Philippians 1:1-11 May Your Memory Motivate Thanksgiving WC McCarter
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
Greetings and the Background (1-2)
There is not a lot to explain about the opening verses of the letter, but I need to give you some of the background in order for you to see the whole picture. The background of the letter to the Philippians will also help to make my point this morning about thanksgiving. Paul follows the standard protocol for the opening of an ancient letter. He names himself along with Timothy as the writers/senders; next, he names the recipients; and lastly, he gives a greeting. This is normal structure, but what he says is far from normal. Let me say something about those three parts.
The letter comes from Paul and Timothy. Paul is an Apostle, and Timothy is his disciple-associate. Paul was made the Apostle to the Gentiles by the Lord Jesus. Thus, Paul traveled all over the Roman Empire spreading the Good News about Christ crucified and raised from the dead. He was planting churches with the help of people like Timothy. The Philippian church had been planted by Paul on his second missionary journey. In Acts 16 we are told that Timothy joined up with Paul, Silas, and Luke, and, shortly thereafter, Paul receives a vision of a Macedonian man standing on the shore calling for Paul to come over and help them. The group of missionaries quickly headed to Macedonia and to Philippi which was the primary city of that region. Lydia comes to faith in Christ in that town while they met in an outdoor prayer gathering. Paul and Silas are later imprisoned, and a Philippian jailer is also converted to the Lord through their time in jail. Ultimately, Paul was forced to leave the city, but he would not forget the Philippians or lose touch with them. Interestingly, when Paul states his name and title here at the beginning of the letter, he does not say what he usually does. He usually identifies himself as an Apostle (which he was), but on this occasion he only states that he and Timothy are slaves of Christ. Why did he leave out his authoritative title? It is most simply understood that Paul had no need to restate his authority. The Philippians respected and honored him as an Apostle with no doubts. The lack of the title demonstrates the warm relationship between Paul and the Philippian church.
The recipients of this encouraging letter are the saints in Philippi. The word “saints” means “holy ones.” To be a saint is not to be a super-Christian or to be absolutely perfect. To be a saint means that you are “in Christ Jesus.” You are holy in Christ, and so were the Philippians.
When Paul writes this letter, he is not with the Philippians. In fact, he had to leave them before he was ready. Now he is writing back to them, and he finds himself in prison again, but with great encouragement. The Apostle wants to commend his friends for their support. On several occasions the believers in Philippi sent contributions to Paul so that he could continue to devote himself to the teaching of the Gospel. Each time Paul received financial support from the Philippians he not only had needs met, but was also greatly encouraged. A close bond had developed between Paul and the Philippian church. When a collection was being received from all of the churches to take to Jerusalem during a great famine, Paul was not going to ask the Philippians to give. They had already given him much support and were not as financially stable as before. Yet, when they heard of the need, they stepped up and gave beyond what they could really afford. Paul successfully delivered the gift to the church in Jerusalem, but was soon imprisoned because of many Jewish opponents. He was imprisoned for two years waiting his fate. During that time the Philippians longed to help Paul, but were not given the opportunity. Finally, many months later, the Philippians were able once again to help Paul. Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter and had just received the monetary gift from them.
The leaders in the Philippian church are singled out from the whole. The bishops (literally “overseers,” also known in the NT as pastors, shepherds, elders) and deacons are called out from “all the saints…in Philippi.” Paul, undoubtedly, wanted to honor these men for their partnership in the work of the Gospel, but also wanted to recognize them as the ones responsible for the application of the things written by Paul in the letter. The overseers were responsible for ensuring that the teaching of Paul was assimilated into the assemblies. They were responsible for teaching, overseeing, administrating, and caring for the people. We cannot be completely sure of all that deacons did in the early church, but the word itself literally means “to serve.” The NT suggests that the deacons served in many official capacities according to the direction of the overseers.
The third part of the opening verses is the greeting: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” While most letters in the ancient world, and even today, would have had some type of greeting at the beginning, Paul’s is uniquely Christian. Grace has been extended to all who will believe in Christ, that is, undeserved forgiveness and favor. Peace has been made by the precious blood of Christ. Both grace and peace come from “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the Gospel that Paul maintains.
That concludes the salutation. Now we can move into the initial statement of thanksgiving. It was Paul’s practice to either detail a prayer that he had for a church or to at least give some of the content of what he had been praying for them. He tells the Philippians that when he thinks of them, he thanks God for them. In his prayers he makes request to God for them all “with joy.” He is not saying that he has the Philippian church on the prayer lists of all his other churches. This is his personal prayer for them. It was no doubt their partnering with him in the work of the Gospel that brings him joy and motivates thanksgiving. From the beginning of their encounters the Philippians were more than hospitable and supportive toward Paul and the Gospel ministry. They started that way and continued that way until the end of Paul’s life.
