you believing God for in your church? What do you expect Him to do? How are you trusting God and stepping out in faith? Manly men make the ministry.
In 2:20–21, Paul provides two reasons (“for”) that he is sending Tim to the Philippians: “For I have no one7 else of kindred spirit8 who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” Paul indicates that Tim is a one of a kind. Apart from Paul there is no one else who cares for the Philippians like Tim.9 There is some question as to whom the “all”10 refers to. Most likely Paul is contrasting Tim’s selfless servanthood with all people in general.11
Regardless, Tim was deeply loved by the church and he also was genuinely concerned about the church.12
The adverb “genuinely” (gneios) occurs only here in the New Testament.13 However, a related adjective gnesios occurs four times.14 It can refer to children born in wedlock (i.e., they are legitimate and “genuine” children).15 Interestingly, Paul uses this term elsewhere to refer to Timothy and Titus as “true” sons in the faith.16 Though the stress in Phil 2:20 is on the idea of sincerity, the root idea of “legitimate children” should not be overlooked. Thus, Timothy is genuinely interested in the Philippians because he is a genuine son of Paul.17 The word “concerned” (merimnao) is often used of negative worry and anxiety,18 yet here, it is used of genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of the church. Can you say that you are genuinely concerned about your church? How does this concern manifest itself? It’s been observed that believers live either in Phil 1:21 or in Phil 2:21. Those who embrace the truth of 1:21 (“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”) share Paul’s desire to find true profit in seeking the profit of others (see 1 Cor 10:33).19 Manly men make the ministry.
Paul, again, continues to rave about his boy, Tim. In 2:22 he states, “But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.” Timothy has demonstrated his worthiness as a servant of Christ and of Paul for more than ten years.20 He had served as the apostle’s fellow worker and as his protégé. The phrase “proven worth” (dokime)21 refers to a testing of one’s character.22 This word group is used of assaying ore to see if it is of mixed alloy or pure metal. This is like “gold refined in the fire,” tested, purified, proved. This description of Timothy is fitting since his name in Greek means “he honors God.” Tim is living up to his name. He does not cave under pressure. Instead, he proves himself over time. It has been said that people are like teabags...you never know how strong they are until you drop them in hot water. Timothy’s consistency is evidenced over time as he has worked with Paul like a son with his father, serving together to see the good news of Christ go out and touch lives.
The word “served” deserves special notice. There are several Greek words that refer to serving. But the word “served” in 2:22 is remarkable. It is the Greek verb douleuo, which refers to living out your life as a slave.23 When we use the phrase, “slaving away,” we use it in a negative sense of menial and undesirable labor. But Paul means it as a humble privilege. To serve the Lord Jesus Christ as His willing slave is a high honor. Is it an honor for you or a chore? A lot has to do with the quality of your love for Christ. If you are just doing church work, that can get old. But if you are slaving away in all that you do for the Lord, there is blessing in this life and the life to come.
Before we leave 2:22 it is important to recognize that “proven worth” doesn’t happen overnight. Too many people want instant spirituality and overnight maturity. God doesn’t work that way. Producing Christian character takes time and effort. Here’s a simple equation: T + D = G. T = Time, D = Discipline and G = Growth. This formula works in every area of life, whether it is weight lifting, piano playing, Scripture memory, or learning to speak Spanish. Nothing worthwhile can be conquered in one evening. You can’t blitz your way to spiritual leadership. You’ve got to do what Timothy did—put yourself under a good leader and then pay the price over time.24 Are you a flash in the pan? Are you a one-hit wonder? If so, recalibrate your spiritual life and commit for long haul service.
Paul closes this first section in 2:23–24 by saying, “Therefore I hope to send him25 immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.” Paul longs to send Timothy and even make the trip to Philippi himself. He misses his brothers and sisters. It’s been said, “If absence makes the heart grow fonder, some people must really love the church.” However, Paul couldn’t be at church; he was in prison. Men, what is your excuse? One of the greatest gifts you can give your spouse and children is to take them to church. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you want to be a manly man, you must--I repeat, MUST--show spiritual leadership in your home by packing your Bible and your family and take them to church. Remember, you are the spiritual thermostat in the home. Most wives and children will never rise above the man in their lives. Your spiritual involvement in the lives of your family members is critical.
Now, I know full well that this is the biblical ideal, and as we know: There’s the ideal, and then there’s the real deal. So if your dad is an unbeliever or a spiritual sloth don’t lose heart. Timothy’s father was a Greek, who evidently was an unbeliever, and his mother Eunice was a Jewish convert to Christianity. Timothy was raised in the Lord by his mom and his godly grandmother Lois (2 Tim 1:3–5) and he turned out to be a phenomenal pastor and a manly man. I have often seen God in His grace do this in the lives of men. He doesn’t even need a godly mom and grandma to work on His behalf. He sovereignly calls men to Himself and makes sure that they grow spiritually. A perfect example of this is Epaphroditus who was not fortunate enough to be raised in a godly home environment. The name Epaphroditus means “belonging to Aphrodite,” the pagan goddess of love.26 No Christian parent would name a child that. But somewhere along the way Epaphroditus met Jesus Christ, and even though his name remained the same, his allegiance was forever changed, and so was his character. Men, God certainly doesn’t need you, but He wants to use you. What a difference you can make in the lives of your spouse and children. Even if you’re not married or don’t have children, you can invest well in up and coming Timothy’s. Dayle Crockett and Neil Shaw are two amazing examples of this type of ministry. Dayle and Neil don’t have children of their own but they invest in children and teens. Dayle is on youth staff and also teaches our middle school boys’ Sunday School class. Neil was on youth staff and now serves with Youth for Christ. These guys are ministry animals, who do this on top of very demanding workweeks. Dayle teaches middle school in Rochester. Neil commutes from Tumwater to Tacoma and works at Merit Construction. Dayle and Neil are manly men, and manly men make the ministry. If you’re not a manly man, will you decide today to strive after biblical manhood?
[Manly men are selfless servants who put others first. The second defining principle is…]
2. Manly men are courageous servants (2:25–30). While Timothy is a marvelous example of service, Epaphroditus is a superb model of suffering.27 Pappy is a man whose name appears only twice in the New Testament (2:25; 4:18).28 Timothy, on the other hand, is named twenty–four times in the New Testament. Moreover, Tim is a pastor while Pappy fits more into the mold of a deacon. Yet, note that Paul gives Pappy prominence in this passage and actually devotes more words to his commendation than to Timothy’s.29 In 2:25, Paul lays out Pappy’s riveting résumé: “But I thought it necessary30 to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need.” Let’s take a closer look at Pappy’s five titles.
These descriptions about Pappy raise an important question: Have you told the Lord, “I’m willing to do whatever you might call me to do, and I’m willing to go anywhere You want me to go”? I remember as a teenager being hesitant to do that, because I was afraid He might say, “Go to Africa as a missionary,” and I didn’t want to do that! But now I pray that I am willing to go wherever the Lord may call me to go, whether that is to Africa or to a church in Arkansas. Can you say the same thing? Are you deeply concerned about the spiritual well-being of other believers? Will you count the cost and serve the body of Christ whenever and wherever God calls. Manly men make the ministry.
Paul includes an amazing fact about Pappy in 2:26–27. He sends Pappy to the Philippians “because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.” Apparently, after traveling 800 miles (six plus weeks) from Philippi to Rome, Pappy fell ill with a serious disease and nearly died. In those days something called “Roman Fever” took many lives. If you’ve ever traveled abroad, especially to a third-world country, you know that you have to take extreme medical precautions. Remember, Pappy faced all the dangers of travel without the benefits of modern medicine. As a result, the disease he contracted nearly took his life. When the Philippians heard about it, they were worried and sent a message to Rome. The remarkable thing about Pappy is that he is more concerned that the Philippians are worried about him than he is about his own condition. He is “longing”41 for these believers and is even distressed over their concern. The word “distressed” (ademoneo) is the same term used to describe Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane (Matt 26:37; Mark 14:33). Epaphroditus was distressed because they thought he was sick.42 This is truly amazing! Pappy was more concerned about their emotional welfare than his own physical condition. Today, often believers aren’t even touched by the illnesses of others, much less being distressed in the same as Epaphroditus. We see a tremendous heart for people here!
Paul closes this section in 2:28–30 by informing the Philippians that Pappy is heading home and they need to honor him for his service. Paul writes: “Therefore I have sent him [Pappy] all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.” Paul commands the Philippians to receive Pappy in the Lord with all joy and to hold men like him in high regard (2:29).43 Again, Epaphroditus is not a pastor; he is the equivalent to what we call a layman (even though I dislike the term). He is most likely a lot like you. Paul wants the church to honor the men who are working hard in the trenches who don’t receive a lot of glory and praise like some pastors.
But Paul’s high commendation of Epaphroditus does not come simply because of what he did, great as this may have been. It comes also because of why he did it. His was a self-renouncing motivation. He chose against himself for someone else: “He was sick to the point of death.” Paul wants Pappy to receive honor because he “came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life.” The phrase “risking his life” (paraboleuomai, 2:30) is a verb that means “to expose oneself to danger, to risk.”44 Thus, from this word alone it is clear that Pappy is no coward but a courageous manly man willing to take enormous risks, ready to play with very high stakes in order to come to the aid of a person in need.45 In effect, Epaphroditus is like Christ. Paul makes this very clear in the Greek because the phrase that tells us that Epaphroditus “nearly died” (2:30) is exactly the same as the phrase in 2:8, which describes Christ’s coming “to the point of death.” Epaphroditus’ near death for Paul echoes Christ’s real death for us. This young man had the mind of Christ.46 Manly men make the ministry.
The story is told of two inseparable friends who enlisted together, trained together, shipped out together, and fought in the trenches together during World War I. During an attack, one of the duo was critically wounded in a field filled with barbed wire obstacles and, because of that, was unable to crawl back to his foxhole. The entire area was under enemy fire and it was suicidal to try to reach him. Nevertheless, undaunted, his friend decided to give it a go. Before he could get out of his own trench, his sergeant yanked him back and told him, “You’re mad! It’s far too late. You can’t do him any good and you’ll only end up getting yourself killed.” A few minutes later the officer turned his back, and instantly his mate went after his friend. Shortly afterwards, he staggered back, mortally wounded, with his friend now dead in his arms. The sergeant was both angry and deeply moved. “What a waste,” he blurted out. “He’s dead, and you’re dying. It just wasn’t worth it.” With almost his last breath, the dying soldier retorted: “Oh yes it was, for when I got to him, the only thing he said was, “I knew you would come, Jim.” The lesson is that Jim was there for his friend whatever the cost.47
Like Jim, will you be there for at least one other man? Undoubtedly, you can make a difference in at least one man’s life. But I am confident that you can be used by God to transform the culture of your church and touch people all over the world. All that is required is depending upon the Lord Jesus to use you to be His change agent. Will you step up today and become a manly man? If you are already a manly man, will you ask God to take you to the next level of masculine ministry? Your church needs you. They are counting on you. Be a manly man!
Matthew 6:25–34; 16:24–27
1 Corinthians 7:32–35
1 Corinthians 12:14–26
2 Timothy 2:3–4
1. Do I intentionally seek to find encouragement from the health and overall condition of my church (2:19)? Or in my busyness are there countless other personal responsibilities and interests that are a greater priority? When the church is not healthy and unified, does this really bother me? What practices demonstrate that I genuinely care about the condition of my church (and the national and international church)?
2. What kind of church leader am I (2:20)? Am I deeply concerned about the spiritual well-being of other believers? Do I pursue the interests of others or am I caught up in myself (2:21)? In what specific areas has Jesus dealt with me that have helped me to become genuinely selfless and focused on the concerns of others? How has He refined me? In what areas does He still need to work?
3. In my church or daily occupation, whom am I presently serving (2:22)? Practically speaking, what does this look like? Do others consider me a servant? Would they say I am a man or woman of “proven worth?” How can I seek to serve those in my life this week?
4. Who would call me a brother, a fellow worker, and a fellow soldier (2:25)? Can other Christians honestly use these descriptions about me? Why or why not? Who would I describe with these terms in my life? How has this individual helped me grow spiritually? Do I regularly express my deep love, respect, and appreciation for this person? If not, will I do so today?
5. Paul says that Epaphroditus risked his life for the work of Christ and the gospel (2:30). Nothing should speak more clearly into our complacent, nonchalant attitudes in America. Here is a man who almost gave his life for another brother. How have I sought to sacrifice for another brother or sister in the work of the gospel? How have I risked my own neck or reputation to share the good news with others?
2 For a great read see David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church (Nashville: Nelson 2005).
3 One of the primary thrusts of Phil 2:1–30 is, “Will you be a ‘Philippians 2:4 kind of person?’” In other words, will you “not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others?”
4 Swift writes, “In this epistle every single reference Paul makes to another person is made in connection with that person’s koinonia, his partnership in the gospel.” Robert C. Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 141:563 (July-Sept 1984): 246.
5 For more on submitting your will to Christ, see 1 Cor 4:19 and Jas 4:13–17.
6 Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 317–18; Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 60.
7 The expression “no one” (oudena) is emphatic in the Greek text and stresses the quality of Timothy in the eyes of Paul; there simply isn’t anyone on the same level as this man.
8 The phrases “kindred spirit” (NASB) or “like him” (NET, ESV, NIV. NRSV) are translations of isopsuchos (lit. “equal-souled”). The term is rare and means to be in complete agreement with someone in the context of a personal relationship. A similar compound sumpsuchos (“like-minded”) is used in Phil 2:2.
9 See O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 317–18. Some argue that the comparison is with the members of the Roman church; however, this does not seem to be Paul’s intent. It is more likely that Paul is comparing Timothy with himself.
