Philippians chapter one sees Paul warm to his writing, remembering the ecclesia in Philippi, sharing with them his prayers for their well­being and sharing his thoughts about life in Rome. He particularly writes of the Roman ecclesia, his anxieties about his trial and finally a message of encouragement to the Philippians.

Greeting (v1-2)

Each epistle written by Paul carries a unique greet­ing. While many elements are similar, each com­bination has been carefully chosen for its audience.

Paul writes to the Philippians with his com­panion Timothy. Timothy was with Paul when the Gospel was first preached there, as recorded in Acts 16, and he is with Paul now as he writes to them from Rome. Timothy also co-signs epistles writ­ten to the Corinthians, Colossians, Thessalonians (twice) and Philemon, sharing with Paul a wonder­ful connection with so many ecclesias around the Mediterranean. Timothy’s greeting to each of these ecclesias, including Philippi, is much more than a passing salutation but reveals a heart like Paul’s, which was always thinking of the welfare of the ecclesia. It is no wonder that Paul writes of Timothy, “I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state” (Phil 2:20).

Paul typically writes as ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ’ or occasionally as an ‘apostle and servant’; but he only addresses the Philippians as a ‘servant’. When Paul arrived in Philippi, it was proclaimed near and far that he “was a servant of the most high God who shows the way of salvation”. Indeed, this was the very spirit with which Paul came. His epistle shares with the ecclesia the very mind of Christ – his service.

Paul’s greeting to the Philippians addresses the saints but also the bishops and deacons. It is unique for Paul to single out the ecclesial elders when writing and perhaps here we are given a clue that the elders of this ecclesia were unique. We are not told who these brethren are, but perhaps since the ecclesia is well loved by Paul and its affairs are in order, the ecclesial leaders follow the pattern set out by Paul elsewhere in Scripture (I Tim 3 and Titus 1). If this assumption is true, the ecclesial leadership was made up of brethren who were dedicated to the work of the Truth, who were known for integrity both within and without the ecclesia, who were mature and hospitable, with faithful wives and households, dedicated to teaching truth.

Paul’s greeting also characteristically includes ‘grace and peace’: a phrase used in every epistle the apostle pens. In Paul’s mind, his calling by grace was always acknowledged and remembered, as it should be with us all today.

Remembering Philippi (v3-8)

Paul’s mind was constantly occupied with thoughts for the ecclesias. His mind was attentive to the needs and circumstances of each member and group and he oft remembered them. This pattern of thought is recorded of the Romans, Corinthians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Philemon and, of course, the Philippians. How often do we think of our fellow brethren and sisters and the eccle­sias that we have been involved with over time? And perhaps we do remember them, but what characteristics do we recall? Paul was very quick to remember the positive characteristics of each ecclesia and, not just to think on these things, but to express his heartfelt thanks to God for each ecclesia. This constant positive thought for the ecclesias was at the heart of everything Paul did. He loved each brother and sister. He could see in each one the faith of Christ growing. He was very thankful to God for this and expressed this thanks to God in prayer. And then he shared with each member his thankfulness. We do well to follow Paul in this remarkable service, which, though unseen, is perhaps the most fruitful labour we can give within the ecclesia. This frame of mind helps builds cohesion within our ecclesias and unity between ecclesias.

And what was the particular characteristic of Philippi that Paul was thankful for?: “Fellowship in the gospel from the first day.” Fellowship or ‘sharing’ for the Philippians began on the very first day they heard the Gospel – they shared their homes, meals, company and finance where others did not. Paul remained ever grateful for this fellow­ship and remembered it often.

Praying for Philippi (v9-11)

Paul not only shared with the Philippians the fact that he prayed for them but he also shared what his prayer was. Initially thankfulness was for the fellowship but the prayer was also one of request: “And this I pray that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve [discern] things that are excel­lent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:9-11). In Paul’s mind, there is always one goal clearly before him and this is what he directs each ecclesia towards: the glory and praise of God. The only way to this goal is through Jesus Christ and the righteousness that only he can bring. Paul can see the love that energised the Philippian ecclesia and prayed that this love might be supplemented with the knowl­edge to discern what was excellent, by the measure of Christ. Only with God’s blessing would their love continue growing and producing fruit until the day of Christ.

