LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS
Report on Paul's Future Prospects and Call to Steadfastness
Paul is writing to the stellar church of the Philippians. They have not only sent money to support him during his imprisonment, they have also sent to him Epaphroditus to minister to his daily needs. Paul has sent this letter to the Philippians in order to report on his condition. They must have been happily surprised at the report because Paul was excited about his circumstances instead of being in the dumps. His present circumstances were actually leading to the further progress of the cause of Christ. He now turns from his present circumstances to his future prospects.
REPORT ON PAUL'S FUTURE PROSPECTS (1:18b-26)
Paul's Desire to be Vindicated (1:18b-21)
Just as Paul's present circumstances caused him to rejoice, so do his future prospects. Why does Paul rejoice concerning his future prospects? Because he knows that 2 things are going to lead to his deliverance (literally "salvation"): (1) the prayers of the Philippians and (2) the provision of the Spirit of Jesus. (In a moment we shall see what Paul means by his being delivered or saved.)
Paul first states that the prayers of the Philippians will lead to his deliverance (or salvation). How are these 2 connected? A major principle in the Bible is that God works through His creation. He does not sidestep it; instead, He works through it. For example, Jesus could physically appear to each and every person in order to save them. If He did that though, He would be sidestepping using people to lead others to Him. When God says at the very beginning of the Bible "God created . . .", He took creation very seriously. We see this principle in the fact that God became a Man in order to save mankind. Man got us out of this mess; therefore, man has got to get us out. Since sinful man can't get us out of the mess, perfect God becomes perfect Man in order to save us. Perfect man to be sure, nevertheless still man. As a result if God is going to move in the lives of people, then God's people are going to have to get involved by praying, witnessing, etc. If I don't care about the spiritual condition of my church, why should God be concerned? If dads are not concerned about the spiritual condition of their families, then why should God be concerned? If Christians are not concerned about their nation, why should God bother? Most of the time nations, families, churches, etc., get exactly what they deserve because Christians did not care enough to get involved.
The second reason Paul knows that he will be delivered is that God is going to provide him with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Although Christ came to live in him since the day he was saved, Paul here is saying that Christ will operate more dramatically because the Philippians are praying for him. Although the Spirit does live in B.F., He will operate even more dramatically through him, other ministers, other church leaders, etc. if God's people pray for them. (Note that once more the provision of the Spirit of Jesus is linked inextricably with their prayers. In other words, if they don't pray, they should not expect the Spirit of Jesus to operate more dramatically through him.)
When Paul says that he is confident that he is going to be delivered (literally "saved"), what does he mean? Does he mean that he is going to be vindicated in his trial before Caesar, or does he mean that he is going to go to heaven? Verse 20 explains how Paul expects to be delivered: "according to my earnest expectation and hope that I shall not be put to shame in anything but that with all boldness Christ shall even now as always be exalted in my body whether by life or by death."
Paul first states negatively how he will be delivered: "I will not be put to shame." Then he states positively how he will be delivered: "Christ shall be exalted in my body." Paul is about to face trial before the imperial court. How is he going to fare as he presents his defense and his testimony about Jesus Christ? Is he going to be a miserable failure and fall apart when he is on the witness stand? That would put him to utter shame. Paul confidently claims, "No, that is not going to happen! I am going to be able to give a stellar defense of Christianity because the Spirit of Christ who lives in me is going to work dramatically through me when I am on trial. And how do I know that the Spirit of Jesus will do this? Because you have been praying for me!" The issue is not if he is going to be found "Not guilty" or even if he is going to be sentenced to death--"whether by life or by death." The issue is whether or not Paul will be made a fool of because he failed in testifying about Christ and Christianity. Paul is confident that is not going to happen.
This is a stunning reply. Most of us would be concerned about whether or not we were going to be declared "Not guilty" by the courts. Not so with Paul. All he wants to know is whether or not he will give competent testimony about Jesus. Why are we one way and Paul the other? Because Paul unlike many of us can say: "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain." For Paul Jesus is the essence of life itself. Paul daily lives out of his relationship with Christ. Christ dictates his movements. Christ fills him with His Spirit so that he can fulfill the will of Christ. Christ is the great love of his life. Everything about Paul centers around his relationship with Christ. For this reason giving competent testimony regarding Jesus is true deliverance for Paul in this present instance.
Notice that Paul says for him life on earth is a relationship with Jesus Christ. (See also John 17:3 for the same idea). For Paul death is even better, is gain because at death every obstacle which prevents us from enjoying Christ fully will be removed. At that point in time we will be able to experience complete intimacy with Him.
