Towards the end of his third missionary journey Paul arrived in Jerusalem against the advice of his closest friends. Not only had the political and religious environment become a powder keg, but the fear was that Paul’s presence was all that was needed to light the fuse.
Sure enough, almost immediately following his arrival, Paul ends up in the center of the action and a riot ensues! Not sure what exactly was cause for all the hubbub, the Roman guards sweep in and arrest the Apostle. Then, knowing it would be virtually impossible to get a fair hearing before the Jewish Sanhedrin who wanted him dead, being a Roman citizen Paul wisely invokes his right to have his case presented before Caesar Nero.
This request is obliged and under guard of the empire, Paul makes his way to Rome where he’s ultimately placed under house arrest. Though we don’t know the specifics of the timeline, it’s likely Paul remained in custody for two years waiting for his case to be heard.
Well, catching word of his predicament and pressing legal troubles, the church Paul had planted in Philippi (made up of many Romans) ends up sending Epaphroditus with a financial gift. In response Paul pens this letter and sends it back using Epaphroditus as his currier.
In case you weren’t with us last Sunday, with the background color and context in mind, Paul writes this letter to the Philippians seeking to accomplish three simple goals… First, Paul wants them to know how thankful he is of their friendship and their financial gift.
Secondly, Paul writes in order to explain that while God sometimes grants us deliverance from our trials (like when he was in the Philippian jail), in other instances, His grace is designed to deliver us through our trials (like his present situation in Rome).
And finally, Paul writes to the Philippians because he wants them to know that because joy is based in the amazing grace of God and not one’s present circumstances, they could rejoice in spite of whatever situations they might find themselves facing. As we study this letter you will see that the Apostle Paul, writing from a Roman cell unsure if he’d live or face a brutal execution, was at peace because he was presently enjoying grace!
Philippians 1:1-2, “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Because the letter begins with the order of “Paul and Timothy” with the first name always signifying preeminence, it’s likely “Timothy” was acting as Paul’s scribe. If you refer back to last Sunday’s study, both men were well known by the believers in Philippi. Additionally, in chapter 2:19, Paul will even describe his intention to send Timothy to Philippi “shortly.”
Right from the jump Paul introduces both himself and Timothy as being “bondservants of Jesus Christ.” In the Greek this word “bondservant” is “doulos” which possessed an interesting distinction. Though the word does mean slave, the term doulos actually described a man or a woman who was a slave by choice, not obligation or by force.
In such instances the kindness of the Master ends up being so great that the individual chooses to remain a slave though they had been previously set free. Another way of translating “bondservants” would be “love-slaves” - and not in the kinky, perverted way. As it pertained to the Levitical Law, Exodus 21 lays out the legal process for becoming a doulos.
Though we live in a country that trumpets life and liberty, the truth is that freedom is really just a mirage. As Dylan famously sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody!” Just look around our culture and you’ll see a society of slaves… People are enslaved to drugs, sex and porn, gambling, fame, money or a career, debt, thrills, a toned body, etc. The paradox isn’t freedom from enslavement, but the freedom to choose who we want as our masters.
This is what makes this statement “bondservants of Jesus Christ” so profound. Paul is saying that, while Jesus had liberated them from their sin, he and Timothy had both made a free-willed decision to give up their rights to now serve Jesus. Their lives were no longer their own. They’d chosen to surrender all to Jesus out of a response to His incredible love.
And why was this important? Paul (who don’t forget is sitting in a Roman prison awaiting trial before Nero) was able to endure because he knew his identity was not determined by his environment or circumstance. Since Paul never forgot he was a “bondservant of Jesus Christ” his present situation had no baring on his purpose and therefore his joy.
As we mentioned last Sunday, there is no doubt that in writing to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” Paul was thinking of specific people: Lydia and her family, the slave-girl he’d liberated from demon-possession, the Philippian Jailer and his household. These men and women were the folks Paul viewed as “saints in Christ Jesus.”
