It is always interesting to know the individuals Paul is writing to when we read his letters, and this letter to the Philippians is no different. Who lived in Philippi? Well, Acts 16:14 tells us that Lydia “a seller of purple” was baptised there and her whole household, and in verse15 it tells us she constrained Paul and Silas to stay in her house. So, these brothers and sisters were probably the first to be baptised in Europe and her house was probably the first meeting place there. Later on, in the same chapter, we learn that the jailor and all his house were also baptised, and so they were added to the ecclesia. It is very interesting to know that archaeologists have found what they believe to be this very prison in the ruins of old Philippi.

God always moves in wonderful ways and Paul and Silas would have realised that they were imprisoned so that the jailor and his household could also have our hope. We also read in Philippians 4:15-18 of a brother named Epaphroditus, who was sent by the brothers and sisters at Philippi with gifts that they thought Paul would need while he was in Rome. We are not told much about him, but he could have been one of the servants of either Lydia’s or the jailor’s household. On the other hand, he could have been a friend, who was converted and baptised.

When we look at the life of Paul, we see it was his objective in life to preach the Lord Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Bitter experience had brought home to him the vanity of human achievement and racial privilege. It was the Jews who had received the divine words and who were the custodians of the Word, yet it was these Jews who had slain the Lord Jesus Christ. And it was a Jew, Saul of Tarsus, a scholar highly distinguished among his own generation, who had been a leading persecutor of all those whom he now called “brethren”: “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the ecclesia; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil 3:4-6).

Why did he say these things? It was because he was writing under some kind of provocation from a group we call “Judaisers”. These were Jews who had been converted to Christ, but who held on to the Law of Moses and made every attempt to disrupt Paul’s work. We read about some of these Jews in Acts 15:1-5. In Corinth they directed an attack against the apostle himself, and at the same time, scorned the gospel. The context leaves no doubt as to who Paul’s enemies were in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 11:22 Paul says, “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I”. These Judaisers were those that came “preaching another Jesus, whom we have not preached” (v4).

These passages closely parallel the thoughts he expressed to the Philippians and explained that he was one who was circumcised by a different kind of circumcision, worshipping God in the spirit, glorying in the Lord Jesus and putting no confidence in the flesh (3:3). The kind of circumcision he is talking about is explained further in Colossians 2:11-12: “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead”.

These words of Paul show how foolish he considered any parading of fleshly privileges. Yet, as he makes clear in Philippians 3:4-6, if it really came to boasting, he is in a position to excel beyond many of his fellow Jews. In these few brief words, he shows his previous passionate concern with righteousness under the Law, striving to satisfy all the terms demanded by that law. When he says he was “blameless”, it shows that he was above criticism. By birth and training he was a Pharisee and had learned all the traditions of his elders. His roots were deep in the Old Testament, but when he found the Lord Jesus Christ, he says in verse 7, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ”.

His words remind us of what the Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 16:26: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” This was the searching question which Christ put to the apostles, and Paul had now come to terms with this truth. He had found the “pearl of great price”, and had gladly sold all he had, to purchase it (Matt 13:45-46). We too have found this “pearl of great price”. But how much is this pearl worth to us? What are we prepared to give up and count as loss for Christ?

Paul feels that this is so important, that he places emphasis on his loss by repeating these words in verse 8: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ”.

Paul is focussed on winning Christ and nothing must stand in the way. All things must be regarded as mere refuse because of “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (v8). Life eternal is bound up in this knowledge as Jesus said in John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”. In his declaration to the Philippians we can see evidence of Paul’s deep and intense devotion to Christ as well as his deep love for him.

We have to ask ourselves, “what am I doing to increase my knowledge of God and His Son?” This knowledge will lead to eternal life. But sometimes we are so busy today trying to learn worldly knowledge, so that we can earn a living, that we are inclined to place less emphasis on this knowledge of God and Christ. The knowledge of the worldly sciences might help us earn a living today, but it will do nothing to get us into the kingdom. In fact, it may keep us out of the kingdom if we are filling our minds with worldly knowledge at the expense of divine wisdom.

Paul wanted to “win Christ”. Do we?

After finding Christ, Paul’s concern now is to “be found in him” (Phil 3:9). By this he means that he wants to be seen by God as one who truly lives the life of Christ. He also has in mind the day of the Lord’s return when judgment will be pronounced on him. Paul has abandoned his former life which sought a legal righteousness through keeping of the Law. The new force for Paul was now faith in Christ and an appreciation of his grace, the power of his sacrifice, the efficacy of his mediatorship and finally, the wonderful example of obedience.

The thought that Christ offers us an example to imitate, as well as salvation to be accepted in humble gratitude, is the key to understanding the apostle’s desire to “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death”. To ally himself with a crucified Messiah was the path Paul chose. As he said to the Galatians: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

Paul realised that Christ needs to be alive in every believer’s life. Can that be said of us? Can we affirm that his words and his life have made an impact on us? Do we reflect his values and perspectives? Are we crucifying the flesh and living a renewed life in him?

When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was providing Lydia and the jailor, their households and the ecclesia, sound advice on winning Christ. He was demonstrating how much his knowledge of the Lord had changed his life. Can we say the same thing of ourselves?