Christ Our Life: Joy in Service in Spite of Opposition
Philippians 1. In the first chapter Paul states what he was thankful for about the Philippians, and updates the saints on his condition under arrest in Rome and his state of soul in that place. He explains that the circumstances which at first appeared to be a setback had turned out rather to be a boost for the gospel, in that souls were being saved and preachers were being stirred up. Paul also communicates how he was feeling about his possible martyrdom in Rome. He explains that on one hand he wished to depart and be with Christ, and on the other hand he wished to remain for the blessing of the Church. Paul’s whole purpose and motive for living was Christ; “for to me to live is Christ”.
- Introduction (1:1-11)
- Paul’s Circumstances: Results of His Imprisonment (1:12-26)
- Exhortation to Walk Worthy of the Gospel in Spite of Opposition (1:27-30)
Salutation: Paul and Timothy to the Saints in Philippi (vv.1-2)
1 Paul and Timotheus, bondmen of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers; v.1 Writer and Recipient. The epistle was written by the apostle Paul, but he does not write as an apostle. His apostolic title was not needed here as in other epistles, to correct a serious error, to unfold new revelations, or to establish assembly order. He writes as a servant, or bondman, of Jesus Christ, taking the broadest possible ground. Writing as a fellow-servant, Paul includes Timothy with him in writing, as Timothy was serving with him as his own son in the faith. Writing from this standpoint, Paul’s epistle to the Philippians takes a peculiarly personal tone. The epistle was addressed to the “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi”, not to the assembly exactly, but to all the believers in general. This is fitting with the character of the epistle, because the truths contained in it are for individuals, although necessary for believers collectively as well. Nevertheless, it is evident from the expressions in the epistle that there was a local assembly in Philippi, and those Paul was addressing would have composed the local assembly. The saints are said to be “in Christ Jesus”; i.e. “set apart” (such is the meaning of “saints”) to the position of being in Christ’s place before God. Those whom Paul was addressing were in the full Christian position; they had believed the gospel and had been sealed with the Spirit of God. Special mention is made of “the overseers” (‘episkapois’ or elders) and “ministers” (‘diakonois’ or deacons). This is the only epistle that is addressed to elders and deacons, which are two of the lesser offices in the New Testament. Read more… William Kelly suggested that this was because “it was, more or less, a transition state”.1 Perhaps the fact that Paul had been imprisoned, and therefore was unable to function toward the Philippians in an official capacity, was the reason he especially notes the overseers and deacons in that assembly. It perhaps is a hint that, when apostles had entirely passed off the scene, there would still be a resource in the local offices of overseers and deacons.
2 grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. v.2 Grace and Peace. If the saints in Philippi would be able to carry on in Paul’s absence, they would need a fresh supply of “grace” or enabling power, and “peace” or a settled state of soul, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Mercy is only added when an epistle is addressed to an individual, because the saints collectively are never looked at as an object of mercy, but of grace.
Thanksgiving: Their Connection with Paul (vv.3-8)
3 I thank my God for my whole remembrance of you, 4 constantly in my every supplication, making the supplication for you all with joy, vv.3-4 Constant Thanksgiving with Joy. We have in these verses a beautiful example of communion. Every time Paul made a supplication to God, it was “with joy”. How could this be? He was in prison! It was because he knew God, and brought all of his circumstances into the presence of God. There can be joy in the believer’s life, no matter what the circumstances, when he or she is in the presence of God. There is always something to be thankful for. Paul was thankful that, every time he supplicated God, he would also pray for the Philippians, and his “whole remembrance” of them would come into his mind, and it would cause him to rejoice. The Philippians were an encouragement to him! In the following verses we have several specific reasons for that joy. Supplication is a type of prayer that is similar to requests, but more intense. To supplicate the Lord is to beg Him for something. Read more…
5 because of your fellowship with the gospel, from the first day until now; 6 having confidence of this very thing, that he who has begun in you a good work will complete it unto Jesus Christ’s day: vv.5-6 Their Faithfulness and God’s. The first reason that the Philippians were an encouragement to Paul was that they had supported his missionary efforts, from the very beginning of their conversion until the time of Paul’s writing the epistle. From Phil. 4:17-18 we deduce that their “fellowship” was primarily expressed in financial support, yet their hearts were in it. In 2 Corinthians 8:2 we read of the Macedonian saints that they were in “a great trial of affliction” and “deep poverty”. They gave out of the riches of their liberality, not out of the greatness of their resources. Every penny the Philippians gave cost them something. The future conduct of the Philippians was not in doubt for Paul either. His confidence was in God; “he who has begun in you a good work”. The “good work” began when the Philippians were converted, and their hearts continued to burn brightly for the Lord. Paul identified this as the work of God in them (Phil. 2:13), and he counted on God to finish the work He had begun. That work will be completed at the rapture, and the finished product will be displayed in the millennium; the “day of Jesus Christ”. This is a general principle in the things of God: He does not specialize in half-finished products.