10 “All” (pas) is not a reference to other co-workers who are not quite like Timothy. Fee writes, “Given what we know of Paul elsewhere and the high regard with which he holds those who travel with him, and that in 4:21 he sends greetings from ‘the brothers who are with me,’ it does not seem possible that he should here slander them with this kind of barrage.” Paul is likely referring to people like those mentioned in 1:15 and 17 who preach Christ but for their own ends. Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 267. A good example of the kind of mixed priorities Paul is referring to can be seen in Demas (cf. 2 Tim 4:10).
11 See Bob Deffinbaugh, “A Few Good Men” (Phil 2:19–30) in To Live Is Christ: A Study of the Book of Philippians: www.bible.org and Greg Herrick, “Timothy and Epaphroditus–Two Examples of Humility and Unity” (Phil 2:19–30) in Philippians: The Unconquerable Gospel: www.bible.org. Sumney, Philippians, 60–61 correctly notes, “This strong statement seems to condemn all others with whom Paul is associated because they seek their own good. However, its rhetorical function in this immediate context is more to commend Timothy than to condemn others.”
12 When Paul came to Philippi for the first time, it was Timothy’s first missionary journey with the apostle (see Acts 16:1–3). In the years that followed, Timothy would visit the Philippians on several occasions and would become well known to them (see Acts 18:5; 19:22; 20:1–4).
13 BDAG s.v. gneios.
14 2 Cor 8:8; Phil 4:3; 1 Tim 1:2; and Titus 1:4.
15 BDAG s.v. gnesios.
16 1 Tim 1:2 and Titus 1:4.
17 Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 43 (Waco: Word, 1983), 111.
18 See BDAG s.v. merimnao 1: “to be apprehensive, have anxiety, be anxious, be (unduly) concerned, Phil 4:6; Matt 6:25, 28, 31, 34a; 10:19, 41; Luke 12:11, 22.
19 Ken Boa, “Philippians 2:19–24”: www.kenboa.org/text_resources/teaching_letters/kens_teaching_letter/2192.
20 See George W. Murray, “Paul’s Corporate Witness in Philippians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155:619 (July-Sept 1998): 316–26.
21 B. Van Elderen, “Timothy” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 753.
22 BDAG s.v. dokime 2: “the experience of going through a test with special reference to the result, standing a test, character.”
23 BDAG s.v. douleuo 2: “to act or conduct oneself as one in total service to another, perform the duties of a slave, serve, obey.”
24 Ray Pritchard, “Making God’s A-Team” (Phil 2:19–30): www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1998-11-22-Making-Gods-A-Team/.
25 The pronoun touton (“him”) seems to be emphatic, coming first in the sentence. As Sumney, Philippians, 62 suggests, “Paul is emphasizing that it is the one who cares for them and who has been faithful to Paul and the gospel who is coming to them.”
26 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 329.
27 Sam Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy: The Message of Philippians. Truth for Today Commentary Series (Belfast, Ireland/Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 2004), 101.
28 He is not the same as Epaphras who was mentioned in Col 1:7; 4:12; Phlm 23. Epaphras is called “one of you” in Col 4:12. However, Epaphras is an abbreviation of Epaphroditus.
29 Deffinbaugh, “A Few Good Men.”
30 Anagkaios (“necessary”) is a very strong Greek word (cf. Acts 1:24; 13:46; 2 Cor 9:5; Heb 8:3). It is placed first in the sentence for emphasis.
31 The term sunergon (“fellow worker, coworker”) occurs thirteen times in the NT. It is always used by Paul except in 3 John 8.
32 R. Kent Hughes, Philippians: The Fellowship of the Gospel. Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 115.
33 The term sustratiotes (“fellow soldier”) is only used elsewhere in the NT in Phlm 2 where Paul refers to Archippus as “our fellow-soldier.”
34 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 103.
35 See 2 Tim 2:3–4: “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” The term “soldier” (stratiotes) is the same as “fellow-soldier” (sustratiotes) except that the former is without the sun prefix. Both terms, however, stress the hardships and battles fought in the cause of the gospel.
36 Hughes, Philippians, 115.
37 Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 276 notes that this present word about Epaphroditus anticipates the full acknowledgement in Phil 4:14–20.
38 Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 251 n. 52 notes: “The word group appears rarely in Paul (three 3 or 5 times in this letter;…; otherwise only in 2 Cor 9:12 and Rom 15:29, of the offering for the poor in Jerusalem), always metaphorically of Christian ‘service’ of some kind, and not restricted to ‘ministers.’”
39 D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 77.
40 Hughes, Philippians, 115.
41 Paul used the same term epipotheo (“long”) to describe his own personal longing for the Philippians (1:8).
42 A question that many ask is: Why does God heal some and not others? Why does He show mercy toward some and not all? I don’t know. God never tells us that. The prerogative of exercising mercy is always left to the prerogative of the merciful one. God has His reasons, and they are not irrational, of that we may be sure. But He never tells us. He simply expects us to trust His good intentions toward us. After all, He has given us many reasons to trust Him, hasn’t He?
43 See also 1 Thess 5:12–13: “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.”
44 BDAG s.v. paraboleuomai. The term paraboleuomai is only used here in the NT, but in extra biblical Greek the word was used of people who spoke up for their friends at the risk of their own safety and security. Sometimes it was used of a fighter who exposed himself to danger in the arena. Several hundred years later—during the time of Emperor Constantine (A.D. 252) there arose societies of Christian men and women who called themselves “The Parabolani,” meaning “the riskers” or “the gamblers.” They ministered to the sick, the imprisoned, and the outcasts. They saw to it that martyrs received honorable burial. History tells us that they were considered an odd group, eccentric and somewhat “on the edge.”
45 Hawthorne, Philippians, 120.
46 Hughes, Philippians, 117.
47 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 104.
Brad Pitt. Just the mention of his name causes women all over the world to melt. If somehow you’re not familiar with Brad Pitt, he is a movie star featured in many films including Legends of the Fall, Fight Club, Troy, Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He was married to Jennifer Anniston from the TV show “Friends,” and is currently married to popular Angelina Jolie. This month, I read an article about Brad Pitt. In an interview with a German Web site, Pitt was asked if he believed in God. He smiled and replied, “No, no, no!” Pitt insists he is not a spiritual person: “I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, and then there’s no point thinking about it.” In the meantime, Pitt claims he’s found happiness in life. He says, “I am on the path I want to be on.” And right now, that path is a 2½ hour drive from Berlin to Prague on one of his many motorcycles. When asked by the reporter how many motorcycles he owns Pitt responds “Sorry, but I’ve got a problem with that. To be honest, I don’t know how many I have.” Pitt admits his family and a couple of his motorbikes are his most important possessions in life. In this list he also included Jolie’s backside, along with a prized Michael Jackson t-shirt.2
Apparently, this good old Midwest boy lost whatever religion he may have had. Yet, despite what our world may say, the Bible teaches that no amount of fame and fortune means anything apart from knowing Jesus Christ personally. Unfortunately, there are many people like Brad Pitt who are losing their religion. But there can be great wisdom in “losing your religion” because religion is humankind’s attempt to reach God. On the other hand, Christianity is God reaching down to humanity through the person and work of Christ. The religious and irreligious alike need to understand that nothing and no one is saved apart from Jesus Christ. In Philippians 3:1–11, Paul challenges you to lose your religion; choose your relationship. He provides two directives that lead to a right relationship with Christ.
1. Shred your religious résumé (3:1–6). Since religion doesn’t save, Paul urges you to renounce your religious background and tendencies. He begins 3:1 with the infamous phrase: “Finally my brethren.” The word “finally” (loipos) makes it sound like Paul is wrapping up his letter. However, he is only at the halfway mark. He has written sixty verses (1:1–2:30) and still has forty–four more to go (3:1–4:23!) As you can imagine, the phrase “finally my brethren” has occasioned a lot of humor at the expense of preachers. A little boy was sitting with his dad in church and whispered, “What does the preacher mean when he says ‘finally’?” To which his father muttered, “Absolutely nothing, son!”3 This story is humorous because there is so much truth in it. We all know that when a preacher says “finally,” he’s not really done. In most cases, he is merely warming up! Admittedly, many preachers (undoubtedly myself included) inadvertently tease the congregation by giving the impression that they are landing the sermon, only to descend, fill up, and lift off again. Of course, we preachers could argue that the translation “finally” in 3:1 provides us apostolic precedence!4 Regardless, here the Greek adjective loipos doesn’t mean “finally”; instead, it is a transitional marker that should be translated “so then.”5
Paul now issues a command: “rejoice in the Lord.”6 Literally: “You all keep rejoicing in the Lord.” Throughout Philippians, Paul emphasizes the theme of joy. The words “joy” (chara),7 “rejoice” (chairo),8 and “rejoice with” (sunchairo)9 appear a combined total of sixteen times. Here for the first time, however, Paul follows his admonition to rejoice with the qualifier “in the Lord.” This phrase (or “in Christ”) is the key phrase of Philippians and occurs nearly twenty times.10 It echoes the language of the Psalms that admonishes the righteous to “rejoice in the Lord and be glad” (Ps 32:11) and to “sing joyfully to the Lord” (33:1). In both of these instances, the psalmist urges the worshiping community to praise the Lord for what He has done for them.11 In other words, regardless of your circumstances, you can always rejoice in God’s attributes and His provisions. While happiness depends upon happenings; joy depends upon Jesus. It is a decision of your will. You can choose to celebrate Christ in the midst of the most difficult circumstances in your life. This happens when you reject discontentment and instead choose to praise.
In Africa there is a fruit called the “taste berry.” It changes a person’s taste so that everything, including sour fruit, becomes sweet and pleasant for several hours after eating the berry. (Since I hate vegetables, I’m on a quest for some taste berries.) Praise could be considered the “taste berry” of the Christian life. When you spend your day in praise and gratitude even the sour circumstances in your life can taste sweet. While this may seem trite to you, it is nonetheless true. If you praise God for who He is and what He has done for you, gratitude will well up within you. As a result, rather than asking God to remove pain, suffering, and trials from your life, you may find yourself praying that He accomplishes His will in the midst of them.12 I challenge you today to take a notecard and write down the characteristics and attributes of God that are meaningful to you. You may also want to write down the many good gifts that God has given you. Spend time reading through this card daily (perhaps several times a day) and watch God transform your perspective on your adverse circumstances.
Paul concludes 3:1 by saying: “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” What are “the same things” of which Paul writes? They are Paul’s frequent exhortations to rejoice during affliction (cf. 2:28, 29; 3:1; 4:4).13 Paul writes, “It’s no problem for me to wax eloquent on the need to rejoice in the midst of suffering. The Lord knows I’ve had plenty of experience in this endeavor.” More importantly, Paul declares that his repetition is a “safeguard” (asphales) for the church. This word is the opposite of the verb meaning “to trip up, or cause to stumble.” Paul’s passion is for the believers to stand firm, to be steady and secure. The reason is simple: Words sink in over time. Major truths need to be repeated for emphasis, impact, and retention. So today “rejoice in the Lord…and again I say REJOICE!”
In 3:2–6, Paul discusses the danger of religion and religious people. He begins with a warning in 3:2: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.” This is very strong language—definitely not very PC! Three times he calls these religious zealots derogatory names. Three times he uses the word “beware!” Paul’s word to the church is: Look over your shoulder and look ahead. Pray, but don’t close your eyes.14 Although it may appear that Paul is referring to three different groups of people; he is describing three distinguishing characteristics of a single religious group called Judaizers.15 These Jewish extremists believed that circumcision and other works were necessary for salvation.16 So after Paul shared the message of faith alone in Christ alone in Philippi, they came onto the scene and told the church his message was inadequate. They had the audacity to insist that the uncircumcised Greek and Roman Philippians were not saved after all.17 Now you can see why Paul is so righteously indignant and downright ticked off!
First, Paul calls the Judaizers “dogs.” In any day and age, it’s not a compliment to be called a dog; however, in Paul’s day it was a real slap. Dogs were coyote-like scavengers who fed on road kill, filth, and garbage—they were vivid images of the unclean.18 Rabbis called Gentiles “dogs” because they did not believe in the one true God—Yahweh. The great irony of this rebuke is Paul turns the table on his fellow Jews and declares: “YOU are the ones who have rejected God! You are the ones who are leading people astray through your false teaching. YOU are the dirty dogs!19
Second, Paul calls the Judaizers “evil workers.” The term “worker” (ergates) is typically used in a positive sense of a laborer or missionary.20 But here Paul adds the adjective “evil” (kakos) to denote a worker who perverts God’s purposes. This is true spirit of treachery.
Third, Paul calls the Judaizers “the false circumcision.” The term translated “false circumcision” (katatome) literally means “mutilation.” Instead of using the typical biblical term for circumcision (peritome, cf. 3:3), Paul refuses to dignify this false teaching by giving it a biblical name.21 Circumcision, the Judaizers’ greatest source of pride, is interpreted by Paul as mutilation.22 He is saying, “YOU have mutilated the flesh of these young brethren!”23
In 3:3, Paul contrasts false religion with a relationship with Christ. Specifically, he certifies that the church is the true people of God: “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Paul declares that Christians are not mutilators of the flesh. Instead believers are the true circumcision, spiritually speaking. Paul gives three evidences that Christians indeed are the people of God rather than the unbelieving Jews.
First, Christians “worship in the spirit of God.” In this context this phrase could mean that our worship is internal, not merely external. However, this word for “worship” (latreuo) connotes servanthood or service or coming under the authority of someone. So Paul is likely suggesting that believers are called to worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24), yet are also called to external expressions of that worship.
Second, Christians “glory in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s word for “glory” (kauchaomai) can mean “to boast,” and, together with two other closely related words (kauchema and kauchesis), is often used in his letters to indicate one’s confidence.24 We are the true people of God, says Paul, because we boast that the Messiah has come in Jesus.