Paul Prefers Living with Christ in Heaven than with Him on Earth (1:22-24)
The heading for this section is a little cumbersome; however, it accurately sums up Paul's attitude. It is not that Paul prefers death to life. HOPEFULLY NOBODY WOULD PREFER THAT! For him life with Christ is all important. It is just that life with Christ in heaven far surpasses life with Him on earth.
Paul claims that he is hard-pressed from 2 directions: the desire to depart in order to be with Christ and the realization that the Philippian church (in addition to other churches) needs him. The idea behind "hard-pressed" is that of a person who has a disease which he just can't shake off. No matter how many clear fluids he drinks or aspirins he takes, he just can't shake off that cold. Paul claims that he just can't shake this off. He wants to go live with Christ without anything interfering with their relationship--for that is very much better; however, he knows that the churches are not spiritually prepared for his death. Although he would prefer to be with Christ, he accepts the fact that he is still going to have to experience a limited relationship with Christ so that he can remain on earth to minister to the churches.
Before leaving this section, notice the implications of it for our understanding of life after death. The Bible speaks a lot about our relationship with Christ before we die, and it speaks a lot of what will happen to us when Christ returns. It is very silent though on the interim period between the time we die and the time Christ returns. In this passage Paul informs us that no matter what else is true about this period, it is positive. It is not a soul sleep in which we are unconscious till Christ returns. The only thing which sleeps after we die is our body. The word "cemetery" has behind it the idea of sleep. The body sleeps until the day Christ returns to Israel and raises us all from the dead. (Since Christ returns in the east, the cemeteries position our bodies in such a way that if you stand them up they face east.) Can you ever imagine Paul saying that he would rather be unconscious by dying than to be alive and working with the churches? Yet that is exactly what the concept of soul sleep involves. Whatever else is true about Paul when he dies, he will be with Christ in a state of full consciousness.
Paul's Expectations for the Future (1:25-26)
Paul concludes this section by expressing what he believes will be the outcome of his trial. He believes that the outcome will be favorable because God is not finished using him yet. The churches he established, including the Philippian congregation, still need him. He has not finished his work among them. As such, he believes that God is going to have him remain a while longer on earth to finish his ministry. Paul is basically applying to himself the same principle he had applied to Archippus about the ssame time he wrote Philippians: "Fulfill your ministry" (Col. 4:17).
Christ has used this verse several times in my life. During my senior year at UT I volunteered to help with the youth at a small church in Austin. After graduating I wasn't sure what I wanted to do--return to the Dallas area to begin seminary studies or to stay in Austin to help with the youth group. This was the principle God used to have me stay in Austin. I felt that I had not finished the ministry God had designed for me at Walnut Creek Baptist Church. Out of sheer obedience I stayed and got to experience one of the most rewarding years of ministry in my life. A year later when I did leave to go to seminary in Fort Worth I felt totally at peace with leaving the youth group, believing that I had done all that God had wanted me to do with that particular ministry.
LIVE LIVES WORTHY OF CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (1:27-2:18)
Unfortunately our literature splits up Philippians at this point because 1:27-30 actually form a part of a larger section (1:27-2:18). Although the Philippian congregation is doing well, it is facing 2 issues which potentially could destroy the congregation, persecution and division in the church. Although the church at present seems to be responding well to these pressures, it needs to be on the alert to prevent them from destroying the congregation.
Paul first commands them to "Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." It is unfortunate that some translations translated the Greek this way because it loses the main thrust of what Paul is saying. Paul is literally saying: "Conduct yourselves as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ." This would have really tapped into the Philippians because they were justifiably proud of being Roman citizens. At this point in time the Roman empire had not become the mortal enemy of the Christian church. Although there were some abuses associated with it, the plusses of the Roman empire far outweighed its negatives: architecture, peace, communication, learning, stability, etc.
As wonderful as it was though to be a part of the Roman empire, it is far more ennobling to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is the Messiah who rules over the kingdom of God. At the point of our salvation the Spirit of Christ came into us in order to free us from the tyranny of sin and Satan; that same Spirit is developing us into the image of Christ. When Christ returns, that same Spirit will raise up the citizens of the kingdom of heaven and transform us completely into the image of Christ, both spiritually and physically. In addition to this, when Christ returns the Spirit will radically transform the entire universe into being a suitable dwelling place for the people of God.