Contrary to the perspective of “sainthood” developed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Bible defines all followers of Jesus as being “saints!” The Greek word “hagios” literally means a “most holy thing.” Though sainthood has become a titled that serves to honor someone of distinction, anyone Jesus died to save is “most holy” in the eyes of God the Father.
In addition to the “saints” - in this greeting, Paul also mentions the “bishops and deacons” of this Philippian church. In the original language this word “bishop” simply means “overseer” and the word “deacon” refers to a “designated doer” (the Greek word literally means “one who executes the commands of another”).
Though Paul doesn’t mention any specific names and is likely speaking in generalities, you shouldn’t overlook the fact the Apostle is affirming that within this local church in Philippi there was an organizational structure: “Bishops” (pastors / elders) and “Deacons”. Both are presented in the plural implying that this church had several pastors and many deacons.
Look at Paul’s first words to these Philippian believers. He begins, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” With the exception of the two letters Paul wrote to Timothy and the one to Titus where he adds the word “mercy” between “grace and peace”, every other letter Paul pens contains this same customary salutation.
When you consider the fact Paul had been a staunch enemy of Christ before encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, I don’t think it’s an accident the very first word he writes in every single letter is “Grace!” For Paul God’s grace was the primary message of the Gospel!
In 156 times the word is used in the New Testament “grace” takes on a redemptive quality describing an act whereby God avails His favor to those who fundamentally don’t deserve it - those unworthy! Some have defined the concept of grace as “unmerited favor.” Other’s have more creatively described grace using the acrostic, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”
In the Greek this word “grace” is “charis” which simply means “favor.” That said… It should also be pointed out that this word “charis” derives from the Greek word “chairo” meaning “to rejoice.” In essence, God’s grace is an unmerited, bestowed favor that yields rejoicing!
Back to Paul’s salutation… “Grace to you and peace!” It’s not an accident that every time we see the coupling of these two words in the Bible the order is always the same. You see it’s impossible for a person to experience the peace of God until they’ve first come to peace with God - which is only possible when one accepts God’s grace.
It’s simply a truth that if your salvation or sanctification had or still has any basis on your works or lasting merit (your worthiness), real peace with God would be unattainable. If your status with God was predicated upon your performance in any way, how could you ever be at ease? How would you ever know you’ve done enough? You’d never be at peace.
You see, the only way you can truly have peace with God is when you first find rest in the knowledge your standing with God is based on His amazing grace made available through a work Jesus has accomplished for you and not one you attain and maintain.
To this point, according to Paul, both “grace and peace” are not something that man can manufacture or create for himself! “Grace and peace” are something that must be given by God alone… They both originate in Him before being extended to us. Paul says, “Grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Neither God’s favor nor His peace can be earned or found apart from His willingness to bestow them.
If you’re tired of trying to earn God’s approval… Tired of trying to be good enough… Tired of the striving, and the fighting, and the failing… If you long for peace with God, know this is exactly what Jesus came to provide and that He’s more than willing to give it you! Never forget… The human soul will never find peace apart from the grace of God!
Philippians 1:3-8, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…
Just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.”
Following his greeting, Paul continues, “I thank my God!” In the original language the phrase “I thank” can be translated as “I’m so grateful!” The Greek word “eucharisteō” described an action of thanksgiving manifesting from a feeling of gratefulness. It’s the same word we also translate as Eucharist - partaking of communion out of thanksgiving. The point is that Paul was communicating to the Philippians how he was feeling… He was feeling thankful.
Don’t overlook the significance of this… Imagine you’re in this Philippian church knowing that your friend Paul is in prison and his outlook is extremely bleak. Finally, Epaphroditus has returned from Rome and he’s carrying a letter from Paul. Though you’d completely understand it if Paul came across a little bummed out or depressed over his present situation, how incredible it must have been to instead hear of his joy and thankfulness!
Right from the beginning of his letter to these Philippians Paul is making it known that his current dynamic hadn’t robbed him of the ability to be thankful and possess joy! His earthly outlook (though undoubtedly ominous) hadn’t robbed him of his heavenly perspective.
