William Trew, Cardiff
I. Introduction and Chapter One
The theme of the Epistle is not Christian position, but rather Christian experience in the wilderness, as we tread our pilgrim way through this world toward our heavenly home, to be with the Lord Jesus for ever. 'Salvation' in this epistle, is salvation in its fullest and most comprehensive sense, with particular emphasis upon salvation from the snares spread for our feet, and from the many attacks of the enemy upon the assembly testimony, and salvation to be realized when at last the Lord Jesus comes again for us.
Luke tells us in Acts 16 that Philippi was 'a Roman colony'. Colonists from Rome had settled there in the midst of an alien population and were conducting themselves, in every way, as Roman citizens. Their language, dress, coinage, and the laws by which they were governed, were all Roman. They were worshippers of the Emperor and owned allegiance to him, and their safety on foreign soil was guaranteed by the presence in their midst of a garrison of Roman soldiers. In every way, there was in Philippi a transplantation of Roman life. All this is applied in a spiritual way in this epistle, the intention being that 'heavenly' men and women, citizens of the heavenly city, should live out their heavenly life on the rough roads of earth.
The epistle is divided into four main sections very fairly represented by the four chapters.
Chapter 1 - Christ the Passion of a Devoted Life.
Chapter 2 - Christ the Pattern of a Selfless Life.
Chapter 3 - Christ the Pursuit of an Ardent Life. Chapter 4 - Christ the Power of a Victorious Life.
CHRIST THE PASSION OF A DEVOTED LIFE
It is evident that the first chapter is divided into four paragraphs, combining to show the one governing principle that controls and dominates true Christian experience.
The Provision of God for the Way
vv. 1-2 The epistle is not written by 'the apostle' as such, but by 'bondslaves of Christ Jesus', for this is an epistle of Christian experience. The apostle will constantly appeal to his own experience as the pattern of the quality of character he desires to see developed in the saints. But this is not apostolic experience to which only an apostle may attain. It is Christian experience, and thus is within the reach of every bondslave of Jesus Christ, as every redeemed one surely is.
The epistle is addressed to 'all the saints in Christ Jesus which arc in Philippi'. These believers possessed life in two spheres. Holy life in Christ Jesus was being lived out in the streets of Philippi. To such behaviour we also are called, and to enable us so to live, God has made provision for us. In that provision are four elements.
i. Sanctified life in the risen Christ Jesus. ii. Society of local saints.
iii. Shepherd care of godly overseers and selfless service of instructed servants (overseers and ministers are intended, by their leadership and ministry, to be helpers of that holiness of character to be expected of saints). iv. Streams of enabling grace and peace.
The Production of Fruit that Serves the Glory and Praise of God
vv. 3-11 Their fellowship in the Gospel had been a great joy to the apostle. His own devotion to Christ and His interests was reflected in them, locking their hearts together in an intertwining of reciprocal affection, vv. 7-8. Therefore he sets himself to prayer on their behalf. Having before him 'the day of Christ' when he and they would stand together at the Bema of Christ, he prays that the essential qualities of divine life shall be even more fully developed in their character, that when at last they stand in the presence of the Lord, they shall receive a full reward. The essential qualities of divine life are love and holiness. For both of these he prays, asking for the saints the experience of abounding love and discriminating love. Discriminating love is holiness. Thus would their characters be productive of fruit redolent with the fragrance of Christ, who, when He was here, ever served the glory and praise of God, v. 11.
Promoting the Interests of Christ
vv. 12-26 Christ has interests in two spheres. i. In the world. ii. In His Beloved People. The first of these is served by the preaching of the Gospel. The second is served by the ministry of all the truth of God by faithful servants. So that in verse 12 we read of 'the furtherance of the gospel', and in verse 25 we read of 'your furtherance and joy of faith'. It is in this connection that the apostle speaks of the governing, overmastering principle of true Christian life. 'For to me to five is Christ', v. 21. The person of Christ filled the vision of this man's soul, completely ravishing the affections of his heart. Henceforth life was of interest and value only as it served the interests of Christ. If his increasing sufferings served to encourage the preachers of Christ so that the city was filled with the wonderful message, he would welcome increased suffering. For this man nothing mattered but that the interests of Christ should be furthered. If Christ can be magnified best by his life, then to live is worth while. But if that result can best be achieved by his death as a martyr, he will go forth eagerly to meet that death. To secure the interests of his Master - to serve His glory -was the one consuming passion of Paul the bondslave of Jesus Christ. Patient Persistence in Spite of the Pressure of the Enemy
vv. 27-30 All the power of his own personal example of complete and costly devotion to Christ is now focussed upon the saints in the form of practical exhortation. His exhortation is fourfold.
I. A CHARACTER WORTHY
v. 27 The word translated 'conversation', would be better rendered 'citizen-life', and is closely related to chapter 3. 20. It is intended that the essential principles of the message by means of which we have become linked with the heavenly centre of divine administration, should rule in the whole range of the active intercourse of life.
2. A CONVICTION UNSHAKEABLB
v. 27 To the spirit is attributed thought, and knowledge and will, 1 Cor. 2. 11, and would suggest the unshakeablc convictions, built upon the solid, eternal foundations of divine revelation and Christian faith, which give to the believer strong courage in face of the enemy.
3. A CO-ORDINATION OF ENERGY
v. 27 'With one mind striving together'. From the word used here for 'striving', we get our word 'athlete'. Added to it is a Greek preposition which means 'together', yielding the idea of striving together as would a team of athletes. How very important it is that all the spiritual energy of the saints in the assembly should be co-ordinated in this way, to maintain the testimony entrusted to 'the churches of God', instead of dissipating it on outside interests.
4. A CALM COURAGE V. 28
In the face of many adversaries, in the knowledge of the fact that, though we, at the present time, share in the conflicts and sufferings of the testimony, the end is sure, certain, inevitable, eternal triumph. To be followed by 'Christ the Pattern of a Selfless Life'.