The epistle of Philippians marks one of Paul’s most highlighted writings. Philippians is often seen as the epistle of joy. Although joy is mentioned throughout this book, it is not the central theme of this book. What the reader will discover through careful study is that joy is the product of the central theme and that the theme of the book can be found in Philippians 1:27 “..stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Paul throughout this epistle mentions the need for gospel unity and maintaining a gospel mindset. The theme of Philippians is this: “Side by Side: Thinking and Living the Gospel Together.“
Paul founded the church of Philippi around 51 A.D. on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:12-40). It is believed that he may have visited this church twice on his third missionary journey. It would have been earlier in his travels (2 Cor. 8:1-5) and again near the end (Acts 20:6). Around 61 A.D. Paul was in prison and had received a gift from the Christians at Philippi. The church sent Epaphroditus to deliver the gift and comfort Paul (Phil. 2:25). Epaphroditus suffered a near-fatal sickness either on his way to meet Paul or while in Rome (Phil. 2:26). The Lord spared his life and allowed him to recover and take this epistle back with him to Philippi.
Paul starts this epistle by introducing himself as the writer. He added Timothy’s name at the beginning because Timothy played a significant role, in advancing the gospel in Philippi, alongside Paul (Phil. 2:19-24). Paul refers to himself along with Timothy as bondservants of Jesus Christ (vs. 1). A bondservant is the word “δοῦλος” in Greek, and it refers to someone who is a willing slave who has chosen to submit himself to the will of a master. Paul considered himself a slave to Christ and bound to His will.
Often, Paul would address the church at the begging of a letter. In this epistle, he chose to address “all the saints” throughout Philippi. This epistle was written to an entire city of believers rather than one church. Within this body of believers, Paul also addressed the overseers and deacons (vs.1). This was an unusual greeting for Paul as compared to his other epistles. However, it fits perfectly into the theme of this epistle. He’s dealing with gospel unity and striving together for the gospel (1:27). It takes every saint, overseer and designated servant in the church working together to make this possible. Grace and peace became a trademark for Paul and the other apostles when greeting an audience. Often, it was used at the end of a letter just as it is used at the beginning. It is the grace of God that sustains and the peace of God that settles the believer.
The Exuberant Joy of Gospel Fellowship (1:3-8)
The first message that Paul wanted to convey to his audience was that of gratitude. He told the saints at Philippi that he thanks his God upon every remembrance(vs. 3). The phrase “upon every remembrance” literally means to recollect or remember. As often as he thought of them, he would stop and give thanks for their fellowship in the gospel. The heart of Paul was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy any time the believers at Philippi were brought to memory. One of the first emotions that the gospel should produce is the emotion of gratitude. When someone has experienced the true grace and peace of God(vs.2) and shares that commonality with others, there should be an overwhelming emotion of gratitude for Christ and other believers.
He continues to elaborate on his prayer of thanksgiving for these believers in verse 4. The first word “always” indicated a regular and intentional expression of remembrance in his prayer. This may seem overwhelming and difficult to maintain a pattern of prayer like this. However, Paul did not say that this was burdensome or difficult. He said he did this “with joy.” As believers, there is a lesson to be learned from this. My view of the gospel and my fellowship with other believers will impact my prayer life. If I am finding myself stagnate in prayer for others, I need to question my practice of gospel fellowship. There should not only be a spiritual response from this practice but also an emotional response of gratitude and exuberant joy. What were the Philippian believers doing that allowed this kind of response from Paul? Two things sparked this reaction from Paul in this text: Gospel comradery and Gospel confidence.
Gospel Comradery (1:5)
Paul demonstrated through his prayer life the response of gospel comradery (vs.3-4). It resulted in gratitude and exuberant joy as we’ve demonstrated earlier on. Now, what do we mean by gospel comradery? Here is how we would define it. Gospel comradery is “a companionship that is developed by striving together to reach the same goal.” He is going to dig deeper into where this originated from in verse 5. The first word is “for” in this text. This word is a conclusion of what he has conveyed thus far in the text. Literally, he is saying “because your fellowship in the gospel.” The word “fellowship” can be seen in different ways in the original language. It can mean to associate in a close relationship with someone. It can also mean a close association in shared interest or shared community.
When did this process of fellowship begin with Paul and the believers in Philippi? Notice the phrase, “from the first day until now.” There are two possibilities as to what Paul meant by “the first day.” First, it could be referring to his first encounter with them in Acts 16:12-40. This is where a lady named Lydia who was a seller of purple believed in Christ. A Philippian jailor who was won by the testimony of Paul and Silas in prison. Although there may be some truth to this perspective, I do not believe this is the immediate meaning. The second possibility is that when each believer first came to Christ; it was the event that began this fellowship. Based on the verse that follows, I would conclude that the second possibility is more likely to be the meaning. Notice how soon the fellowship and unity in the gospel began with one another. He states “from the first day.” It is an immediate bond between believers when someone enters into the family of God.