Paul continues by attributing his joy to three specific things… First, Paul attributes these feelings of thanksgiving to “every remembrance” of these Philippian believers. As he thought about these dear saints… As he reminisced on the time he’d spent with them… His labor of love while in Philippi… The way they’d just reciprocated his love by sending financial aid to support him in the ministry, Paul is overcome with thanksgiving!
In a general sense, Paul’s friendship with these Philippians and the memories he had of them proved to be a great source of joy even in the midst of his despair. In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Jesus sums up His point by saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Understand… There are only two things you’ll be able to take with you to heaven: Your friends and your memories! Paul cherished these Philippian believers so much he even says, “I have you in my heart!” For the Apostle these men and women were his “treasure” and as such no earthly circumstance could steal from him the joy he found in them.
Aside from Paul’s joy stemming from “every remembrance” of these Philippians… Paul was also filled with a feeling of thankfulness as he considered their “fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now.” In the Greek this word “fellowship” or “koinōnia” described their willingness to partner with Paul in the furtherance of the Gospel!
Paul then adds an example as to the depths of this partnership when he says, “Inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.” Though Paul was in a prison unable to plant churches as was his mission, these Philippians were still fully behind him. They didn’t bail when things got tough.
In actuality and within the larger context of his “chains”, the word “partakers” implies the Philippians were likely financing Paul’s legal fund! Because Paul was about to stand trial before Nero to give account for the Gospel and his specific role in its spread across the world (Note: Luke complied both his Gospel and the Book of Acts to be defense briefs for Paul), the Philippians knew the stakes were high. Paul was representing all of Christianity!
Paul says these Philippians had partnered with him in the “defense and confirmation of the Gospel.” This Greek word we have translated as “defense” is “apologia” which spoke of a formal legal argument. This word “confirmation” (only used twice in Scripture) described an actual settlement of a business transaction. It would appear Paul was thankful that these Philippians were willing to partner with him “in his chains” by financing his defense.
Finally, aside from his “remembrance” of them and their partnership with him, Paul found incredible joy in the knowledge that “He (speaking of the Holy Spirit) who had begun a good work in them would complete it until the day of Jesus Christ!” As a matter of fact, Paul was so certain of this incredible reality he even declares he was totally “confident of this very thing!”
The implications of this statement are radicle! Paul says, “He who has begun… will complete it!” First, Paul affirms Who started this “good work” in you. The work of salvation (regeneration, rebirth, being born again) does not originate via a work you accomplish, but rather it occurs the very moment the Holy Spirit indwells the individual!
In Titus 3:3-7 Paul writes, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Second, Paul affirms Who “completes” this “good work” in you. The same Spirit who initiated the transformation continues the work until it reaches completion. What this means is that your sanctification (transformation, development of Godly attributes, Christ-likeness) does not occur via your works, but a continued work of God’s Spirit in and through you!
Once again, writing in Galatians 5:22-25, Paul observes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Then he concludes, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Do you realize your spiritual life demands the cradle to grave involvement of the Holy Spirit? In Hebrews 12 Jesus is actually described as being “the author and finisher of your faith!” At no point in your spiritual life is the direct involvement of God’s Spirit not paramount.
In actuality, so much grief is yielded when we forget that “He who has begun… will complete it!” God is not in the business of starting something in you He isn’t willing to see through! And once more… At no point in the process does God need your help in His work!
Verse 8 is one of the many instances in this letter when Paul’s love for these Philippians oozes forth. He writes, “For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you with the affection of Jesus Christ.” In his thanksgiving for the time they’d had, the work they were doing together, and the result Jesus would ultimately yield, Paul deeply longed to be with them.
And yet, because he couldn’t be with them physically, Paul spent his time interceding for them Spiritually. He’s already mentioned the fact he “always in every prayer made request for them all with joy.” Now Paul is going to relay the substance of his prayer…
Philippians 1:9-11, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Look at the first item on Paul’s prayer list… “I pray that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.” Note: Just because Paul prayed that the Philippians “love may abound still more and more” didn’t mean they weren’t loving. The idea behind this word “abound” was that their love would superabound, exceed its limit, excel, or overflow.