Third, Christians “put no confidence in the flesh.” “Flesh” (sarx) here refers to “earthly things or physical advantages.”25 When you stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, don’t you dare say, “We made it didn’t we? Jesus, you did your part by dying on the cross, but I also did mine through my works of righteousness. We partnered together in my salvation.” I can’t think of a declaration more repugnant to the Lord. Instead, we must fall on our faces and acknowledge that we don’t deserve God’s goodness and grace.
In 3:4–6, Paul seems to respond to those religious objectors who might be brazen enough to say, “Well, Paul, perhaps you prefer grace because you don’t have the works or the religious pedigree that we do.” Paul squashes this notion like a bug when he declares: “…although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Paul was the crème de la crème. He was a religious connoisseur. In this passage, Paul presents a succinct list of seven reasons why he could boast in the flesh. The first four relate to his birth:
(1) “circumcised the eighth day”: he was a legitimate Jew from the beginning, not a proselyte; (2) “of the nation of Israel”: he had a pure lineage that traced directly back to Jacob (i.e., Israel); (3) “of the tribe of Benjamin”: the tribe of Benjamin provided Israel with its first king and remained loyal to the house of David; and (4) “a Hebrew of Hebrews”: he was not raised as a Hellenistic Jew, but in a family that retained the Hebrew language and customs. The last credentials relate to Paul’s achievements: (5) “as to the Law, a Pharisee”: he was a member of the strictest, most orthodox and patriotic sect of Judaism; (6) “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church”: he was a zealous defender of the integrity of Judaism, and before his encounter with Christ, he aggressively sought to overthrow the early Christian communities; and (7) “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless”: from the outward perspective of conduct and observance of the Mosaic law, he lived by the book.26 By rattling off his credentials, Paul successfully demonstrates that he can beat the Judaizers at their own religious game!
What do you boast in? Where does your confidence lie? Perhaps you have claimed one or more of the following. I was…born into a Christian country, raised by Christian parents or grandparents, baptized or confirmed in a church, or educated in a Christian school. Maybe even now you claim…I am a church member, I read my Bible and pray, or I am a good person. While these are blessings and privileges, they do not make you a Christian, or put you in good standing with God. Works have their place, but not when it comes to salvation.
I have been asked why I don’t hang any of my diplomas in my church office. This is a legitimate question since most pastors display their theological degrees and ordination. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, personally, I’ve never felt led to do so. I don’t want anyone to be impressed with my education. Moreover, I don’t want to glance up at my wall in my weaker moments and be impressed with my education. Earlier this year, I came home one day to find our degrees framed and hung in the hallway outside our master bedroom. (No one except our family typically goes into this part of our house.) When I asked Lori about this, she explained that she hung our degrees to remind us of God’s faithfulness. What a woman! She understands the primary value of education—to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to us. This is equally true of experience, wealth, position, and spirituality. It’s all from God! So lose your religion; choose your relationship.
[Paul is clear. In order to have a right relationship with God, you must shred your religious résumé. His second directive is equally straightforward.]
2. Know your ultimate purpose (3:7–11).27 Instead of trusting in your religious résumé, it is crucial to trust the person and work of Christ. This section forces you to ask: What’s really important in my life? Paul writes in 3:7: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” The word “but” marks a sharp contrast with the previous section. The “things” that were gain to Paul is a reference to his religious résumé (3:4–6). The term “count” (hegeomai) is used three times in verses 3:7–8. It is a mathematical term that means “to engage in an intellectual process, think, consider, regard.”28 The word “loss” (zemia) is only found in two other places in the New Testament. This is a business term for “forfeit.”29 Paul is saying that at a point in the past when he was converted to Christ, he made a decision of his will to count everything that he had accomplished as loss—making no contribution whatsoever to his salvation.30 He transferred his trust from his own supposed works of righteousness to the Lord Jesus Christ’s perfect righteousness. Today, if you have never believed in Christ, transfer your trust in your own works to Christ’s perfect work.
Verses 8–11 constitute one long sentence. The main part of the sentence is: “I count all things to be loss.” The rest of the sentence is made up of three subordinate clauses that present three reasons to lose your religion and choose your relationship. In 3:8, Paul moves from a past act to a present lifestyle. Not only did Paul count all things loss in the past; he continues to do so in the present as a believer. He puts it like this: “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” In his present Christian life, Paul counts all of his achievements as “loss.” This refers to works such as writing Scripture, preaching Christ, evangelizing unbelievers, planting churches, and mentoring missionaries and pastors. Granted, all of these works of service are wonderful; however, they do not measure up with “the surpassing value of knowing Christ.” Ultimately, Paul concludes that these works and many more are “rubbish.” Now this translation is fine if you live across the pond in the UK; however, most Americans don’t use this term. Let me explain. One of my neighbors is an engineer who works for LOTT. This past month he gave me a tour of the sewage plant in downtown Olympia. (Fortunately, he did so before we ate lunch and not after. I might have thrown up!) Eric is a consummate gentleman (and he knows I am a pastor) so he was using only the most prim and proper terms. When he said, “It would be great to give your kids a tour of the plant,” I said, “Eric, if you do so you’ll need to use some serious ‘potty talk.’ My kids would love good bathroom humor!” Here, our English versions are like Eric when he was giving me the tour. They try to be prim and proper. But the Greek term that is translated “rubbish” (skubala) means “dung, excrement, poop.”31 This term is so strong that some Greek scholars even use expletives to define this word. However, if I used the appropriate expletive, it would be the only thing you would potentially remember about my sermon. But I will unashamedly and unapologetically use the word “poop.” Paul says, “Human accomplishments are ‘poop’ compared to the pursuit of knowing Christ.” Even Isaiah 64:6 declares that our righteousness is like “filthy garments” (see the NET’s literal rendering: “a menstrual rag”)
Our “good works” apart from Christ are putrid in God’s nostrils. They cannot earn salvation or even maintain salvation. Even impressive religious works that aren’t carried out by abiding in Christ cannot win God’s favor or bring eventual reward. They will result in “wood, hay, straw” (1 Cor 3:12). I want to come to the place in my life and ministry where I truly believe this. I want to be a man who clings to Christ because I recognize that I can’t do anything apart from Him (John 15:5). May I lose my religion and choose my relationship. I pray this for you as well.
In 3:9, Paul indicates that he longs to “be found in Him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul insists that salvation is the work of God. The phrase translated “through faith in Christ” is better rendered “through the faithfulness of Christ” (see NET).32 This means Jesus Christ initiates and sustains salvation. Someone came to an Orthodox priest one day and asked, “Father, are we saved by faith or by works?” The answer was filled with wisdom. “Neither. We are saved by God’s mercy.”33 What a great insight! Salvation comes from God. It was His idea and He ought to receive all the glory. Your only response should be to appropriate His offer. This is what the Bible calls “faith” (pistis). It is simply taking God at His Word by receiving His promise that Jesus gives eternal life to those who trust in Him. This is what it means to be “found in Him.”
Would you humor me and take a piece of paper and your Bible? Let your Bible represent Christ and the piece of paper your life. Now take the paper, place it in the Bible, and then close the Bible so that the paper is completely covered. Now the paper (your life) is “in” the Bible (Jesus Christ). It’s not enough be “near” Christ or “next to” Christ. True salvation means to be “in” Christ so that when God looks at you, He doesn’t see you, He sees Jesus instead.34 Your sins, past, present, and future are forgiven, forgotten, forever! That’s what Paul means in 3:9 when he speaks of “the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
However, Paul doesn’t stop with faith in Christ. He doesn’t want you to sit, soak, and sour because he’s not satisfied with mere “fire insurance.” Instead he longs for you and me to press on to maturity in Christ. In 3:10, Paul shares his mission and ultimate purpose in life: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” To “know” (ginosko) Christ does not mean to have head knowledge about Him, but to “know Him” intimately and passionately. Ginosko and its Hebrew counterpart yada can even be used of sexual intercourse.35 Here, in this context, however, to know Christ is to experience intimate fellowship with Him and live out His life. Paul wants to know Christ’s resurrection, but not just in an intellectual sense. Paul wants to be resurrected in a spiritual sense on a daily basis. He also wants to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Most Christians would prefer to skip this aspect of knowing Christ. Yet, suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life. Over the course of my life, I have battled canker sores. My parents both had canker sores as well. I married a woman who was also prone to get canker sores. When a husband and wife both have canker sores, it is nearly certain that their children will share in their suffering. Such is the case with our three children. (I still don’t think they have forgiven us for this.) Similarly, if you are a member of God’s family, it is guaranteed that you will share in the suffering of Christ. It is hereditary. Yet, suffering will grow you up in Christ like nothing else. Lastly, Paul yearned to be conformed to Christ’s death, which means a daily dying to self and living for Christ. The story is told that when James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the ship that had carried him there sought to turn him back by saying, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” Calvert’s reply demonstrates the meaning of Philippians 3:10. He said, “We died before we came here.”36 This is what it means to be conformed to Christ’s death. For Paul and for you and me, knowing Christ can get better and better. Lori and I have been married sixteen years and I can testify to you that a Christ-honoring marriage can get better and better with every passing year. Similarly, the longer I walk with the Lord, the more I love and appreciate Him. Is anything more important in your life than your relationship with Jesus Christ? If so, ask the Lord to give you a greater passion for Him.
Finally, and I really do mean, finally, Paul concludes this section with an unusual and surprising statement expressing a desire to “…attain to the resurrection from the dead” (3:11). The NASB begins this verse with “in order that”; however, this phrase doesn’t appear in the Greek text. Instead, it is the adverbial phrase ei pos which means “if somehow” (see NASB margin).37 This leads to several observations. First, whatever Paul means by “the resurrection from the dead,” he is unsure that he will attain it. It is unlikely, then, that he is referring to his bodily resurrection.38 Second, the term translated “resurrection” (exanastasis) literally means “out-from resurrection.”39 It appears that Paul’s hope is not simply to be physically resurrected, but to gain what he calls the “out-resurrection.” The compound form points to a fuller participation in the resurrection. Third, attaining to the resurrection from the dead is dependent upon being conformed to Jesus Christ’s sufferings and death.40 Paul knows that he has to do something in addition to place his faith in Christ. Knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection is required, sharing His sufferings is required, and conforming oneself to His death by laying down one’s life for others is required in order to participate in the “out-resurrection.” Fourth, this out-resurrection is a reward, not a gift of grace. Verse 14 likens it to a “prize.”41 Paul is concerned with achieving a distinctive resurrection life—a new life that stands out from the rest. This calls to mind Hebrews 11:35, which speaks of a “better resurrection” for those who suffer. Jesus speaks of believers being “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” for humility, servitude, and obedience (Luke 14:14). Paul is not merely hoping that he will attain physical resurrection. That’s a done deal! He is confident in his salvation. Rather he is seeking to be distinctively resurrected; resurrected to stand before Christ who will approve his life and give him important new responsibilities in the age to come.42 Thus, in this single passage, Paul hits justification, sanctification, and glorification. Yet, his goal is that the Lord Jesus Christ receives all glory, honor, and praise.
You are likely familiar with the story of the Titanic. But you may not have heard of a rich lady who was in her cabin when the order to abandon the ship was given. There was no time for packing possessions. She noticed two things on her dressing table: her jewel box and a bowl of oranges. She made a rapid assessment of what was most valuable to her given the urgency of the situation. Wisely she abandoned her jewels and grabbed the oranges instead. She recognized that they might give nourishment on the open sea whereas her jewels would be worthless to her.43 Likewise, you are called to invest your life in a pursuit that doesn’t seem very significant to the world, the pursuit of knowing Christ. In this life knowing Jesus will provide you purpose and significance. More importantly, if you live your life for Christ, in the life to come you will be eternally grateful. Lose your religion; choose your relationship. Make sure today that you choose Jesus Christ. The Bible declares, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jas 4:14). Don’t delay; choose Christ today! Seek to know Him intimately. Live for Him all the days of your life. You will never, ever regret it.
Romans 2:28–29; 3:21–28
2 Corinthians 5:21
1. Do I regularly and instinctually “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1)? What would those who observe me and know me best say? What areas of my life bring out discontentment in me? How can I learn to rejoice in God’s character and His goodness despite adverse circumstances?
2. How have I struggled with “confidence in the flesh” (3:4–6)? In what ways could my religious background be an impediment to my faith? Which of my spiritual works am I the most proud of? How can I depend solely on Christ for both salvation and sanctification?
3. Is anything more important in my life than my relationship with Jesus Christ (3:8)? Does my desire to know Christ exceed all other aspirations? If not, how can I reprioritize my relationship with Christ? Who can help me rearrange my life?
4. How does righteousness obtained through faith differ from righteousness obtained through works (3:9)? How seriously does works righteousness infect my congregation or society’s view of Christianity in general? Why is this concept of justification or righteousness by faith so difficult to grasp? Am I clear in my understanding of the gospel? Could I explain it to a coworker or family member?
5. What does it mean to “know” Christ (3:10)? How have I learned to know (i.e., experience) the power of Christ’s resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings? How have I learned to be conformed to His death? Where am I in my pursuit to know Christ? How can I progress in my relationship with Christ?
2 Saryn Chorney, “Brad Pitt Doesn’t Believe in God,” WonderWall, 7/24/2009:
3 D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 80.
4 R. Kent Hughes, Philippians: The Fellowship of the Gospel. Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 121.
5 Many think that Paul begins his conclusion with loipon (“finally”), but then breaks into a new subject only to resume his conclusion in Phil 4:8. Fee disagrees and suggests that the meaning here is not “finally” but “as for the rest [of what needs to be spoken to].” It marks “a transition to the final matters to be taken up in the letter, not its conclusion” (cf. 1 Thess 4:1; 2 Thess 3:1). Fee also introduces what remains to be said. Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 291. See also Robert C. Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 141:563 (July-Sept 1984): 247 and Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 69.
