Philippi, previously a minor village north of Athens called “Krinides,” became a major Macedonian city as a Roman colony. The “Via Egnatia” was the primary highway from Rome to the east, running through Philippi.
Acts 16 records Paul’s Macedonian vision for the first church established in Philippi. We meet a number of players: a Philippian jailer and a gentile businesswoman named Lydia are among the first converts to Christianity in Philippi. The early church met in Lydia’s home, likely in a large courtyard.
Paul has a loving relationship with the church at Philippi. He delights in their faith, and this letter reflects that relationship.
“Philippians is the epistle of joy and encouragement in the midst of adverse circumstances. In it, Paul freely expresses his fond affection for the Philippians in view of their consistent testimony and support, and lovingly urges them to center their actions and thoughts on the person, pursuit, and power of Jesus Christ. Paul also seeks to correct a problem with disunity and rivalry, urging his readers to imitate Christ in His humility and servanthood. In this way the work of the gospel will go forward as believers seek to stand fast, be of the same mind, rejoice always, and pray about everything.” (1.)
This text is the first time the word deacon is used pertaining to an office. The term had previously been descriptive of having an attitude of faithful service. Here, Paul recognizes faithful men who have been serving and appoints them to the office of deacon.
Philippians 1:5-6, Philippians 4:15: A look at what “participation” means:
This verse is typically taught as pertaining to sanctification, that God will perfect, grow, establish you. That may be an application, but it fails the interpretation (meaning) test. How words or terms are used determines their meaning.
I don’t know if this verse has anything to do with sanctification.
Participation means a sharing, or an alliance: κοινωνία, “sharing,” or “fellowship.” This is a loaded word, but technically means to have an alliance with someone.
In Philippians 4:15, Paul repeats is use of this word — opening and closing the book with a mention of the Philippians financial sharing in his ministry.
What he’s saying is, essentially, continue giving as you are.
This is an important interpretational point because, without it, we miss something key to this letter. Paul expresses his gratitude and tells the Philippians: your financial generosity extends beyond the church at Philippi, encouraging them to continue.
Be encouraged: many passages do speak to sanctification:
1 Corinthians 1:30
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
1 peter 3:15
Sanctification means becoming more like Christ and less like my sinful self.
Motivations Behind Sharing the Gospel
Calls out those who proclaim Christ for selfish ambition (personal success without moral restraint). There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious in the right way (Philippians 2:3, 2 Corinthians 12:20, Galatians 5:2, James 3:4).
But we read in Philippians 1:18: What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice—
Paul’s saying: if they preach from pretense or truth, if the gospel is communicated then I will rejoice. Even if they preach it out of selfish ambition, I will rejoice.
We’ll see later in the Pastoral letters that Paul will call out churches that teach in error and/or with wrong motive.
Facing Life and Death
Our culture is loath to discuss death and dying, but we will all face it. When you lose loved ones, it’s hard, and this is a very practical passage—I love Paul’s tension: It’s better if I’m dead, but Christ still has me here, for your sake.
I’ve heard the expression “I’d rather be dead than—” more than I’d ever care to, and I understand. But what Paul says is that it’s better to stay on in the flesh to minister for Christ, for their sake.
That’s a man with a clear mission, vision, and purpose. Willing to suffer in order to keep sharing the gospel.
We work so hard to make earth heaven, but this world is not our home. Would we sign up for suffering in order to share the gospel? That’s why we’re here.
Conduct Yourselves in a Manner Worthy
I’ve written in the margin of my Bible: MJE, do you conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ?
Not to guilt or shame anyone, but that’s a question that stops me in my tracks. Do you and I live a life worthy of the salvation we’ve received?
Fascinatingly, Paul does not follow this with a list of do’s and dont’s. He says:
- Standing firm
- One in spirit
- Strive together for the sake of the gospel
Be gentle, kind, loving, and firm—and smile at the future.
Consider Paul in prison (probably house arrest) saying, you’re going to believe and inherit salvation, but you’re going to suffer, too. Stand firm. Be of one faith. Strive together for the gospel.
The two sides of this coin are belief and suffering.
It’s loath to the American, western mindset that we’re going to go through suffering. We want to believe if we live a certain way, we’ll have a certain life—That’s if, then theology.
Principally, that’s true. If we do this, then that MAY happen. There is wisdom in knowing that if we live a certain way, some specific outcomes are more likely…but there are no guarantees.
E.g. Your children are free agents. You teach, guide, encourage, discipline, reward them and try to help them engage in their passions…but we cannot make them make the choices we’d prefer they’d make. God does not make us make the choices He’d prefer we make.
We believe and we suffer for His sake. Suffering is sure, so let’s be prepared to stand firm—not if, but when—it happens.
For personal study:
- Philippians 2:1-18 Motivation to live like Jesus Christ
- Philippians 4:4-8 The “non-anxious” life
- Philippians 4:10-14 The Secret (Paul’s word, not a clever marketing strategy) of contentment
The greatest place of joy is when you’re content. And comparison is the kiss of death to gratitude.
Boa and Wilkinson said: joy and encouragement in the midst of adverse circumstances. That struck me as appropriate.
The experience of the global pandemic (“pan” meaning ALL, “demos” meaning crowd or people. Pandemic = affecting all people) of COVID-19 is a great illustration of both the divisive and vindictive nature of the current political pandemic that has affected our country. Inciting rhetorical and literal riots accomplishes nothing.
At this chapter of my Christian life, Christ is sovereign and men and women are fools. We’ve got to have a grounding to stand firm, no matter what nonsense comes at us.
I reviewed the U.S. Constitution this week (notably, full of the King’s English):
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
And wrote this:
“To live as Paul instructs the Philippians is to look to Christ, His life, mission, and even suffering. Paul exemplifies this “Christian Life.” He essentially says, “live like me.” We, the People of Jesus Christ… can be anxious for nothing… can pray, ask, give thanks, and know—know for a fact—the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard our hearts and our minds in Jesus Christ.”
Why would we live any way other than the way Paul outlines?
- Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, Talk Thru the Bible(Nashville: T. Nelson, 1983), 405