Powerful lessons are found in Philippians, taught primarily by example: this is leadership and shepherding at its best. In this chapter, there is an emphasis on the gospel and how Paul avoids bitterness, frustration, apathy, discouragement, and anxiety. By keeping his focus on Christ, he is enabled to be joyful, confident, and determined to finish his life glorifying the Lord Jesus. As Paul remembers and rejoices in the present and future fruit of the gospel (vv 1-11), it no doubt gives him renewed strength to further the gospel (vv 12-18).
1:1-11 Fruit of the Gospel: its Partnership, Prospect
He finds joy in remembering God’s work in Philippi – the work had started in prison. There is now an established assembly functioning there (vv 1-2). Prayer for one another is a vital key to developing and maintaining true care for the saints and sensitivity to God’s work. As he prays for the believers he has come to love, he remembers their faithful partnership with him in the gospel since the beginning, and is thankful (vv 3-5). This leads to rejoicing and confidence in God “Who has begun a good work in you.” He will surely complete it in view of the coming day of Christ (v 6), remembering that God’s work is a great stabilizer for us. We are sharers together of divine grace, and partners together in the ongoing conflict of the gospel (vv 7-8). What do we pray for as we desire the blessing of loved ones? Growth in love is the pathway to true spirituality and the full development of spiritual fruit in view of the day of Christ (vv 9-11). We are challenged to choose carefully and wisely how we are going to invest our lives, so that we may become genuinely beneficial in our care, with no cause of stumbling for others. We need to think of one another in the future tense: what God intends for us in association with Christ. It is His Day – and we are going to share part of the glory of Christ.
1:12-26 Furtherance of the Gospel: by Chains, Critics, Crises
How do we cope with circumstances which befall us? So often, when problems hit us, perhaps limiting circumstances that make us feel like prisoners, we can only think of relief or escape. Paul has a different focus: he sees opportunities to serve the interests of Christ. He encourages the believers with news that his imprisonment has “fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel”(v 12). The guards were potential converts, not people to be resented. Other brethren have become stirred up to preach by his example (vv 12-14). Strangely, some were motivated by rivalry and possibly hoped to gain position among the saints at Paul’s expense while he was out of the way, but he refuses to become embittered or resentful. Instead, he focuses on what really matters, rejoicing that Christ is being preached (vv 15-18)! Why does Paul introduce this sour note in the midst of encouragement? He is using his own example of overcoming strife and rivalry, in preparation for gently approaching this very issue among the saints in Philippi in chapter two. “This shall turn to my salvation” (v 19) is used in a parallel context to “work out your own salvation”(2:13): deliverance from being distracted and overcome by personal rivalries. In humble dependence, he counts on their prayers, and the continued ministry of the Spirit, to enable him to avoid despair or failure, and to magnify Christ in his circumstances. His philosophy of life is simple, yet profound: my life is to be a magnifying glass through which others may gain a greater appreciation of Christ. To live is Christ; to die is more of Christ (v 21)! This is absolute spiritual reality waiting for each of us to realize and embrace. This perspective is the best preparation for living life fruitfully, and for facing death triumphantly. How can you intimidate or silence someone who realizes that death will be tremendous personal gain – Christ enjoyed face to face in fullness, without the hardships of this life (vv 19-21)? Paul’s dilemma and decision are a delightful paradox (vv 22-26). On the human level, he is in a precarious position, with his future at the whim of a Roman court – freedom, continued imprisonment, or execution! Yet he muses on “remaining in the flesh” or “departing to be with Christ” as if it were entirely his choice! His personal preference is clearly expressed, not as a despairing death wish, but as a thrilling reality that his deepest desire could soon be fulfilled. It seems that the only thing holding him back is the need of other saints! The confidence he expresses that he will remain alive is based on the conviction that he is still needed by the saints, and he is willing to subject his own longing to the greater good and furtherance of others. Do I consider the needs of others first in the choices I make, the desires I seek to fulfil? The underlying reality upon which his unconquerable attitude is based, is that he is entirely in the hands of the Lord, and his life and death have been already placed at His disposal for His glory.
1:27-30 Faithfulness in the Gospel: in Conduct, Conflicts
Paul now challenges them to handle themselves worthily as citizens of heaven, whatever happens to him. Is every area of my life consistent with the gospel? “Stand fast in one spirit”(v 27) is a challenge to faithfulness and united effort in the face of opposition to the gospel. Confident fearlessness under persecution is a divinely provided proof to believers of salvation; and conversely, a warning of judgment to persecutors (v 28). To suffer for Christ is actually a gift of grace, and Paul links their suffering with his own, as true partners with him in the Lord (vv 29-30).