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Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
A letter from Paul to the Philippians
Introduction. Philippi was a Roman colony and the chief city of Macedonia. Paul had received special instructions to go there (Acts 16:9-12). Lydia and the jailer (as well as others) were converted, forming the church at Philippi.
Paul was in prison at Rome when he wrote this epistle. He mentions his chains, Caesar's palace and some of Caesar's household sending their greetings to the church.
Paul was especially dear to these Philippians. He was the preacher who had brought them the gospel. Upon hearing that he was a prisoner in Rome, they sent their minister, Epaphroditus, to him with presents and good wishes. He sent this epistle back to them by their minister.
The design of the epistle is:
1. To express his love and affection for them.
2. To give an account of his imprisonment and the results of it.
3. To encourage them under affliction and persecution.
4. To excite them to love, unity and peace among themselves.
5. To caution them against false teachers, who were trying to mix Moses and Christ, the law and the gospel, grace and works in salvation.
6. To exhort them to a holy life and behavior.
7. To give thanks to them for their care for him.
Philippians 1:1. Paul, though the sole writer of this epistle, includes Timothy in his salutation for several reasons.
1. Timothy was with Paul when he preached in Philippi.
2. He planned to send Timothy to them (Philippians 2:19-23).
3. He shows the continued agreement between them in love and doctrine: ‘The servants (bondslaves) of Jesus Christ.’ Paul does not say, ‘I am an apostle, and Timothy is young and less important.’ He chooses a character which fits them both – willing, loving bondslaves of Christ (See Exodus 21:2-6).
‘To all the saints, bishops and deacons at Philippi.’ Every believer is a saint, consecrated and sanctified in Christ. The bishops are the pastors and elders, concerned mainly with the spiritual state of the members. The deacons (along with the spiritual concern) are the servants of the church, who serve the Lord's Table, the tables of the poor and the secular affairs of the church.
Philippians 1:2-5. This is a prayer of thanksgiving and petition.
1. He prays for grace and peace to be in them and upon them (v.2).
2. He thanks God for every thought and memory of them (v.3).
3. His memory of them and prayers for them bring him great joy (v.4).
4. He thanks God for their fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now (v.5).
This is the attitude we need to cultivate toward other believers. Leave off judging, criticizing and finding fault. Not only thank God for one another, but pray for his grace and peace to be with all believers.
May he by whose kind grace we meet,
Send his great Spirit from above,
Make our communications sweet,
And cause our hearts to burn with love.
Philippians 1:6. Paul's thanksgiving and joy on behalf of this church sprang from the confidence and persuasion that the work of grace which God had begun in them would result in their eternal glorification with Christ.
1. The ‘good work’ is regeneration, conversion, salvation and the forming of Christ in them.
2. It is ‘begun.’ It is not yet finished. We are saved, we are being saved and we will finally be saved when we awake with his likeness.
3. It is a work ‘in you.’ Christ does a work for us and also a work in us, sanctifying and making us new creatures (Ephesians 2:8-10).
4. He does the work. He is the author and finisher of our faith. Salvation is of the Lord from beginning to end (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Philippians 1:7-8. Paul further justifies his confidence in regard to these people on the basis of two other reasons: First, God kept them on Paul's heart continually, and, second, they stood by him in love and defense of the gospel.
‘It is right and appropriate for me to have this confidence and feel this way about you all, because even as you do me, I hold you in my heart as partakers and sharers, one and all with me, of grace. This is true when I am shut up in prison and when I am out in the field – for God is my witness how I long for and pursue you all with love’ (Amplified Version).
Philippians 1:9-11. Paul again prays for them.
1. ‘That your love may overflow more and more.’ Growth in grace includes growth in the grace of love for Christ and his people.
2. ‘That your love may increase in knowledge and judgment.’ Our love for Christ and his people is not blind, ignorant infatuation. We know him, and the more we know of him in his perfection, the more we love him. We know them – frail, weak and human like ourselves; yet our love grows as we are able to judge and discern true spiritual values.
3. ‘That you may approve things that are excellent.’ Or, ‘that you may learn to sense what is of real value and excellence.’ There is a difference in self-love and Christian love, in religious works and works of faith, and in knowing the doctrine of Christ and the Christ of doctrine.
4. ‘That you may be sincere in your desires after God,’ not stumbling nor causing others to stumble.
5. ‘That you may be filled with the fruits of righteousness,’ right standing before God in Christ and right doing for the glory of Christ!
Encouragement during trial
The church at Philippi had heard of the apostle's troubles. He wanted them to have a true and right understanding of trials and afflictions. He desired that the weak among them might not be offended and that all among them might be encouraged to bear with patience and cheerfulness whatever afflictions might befall them for Christ's sake.