The reality is that Paul’s wanted to see their love for one another increase and deepen because he knew something important… Since there is no bottom to the depths of God’s love for us there should be no limit to the love we should have for one another!
And yet, the origins of such a love are supernatural. The word Paul uses for “love” is “agapē” which described a divine love that originates with God, before flowing to us, and then from us to others. The word “agapē” is often found in the phrase, “The love of God.”
In 1 John 4:10-11 the Apostle John made it crystal clear how all of this was to work. He writes, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
But notice that while Paul’s prayer centers on a superabounding type of love, it’s not a love without boundaries. As a matter of fact, Paul wants their love to “abound still more and more in knowledge (literally “precise and correct knowledge”) and discernment (or judgment).”
Sadly, we live in a society that presents love as the willingness to accept all things, turn a blind eye to behaviors that might be destructive, and one that’s void of any type of judgment. Not only is this dangerous to all those involved, but the truth is that this isn’t love!
Understand… Love, in the purest sense, is not only willing to challenge what might be wrong, but will stand for what is true! Real love places eternal well-being over temporary feelings. It longs for what is best - over the acceptance of what isn’t. Paul is encouraging them to a deep love, but one with appropriate guard-rales… A love that is tethered to truth.
Paul continues, “I pray that you may approve the things that are excellent.” In the Greek this word “approve” meant “to test, examine, try, or scrutinize in order to decipher whether something is genuine.” In regards to the idea of “the things that are excellent” Paul is speaking to a standard by which we judge things… Our ability to effectively divide.
As it pertains to our spiritual lives, in 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul writes, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful, but not all things edify.” The grand consideration for those saved by grace isn’t good verses bad, but so often what is good verses best. In Hebrews 12:1 we’re exhorted to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
“I pray that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.” In the Greek this word “sincere” literally means “without a mixture” and the word translated “without offense” spoke of “having nothing to strike against.” Paul’s prayer is that these Philippians live lives of such internal character that it served to validate their external reputation.
Finally, Paul closes this section by saying, “I pray that you’re being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Paul desired more than anything that their lives demonstrated the person and righteousness of Jesus. And note how that was to occur… He says these “fruits… are by Jesus Christ.”
In this statement Paul uses the illustration of “fruit” because a fruit is nothing more than a natural byproduct - the opposite of manufacturing. Fruit develop organically. They aren’t made. In John 15:4-5 Jesus exhorted His disciples using the same illustration saying, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
Once again Paul was “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The same idea applied to the development of this “righteousness” - their ability to demonstrate the character traits of Jesus.
Never forget the power of the Gospel (your salvation and sanctification) resides in the Spirit’s ability to work in and through your life. You become more like Christ, not through your striving, working, or self-disciplines. In the end you become like Christ through a continued relational association with Jesus… “Abiding in the Vine!”
As we close this mornings study I can’t help but point out that Paul was able to be thankful and possess joy in spite of his circumstances for two simple reasons… (1) Paul never lost sight of his identity and was therefore never robbed of his purpose. Though he might have been a prisoner of Rome, he was first and foremost a “bondservant of Jesus Christ.” Paul will actually build on this idea in the verses to follow so we’ll leave this to next Sunday.
(2) Paul had joy because he kept his outlook others-centered. Consider… Paul is in prison with his very future in jeopardy. And yet, instead of complaining or for that matter expressing his genuine disappointments, Paul’s chief consideration centered on the well-being of the Philippians! When most everyone else would have sent a list of requests for the Philippians to be praying for him about, Paul begins his letter by praying for them!
It is possible to be Enjoying Grace in whatever terrible situation you might be presently facing as long as you, like Paul, keep your perspective on two things: Jesus and others. I know it’s cliche, but it’s so true… Joy is found when you focus on Jesus and others before yourself.
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