Gospel Confidence (1:6-8)
The second thing that brought exuberant joy in their gospel fellowship was confidence. In verse 6, Paul uses the phrase “being confident” to explain his exuberant joy. The literal interpretation is “being persuaded.” It is a perfect active verb in the Greek. Meaning, it was a completed action that took place but still carries about results. What action took place that leads Paul to be consistently persuaded that this process would continue? Take note of his words, “He who has begun a good work in you.” He is referring to God. Later in the epistle, Paul communicated that it is God that works in them both to will and do for His good pleasure (2:13). Salvation always starts and ends with God. It was by His grace that this work began in us. He originated this work, and what God starts, He fully intends on completing.
I am grateful that the work of redemption does not hinge on human merit. If we began this work of salvation, we would unroot its foundations before the first night’s rest. This fellowship and common bond in the gospel did not come by human merit or willpower. This process began by God’s work of grace in us and through us. Paul is confident that these believers in Philippi will persevere in their faith because he was confident in the One who saved them. Note the certainty in verse 6, “will complete it.” This is the word “ἐπιτελέσει” in Greek and it means God would carry this process forward to completion. It is an indicative verb meaning this is guaranteed to take place. Anytime Paul thought of the believers in Philippi, he rejoiced! He knew that God was doing a work in them and it would not fail. Therefore, his prayer was that of exuberant joy when praying for the saints in Philippi.
The day of Jesus Christ should not be confused with the “Day of the Lord” which describes God wrath upon sin and final judgment(Joel 1:15,1 These. 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10). Rather, the day of the Christ is an event where each believer reaches final salvation(2 Cor. 5:9-10). We often call this “glorification.”
Paul continues to explain the effects that this gospel comradery and confidence has on him. He tells them that it is right for him to have this prayerful confidence on behalf of them(vs. 7). He speaks of mutual companionship in the phrase “I have you in my heart.” The phrase can be seen both ways in the structure of the text. It can be seen as “you have me in your hearts” as well as “I have you in my heart.” This outpouring warmed the heart of Paul because of their kindness shown to him through their gift. In fact, this demonstration of care and concern for him was evidence of their genuine faith in Christ. Though Paul was chained in Rome, the “binding chains of gospel fellowship” could be felt greater than the physical chains Paul wore in prison.
These believers were attached at heart. They shared one common bond that even distance, prison and persecution could not prevent. They were all partakers of God’s grace (vs. 7). It was grace that allowed Paul to see himself as a prisoner of Christ (vs. 1) not a prisoner of Rome. It was grace that moved these believers in Philippi to send him a gift to encourage him in time of need. It was grace that God allowed Epaphroditus to survive his sickness and later take this letter back to the believers in Philippi (2:25). It was grace that allowed a devoted Jew like Paul to find fellowship with Philippian Gentiles who were disregarded by Jewish standards. It is no wonder that Paul would start each of his letters with the salutation of “grace and peace.”
Paul claims God as his witness, how great of a desire he had to be with these believers (vs. 8). Notice the emotion Paul shows in his writing just in the first eight verses. He mentions “thankfulness,” “joy,” “confidence,” “in my heart”, “long for you”, and “affections of Jesus Christ.” This last phrase in verse 8 should be considered carefully, “affection of Jesus Christ.” The motivation behind Paul’s attachment to these believers was not that of human desire. It was the affections of Christ that moved Paul’s affections to love these saints. True gospel love is where Christ’s love grips us and moves our hearts to long for a relationship with others who have also been gripped by that same love.
Where does this leave us? This greeting from Paul should cause us to consider our fellowship with others in the gospel. There are a few questions I want us to ask in evaluating ourselves from this text. 1.) Have you truly made yourself a bondservant to Jesus Christ(vs.1)? This would involve being a willing slave who has chosen to submit himself to the will of the Master. Paul considered himself a slave to Christ and bound to His will. Is this true of you? 2.) Do you find your prayer life stagnate or exuberant with joy? When it comes to thinking of other fellow believers, which response ignites your heart? If the answer is exuberant joy, continue to take in the grace of God that has brought this about in your life. Teach others and testify of the journey that God has taken you down to get to this point of fellowship. If it is stagnate, consider how often you spend time with other believers. Did another believer hurt you? Is there anger or bitterness in your heart toward another believer? We need to examine our hearts and question why exuberant joy is lacking in our fellowship. We need to allow the affections of Christ to change us and God’s grace to sustain us.
3.) What kind of comradery do you have with other believers? The absence of gospel fellowship is the absence of exuberant joy. There is no such thing as a “lone ranger” Christian. We need each other in the Christian life. Within this question, one should also ask do they even have a desire to be with other believers? In verse 5, we saw that from the first day of salvation, there began a process of fellowship that lead to Paul being confident in their genuine faith.
Grace and Peace to you