6 This use of rejoicing ties back to Phil 2:17–18 where Paul refers to the joy of offering oneself in the sacrificial service of Christ. Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 347. Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” 247 notes, “…the supposed roughness of transition between Philippians 3:1 and the rest of the chapter almost vanishes when it is realized that the ideas of joy and standing against opposition to the gospel have already been associated with one another earlier in the epistle. In 1:19, 28–30; 2:17–18 joy is presented as the proper reaction to such circumstances.”
7 Phil 1:4, 25, 2:2, 29; 4:1.
8 Phil 1:18 [twice]; 2:17, 18, 28; 3:1; 4:4 [twice], 10.
9 Phil 2:17, 18.
10 Phil 1:1, 14, 26; 2:19, 24, 29; 3:1, 3, 8, 9, 14; 4:1, 2, 4, 7, 10, 21.
11 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 350; Frank Thielman, Philippians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 166–67.
12 David Jeremiah, “The Taste Berry,” Today Turning Point, 7/24/2009.
13 It is also possible that the idea of writing the same things again looks ahead to Phil 3:2–11, as a review of what Paul has already taught the Philippians previously, most likely in person. See O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 352; Carson, Basics for Believers, 81; Sumney, Philippians, 70.
14 Sam Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy: The Message of Philippians. Truth for Today Commentary Series (Belfast, Ireland/Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 2004), 107.
15 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 353–54.
16 Circumcision was instituted by God in the OT as an outward sign of a covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel. Circumcision was a mark of Judaism, but God never intended it to be a condition of salvation.
17 It is important to recognize that the early church was predominantly Jewish. Jesus was a Jew. The twelve apostles were all Jews. The first converts were Jews. All were circumcised. Thus, when Gentiles began believing in Christ, Judaizers began to require circumcision as a condition of salvation.
18 The term “dogs” in the OT referred to (1) male prostitutes (cf. Deut 23:18) or (2) evil people (cf. Ps 22:16, 20).
19 These Judaizers were like ravenous dogs and vicious unbelievers (cf. Matt 7:6; Gal 5:15; Rev 22:15).
20 Sumney, Philippians, 71.
21 Katatome is not used anywhere else in the NT, and may have been coined by Paul himself.
22 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 357.
23 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 109.
24 Thielman, Philippians, 168.
25 BDAG s.v. sarx 5: “the outward side of life.” The use of sarx in Phil 3:3 is defined as, “place one’s trust in earthly things or physical advantages.”
26 Ken Boa, “Boasting in the Flesh” (Phil 3:3–7): www.kenboa.org/text_resources/teaching_letters/kens_teaching_letter/2156.
27 Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, suggests that these verses begin with the theme of gain and loss, echoing earlier language of the letter (1:21) before introducing the main theme which is knowing Christ. The theme of righteousness and the law (picking up in 3:6) is then introduced against the background of this foundational theme which then returns to occupy the foreground in 3:10–11. Paul’s primary focus is on what it means to know Christ.
28 BDAG s.v. hegeomai 2.
29 BDAG s.v. zemia: “damage, disadvantage, loss, forfeit.”
30 Gordon, An Odyssey of Joy, 118. All Paul previously trusted in for righteousness (his race and religious performance) he “counted as loss” when he became a Christian. The word zemia (“loss”) is a rare word that is only used two other times in the NT. In Acts 27:10, 21, it describes the loss and damage suffered by the ship on which Paul was taken prisoner to Rome. This provides us with a real life illustration of how gain can turn to loss. The Italy-bound ship had cargo aboard which was meant to bring considerable profit to its owner. If the crew had not thrown it over the side, all passengers on board were potential casualties. The cargo was jettisoned, the ship ran aground breaking its back, but the passengers and crew were all saved (cf. Acts 27:38–41). Everything intended for gain became loss so that the lives of men might be saved. Similarly, with the apostle Paul, all the cargo of his past life was thrown overboard so that he might gain a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
31 In extra-biblical Greek it describes a half-eaten corpse and lumps of manure. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 43 (Waco: Word, 1983), 139.
32 In the last twenty years or so many NT scholars have come to recognize that the genitive construction pistis Christou (Rom 3:22, Gal 2:16, 3:22, and Phil 3:9) should be rendered as a subjective genitive and refers to Christ’s faithfulness. See O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 398–99; Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1996), 115–16; Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11 (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 2002).
34 Revised from Ray Pritchard, “From Rubbish to Jesus” (Phil 3:1–11): www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1998-11-29-From-Rubbish-to-Jesus/.
35 Paul has thus taken up the OT theme of “knowing God” and applied it to Christ. It means to know Him as children and parents know each other or wives and husbands—knowledge that has to do with personal experience and intimate relationship.
36 Doug McIntosh, “Reasons for Being” (Phil 3:1–11): www.cornerstonebibch.org/html/Sermons/Philippians/Phil06.pdf.
37 See also the NET and NIV who render this phrase “and so, somehow.”
38 Many scholars (e.g., O’Brien 411–13) argue that Paul is speaking of his physical resurrection but that he is merely uncertain about the timing of this event. I don’t find this solution persuasive. However, see Ralph P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 153–54; O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 411–13.
39 Exanastasis does not appear anywhere else in Greek literature. It is possible that Paul coined this term.
40 Sumney, Philippians, 82.
41 The Greek word used here is used in only one other place in the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 9:24, where Paul speaks of competing in a race to gain a crown, meaning the approval and commendation of the Lord Jesus.
42 McIntosh, “Reasons for Being,” 4–5.
The famous English sculptor Henry Moore was asked a fascinating question by literary critic Donald Hall. “Now that you are eighty, you must know the secret of life. What is it?” Moore paused ever so slightly, with just enough time to smile before answering. “The secret of life,” he mused, “is to have a task, something you do your entire life, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is: It must be something you cannot possibly do.”2
I like this! Moore recognized that the secret of life is pursuing a task that you can’t possibly pull off. Unfortunately, as Christians, we can find ourselves lulled into complacency because we don’t stretch ourselves to achieve God-sized goals. Stop for just a moment and ask yourself: “Am I currently doing anything that requires divine intervention?” If the truth be known, most of us would do just fine without God’s enablement. All the tasks that we do on a daily basis don’t seem to require His assistance. Of course, I would suggest that this is precisely the problem! We may not have God-sized goals. It is even possible that we may not have God’s goals at all.
In Philippians 3:12–21, Paul imparts the secret of life. He is going to call you and me to an impossible task that can only be pulled off by God. This great task is pursuing intimacy with Jesus Christ, which leads to significance, purpose, and joy in this life and in the life to come. Thus, Paul urges you to set your earthly goals on heavenly gains. He provides two training tips which will help in this endeavor.
1. Pursue God’s prize (3:12–16). In this section, Paul likens the Christian life to a race in the Isthmian games. The goal of such a race is to win the prize (usually a wreath). The metaphor of a race does not represent salvation, rather it depicts sanctification. In other words, those who enter this race are believers who are called to spiritual maturity—knowing Christ intimately and passionately. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to become so preoccupied with the tyranny of the urgent that we miss what is most important. It’s so easy to become victims of the loudest or latest commands. Everyone has a plan for your life. But you have to decide what matters most. Paul, whose focused life made him a literal world-changer, shares his personal experience in 3:12–14. He writes, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect,3 but I press on so that [lit. “if I may even”] I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal4 for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul is quick to assert that he has not yet reached the goal described in 3:10 and 11—the prize of knowing Christ and being rewarded by Him.5 Twice he acknowledges this: “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect” (3:12) and “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet” (3:13). It is a relief to realize that even Paul did not reach perfection in this life. He did not feel like he had arrived. If this is true of Paul, how much more is this true of me? Paul has a humble dissatisfaction, a holy discontentment. He doesn’t compare himself with other believes; he compares himself with Jesus Christ and recognizes that he has a long ways to go! Thus, Paul says twice, “I press on” (3:12, 14). This present tense verb (dioko) is often translated “pursue or persecute.”6 It is a strong verb that is used figuratively here of one who daily runs swiftly in a race to obtain the prize. The prize (3:14) is referred to as “it” in 3:12 and 13. The prize refers to the goal of knowing Christ that also results in eternal reward. Paul strives to “lay hold” (katalambano) of this great pursuit because Christ “laid hold” (katalambano) of him.7 God’s goal is not just to “get you in the door.” He is not merely looking to “save” you and provide you with “fire insurance.” Instead, He is working to transform you by moving you toward Christ-likeness. God saved you, not just for heaven; He saved you so that you would be of earthly good. God has called you TO something. He DOES have a plan for your life. His plan will lead you to joy, fulfillment, contentment, and eternal blessing. God’s great goal is for you to pursue the prize of intimacy with Christ and eternal reward. Set your earthly goals on heavenly gains.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Thank you, Keith, for theses spiritual platitudes, but tell me how to adopt the mentality.” In 3:13, Paul shares two specific ways you can pursue God’s prize: First, choose to forget what lies behind. Past successes are just that—PAST. Yet, it is easy to live in yesterday and revert to what Bruce Springsteen calls “the glory days.” You know, those days in high school or college when you were really something (or at least thought you were). It’s easy to fixate on past successes in your marriage, family, professional life, or spiritual life. But in our world, it’s all about, “What have you done for me lately?” This is true at work. You can’t be satisfied with a great year in 2009; your boss expects even greater things in 2010. You can’t breathe a sigh of relief when you earn a 4.0 in school one semester; your parents and teachers want you to repeat this feat the following semester. As a pastor, I can’t rest because I preached one decent sermon. The congregation I serve expects me to come back Sunday after Sunday and do the same thing again and again and again. As believers, we can’t rest on our laurels.
We also can’t get bogged down in our past failures. Perhaps you gave away your virginity at a young age, divorced your spouse, neglected your children, or rebelled against God’s Word. It is easy to beat yourself up over issues from your past and assume that God can’t possibly use you. This is a lie from Satan that only results in discouragement. You need to know that all of your past is forgiven, forgotten, forever. Consequently, it’s never too late to press on in Christ and be who He wants you to be. God can make a great finish out of a slow start. Ultimately, there is no past defeat so devastating as to exclude us from going forward in the present; there is no past success so great as to exempt us from going forward to more victory.8 Thus, we must consciously refuse to dwell on the things which lie behind us. Past failures will keep you discouraged; past successes will keep you apathetic or complacent. Both are not from God.
On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a mile in less than four minutes. Within two months, John Landy eclipsed the record by 1.4 seconds. On August 7, 1954, the two met together for a historic race. As they moved into the last lap, Landy held the lead. It looked as if he would win, but as he neared the finish he was haunted by the question, “Where is Bannister?” As he turned to look, Bannister took the lead. Landy later told a Time magazine reporter, “If I hadn’t looked back, I would have won!”9 What a great reminder to you and me. Don’t look back unless you’re planning on going there. May we press on in Christ and not look back.
The second way you can pursue God’s prize is choose to reach forward to what lies ahead. The word for “reaching forward” (epekteino) speaks of stretching out or straining forth, as a competitor in a race.10 This word pictures the body of a runner bent forward, his hand outstretched toward the goal, and his eye fastened upon it. Paul is using this athletic metaphor of the ancient Isthmian games where a runner would intently strain and win his race. Upon crossing the finish line he would be called up by the president of the games to receive his prize, possibly a laurel wreath, which was the symbol of victory. In this passage Paul is reaching forward and pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It is a heavenward call of Paul to Christ Jesus Himself and the promise of eternal rewards.11 Paul longs to hear Jesus say “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21).
In 3:15–16, Paul transitions from his own personal experience to apply an exhortation to the church. He writes, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect [mature], have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” The “therefore” (oun) ties back into 3:10–14 and emphasizes the theme of spiritual maturity. Paul’s exhortation is: Keep living to the same standard to which you have attained. Apply what you know. Persevere in your faith. Don’t worry about what you don’t know. Take a baby step this week. Just be obedient one day at a time. We are all at a different place in our spiritual growth. However, as individuals and as a community, we are called to press on and pursue Christ.
As I reflected on these verses this past week, I was deeply challenged and convicted. The Lord revealed to me that I take too much responsibility for the responses of others. When people in our church sin and choose to ignore biblical confrontation, I am the one who typically feels badly. I can put a great deal of pressure on myself to “be used by God” to bring those who are wayward back to the Lord. Yet, often my best attempts end in failure. Fortunately, the Lord reminded me that He cares more about the sanctification of believers than I do. Indeed, I have a thimble’s worth of love and care for others compared to the Lord’s endless oceans of love and care. That is why I find so much comfort and encouragement in 3:15. When believers’ minds are set on other pursuit and goals, God will reveal it to them. He will make it clear. I just need to learn to leave it in His hands. What a comfort to know that when believers get off track God will point it out to them so that they can once again press on. Of course, certain believers may choose to ignore God and rebel against His authority, but He is capable of dealing with them. His love is eternal and constant.
Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, was asked by a reporter to rank his priorities. He responded, “I believe in God, my family, and McDonald’s.” Then he added, “When I get to the office, I reverse the order.”12 I sure appreciate Kroc’s refreshing honesty. What a rarity! If you are honest, perhaps you would have to acknowledge that work, family, marriage, or a hobby is your top priority. Regardless, as we conclude this section, Paul wants you to remember to pursue God’s prize—intimacy with Jesus. When you focus on Jesus, He tends to grant you His grace in every area of your life. It’s all about putting first things first. Set your earthly goals on heavenly gains.