Paul was confident in writing to the Philippians and in his times of prayer that God would finish what He started in the Philippian church. The Philippians and Paul were in fellowship. They were partners in the cause of Christ. They were all partakers of grace with Paul even “in [his] chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” Thus, Paul means to tell the Philippians (and us by extension) that it is God’s grace to allow any of His children to suffer for the cause of Christ. The Philippians participated by giving of their resources to support Paul and may have faced persecution in Philippi. Thus, Paul had joyful thanksgiving when he thought of the Philippians because they had partnered together for the Gospel and because he was confident that God would complete in them what had been started.
In v7 Paul says that he has them in his heart and now he explains that in v8. He had a great longing for them. We are told later in the letter that Paul was sending Epaphroditus back to them and that surely tugged at Paul’s heart. He wanted to go to them, but could not because he was in chains. He loved them, but he also had great concern for them because there was an unsettling atmosphere in their assembly. This was a matter of the heart.
There was no man on earth that could judge what was in Paul’s heart so he appeals to God. God is his witness. “For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds” and God knows “what was in man.” In v3 he says that he thanks God every time he thinks of the Philippians. As we said before, this was a private time of thanksgiving and prayer for Paul. Who could see that? Who could testify to this claim? Only God could see and hear these things and testify to the truth of the statement. He was the only one to whom the thanksgiving and prayers were directed. The concern that Paul has for them is the same as Christ’s. He longs for them “with the affection of Jesus Christ.”
After stating the context of his prayers and the reasons for thanksgiving, now Paul gives us the content of his prayers. He will somewhat broaden his explanation of what he meant by the “good work” that was started in them.
The first detail given is that Paul prays that their “love may abound still more and more.” They can better love the more they abound “in knowledge and all discernment.” This love is surely the love that should be expressed toward one another in the church. One simple, but helpful, definition given for this kind of love is the “placing of high value on a person.” If you place a high value on someone then you will go out of your way to benefit them. You will go above-and-beyond to comfort, aid, bless, care for, and preserve their life. He is not rebuking them for a lack of love, but prays that God will continue what He started in them. Though they presently loved well, God’s desire is that it will continue to grow and “abound still more and more.” It is only natural that as a believer grows in the “thorough knowledge” of Jesus Christ that they will love better.
The Philippians (and us) needed an ever-abounding knowledge so that they could know the things that really matter, the things to which they should be devoted (excellent/sincere). Notice that the Apostle makes love something of the mind. Love abounds where there is knowledge, discernment, approval, and sincerity. Also, it is not a bad idea to be “without offense till the day of Christ.” Abounding in love, abounding in a thorough knowledge, and approving the things that are excellent will go a long way to helping a believer remain without offense. I think this tells us something about some people. If all they ever do is pick little arguments or make a “big stink” about things that do not matter then they are probably not growing in love or knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Lord. If you know someone in the church that is sincere about all the wrong things then pray this prayer for them.
We should want for ourselves, our families, and our church to arrive at the Day of Christ “filled with the fruits of righteousness.” What a marvelous picture! I see a link here with the “fruit of the Spirit” found in Galatians 5:22. I think these two phrases parallel one another because Paul adds the phrase here, “which are by Jesus Christ.” The fruits that Paul wants for the Philippians are “by Christ Jesus” much like the fruit that Paul wanted for the Galatians was “of the Spirit.” The righteous fruits that God desires He also works in the life of the believer. They are by Christ Jesus, of His Spirit which is in our hearts. God has “given us the Spirit in our hearts.” That is why God is found to be most glorious. Paul finishes the passage with the phrase “to the glory and praise of God.”
God is the One who starts the good work in us and He is the One who will complete that work until the Day of Christ. The “fruits of righteousness” that we long to be filled with are “by Christ Jesus…of the Spirit.” We cannot boast. It is not of us that anything good will come. It is by the work of God. It is all to His glory. We must recognize God as most glorious for what He has done and what He will do and respond in praise to Him.
Conclusion and Christian Application
Until “the Day of Christ,” we should:
(1) Be supportive of Gospel ministry. This is what an Apostle rejoices over, and we would be safe to assume that this is what pleases God. The care that the Philippians showed toward their Apostle and evangelist was amazing. They continued to support his Gospel ministry long after he left them, even when it was not easy for them. It is no wonder why Paul was so thankful for the Philippians.
(2) Be charitable toward others and thus motivate thanksgiving. When other believers think of you, what do they think? Is it positive or negative? Are people thankful for you? Now, not everything we do will receive a pat-on-the-back or a thank-you-card in return, but are you being charitable toward others and giving others a reason to be thankful for your presence in their life?
(3) Be thankful for those around you. Be specific when you go to God in prayer. Who has been there for you in the hard times? Who has supported you when you needed it most? Who has gone out of their way to help you? Name them to God, and like I said before, also be one of those people.