Philippians 1:1-8 Fellowship in the Gospel

Philippians 1:1-8          Fellowship in the Gospel                  WC McCarter

As I thought about an introduction and sharing some background about the Philippian church, I decided that reading several verses from Paul’s trip to Philippi was too good to pass up. Take a look at Acts 16.

READ Scripture- This is the Word of God

Greetings and the Background (1-2)
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. We are told that Timothy joined up with Paul, Silas, and Luke, and, shortly thereafter, the team went to Philippi, among other places. Ultimately, Paul was forced to leave the city, but he would not forget the Philippians or lose touch with them. They became great missionary partners who supported him financially, in prayer, and with encouragement. 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. So, we will see that a key theme in this letter is “joy.” There was lots of joy because of this relationship.

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.” The Philippians were holy in Christ, and so are you.

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.

Thanksgiving (3-8)
Do you have someone who has greatly influenced you? Do you have someone who, when you think of them, you have to thank God for him/her? Do you thank God for their gifts, their influence, the blessings, their love? The Philippians were just that for Paul. Every time Paul went to prayer he spoke up in behalf of the Philippians. He wanted God to pour out mercies on them. He wanted great spiritual blessings for them.

The Gospel is our fellowship. It is what unites us. It has brought us together. From the very first day until that present day, joy had filled their hearts and it was centered on the Gospel.

People, pastors, churches do not finish the work that God starts. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He starts and finishes the work of salvation. God will take you all the way to the Day of Christ. What day is that? It is the Last Day. The Lord will get you to the Last Day. He will bring you to the end. It cannot be done another way. There is always grace from God.

It did not matter where Paul was—in prison, out of prison, defending the Gospel—he was supported by the Philippians. They lived life together. They carried out Gospel ministry together. They fellowshipped in the Gospel. They were partakers of grace. We are all partakers of grace. Christians must look at one another through the eyes of grace. None of us are perfect. We are all sinners who are forgiven by grace.

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.