[You must pursue God’s prize because this is what you were created for. Moreover, Jesus, and Jesus alone is the only pursuit that will completely satisfy you. Paul’s second training tip is…]
2. Imitate godly leaders (3:17–21). Scholars often wrestle with how this section connects with the previous. However, a careful examination of these verses makes it clear that one strategic way we can pursue God’s prize and grow to Christian maturity is through the influence of other believers. We desperately need each other. In 3:17, Paul writes, “Brethren, join in following my example,13 and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Paul commands the Philippians to follow his example. He issues similar exhortations at least eight other times throughout the New Testament.14 While this may sound arrogant to you, Paul understood the importance of providing a real life, flesh and blood example for other believers. One of the great dangers in Christian circles is that no one wants to be a role model. We fancy ourselves with the mentality of many contemporary athletes: “Just let me do my thing, but don’t expect me to be someone for others to look up to.” If you are a Christian, you don’t have that luxury. You are either a good example or a bad example. You can’t opt out of being an example. I like what Paul does here. First, he says, “Follow my example.” But he doesn’t stop there. He is not seeking to produce Paul clones. He’s trying to produce Jesus-look likes. So, he again commands the church to “observe” (skopeo) others who live out Christ-like lives. (The “us” includes Timothy and Epaphroditus.) Paul is smart. He doesn’t want all the imitation focused upon him; he wants to make sure that the church recognizes that there are many godly examples that they can learn from. Are you also able to share the wealth and say, “There are a lot of other godly men and women in our church?”
I have two important questions to ask you: (1) Who are you following? If there isn’t another brother or sister that you’re presently following, I can assure you that you’re not growing spiritually to the degree that you should be. There needs to be another believer in your life further along than you are who you imitate. This is how you will mature in Christ. (2) Who is following you? Are you able to say to your spouse, your children, and your fellow Christians, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ?” I hope so. This is critical. However, the safe answer is to limit your example to: “my spouse, children, and grandchildren.” But this may be myopic. The average American has a sphere of influence of 250 people…some less, some more. This means that God likely desires you and me to impact and influence far more people than we currently are. How will you fulfill the influence that God has given you?
In 3:18–21, Paul gives two reasons (“for,” 3:18, 20) why it’s important to imitate godly examples. First, in 3:18–19, he draws upon ungodly examples and contrasts them with the godly examples in 3:17. Paul writes, “For many walk,15 of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”16 Before we look at these ungodly examples, it is important to humbly acknowledge that we cannot be certain of the identity of these people. Many commentators think that this group was the Judaizers, whom Paul has already warned against in 3:3. The problem with this view is: The people in 3:18–19 seem more inclined to loose, licentious living than to the legalistic, ascetic practices of the Judaizers. It seems clear that Paul is warning about people who turned the grace of God into licentiousness, taking their freedom from the Jewish law off the deep end into supposed freedom from God’s moral law. Hence, it appears that Paul is writing of yet another group the Philippians must be wary of. It seems to me that Paul is speaking of professing believers who have walked way from the church.17 Paul is deeply concerned about these people and about the influence they could exert on the church at Philippi. He weeps over these unbelievers and shares five descriptive characteristics that contrast with true believers.
1. False professors are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Paul is not talking about doctrine here; he is referring to the walk/lifestyle of these people. It is also worth pointing out that Paul says these individuals are “enemies of the cross of Christ,” not “enemies of Christ.” This suggests these individuals may seek to identity themselves with Christ, but diminish or distort what the cross represents.18
2. False professors are those “whose end is destruction.” These individuals never believed in Christ alone as their Savior and consequently are headed to eternal judgment.
3. False professors are those “whose god is their appetite.” This sinful characteristic is not just a reference to gluttonous behavior. It can refer to the unbridled pursuit of any physical gratification (an appetite for sex, money, power, etc.). Their God does not reside in the heavens but in their body. This is a graphic way of saying that they live only for the temporal pleasures of this life and their lives are enslaved to gratifying their lusts.
4. False professors are those “whose glory is in their shame.” This is a description of those who are proud of their excesses (e.g., drunkenness and promiscuity). It is glorying in their sin and their independence from God. It is a lifestyle that says, “I don’t need you, God. I call the shots. I have my freedom.”
5. False professors are those “who set their minds on earthly things.” This is the summary statement. These individuals put their heart and hope in the things of the world. Instead of setting their earthly goals on heavenly gains, they set their earthly goals on earthly gains.
The point of 3:17–19 is that people matter. In fact, your relationships can make the difference in whether or not you are rewarded by Christ. What will keep you from gaining a heavenly prize? If you are not following godly examples, do so today. Don’t let anyone take your prize.
The second reason that it is important to imitate godly examples is: Heaven is your home (3:20–21). Paul states: “For our citizenship19 is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, 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 all things to Himself.”20 We are aliens and strangers just passing through this life.21 Our “citizenship” (politeuma) is not on earth, it is in heaven.22 Thus, we ought to live lives that portray our position in Christ. This past April, I went to study in England. In order to get into the UK, I had to show my US passport. This past week I received an e-mail letter from the school I am studying at that informed me due to accreditation and legislation, the next time I enter the country, in addition to my passport, I will also need a letter from my school. The UK wants to make it clear that I am not a citizen. Similarly, it should be clear to you and me that we are citizens of another country—a heavenly one! This should compel us to live for Christ and to set our earthly goals on heavenly gains.
In the meantime, as heavenly citizens we should be eager for Jesus’ return. The phrase “eagerly wait” (apekdechomai) speaks of zealous anticipation.23 In classical Greek, this word has the idea of a child standing on tiptoe waiting for his daddy to come home from work at the end of the day. What a picture! Even to this present day, when I come home from work and press the garage door opener, my children run out to greet me. They even try to open my car door and jump into my lap before I turn off the engine. As believers in Jesus, we should have this same type of childish fervor. Like Paul, we should have a radical fixation on Christ’s return. If we love Christ’s appearing, He will one day reward us with the crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8).
Additionally, we have the promise and expectation of the glorious transformation of our earthly bodies.
We are on our way to our eternal homeland where we will receive our eternal bodies. In that day there will no longer be any trials, tests, temptations, or sins. Furthermore, our body will not experience weakness, sickness, or decay. On the contrary, we will be given glorified bodies just like Jesus! Right now we are caterpillars creeping slowly across the sidewalk, unaware that one day we will be butterflies flying into the heavenly realm. Since this is our glorious future, it should have profound implications for our present.
At the foot of one of the Swiss Alps is a marker honoring a man who fell to his death while attempting to climb to the top. The marker gives his name and then this brief epitaph “He died climbing.” This should be the epitaph of every Christian. We should be able to say with confidence as we slip from this world into the next that “we died climbing” as we pressed onward toward the prize of grabbing hold of Christ Jesus and living like Him.
1. What are my current spiritual goals and objectives (3:12, 14)? How do these affect goals and priorities in other areas of my life? Am I relentlessly pursuing Christ? Why or why not? What or who holds me back from going all-out in my quest to know Christ?
2. What elements of my past still plague me (3:13)? Are there past sins that I sense God has not forgiven me for? Are there past successes that I still glory in? How is my past keeping me from living in the present? What will I do this week to refocus my future gaze and ensure that I persevere in my Christian race?
3. Is there an area of my life that I am overly satisfied with (3:15–16)? How can I balance the need to be spiritually content with the call to aggressively press forward and never be satisfied? How has God revealed to me the need to grow in various areas of my life? What area of my life is He currently working on? How am I responding?
4. Who is currently following my example (3:17)? Who are my disciples? How are they currently impacting God’s kingdom? What must be altered in my life so that others will pattern themselves after me? Who is God calling me to take a special interest in? Am I being inappropriately influenced by ungodly people (3:18–19)? In what way do the activities of the ungodly remind me of the importance of living for Christ?
5. Do I reflect frequently on my spiritual citizenship and heavenly home (3:20–21)? What am I most looking forward to? How can I spend more time pondering the wonder of the eternal? Who do I know who has an eternal perspective? How can this person help me focus on that which really matters? This week, how will my life be different as a result of this passage?
1 Copyright © 2009 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
2 Preaching Today citation: John Byrne, Fast Company (Jan 2005), p. 14; submitted by Gino Grunberg, Gig Harbor, WA.
3 This is the only time that Paul uses the verb teleioo (“perfect”).
4 “Goal” (skopos) refers to a mark on which to focus or fix the eye, the goal. For emphasis, the text literally says, “Toward the goal, I press on” which highlights the concept of fixing one’s eyes on the goal.
5 Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 420–21.
6 BDAG s.v. dioko 2–4.
7 BDAG s.v. katalambano 1: “to make something one’s own, win, attain.”
8 Dwight Edwards, “Earthly Conduct of Heavenly Citizens”: A verse-by-verse study through Philippians: ww.bible.org.
9 Henry G. Bosch, “Winning The Race”, in Our Daily Bread, 7/7/1995: www.workarea.rbc.org/devotionals/our-daily-bread/1995/08/07/devotion.aspx.
10 BDAG s.v. epekteino “to exert oneself to the uttermost, stretch out, strain.” This word is only used here in the NT.
11 It is possible that “the upward calling” is a genitive of apposition, which further describes the “prize.”
12 Steve Shepherd quoted in PreachingNow Vol. 8 No. 29 8/18/2009.
13 The noun summimetes (“join in following an example”) is only used here in the NT. See BDAG s.v. summimetes: “one who joins others as an imitator, fellow-imitator.”
14 Paul challenges his readers to imitate him elsewhere in 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Gal 4:12; Eph 5:1; 2; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:14; and 2 Thess 3:7, 9.
15 The verb “walk” (peripateo, Phil 3:17, 18) is generally used to describe how believers live.
16 Boa writes, “The identity of these people must have been clear to Paul's readers in Philippi, but it is uncertain to readers today. Commentators have debated this point, some arguing that they were pagans, others that they were Judaizers, and still others that they were Gentile libertines. The problem is that in different ways, these verses could describe all three groups. But since the context concerns problems within the church, it is more likely that Paul is either referring back to the legalists (see 3:2-3) or to libertines who were abusing the grace of God.” Ken Boa, “A Matter of Modeling”: www.kenboa.org/text_resources/teaching_letters/kens_teaching_letter/2163.
17 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 452–53. D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 91.
18 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 452–53.
19 The term the politeuma (“citizenship”) appears only here in the NT, and like the verb politeuesthe (“conduct yourselves”) in Phil 1:27, has political overtones.
20 These words would have had special meaning to the Philippians since they were granted Roman citizenship even though they were 800 miles from the imperial capital. They lived in Philippi, but their citizenship was in Rome.
21 Vance Havner once said, “If you are a Christian, you are not a citizen of this world trying to get to heaven; you are a citizen of heaven making your way through this world.” See www.kentcrockett.com .
22 This is synonymous to Phil 1:27 where the verb form of “citizenship” (politeuomai) is used.
23 See also Rom 8:19, 23, 25; 1 Cor 1:7; Gal 5:5; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 3:20.
Police first contacted the man at the Lamplighter Motel in Longmont, CO after a guest in the next room called police because the man was ranting for more than an hour about killings, graveyards, and people getting “what’s coming to them.” Officers spoke to the man, who said he would be quiet. Police then waited for a few minutes, and then they heard more ranting about killings and graveyards, complete with incessant expletives. When police spoke to the man again, he threatened his own life. He wouldn’t answer the door or several phone calls to his room. That’s when officers decided to call in SWAT teams. Police evacuated about a dozen guests from the motel. When all the guests were out of the motel, police fired a 12-gauge beanbag round to smash the window. SWAT teams then maneuvered a remote-controlled robot to break out the rest of the window and pull down the drape. SWAT officers broke down the door and arrested the man for failing to leave when ordered. He was then taken to Longmont United Hospital before being transported to Boulder County Jail. The great irony in this account is that the man’s name is Lovall Peacen Bliss—when put together is “Love all, peace, and bliss.”2
Tragically, as Christians, we often don’t live up to our name either. We often lack love, peace, and bliss. Peace is particularly elusive. Today your life may be anything but peaceful. You may have interpersonal conflict in your marriage, family, workplace, and church, yet there is hope for you. Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the presence of Christ. In fact, “peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.” In Philippians 4:1–9 Paul provides two challenges to deal with conflict and experience Christ’s peace.
1. Turn your conflict into compassion (4:1–3). In this first section Paul discusses the glory of the church and then quickly transitions into its gore. He begins with some of the most passionate and intimate words in the New Testament: “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.”3 The conjunction “therefore” (hoste) is not the typical word translated “therefore” (oun).4 In this context, this word may be better rendered “so then” (NET, HCSB) because it both draws on previous material and expresses a logical conclusion from it. Verse one serves as a “hinge” verse that swings back and forth between the preceding and following contexts.5 Paul reminds his readers that they are citizens of heaven who are just passing through this life (3:20–21). The phrase “in this way” confirms this link back to 3:20–21. Yet 4:1 also looks ahead to 4:2–9 and encourages believers to maintain unity and treat Christians with love and respect.
Paul definitively expresses his love for the church in 4:1. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Paul sure is sappy!” Indeed, he loves the body of Christ. Twice in this verse Paul uses the description “beloved” (agapetoi). He loves these believers with all his heart. He also addresses the Philippians as “brothers and sisters.”6 They are members of the family of God. Finally, he tacks on that he longs to see these brothers and sisters (cf. 1:8; 2:26). Paul is not afraid to verbalize his affection for these believers. Can you honestly say that you love your church? If so, how do you communicate this to them? There should be some verbal expression of your love for other believers. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not an encouraging person.” Well, then, become such a person! You don’t have to say, “I love you” or “I am longing for you” like Paul did. However, you do need to verbally stretch yourself so that the body is aware of your love.
Paul also calls the Philippians his “joy and crown” (4:1). These believers are his present source of joy in life. Moreover, they are his future crown when he stands before the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 1 Thess 2:19).7 Paul receives significance in this life and in the life to come for establishing the Philippians in the faith. Many American Christians pursue pleasure, position, power, prestige, popularity, possessions, and performance; however, Paul pursues people. He recognizes that only people and God’s Word are eternal. Everything else will fade away like a mist in the night. Are you spending your time or are you investing your time? How would you answer if Jesus returned today and asked, “Who is your joy and your crown?” Who have you personally mentored and discipled? Who have you invested in?