Philippians 1:12-13. ‘Now, I want you to understand and rest assured that my imprisonment has actually served to advance and give renewed strength to the spreading of the gospel.’ Persecution for Christ's sake has often meant the carrying of the gospel to other places (Acts 8:4; Acts 11:19-20). Someone said, ‘The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.’ Also, persecution (our behavior under it and our attitude toward it) attracts attention and encourages others (Matthew 5:16).
Paul was not in prison for breaking the law, but for preaching the gospel of Christ (Acts 24:10-14). This was generally known throughout Caesar's court and in all other places. The gospel, as a result of Paul's confinement, had become an issue throughout the court (Acts 26:26). Our discomfort may be used of God to bring eternal comfort to others. It is said that ancient believers sold themselves into slavery to preach to the slaves. ‘Christ became poor that we through his poverty might be rich’ (2 Timothy 2:9-10).
Philippians 1:14. Paul's sufferings not only resulted in the conversion of many outside the church, but were encouraging and strengthening to many within the church. These brethren were challenged and encouraged by Paul's patience and faithfulness under suffering. Many became bold to declare the gospel of Christ. Our attitude and our general conduct during trials have a strong influence one way or the other upon those who watch us.
Philippians 1:15-17. I believe we can safely say that, whoever these men were, they truly preached the gospel of God's redeeming grace in Christ. Otherwise, Paul would not have rejoiced in their ministry (Galatians 1:8).
1. Some preached Christ out of envy. They envied Paul's gifts, power and success. It is the same as jealousy. Now that he was in jail, they hoped to gain the honor and applause of the church.
2. Some preached in strife and contention. The strife was not over the gospel of substitution, but over words, practices, government, prophecy and less understood doctrines.
3. Some preached out of a party spirit. They were not sincere, but hoped to make Paul's chains more bitter. Paul met with trouble, punishment and prison; but they were preaching with little difficulty and opposition. Perhaps they thought that Paul's troubles were of his own making and that if he did things their way, he wouldn't have so much trouble!
4. Some preached Christ out of love for Christ, for his church, for the lost and for Paul. They knew that the apostle was in prison by the hand and providence of God, who does not act in the same way toward all his servants.
Philippians 1:18-20. What does it matter? Christ is preached in the glory of his person, in the fullness of his grace, in the excellency of his righteousness, in the efficacy of his sacrifice, in the power of his intercession. ‘Therefore, I rejoice; and I will continue to rejoice.’
‘I know that all shall finally work together for my good (Romans 8:28), even to my deliverance from prison to preach to you again’ (in the same way as Peter was delivered from prison through the prayers of the church).
‘This is my expectation and my desire - to magnify and glorify Christ, whether in prison or out, in life or in death. I am not ashamed of the gospel. I am not ashamed of the chains which hold me. I am not ashamed to die in prison.’
Philippians 1:21-22. ‘For to me to live is Christ.’ He is the giver of life. He is the sum and substance of life. He is the hope of life eternal - to be with him and to be like him. ‘And to die is gain.’ I will gain release from pain and receive a perfect body, release from limited knowledge to a perfect mind, release from a sinful nature to a sinless perfection, release from all trials to perfect glory and joy, release from mortality to immortality!
‘If it is the will of Christ for me to live longer in the flesh, I will continue to labour in the Lord's vineyard. I trust to have a fruitful labour. I can say nothing as to my own preference, for it is not mine to choose; the decision is the Lord's.’
Philippians 1:23-24. ‘I must be honest, however. I am hard-pressed between these two thoughts: either to live and labour, or to die and be with Christ. To die and be with Christ would be better for me. But for me to remain here is better for you. It is best for me to go and be with Christ. It is best for you and the churches for me to remain and preach the gospel to you.’
Philippians 1:25-26. Paul had no divine revelation on this matter as such, but as he considered all things and examined his own heart, he felt confidently that God would deliver him and send him forth to preach again.
Philippians 1:27-30. The following verses are instructions.
1. ‘Conduct your churches, homes and personal lives in a way that is becoming to the gospel you profess. Live, walk and talk as believers should.’
2. ‘Whether I visit you or not, let me hear from others that you are standing together in unity and spirit, that you are contending together for the true gospel of Christ.’
3. ‘Do not be afraid of your enemies. The fact that men oppose you for the sake of the gospel is evidence of their condemnation and of your salvation.’
4. ‘It is not only ordained of God that you believe on Christ, but also that you suffer for his glory and your good.’
5. ‘We are all in the same battle, you and I.’
Tuesday, March 28th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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