April 26, 2007

Philippians: Gospel Living 1

I've been blessed and challenged by the study of Philippians, and today I'm going to begin a series of posts in which we explore the letter and its implications. We start with an overview of the first eight verses.

1. Paul and Timothy. Paul lists Timothy as a co-sender of this letter, but it is eminently clear throughout the letter that this is Paul writing. His voice is very characteristic, but much more than that, he speaks very personally (maybe as personally as anywhere in his correspondence) about his thoughts and feelings, his past experiences, and his plans. He also refers to plans for Timothy a little later in the letter. So Paul is recognizing his coworker here.

2. Notice the little descriptive phrase Paul adds here. “Servants of Christ.” The word is probably best understood in terms of “slaves.” Paul is setting out in the letter to show that Christ is the head and goal, and he is a servant, a slave, one of no value when compared to Christ. (And here, we see an example of how Paul’s main concerns in the letter are already hinted at in the greeting, as being a servant and being humble is a concern he takes up in chapter 2.)

3. All the saints at Philippi, along with the overseers and deacons. Paul is emphasizing here very clearly that this letter is to “all” the people in Philippi, from the leaders of the church down to the very last believer. They are all saints in Christ, and all objects of his affection. And in calling them saints, he reminds them of why they are unified: because of Christ. The only other letters in which Paul addresses “all” are Romans and the letters to Corinth, and all three of those letters deal with problems of unity. So again Paul is tipping his hand right from the start.

4. This letter is addressed to friends. This church was planted on Paul’s second missionary journey, and they are partners with him, having supported him from the first. Even when they were having tough times (see 2 Cor 8), they kept up the commitment to Paul. And when he was in prison, they sent an emissary to him to care for his needs. Paul shows obvious thankfulness and affection for this group. They are clearly close to his heart in a special way. None of his other letters show quite this much genuine affection. It is fitting that this letter focuses on joy, because Paul gets obvious joy from the Philippians, though he is clear that his ultimate joy comes from the progress of the gospel and from God himself.

5. He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it. Paul rejoices because of what the Philippians have done for him and for the gospel. And he rejoices all the more because he knows that it is God that has already worked in and through them and that it is God that will surely complete the work that has been started. In that confidence comes joy. What a great thought to ponder. He who began the work will surely complete it. It is a great promise with regard to our salvation, for God began the work long before we were born, was working in us long before we believed, and will be faithful to finish what he has started. And it applies to all things that God is doing. For he is at work in us and through us, and he will be faithful to complete what he starts.

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