Paul closes out 4:1 with a call for the church to “stand firm” (stekete). This refers to a soldier remaining at his post no matter what happens around him. Let the enemy attack as it will, the soldier’s orders are clear: Stand firm! This command is necessary because we struggle standing firm. Left to our own devices we will retreat or surrender. As we age, our physical bodies begin to sag and droop. That’s bad, but it is somewhat expected. Do you know what’s far worse? When we age and begin to sag and droop spiritually. Sometimes it has nothing to do with age; we just let ourselves go spiritually. This is a grave danger because in our conflict with Satan and others, we will be sitting spiritual ducks—weak, anemic, and lethargic. We must always remember: Peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.”
In 4:2–3, Paul transitions from the glory to the gore. The church is a family and Paul confronts his family members directly.8 He writes, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche9 to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion,10 I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle11 in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”12 Paul calls two ladies out by name! These ladies’ names have been in Scripture for a long time, and they are going to remain for an even longer time. So why did Paul do this? Apparently, he is lovingly sending a message. These ladies are not mere pew potatoes; instead, they are influential ladies who likely played a prominent role in the church.13 At the very least, they were coworkers with Paul in the advancement of the gospel.14 Thus, Paul knows that this conflict needs to be dealt with quickly. So he confronts tenderly, but directly by first urging15 both ladies to “live in harmony in the Lord” (lit. “to think the same thing”).16 He is saying, “You’re both at fault. You need to be of the same mind. You may have all kinds of differences. Live in harmony with the Lord. Disagree agreeably. You don’t need to have uniformity, but you do need to have unity.” He then calls in reinforcements: a “true companion,” most likely an elder. He asks this leader to “help these women” settle their problems.17 To use modern slang, Paul says, “Help a sister out!” This is imperative because a little schism can bring down the whole church. Better to nip these fights in the bud.
The grizzly bear is the meanest animal in the forest. It can terminate the life of any other creature with one swipe of its paw. There is one animal that the grizzly bear will not attack, however. He has even allowed this animal to share a meal with him, even though it is his adversary. The animal I am talking about is the skunk. The grizzly bear does not like the skunk, but he has decided it is better to coexist with him than to create a stink! Sometimes it is better to learn how to get along with the skunk in your life than fight him and make your situation even worse.18 If the truth be known, there are skunks in every church, and you are one of them (and so am I). Since we are all skunks at one time or another, it makes sense for us to grant one another grace and strive to be at peace, so far as it depends upon us (Rom 12:18). Please seek to avoid the temptation to run away from your conflicts. When things are tough, it is easy to assume that you would have it so much better somewhere else. We all feel this way from time to time. It’s a miracle we are still here. However, at the next church you’re going to have more problems. There is so escape from problem people. At least here you know who the problem people are. Why start over?
The key to this section is found in the phrase the “book of life.” This phrase refers to a book in heaven where the names of believers are recorded (Rev 21:27).19 Before humankind was created, God wrote the names of His children in this book. I should add that there is no eraser on His cosmic pen. The “book of life” is like a family photo album that contains the names of all those who are heaven bound because they have believed in Christ. Paul’s idea is that we believers ought to do everything we can to get on the same page, because we’re in the same book. You can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family. And healthy families aren’t defined by the absence of conflict, but by the way they work through it.20 Since you and I are going to spend eternity with brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to ensure that we are in harmony down on earth. We must maintain the unity of the church. We must seek peace. The reason is simple: Your name is written in the book of life. Peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.
[As individuals and as a church, we must turn our conflict into compassion so that we maintain Christian unity and glorify God. In 4:4–9, Paul imparts another challenge.]
2. Turn your conflict into action (4:4–9). This is a great section for you doers. In these six verses, there are seven commands. It’s not enough to have compassion; action is also essential. In 4:4 Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Paul begins with two commands to “rejoice.” The object of our rejoicing must be “in the Lord” (cf. 3:1). If we would concentrate on rejoicing in the Lord so much of life would fall into place. This command to rejoice is to be fulfilled “always.” This means in every circumstance, particularly those that are adverse. The fact that the verb “rejoice” is an imperative shows that rejoicing in the Lord is not a natural thing to do. Perhaps you have seen the cartoon that pictures a middle-aged man, pot-bellied, with a frown on his face, wearing a T-shirt that reads “Please don’t ask me to have a nice day.” Or you may identify with W.C. Fields who said, “I start off each day with a smile, and get it over with.”21 Joy is tough! Even Christians struggle exuding joy, especially in the midst of conflict. Paul, however, is challenging you and me to rejoice even in the midst of a good church fight. When conflict comes, rejoice that there is at least one other person in the church to fight with. Rejoice that the person feels strongly enough to fight. He or she could have left the church and not cared enough about you to fight with you. So rejoice over the conflict God has given you.
Paul continues his action items to deal with conflict in a godly fashion. In 4:5a he writes, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” In the midst of conflict, be gentle. Win your enemies over with gentleness. A gentle answer turns away wrath. If someone doesn’t like you; if someone is out to get you, show them gentleness. The word translated “gentleness” (epiekes) is probably best understood as “yielded rights.” We are to be gentle or yielded people. The use of “be known” seems significant here. People are to realize our yieldedness experientially. They should realize that we are a people who do not cling to our rights by seeing us in action. Moreover, it is likely that Paul’s use of the word “gentleness” echoes Psalm 86:5 in the Greek Old Testament (Ps 85:5 LXX). The English translation, “ready to forgive,” likely reflects Paul’s meaning. “Ready to forgive” conveys the desire and predisposition to forgive, which the word conveys, and which I believe Paul has in mind when he uses it in Philippians 4.22
Paul wants you to be ready to forgive when someone hurts you and your family with slander and gossip. He doesn’t want you to have a critical or cynical attitude; he wants you to do so with grace and love. Yahweh is the model. No matter how many times I sin against Him, He is always ready to forgive. He lavishes unconditional love upon me. He zealously yearns to forgive me no matter what I have done. Since God has this kind of love for me, why would I struggle forgiving anyone in our church family? Here’s a simple question: Would the people who know you best consider you a gentle person? Would that word even pop into their minds when they think about you? Or to make the question harder: Would the people you like least consider you a gentle person? That’s the real test. Anyone can be gentle around nice people, but only the spirit of Jesus can enable you to respond gently to people who mistreat you.23 My hope is that even those who dislike me would say, “While I don’t appreciate Keith’s personality, his gifts, his philosophy of ministry, or his preferences, he is at least gentle and respectful.”
Paul concludes 4:5 with a fascinating phrase: “The Lord is near.” This word “near” (eggus) seems to refer to both location and time. In the midst of church conflict, the Lord is near in proximity. He hears the words you speak. He knows your thoughts and motives. He’s in your midst. He wants you to interact with other believers in a gentle manner, knowing that He is part of every conversation and response. Hence, He doesn’t want you to exclaim, “He’ll never change!” or, “She’s sinned against me.” Additionally, the Lord may return at any time.24 He is at hand. He is at the door. Knowing this, we can give up our rights since Jesus will soon take care of them. In both cases, we can give up our rights on Christ’s behalf.25 I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go into glory with a whole lot of gore. I want to ensure that I have pursued peace with my fellow believers. I don’t want the Lord Jesus to have to clean up my mess and settle my interpersonal conflicts in glory. Remember, peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.
Phil 4:6 is the verse that you want me to skip. Paul writes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The first word in the Greek text is “nothing” (meden). Paul’s emphatic point is there is nothing you can worry about—absolutely nothing! The implication is that anxiety or worry is a sin. Unfortunately, most believers prefer to coddle worry and not call it “sin.” It’s difficult for many of us to call a behavior that we commit on a daily basis sin. We would much rather label adultery, homosexuality, or pornography “sin” because we may not be guilty of such behavior. Yet, it is obvious that there are more Christians addicted to anxiety than to all the other addictions combined. The word translated “anxious” (merimnao) describes being divided and pulled in different directions.26 I would guess that this describes you just like it describes me at times. Worry is a sin all of us grapple with on a daily basis.
Some years ago a professor at a leading American university studied the things people worry about. His research discovered that: 40% never happens; 30% concerns the past; 12% are needless worries about health; 10% are about petty issues; and 8% are legitimate concerns. That means that 92% of our “worry time” is wasted energy. But Paul is saying that we are not to worry even about the 8%. Why is that? Because when we worry we’re really saying that God can’t take care of us, that our problems are bigger than His promises.27 What did you worry about this week? How much time did you spend worrying? What did your worrying accomplish? Absolutely nothing, right? You may now have an ulcer, though. Seriously, I heard recently that over 100 diseases can be directly attributed to worry! Worry is a burden God never intended you to bear, but if you choose to bear it He will allow you to suffer the consequences. Will you confess your worry to the Lord? Unless you call worry sin, there’s no need for the Prince of Peace to come and deliver you from your sin. Peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.
Paul indicates that the cure to anxiety is “worry about nothing, pray about everything.”28 Verse 6 uses no less than four different terms for prayer: (1) “Prayer” (proseuche): This is the broadest word for communication with God. (2) “Supplication” (deesis): The word used here conveys the sincere sharing of personal needs and problems. (3) “Thanksgiving” (eucharistia): Our prayers should be accompanied by a heart of gratitude for all that God has done for us in the past. (4) “Requests” (aitema): This word speaks of specific petitions rather than vague and hazy generalities. Paul makes it clear that worry and prayer cannot coexist at the same time. You can either pray or worry, but you can’t pray and worry.29 What God wants is for you to counter worry with prayer.30 Therefore, when you are tempted to worry, why not attempt to pray? It may be just a five second “arrow prayer” shot up to heaven.31 Prayer is critical as we seek to break this cherished evangelical sin.
In 4:7, Paul promises, “If you choose to pray instead of worry, God will cover you.” He writes, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension,32 will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “the peace of God” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. When you pray instead of worry, God’s experiential peace will flood your being. The verb “guard” (phroureo) is a military term which refers to a sentry’s responsibility to protect a camp or castle as he marches around securing that which is valuable and strategic. The peace of God will watch over and warn us against any intruders. If the peace of God is not ruling or standing sentry over our inner man, then an unwanted intruder has already entered. When God’s peace floods our lives, it will protect our valuable hearts from wrong feelings and our strategic minds from wrong thoughts. The enemy is unable to get in when God’s peace protects us. As we rest our case and transfer our troubles to God, “Corporal Peace” is appointed the duty of marching as a silent sentry around our minds and emotions, calming us within.33
Paul not only discusses how we should pray (4:6–7), he also reminds us how we should think and what we should do in the midst of conflict and church strife (4:8–9). Paul gives six characteristics, followed up with a summary and comprehensive command: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (4:8).
These six character qualities do not need to be exegeted because Paul tacks on “if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise.” Paul is writing in broad, sweeping terms of any behavior that is godly. The interesting twist in 4:8 is that Paul is still speaking of conflict in the local church. Yet, we typically apply these character qualities to specific areas of our lives that are unrelated (e.g., “whatever is true” = integrity at work; “whatever is pure” = purity on my computer). While these applications are beneficial, it is better to apply these qualities directly to conflict (e.g., “whatever is true” = I need to find truth in my conflict; “whatever is lovely” = I need to believe the best about my adversary).
Paul urges you to “dwell” or “think” on godly characteristics that will help you in the midst of conflict.34 The word here is the verb logizomai, a term from which we get the mathematical term logarithm. In this context, logizomai means to carefully and calculatingly contemplate these virtues the same way that you would work out a mathematical problem.35 I don’t know about you, but I’m an awful math student. I actually got a “D” in Mrs. Smith’s geometry class. Next, I took Algebra/Trigonometry with Mr. McKnight, who was gracious enough to let his students take every test as many times as they wanted until they were happy with their grade. Amazing, huh? In spite of Mr. McKnight’s grace, I still could only manage a “C” out of his class! That’s how bad I am in math! Yet, in both of these classes, I sought to logizomai my way through. Similarly, church conflict is like a complex math problem that you must carefully and strategically think through until you solve the problem.
We have seen that when we pray, we experience the peace of God (4:6–7). Now we will see in 4:8-9 that when we “practice” we experience the God of peace.36 Paul transitions from attitude to action and lays down his final command: “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace37 will be with you.” Paul is no “ivory tower teacher;” he is a man who lives “in the trenches” with those he seeks to teach and to lead.38 As far as we can know, Mahatma Gandhi never became a Christian, but he made a statement that we who follow Jesus would do well to ponder. When asked to put his message into one short sentence, he replied, “My life is my message.” This could be the title of Paul’s biography. Likewise, Paul wants and expects his readers to follow in his footsteps. Thus, he says, “Keep on practicing these things” (present active imperative). Do not be just hearers, but doers (cf. Luke 11:28; Jas 1:22).39 When hearing is followed up with doing “the peace of God will be with you.” As you practice God’s Word in conflict in sour relationships, God will be present in a powerful way.
Please slip a rubber band on one of your wrists. Now whenever you recognize you’re not rejoicing, flick yourself. When you sense a lack of gentleness, hurt yourself. Five minutes from now when you find yourself filled with worry, nail yourself. When you begin thinking about ungodly characteristics, snap yourself silly. When you are convicted over your lack of living like a doer of the Word, draw that rubber band back and prepare to say “ouch!” If you’re really audacious, take off your rubber band and use it on someone else! God wants to change you and those around you. But sometimes there needs to be negative reinforcement. This is how things work in almost every family. Yet, God’s heart is that you would recognize you are His child. He loves you. He wants you to have peace of mind, but it can only occur by having the mind of Christ.
1 Peter 3:8–9
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18
1 Timothy 4:7–8
1. Do I have a deep love for the members of my church (4:1)? In what specific ways do I verbally express my love and appreciation for my brothers and sisters in Christ? Do I find value and fulfillment in the spiritual maturity of other believers? How is this evident in my life?