The Day of Christ.
The "day of Christ" (1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:10; Phil. 2:16) or the "day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6) has to do with the display of Christ's glory from the heavens. The Lord's expression “My day” (John 8:56) refers to the appearing and manifestation of Christ in glory to the world, the time when the promises given to Abraham will be made good in Christ. It is the day when the completed work of God in each believer (Phil. 1:6), and the rewards given at the judgment seat of Christ will be displayed to the world!
7 as it is righteous for me to think this as to you all, because ye have “me” in your hearts, and that both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the glad tidings ye are all participators in my grace. 8 For God is my witness how I long after you all in the bowels of Christ Jesus. vv.7-8 Mutual Affection. Paul’s confidence expressed in v.6 was “just” because of the affections the Philippians had toward the apostle Paul. He couldn’t be with them to see first hand their state. However, the saints uninterrupted support of the apostle from afar proved that their devotion had not wavered. They still had Paul in their hearts. It would be natural to think that, since Paul was now in prison, supporting him now was less useful and less valuable. There was a stigma attached to being associated with a prisoner. But Paul says ‘No’; to participate in his “bonds” is to participate in “the defense (negative) and confirmation (positive) of the gospel”. The love between them was mutual. Paul could say, “For God is my witness how I long after you all in the bowels of Christ Jesus”. The expression “the bowels of Christ Jesus” shows that Paul’s love for them was of a Divine character, according to the love with which Christ loves His own.
Prayer: That Their Love Would Result in Growth (vv.9-11)
9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in full knowledge and all intelligence, v.9 Love and Intelligence. Paul’s prayer was that the saints’ love, which was already in full bloom, would result in spiritual growth, especially in knowledge and intelligence. It is instructive that love is not only the motive for Christian service, but also the impetus for learning! As our hearts become more attached to Christ, we want to learn more about Him. A lack of knowledge and wisdom in young believers is not a problem per se, as long as the heart is right, as it was with the Philippians.
10 that ye may judge of and approve the things that are more excellent, in order that ye may be pure and without offence for Christ’s day, v.10 Discernment and Purity. An increase in knowledge and intelligence will inform the conscience, which will then grow more sensitive as to approving “the things that are more excellent”. It isn’t here a matter of discerning “good and evil” (Heb. 5:14), but of discerning good and better. This has to do with knowing the Lord’s will in our life, in matters where neither path is objectively wrong, but where one path may lead us into the danger of stumbling.23 The more we grow in the Lord, the more discernment we will have for the decisions of the pathway, and the better preserved we will be in view of “the day of Christ”, which is the time of manifestation. It is possible for the believer to walk every step here below without sin!