More is in store though. Hebrews tells us that God drew up a last will and testament which would become effective upon His death (Heb. 9:15-17). In that will He leaves everything to the heirs. The death of Christ on the cross is nothing less than the event in which the will of God takes effect. Christ the Son is not the only one who inherits all that God has left in the will. Since the Spirit of Christ has come to live in us, we are now just as much God's sons and daughters as Jesus is (Heb. 2:10-13). As a result, we along with Jesus inherit everything Jesus inherits (Rom. 8:17, 32). Hebrews teaches us that just as God has placed all things beneath the feet of Jesus, a day will come when all creation will be subjected to us as well (Heb. 2:5-8).
That may seem strange; however, go back to Genesis and reflect on what God told Adam: "Fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Gen. 1:28). Jesus is basically restoring us to our rightful place as lords and ladies over creation. Both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien pick up this same theme in their books The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. The major theme of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the 2 sons of Adam and the 2 daughters of Eve receiving their rightful place as lords and ladies over Narnia. In The Lord of the Rings Aragorn's destiny is to re-assume the throne of Gondor as king over Middle Earth. They are splendid illustrations of the truth that one day we too shall reign with Christ over creation (Rev. 3:21).
Paul's response to this? You are citizens of this kingdom! Now live like it.
Ways to Live as Citizens Worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven (1:27b-2:18)
How to live as citizens worthy of the kingdom of heaven? First, "stand firm in one Spirit." The Philippians are facing great external pressures from their Roman neighbors to deny Christ and reject Christianity. Paul exhorts them to stand firm. How? By relying upon the power of the Spirit of Christ.
Although many of our translations do not capitalize the "s" in Spirit, they should because Paul is most likely referring to the Holy Spirit. Paul never speaks of "spirit" in the sense of attitude or mindset. He uses it to speak of the spirit of man or the Holy Spirit. Here he is referring to the Holy Spirit. Although God expects us to weather the storms of persecution, He does not expect us to weather them in our own strength and power. Instead, He expects us to rely fully upon the power of the Spirit in order to stand firm.
Next, he exhorts the Philippians to live as worthy citizens of the kingdom of heaven by "striving with one mind for the faith of the gospel." The Philippians need to give attention to maintaining their unity. Any time external pressures fall upon people, they have a tendency to turn on each other. A couple experiences the premature death of their baby, and a short time later the couple divorces. I remember that whenever our family went through so many deaths in just a period of 2 years it became so painful to get together as a family because you were constantly reminded of the ones not there. Paul though urges them to maintain this unity. The primary way is by giving their attention to furthering the gospel. Nearly every time a church experiences disunity it is because it has lost its focus on promoting Christ and His gospel. When the color of the carpet, the color of the walls, who gets to be on what committee, etc. tear up a church, then that church has lost its primary focus--promoting Jesus. The only thing being promoted in such cases is people who want their own selfish ways.
Moreover, they are to accomplish this as a team. The word "strive" has behind it the idea of athletes working together as a team to win the game. You can't have men on a football team acting like individuals in order to win the game. They all have to be on the same page; otherwise, they will lose. The same applies to the game we're engaged in. We either do it together, or we fail to achieve the victory which is within our grasp.
As a side note Paul exhorts the Philippians not to be intimidated by their opponents (1:28). His basis for such an appeal is that when it is all said and done our opponents do not determine our fate. We will perish only when God says we will perish. Moreover, if we die, we simply go to be with Christ. There is no reason to fear. Moreover, not being intimidated shows our persecutors that their efforts are ultimately futile while we will be ultimately successful. The only reason we are able to withstand persecution is that God is supporting us. As a result, our persecutors are not fighting us; they are fighting God. They are going to be as successful as waters which break upon the rocks. Our refusing to be intimidated shows that we are going to succeed because God is for us and that they are going to fail miserably because they are fighting Him.
Paul concludes this section by noting that the sufferings we experience are God's gracious gift. That may seem really strange; however, the benefits attached to suffering justify Paul calling them gracious gifts. First, they are gracious gifts because they are for Christ's sake. Just as Christ suffered for us, so we are privileged to suffer for Him. After the early Christians suffered, they rejoiced because they knew that their sufferings proved that they were truly followers of Jesus THE Sufferer. (You can't be Jesus' follower if you don't suffer while He did.) Second, they are gracious gifts because our sufferings deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ. Bankers get along with other bankers because of shared experiences. Lawyers like to congregate together; so do alumni of the same university. Their shared experiences bind them together. In the same way since Christ has suffered, we too must suffer if we are going to grow in our relationship with Him. Growing closer to Christ because of suffering definitely makes our sufferings gracious gifts from God.