2. When was the last time I was involved in an interpersonal church conflict (4:2–3)? How did I behave badly? How did I grow through this trial? What would I do differently when (not if) an interpersonal conflict happens again? What advice would I give others on how to deal with a similar conflict?
3. How have I learned to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of various crises (4:4)? In what way does Christ’s return help me to work through my relational trials (4:5)? How can I know when to overlook a wrong against me and when to confront it? How do I determine whether a problem is essential or peripheral? Are there shades of gray in between?
4. In the midst of conflict and trials, do I turn my cares over to the Lord (4:6–7)? How can I know when legitimate concern crosses the line into sinful anxiety? How has my prayer life been strengthened through stressful times in my life? How has the Lord brought peace into my life in the midst of despair?
5. Which characteristic in 4:8 do I struggle the most to dwell on? How can I learn, receive, hear, see, and practice this characteristic (4:9)? Specifically, what will this look like in my life? Which characteristic has the Lord worked into my life? How have I seen Him grow me in this area?
3 This is reminiscent of 1 Thess 2:19–20: “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (cf. 3:9).
4 Paul uses the conjunction hoste (“therefore”) in Phil 1:13; 2:12; and 4:1.
5 The UBS4 Greek text includes Phil 4:1 with ch. 3.
6 Paul uses adelphoi (“brothers and sisters”) nine times in Philippians (1:12, 14, 2:25; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21).
7 Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 476.
9 These two women are not named elsewhere in the NT so it is sketchy to speculate as to their identity.
10 In the Greek text, four of the key terms in the NASB (“companion,” “help,” “struggle,” “fellow workers”) begin with the prefixed preposition sun which means “together with.” Paul deliberately chooses these words to emphasize the togetherness of the church team.
11 The verb sunathleo (“shared my struggle”) appears elsewhere in the NT only in Phil 1:27.
12 Fee writes, “Having ‘the same mindset in the Lord’ has been specifically spelled out in the preceding paradigmatic narratives, where Christ (2:6–11) has humbled himself by taking the ‘form of a slave’ and thus becoming obedient unto death on a cross, and Paul (3:4–14) has expressed his longing to know Christ, especially through participation in his sufferings so as to be conformed into the same cruciform lifestyle. The ways such a ‘mindset’ takes feet is by humbly ‘looking out for the interests of others’ within the believing community (2:3–4).” Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 392.
13 Many of Paul’s helpers mentioned in Rom 16 are women.
14 Some look at this situation and say, “See, there you go. You put women into prominent positions in the church, and what do you get? All kinds of problems.” But let’s remember that the NT records some rather significant animosities between men in the NT church as well, such as the sharp words Paul and Barnabas had about taking John Mark along on a second missionary journey (Acts 15:38–39)—so much so that they could not even travel together as partners any more. The NT church is not an ideal church free from arguments and fights; it was flawed just like churches today, and these squabbles could involve men and/or women. The question is not whether we can avoid sharp differences of opinion, but how we deal with them when they arrive.
15 Paul repeats the verb “urge” (parakaleo) for emphasis even though it is grammatically unnecessary. The verb basically means “to call someone to one’s side,” and can be loosely translated, “Let’s come together.”
16 The phrase “live in harmony” represents a Greek phrase (to auto phronein) nearly identical to the one Paul used in his general exhortation in Phil 2:2 to be “like-minded” (to auto phronete). The clear verbal echo of this general exhortation probably indicates that Euodia and Syntyche, more than any of the others, needed to put the interests of each other first and, “in the Lord,” to drop their quarrel. See Frank Thielman, Philippians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 216.
17 Who is this man? It is impossible to be sure. Some have suggested that the word “yokefellow” is really a proper name: Sunzugos. That is possible. Others have thought that he is referring here to Epaphroditus, who by this time was back in Philippi, and that is also possible.
18 Kent Crockett, The 911 Handbook (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 2.
19 Constable writes, “The Bible refers to more than one book of life: the book containing the names of people presently alive (Exod. 32:32-33; Ps. 69:28), and the book containing the names of God's elect (i.e., all believers; Luke 10:20; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27) and the names of faithful believers (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 22:19).” Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Philippians,” 2009 ed.: www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/philippians.pdf, 58 n. 174.
20 Kerrey, “Rethinking Your Conflicts.”
21 Ray Pritchard., “How to Have Joy All Year Long” (Phil 4:1–9): www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1998-12-27-How-to-Have-Joy-All-Year-Long/.
23 Pritchard, “How to Have Joy All Year Long.”
24 Christ’s return is a recurrent theme in Philippians. This has a very similar meaning to the Aramaic word maranatha (cf. 1 Cor 16:22; Rev 22:10). The any-moment expectation of Christ’s return was and is an encouragement to Christian living (cf. Rom 13:12; Jas 5:8–9).
26 It occasionally refers to genuine concern (Phil 2:20; 1 Cor 12:25).
27 Brian Bill, “To Rejoice is a Choice” (Phil 4:4–9): www.pontiacbible.org/index.php?/sermons/more/to_rejoice_is_a_choice/.
28 Charles R. Swindoll, Laugh Again (Dallas: Word, 1992), 199.
29 Psychologists teach us that there are two mental laws that contribute heavily to our mental state of being. They are the Law of Concentration and the Law of Substitution. The Law of Concentration states that whatever we dwell upon grows in our life experience. Whatever we think about on a continual basis becomes a part of us. Yes, we become what we think, and the more we dwell on something, the more we have of it in our lives. The Law of Substitution states that our conscience mind can only hold one thought at a time. It makes no difference to our mind whether the thought is “negative” or “positive,” it can only hold one at a time. However, we can choose to substitute “negative” thoughts with “positive” thoughts, thus changing our mental state of being. See Roberto D. Abella: www.sermoncentral.com.
30 Tony Evans, Returning to Your First Love (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 48.
31 God expects our prayers to be constantly lifted up to Him. Corrie ten Boom (1892–1983), the great Holocaust survivor once said, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”
32 The parallel passage in Eph 3:20 is helpful. God’s ways are beyond our ways (cf. Isa 55:8–9).
33 Swindoll, Laugh Again, 203.
34 The capacity of the human brain is the subject of ever-widening scientific wonder. The mind’s activity has been compared to 1,000 switchboards, each big enough to serve New York City, all running at full speed as they receive and send questions and orders. Put another way, there is more electronic equivalent in one human brain than in all the radio and television stations of the entire world put together. R. Kent Hughes, Philippians: The Fellowship of the Gospel. Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 173.
35 Hughes, Philippians, 177.
36 Ken Boa, “Philippians 4:8–9 - Attitudes and Actions” (Phil 4:8–9): www.kenboa.org/text_resources/teaching_letters/kens_teaching_letter/2144.
37 This emphasis on the peace-giving God can be seen in Rom 15:33; 16:20; 2 Cor 13:11; 1 Thess 5:23; Heb 13:20.
Jesus is called the Lord of peace in 2 Thess 3:16.
39 Paul’s words are also very similar to the Hebrew concept, Shema (cf. Deut 5:1; 6:4; 9:1; 20:3; 27:9–10), which meant “to hear so as to do.”
A postal worker was sorting through the regular mail when she discovered a letter addressed as follows: GOD, c/o Heaven. The enclosed letter told about a little old lady who had never asked for anything in her life. She was desperately in need of $100 and was wondering if God could send her the money. The young lady was deeply touched and passed the hat among her fellow postal workers. She managed to collect $75, and she sent it off to the elderly lady. A few weeks later another letter arrived addressed in the same way to God, so the young lady opened it. The letter read, “Thank you for the money, God I deeply appreciate it. However, I received only $75. One of those jerks at the post office must have stolen the rest!”2
This humorous story is a convicting example of how discontent and selfish most of us are. No matter how much we receive, it seems we are rarely satisfied. When asked, “How much money is enough?”, the late John D. Rockefeller reportedly answered, “Just a little bit more.” Sadly, that response has been echoed by many Christians. We struggle to be satisfied with what God has entrusted to us. The irony is: We are some of the wealthiest people in the world. What? You don’t believe me? Do you have sufficient food, decent clothes, a home that shields you from the weather, and some kind of reliable transportation? If so, you’re in the top 15 percent of the world’s wealthy. If you have some savings, two cars (in any condition), a variety of clothes, and your own house, you have reached the top 5 percent! Today, you may not feel wealthy, but that’s only because you’re comparing yourself to the mega-wealthy. Consider someone who works from age twenty-five to sixty-five and makes only $25,000 a year. Forget the huge value of benefits, interest pay raises, and other income sources, including inheritance or Social Security. Even without these extras, in his lifetime this person of modest income will be paid $1 million. He will manage a fortune.3 Stop right now and reflect on the money that has come in and out of your home. You and I have been given so much.
Now, what’s sobering about our wealth is the fact that we will all eventually give an account of our lives to God.4 One day everyone must answer these questions: Where did it all go? What did I spend it on? What, if anything, did I support with it? What has been accomplished for eternity through my use of all this wealth? Make no mistake, we will be held accountable for what we do in this life with our money. If we are generous with our possessions, God will reward us beyond our imagination. If we live only for ourselves, hoarding our money, and focusing on our earthly comfort, we will lose the eternal rewards God has planned for us. As Christians, we are saved by God’s grace—but what we do in this life will matter for eternity.5 In Philippians 4:10–23, Paul assures us that God pays in many ways. In this final installment, Paul provides two insider trading tips on how to build our eternal portfolio.
1. Want what you already have (4:10–13). It’s been rightly said that contentment is “the hidden jewel of Christianity.” In this section, Paul explains how you and I can be content in Christ. In 4:10 he writes, “But6 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.” Paul sounds like Aunt Mabel who chides you for not writing her a thank you note for last year’s Christmas gift. But that is not his intent. Instead, he indicates that he rejoiced in the Lord greatly because the church at Philippi has been able to resume their financial support. This is the only appearance in the New Testament of the verb translated “revived” (anathallo), and it is a horticultural image of a plant that blooms again after a period of dormancy. It was not the Philippians’ concern that was dormant, but their opportunity to express it. It is important to recognize that the Philippians’ support of Paul is in addition to their regular giving to their local church. Here, Paul acknowledges the principle that there are times when generous Christians aren’t able to provide the “above and beyond” support that they might like. All God’s people go through challenging financial seasons. Yet, God knows our hearts; and He merely asks us to give in proportion to our income. Yet, if you have a burden to give more, ask God for the opportunity to do so. He may just provide.
Paul now assures the church that he is not after their money. (And all God’s people said, “Whew!”) Rather, he is content in Christ. In 4:11–12 he shares his experience: “Not that I speak from want,7 for I have learned to be content8 in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” These verses make it clear that Paul wasn’t born content, nor did contentment happen easily or naturally. The apostle emphasizes two words in these verses: “learned”9 and “know.” He repeats both of these terms twice in these two verses. His point is that through his personal experience he has cultivated contentment. In 4:12, Paul gives three pairs of circumstances, each pair presenting the opposite extremes of a spectrum. The suggestion is that Paul has learned to be content at the extremes and everywhere in between. He knows how it feels not to be able to pay the bills, and also to have money left at the end of the month. He can sympathize with the worker who is greeted one morning with a layoff notice and identify with the one who gets a promotion. He knows how to live in feast or famine. What about you? When the Lord gives, it’s easy to be content, but what if He takes away?10 Do you still trust Him and consider Him sovereign? Are you presently satisfied with the amount of money God has given you? Are you satisfied with your job? Are you satisfied with the amount of house God has given you?
The story is told of a king who was sick with unhappiness and was looking for contentment. One of his astrologers told him that if his assistants could find a contented man, they should bring the man’s shirt back to the king and he would be cured of his sickness. So the king sent his men out, and they searched the kingdom for a contented man whose shirt they could bring back to the king. They searched far and wide, only to discover that the only contented man in the kingdom didn’t own a shirt.11
Stephen and Collony Henry, two of our members, are a contemporary example of contentment. The Henry’s have six young children, yet they live in a 1,000 square foot apartment. Never once have I ever heard either Stephen or Collony complain about this. On the contrary, they point out how much they appreciate the low rent, the quality of the apartment, and its proximity to work and shopping. They have decided to live on one income and live within their means. How inspiring! God pays in many ways…and often His pay is contentment and joy, which certainly tops a five bedroom house.
We now come to one of the most well known, yet misquoted verses in the entire Bible—Phil 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This verse is embossed on boxing trunks, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) warm-up robes, and athletic jerseys. It is cited for any and every purpose by self-help gurus. Yet, Phil 4:13 doesn’t mean that a particular fighter will knock out or submit his opponent. It doesn’t mean that an athlete or team can and will win the game. It doesn’t mean that you can achieve everything you desire in your hobby or career. In most cases, this verse is used illegitimately. The phrase “all things” limits the meaning of this verse and establishes its boundaries. “All things” can be defined by the previous two verses (4:11–12). Paul has learned to be content in every economic setting in which he finds himself.12 What he is saying is simply this: “I have the power through Christ to enjoy life no matter what comes my way.”13
So how can we cultivate contentment in Christ? How can you “want what you already have?” The following principles are suggestions on how to cultivate contentment in Christ.
The key in all of this is to recognize that contentment is a byproduct of faithfulness to Christ. So instead of frantically seeking contentment, you and I need to pursue our love relationship with Christ.16 When we pursue Christ, contentment takes care of itself.