11 being complete as regards the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise. v.11 The Fruit of Righteousness. The result of spiritual growth is righteousness produced in the life of the believer. This righteousness is described as “fruit” which comes “by Jesus Christ”. It is not the righteousness of the law, which those under the law labor to achieve, but rather the automatic fruit of walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). The eternal life that we possess – which is the life of Jesus Christ – bears fruit and manifests itself, so long as we walk in communion with Christ (John 15).4
Paul’s Circumstances: Results of His Imprisonment (1:12-26)
12 But I would have you know, brethren, that the circumstances in which I am have turned out rather to the furtherance of the glad tidings, 13 so that my bonds have become manifest as being in Christ in all the praetorium and to all others; 14 and that the most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord through my bonds, dare more abundantly to speak the word of God fearlessly. vv.12-14 Result #1: Souls were Being Reached. Paul wanted the brethren in Philippi to know that his imprisonment, “the circumstances in which I am”, which at first appeared to be a huge set back in the gospel, had “turned out rather to the furtherance of the gospel”. God can and does do that even today! He takes apparent defeat and turns it into victory. The way the Lord had done that was by making it obvious to all around that Paul’s imprisonment was not because of moral wrongs, but because of his devotion to Christ; “so that my bonds have become manifest as being in Christ” (v.13). Satan was trying to make Paul appear to be a common criminal, and thereby tarnish the gospel, but God would not allow it. And more than prevent damage, Paul’s testimony in prison was a shining witness to “in all the praetorium (the imperial guard) and to all others”. He was not like the other prisoners, and everyone that observed him could see it. Two things had resulted from this witness while under arrest: (1) many “trusted in the Lord” as a result of seeing Paul’s testimony, and (2) many became bold in preaching “the word of God fearlessly”.
15 Some indeed also for envy and strife, but some also for good will, preach the Christ. 16 These indeed out of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the glad tidings; 17 but those out of contention, announce the Christ, not purely, supposing to arouse tribulation for my bonds. 18 What is it then? at any rate, in every way, whether in pretext or in truth, Christ is announced; and in this I rejoice, yea, also I will rejoice; vv.15-18 Result #2: Christ was Being Preached. Not all who were preaching Christ were doing so with good motives. Some were preaching “for envy”, which means they were motivated by envy for Paul’s place, desiring to have a prominent place themselves, and “for strife… supposing to arouse tribulation for my bonds” which means they were trying to cast Paul in a bad light before the brethren, because of his imprisonment. These self-glorifying preachers may have been carnal believers, or they may have been false brethren. There were others who were motivated by “good will”, acting “out of love”; i.e. with right motives. These godly preachers knew the Paul was a devoted servant; “knowing that I am set for the defense of the glad tidings”. The resurgence of preaching was of mixed motives, but God was able to overrule those with a fleshly agenda, and use even their preaching to further the gospel! Paul had and would continue to rejoice in the fact that Christ was being preached. What a powerful example of lowliness. Even though those with wrong motives were trying to injure him, Paul still rejoiced in the fact that Christ was preached. How easy it is to be selfish in our service, even in service for the Lord. Paul’s attitude was the opposite of the spirit of the disciples in Luke 9:49-50; “John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” Paul cared more about Christ’s glory and the salvation of souls than he did about his own reputation.
19 for I know that this shall turn out for me to salvation, through your supplication and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ; 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but in all boldness, as always, now also Christ shall be magnified in my body whether by life or by death. vv.19-20 Result #3: Christ was Being Glorified Through Paul. Paul had confidence that God would use his imprisonment to bring more glory to Christ. This was the ultimate goal of the apostle, his “earnest expectation and hope”. He wanted to run his earthly race for the honor of his Lord, “that in nothing I shall be ashamed”. The pressure to give in to the seductions of the flesh, the world, and the devil were extreme. For Paul to live his whole life in faithfulness to Christ was what he considered his “salvation”. To Paul, salvation was not getting out of prison. It was the magnification of Christ in his body, “whether by life or by death”. In 2 Timothy, which was written a few years later, Paul could say that his earnest desire was fulfilled; “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
21 For for me to live is Christ, and to die gain; 22 but if to live in flesh is my lot, this is for me worth the while: and what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 But I am pressed by both, having the desire for departure and being with Christ, for it is very much better, 24 but remaining in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes; 25 and having confidence of this, I know that I shall remain and abide along with you all, for your progress and joy in faith; 26 that your boasting may abound in Christ Jesus through me by my presence again with you. vv.21-26 Life and Death. Paul next moves on to speak of his future. The Lord could preserve his live, or He could allow Paul to be killed. These two paths lay before the apostle.“To live is Christ” means that our whole motive and object in living is Christ.5 It wasn’t the gospel that was the center and motive of Paul’s life, but Christ Himself! On the other hand, if he were to die, it would be gain, because he would be with Christ, which is “very much better” for the person who dies. This is true of every believer that dies; they “depart” (the soul leaves the body, see Gen. 35:18) and they go to be “with Christ” in the intermediate state. Read more… But while Paul’s death would be “very much better” for him, it would not be better for the Philippians; “but remaining in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes” (v.24). Paul really didn’t know which way he would go, and he expressed the mixture of desires by saying; “what I shall choose I cannot tell. But I am pressed by both.” But in reviewing these things, the issue seemed to be settled in his mind (v.25). “Having confidence of this, I know that I shall remain and abide along with you all, for your progress and joy in faith.” If Paul could choose, and if God would honor Paul’s choice, he would choose the less selfish option; i.e. the option that was best for others. What an example to us! Paul knew that if he were to remain alive, and possibly even visit the Philippians again, it would be a tremendous help to them (v.26).