Preaching in Rome (v12-18)

It had been a tumultuous time for Paul since he had last visited Philippi. His journey had included im­prisonment in Jerusalem and Caesarea, a shipwreck on Melita and further imprisonment in Rome. Yet all this, says Paul, occurred for the furtherance of the Gospel and Paul’s very example to the Roman ecclesia helped to continue the preaching. Part of the Roman ecclesia found inspiration in Paul and this caused their preaching to excel. Another group of people within the ecclesia also preached; but their motives were very different. They set out to goad and belittle the apostle, adding affliction to his bonds. Yet, despite these attacks, Paul rejoiced. He saw above and through the personalities, the pain and the difficulties. He saw the Gospel being preached; and to Paul, that was all that mattered.

Paul in Prison (v19-26)

Paul’s imprisonment in Rome was also a time of waiting and anxiety. Yet he knew that through the prayer of the Philippians, he would be empowered with the mind of Christ and deliverance’. Just as Paul prayed for the Philippians, he asks that they pray for him. He knew that life and death were in the hand of his judge, the Roman emperor; and he also knew that the standing of the Gospel throughout the whole empire depended on his wit­ness. Throughout his ministry, Paul had preached the Gospel with great boldness2 and he now seeks the strength to show this characteristic once more. His resolve to preach Christ is so steadfast that he is determined to do so, whether his trial brings life or death. In all circumstances, Paul’s goal is to follow Christ and, if the trial brings a sentence of death, pronounced for upholding nothing but the ‘law and the prophets,’ Paul sees the trial as bringing his life a step closer to imitating the life of Christ. Paul’s desire to follow Christ was so strong that, for a moment, he cannot decide which outcome he would like best: death or life’. Paul’s resolution is an example to us all. He chooses what was best for the ecclesia and not what was most attractive for himself. This principle, exemplified by Paul, brings rest to the mind when tension, conflict and anxiety grow. Our lives may not be on trial but we can find ourselves weighing up our own preferences at the expense of others. What is best for the ecclesia?

Encouragement to Philippi (v27-30)

Paul encouraged the Philippians to live a life worthy of the Gospel they believed. The analogy of citizenship would have resonated well with the Philippian ecclesia, it being established within a Roman colony. Citizenship was a privilege granted by Rome, and on occasion removed, should the recipient not reflect the values of Rome. In the same way, says Paul, our way of life is to be worthy of the Gospel of Christ. And what is the Gospel of Christ? Acts 8 provides a working definition: “The things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (v12). How do our lives reflect his gospel?

Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians details three aspects of citizenship that our lives are to demonstrate. Firstly, unity: “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (v27). Those who endeavour to live the Gospel they believe will also be seeking unity of mind based on a commonly held faith.

Secondly, fearlessness: “in nothing terrified by your adversaries” (v28). The gospel we believe includes a wonderful hope to come, the kingdom of God on earth. A time when the breath of God will restore life everlasting and His hand will actively lead and comfort. With this vision etched into our minds, the life we live will hold no fear for the passing challenges of our probation.

Finally, a life worthy of the gospel includes suffering: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (v29). We profess to believe the things of Christ’s name, the Saviour who came in human form and suffered and bled and died to bring salva­tion. The ultimate test of our belief is our way of life: do we live the suffering of Christ? This confronting challenge made by Paul to the Philippians was not just idle words. He never called the ecclesia to do something that he would not do, but calls them to accept suffering in the same way as they had seen the suffering worked out in Paul’s life.

Footnotes

  1. Note the quotation from the Septuagint version of Job 13:16. Job experienced similar circumstances from friends in a time of adversity.
  2. Eg Acts 9:27,29; 13:46; 14:3; 19:8; 26:26; 28:31; Eph 6:20; I Thess 2:2. Boldness appears to be a defining characteristic of Paul’s preaching style.
  3. Where we read, ‘having a desire to depart and be with Christ’ (v23), there is no implication of immediately being with Christ. The Diaglott translation suggests that this refers to the ‘return’ of Christ. The Greek word is only used elsewhere in Luke 12:36.