[Why is it important that we want what we already have? Contentment is vital because throughout our lives we often go through ups and downs, yet we still are commanded to exude joy and gratitude. Paul now provides a second insider trading tip…]
2. Give what you already own (4:14–23). Once you and I are content, we can easily convert material blessings into spiritual blessings. In 4:14–16, Paul writes, “Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.”17Paul commends the Philippians for their generosity to him. In 4:14, he says that they shared with him in his suffering through their giving. This carries the notion of partnership found back in 1:5, 7.18 He also states that they alone met his needs. I want you to think back to your last birthday. Who remembered your birthday with a card or gift? Who didn’t? Have you ever had a birthday where only one person bought you a gift? How did you feel about that individual? If you are a content person, your focus was not on those people who forgot or ignored your birthday; instead, you were overwhelmed with gratitude for the one person who remembered your special day. Paul is not being passive aggressive in these verses, rather he is especially grateful to the Philippians for their generous giving toward him.
In 4:17, Paul includes a tack-on phrase that is the key to this entire passage and one of the top reasons to speak on giving. Paul writes, “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit [lit. “fruit”] which increases to your account.”19Twice in this short verse, Paul says, “I seek” (epizeteo). This is a very strong Greek term that means “to be seriously interested in or have a strong desire for.”20 Paul wants the Philippians to know once again that he’s not after their money. (And all God’s people said, “Whew.”) Instead, he is actively and intentionally seeking their eternal good. Think about it: Who benefits most from a gift to God’s work? You might say, “Well, that’s obvious. The recipient does.” Really? Here, Paul says that the primary beneficiary of your faithful giving is YOU! And I don’t just mean the warm feeling you get inside when you help someone. Paul is talking about something that goes far beyond that. Whenever you invest your time, treasures, and talents in God’s kingdom, God deposits fruit (karpos)21 into your ERA (Eternal Retirement Account). So God, others, and you benefit when you give. God pays in many ways, including eternal rewards that you are commanded to store up for yourself in heaven.22
When I was in seminary, I interned at a large church and taught an adult Bible class. The first couple that came to my class felt led to give to Lori and me because of their understanding of Gal 6:6: “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.” Even though they didn’t have much money, they felt led to support Lori and me with $50 a month. This gift sustained us and encouraged us. Everything that God has done in and through me over the years is accruing into their eternal account. One of the reasons that I’ve been able to do doctoral work in England is because a couple from our former church has generously supported me. These dear friends have chosen to believe in me, my educational goals, and my ministry potential and future. Every year, Lori and I are awed by this couple’s generosity. We never assume that their giving will continue. But we always tell them that whatever fruit God bears through me will accrue to their eternal account. Both of these couples have given generously and sacrificially without the benefit of a tax write-off. Truly, their reward is great in heaven. Lord willing, their ERA will continue to grow through the fruit that God bears in and through me.
It is important to understand that you become a partner with whomever you support. If you support our church, anything that the Lord allows our staff and ministries to accomplish, you share in. This means that when you stand before Christ, you will be rewarded for the fruit that comes from our ministry. Even though the Philippians were 800 miles away from Paul, they supported his ministry, and through Paul’s fruit, the eternal pay off for them will be great! Perhaps you need to spend more time investing in your ERA than in your IRA. We need to ask, “Where can our money have the most eternal impact?”
In 4:18, Paul expresses once again that he isn’t after more money (whew!). Three times he states that he has been given enough: “But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent” (4:18a). Paul is not after a salary increase. He isn’t striving for a promotion. He is content in Christ. The Philippians blessed Paul’s sandals off. Ironically, if any church had an excuse not to give, it was the Philippians since they were one of the most impoverished churches (2 Cor 8–9). But in spite of their circumstances, they gave, not just according to their ability, but beyond their ability. Paul now offers three expressions of gratitude for the Philippians’ generosity. He calls their gift “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (4:18b). Paul draws upon the Old Testament where they would take an offering and lay it on the altar, and they would pour it out and it would create steam that the whole community could smell.23
In most churches, people look forward to the song set and the preaching. (Notice I said most churches.) Nearly everyone enjoys observing the Lord’s Supper and baptisms. Everyone enjoys a good potluck or dessert social under the guise of “fellowship.” Yet, I think for most Christians, the offering is an awkward and necessary evil. When I first came to EBF, we purchased offering boxes and placed them at the exits of the auditorium. I thought that this was the way to go. I wanted to trust the Lord and didn’t want people to be distracted by a pastor exhorting them to give. Yet, I could not get over the emphasis in Scripture of the public act of giving as worship. So I didn’t make the change and have never regretted it.24
Now we come to one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” This is not an unconditional promise, it is a conditional promise. God’s s promise to supply your needs (cf. 4:16) is embedded in the context of faithful, generous, even sacrificial giving.25 God meets our needs to express His approval of our giving.26 God does not promise to take care of the needs of believers who are stingy, lazy, or irresponsible. On the other hand, if you are giving as the Lord expects, He will meet your needs. Note carefully, he promises to meet needs, not wants. I remember when I was in the delivery room for the birth of our first child, Joshua. I experienced two overwhelming emotions concurrently. First, when I first saw my firstborn son, I felt incredible joy. My eyes turned into a free-flowing waterfall. Yet, not a sound came out of my mouth. I was simply overwhelmed with joy and gratitude to God for giving me a child. At the same time, I was burdened by the fact that I had just assumed responsibility to meet the needs of an infant. I was having a hard enough time providing for Lori, but now I had Joshua as well! Since Joshua’s birth, Lori and I have tried to meet the needs of our three children. However, we expect them to be responsible with their money, their clothes, and their possessions. If they ruin their clothes, we don’t run out and buy them more. They have to make do with what they have. If they spend all their money on candy and frivolous toys, we don’t give them more money. This would be enabling our children to live irresponsibly. That’s not how things are run in the Krell family. That’s also not how things are run in God’s family. If you are a faithful giver, you can expect God to meet your financial needs. If you’re not a faithful giver, you shouldn’t expect God to meet your financial needs, because you’re not obeying His Scriptures.
Paul closes out the letter of Philippians with the following benediction: “Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” When believers invest their lives and resources in God’s kingdom, He gets the glory (4:20). The mention of saints reminds us that every believer plays a vital role in God’s work in the world (4:21). The saints in Caesar’s household refer to convert that came about because of false imprisonment. It is fitting that Paul concludes with: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Paul was focused on Christ and the eternal return on the Philippians’ financial investment.
Two friends were walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxis were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, one of them said, “What an interesting place to hear a cricket.” His friend said, “You must be crazy. You couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!” “No, I’m sure of it,” his friend said, “I hear a cricket.” That’s crazy,” said his friend. The man, who had heard the cricket, listened carefully for a moment and then walked across the street to a big, cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed. “That’s incredible,” said his friend. “You must have superhuman ears!” “No,” said the man who heard the cricket. “My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you’re listening for.” “But that can’t be!” said the friend. “I could never hear a cricket in this noise.” “Yes, it’s true,” came the reply. “It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs. “See what I mean?” asked the man who had heard the cricket. “It all depends on what’s important to you.”27 What is important to you?
1 Timothy 6:6–9
Matthew 6:19–21; 10:42; 19:21
Mark 10:29–30; 12:41–44
2 Corinthians 8:1–5; 9:6–8
1. Study Questions
2. Am I truly content (4:11–13)? What evidence can I point to that I am satisfied with what God has entrusted to me? At what point in my life have I enjoyed the greatest degree of contentment? Why was this particular time so satisfying? How can I “learn” to be content in all my circumstances (4:11)? How has relying upon God’s power made a difference in my contentment (4:13)?
3. How has my financial giving helped me grow spiritually (4:17)? Am I investing heavily in my IHA (Individual Heavenly Account)? If the answer is no, what excuses have I made to justify my lack of giving? Will I ask my spouse, a friend, or fellow church member to hold me accountable to giving sacrificially and cheerfully?
4. Do I really believe that giving is an act of worship (4:18)? If so, what does this look like? Do I look forward to the offering plates being passed so that I can express my worship to God? How have I explained to my children the importance of worshiping God through giving?
5. Do I really believe that God will meet every Christian’s material needs (4:19)? How has God supplied all of my financial needs? How do I explain Christians who have unmet needs for food, clothing, or shelter? Is this a conditional promise? Why or why not?
6. A.W. Tozer said, “Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.” In what ways have I lived out this principle? What has God called me to sacrifice in order to honor Him and advance His kingdom? How did God meet my needs as a result?
2 PreachingNow Vol. 8 No. 13, 3/31/09.
3 Randy Alcorn, The Law of Rewards (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2003), 5–7.
4 See Rom 14:10–12; 1 Cor 3:10–15; and 2 Cor 5:10.
5 Alcorn, The Law of Rewards, 7.
6 The word “but” (de) that opens this section (NASB, NKJV/KJV) is a bit misleading. It does not imply a contrast with what precedes but simply introduces a new idea. Most English versions (e.g., NET, ESV, HCSB, NRSV, NIV) wisely omit the term and start the sentence with “I rejoiced…”
7 The word “want” (husteresis) is only used one other place in the NT (Mark 12:44, the widow with two mites).
8 Paul’s secret of contentment, or joy, is his focus on Christ in “any and every circumstance.” The word “content” (autarkes) means “self-sufficient” (BDAG s.v. autarkes: “content, self-sufficient”). For the Greeks, contentment came from personal sufficiency, but for Paul true sufficiency is found in Christ’s strength (cf. 4:13). Contentment doesn’t depend on circumstances; it transcends them. Contentment and joy are synonyms. This word is only used here in the New Testament. Interestingly, it is only used once in the Greek OT, in Prov 30:8: “Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion [autarkes].” The theological concept of Christian contentment is also found in 2 Cor 9:8; 1 Tim 6:6, 8; and Heb 13:5.
9 In Phil 4:11, Paul uses the verb manthano (cf. 4:9), which means to learn not by study but by experience (BDAG s.v. manthano 3: “to come to a realization, with implication of taking place less through instruction than through experience or practice, learn, appropriate to oneself,” cf. 1 Tim 5:4, 13; Titus 3:14; Heb 5:8). Interestingly, the noun form of manthano is mathetes, the Greek word for “disciple.” The implication seems to be that a disciple learns through experience how to be content in all circumstances. In 4:12, Paul uses a different word translated “learned” (mueo). This verb originally referred to induction into a mystery cult. Though the word “secret” was no longer limited to that usage, the sense of initiation still lingered. So Paul’s point is that Christian contentment remains a mystery to those on the outside and can only be learned from the inside by those who are in Christ (see also R. Kent Hughes, Philippians: The Fellowship of the Gospel. Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007, 185).
10 Study the life of Job to appreciate this scenario.
11 Evans, Returning to Your First Love, 206.
12 Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 436.
13 This is especially true when you are experiencing trying and difficult situations because of your faithfulness to the gospel. You can expect that God will strengthen you in order for you to endure that difficulty. See the discussion on Phil 4:13 in J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 205–8.
16 Tony Evans, Returning to Your First Love (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 204.
17 This has been understood to be a contradiction to 2 Cor 11:8–9, which implies that the other churches of Macedonia also helped Paul. However, the time element is significant. Paul is saying that at this particular time no other church besides this church at Philippi had helped him. Paul was very hesitant to accept financial contributions (cf. 1 Cor 9:4–18; 2 Cor 11:7–10; 12:13–18; 1 Thess 2:5–9; and 2 Thess 3:7–9).
18 The use of koinonia forms an inclusio between Phil 4:10–20 and 1:3–7. For many other parallels, see the excellent article by my friend John F. Hart, “Does Philippians 1:6 Guarantee Progressive Sanctification? Part 1.” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 9:16 (Spring 1996): http://www.faithalone.org/journal/1996i/Hart.html.
19 O’Brien writes, “The picture painted by the accounting metaphor is of compound interest that accumulates all the time until the last day. The apostle has employed this commercial language to show that he has set his heart on an ongoing, permanent gain for the Philippians in the spiritual realm. The advantage (karpos) that accrues to them as a result of their generous giving is God’s blessing in their lives by which they continually grow in the graces of Christ until the parousia.” Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 539.
20 BDAG s.v. epizeteo 2.
21 See Paul’s use of karpos in Phil 1:11, 22.
22 Jesus says, “Do not store up [lit. “treasure up”] for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up [lit. “treasure up”] for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19–21).
23 The language grows out of the OT and while it was used generally to describe sacrifices to God (i.e., in the case of Noah after the flood, Gen 8:21), it is especially connected in its approximately 50 uses to the Levitical sacrificial system and the various burnt offerings (cf. Exod 29:18, 25, 41; Lev 1:9, 13, 2:2, 9, 12; Num 15:3, 5, 7, 10, 13–14). The expression acceptable sacrifice (qusian dekthn) in the OT referred to grain offerings as well as burnt offerings and could refer spiritually to the sacrifice of a broken spirit (Ps 51:17–19) or of praise (50:8). It indicated that the sacrifice as a whole was acceptable to God because the sacrifice itself as well as the heart of the one doing the sacrificing was pleasing to God. (In the case of the Philippians, whose hearts were committed to Christ and to their apostle, and whose gift was generous by all measure, their sacrificial offer was very pleasing [euareston] to God). It was given to Paul, but it was as if it had been offered directly to God. This same type of metaphor is used by Paul in 2 Cor 2:15 and Eph 5:2.
24 I can make a biblical case for not collecting an offering. A few of my pastoral friends whom I have tremendous respect for have this conviction. I respect them for this decision, but don’t feel led to currently follow suit.
25 This is not a blank check from God! “Needs” must be defined. This must be seen in light of the principles of spiritual giving found in 2 Cor 8 and 9, particularly 9:6–15. This is not a promise that can be taken out of context and applied to every human desire. In this context it relates to Paul’s provision for ministry. God will always supply those who are generous givers with more to give. This does not mean that they will have more for personal use, but more to give to gospel causes!
26 O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians, 545; cf. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 452; Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 43 (Waco: Word, 1983), 207.
27 Keenan Kelsey, Making Choices, via eSermons.com newsletter. Cited in PreachingNow Vol. 8 No. 19, 5/26/09.