Exhortation to Walk Worthy of the Gospel in Spite of Opposition (1:27-30)
27 Only conduct yourselves worthily of the glad tidings of the Christ, in order that whether coming and seeing you, or absent, I may hear of what concerns you, that ye stand firm in one spirit, with one soul, labouring together in the same conflict with the faith of the glad tidings; v.27 Exhortation to Conduct Worthy of the Gospel. Having updated them on his own condition, Paul next exhorted the Philippians regarding their conduct. From the very beginning of their walk with the Lord, these saints had been all about the gospel (v.5). There is a practical conduct that is suited to, or worthy of, the gospel of Christ. Paul had been an encouragement to the Philippians from prison, now he speaks of what they could do for him (this subject continues into ch.2). When Paul heard news about the Philippians, or if he was able to visit them, what would make him happy is if they were walking for the Lord together. This is perhaps the greatest way we can be an encouragement to other believers; i.e. by going on for the Lord ourselves. The Philippians were now engaged in a conflict; “the same conflict with the faith of the glad tidings”. That is, the same conflict Paul was in, which had got him into prison, was the universal conflict which all the servants of Christ are engaged in.6 Paul is saying, ‘You’re in this fight too!’ But it was not only Paul’s desire that they “stand firm” and “labor” in the conflict of the gospel, he also wanted them to do it “together”, “in one spirit”, “with one soul”. He expands on this point in ch.2.
28 and not frightened in anything by the opposers, which is to them a demonstration of destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God; v.28 Christian Confidence. God has not given us the spirit of fear. When the enemy meets the servant of Christ and finds no fear, it is “a demonstration of destruction” to them, because it is a reminder that Christ, whose life in the believer, is greater than the greatest power of evil. Christian confidence is a reminder to the enemies of Christ their destruction is only a matter of time. But Christian confidence is also a demonstration to believers “of your salvation”; i.e. salvation in the final sense, at the end of the pathway. That is, to see a believer in conflict, such as Paul in prison, who is not frightened by the opposition, is a reminder that we will be victorious in the end, not through our own strength, but “that from God”.
29 because to you has been given, as regards Christ, not only the believing on him but the suffering for him also, 30 having the same conflict which ye have seen in me, and now hear of in me. vv.29-30 Suffering for Christ the Believer’s Portion. The Philippians were to expect persecution, because suffering for Christ is the portion of the believer. It is viewed as a gift; see Acts 5:41. The Philippians were engaged in the same conflict that Paul was in, which they had “seen” when Paul was in Philippi (Acts 16), and had “now hear” concerning his arrest and imprisonment in Rome.
- Kelly, William. The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians.
- Darby, J.N. Letters of J. N. Darby: Volume 2, number 198
- How different from the cold avoidance of positive sin with which many Christians content themselves! The earnest desire of every excellence and likeness to Christ which divine light can show them is that which marks the life of Christ in us. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
- The fruit of righteousness is the expression of the life of Christ, not merely the natural consequences of the life but its manifestation. – Darby, J.N. The Epistle to the Philippians.
- Here, speaking of his own daily practice, he shows he had but one aim, motive, object, and business — Christ. – Kelly, William. Exposition of Philippians.
- When the apostle speaks of the gospel or the vocation, as in chapter 1:27, he means the whole thing (Christianity). – Darby, J.N. On the Philippians.