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by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS
The city of Philippi was built as a military position by Philip the Great of Macedon to keep the wild Thracians in check, which were the neighbors of the Macedonians. Later it became a Roman colony by Augustus, as a memorial of his victory over Brutus and Cassius. It was not a very important city. The Jews had not settled there at all, so that the city did not contain a synagogue. In Acts 16:12 Philippi is called “the chief city of that part of Macedonia.” This does not mean that Philippi was the chief city of all Macedonia, which Thessalonica was; but Philippi was the chief city of that district and the first city to which Paul and his companions came. The historical record of the apostle’s visit to Philippi and how the gospel was preached there, for the first time on European ground, is found in the book of Acts (chapter 16). The conversion of Lydia, her hospitality to the servants of Christ, the demon possessed girl and her deliverance, the suffering of Paul and Silas on account of it, their prayer and praise in the prison, the earthquake, the conversion of the jailer and of his house, are the interesting and blessed incidents connected with the beginning of the church in Philippi. The apostle probably visited this city twice after this (Acts 20:1 and Acts 20:6 ), though the details of these visits are not reported in the book of Acts.
The church in Philippi was greatly attached to the Apostle Paul. He had no need to defend his apostleship and authority, for the Philippians had not been affected by the false Judaizing teachers, who had wrought such havoc in Galatia and Corinth. This must have been due to the fact that there were few Jews in that city. But the apostle evidently feared the invasion of the Philippian assembly by these false teachers. This we learn from the warning given in Philippians 3:2 . The church itself was poor and had much trial and affliction; yet did they minister out of their deep poverty to other needy saints (2 Corinthians 8:1-2 ; Philippians 1:28-30 ). They had also ministered liberally to the apostle twice shortly after he had left them (Philippians 4:15-16 ); he received their fellowship in Thessalonica. The third time they had remembered him. Epaphroditus was their messenger who brought the love-gift to the prisoner of the Lord. In return the apostle sent to the beloved Philippians another gift, this beautiful Epistle, dictated by the Spirit of God.
Written From Rome
That this Epistle to the Philippians was written by Paul seems almost impossible to doubt. “Indeed, considering its peculiarly Pauline psychological character, the total absence from it of all assignable motive for falsification, the spontaneity and fervor of its effusions of feeling--he must be a bold man who would call its authorship in question” (Alford). Yet the critics are bold and leave nothing unquestioned and some have questioned the genuineness of this document. Needless to say the Epistle has not suffered by this foolish criticism. The ancient testimony of Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and others mentions this epistle as being Pauline and written by him in Rome, during his imprisonment, of which we read in Acts 28:30-31 . The question arises at what time of his prison life he wrote this letter. It was not in the very beginning, but must have been to wards the end. The Philippians had heard of his imprisonment and had made up a sum of money which Epaphroditus carried in person to Rome. And Epaphroditus had fallen sick and the Philippians had heard of his severe illness “nigh unto death” (Philippians 2:30 ). This sickness of their beloved Epaphroditus had been in turn reported to them (Philippians 2:26 ) and the apostle heard how they had been grieved on account of it. All this necessitated a number of journeys from Rome to Philippi and back. This took a good many months. And furthermore, in the beginning of his stay in Rome he dwelt for two years in his own hired house and seemed to have perfect liberty (Acts 28:30 ). In his epistle to the Philippians he writes that he is in the praetorium and no longer in his own house. “But I would have you know, brethren, that the circumstances in which I am here turned out rather to the furtherance of the gospel, so that my bonds have become manifest as being in Christ in all the praetorium and to all others” (Philippians 1:12-13 , revised translation). The praetorium was the place where the praetorium guards were kept, next to the palace of the Emperor Nero. He had now been put in stricter confinement and felt his bonds more severely (Philippians 1:18 ). The Epistle must therefore have been written by him after the Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon, that is, about the middle of the year 63 A.D.
The Epistle of Christian Experience
Philippians is put in our Bibles between Ephesians and Colossians. A better arrangement is to put this Epistle after Colossians. The Epistle to the Ephesians shows the believer’s position in Christ and what he possesses in Him; Colossians reveals the glory of Christ as the Head of the body in whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily. Philippians also speaks of Christ, but not in a doctrinal way. It is an Epistle which describes the walk and the life of one who has apprehended his position in Christ and walks therefore in the power of the Spirit of God. It shows what manner of lives those should live on earth who are saved by grace and who are waiting for glory. The epistle assumes the knowledge of what the salvation of God is. We therefore find nothing said about justification, peace with God or assurance of salvation. The word “salvation” as used in Philippians has nowhere the meaning of salvation by grace in the sense of deliverance from guilt and condemnation. Philippians shows us what true Christian experience is in the power of the Spirit of God. The words “sins” and “sin” are not found in this Epistle. The true believer knows that his sins are put away and that the old man was crucified with Christ. The question of deliverance from the guilt of sin and from the power of sin, as so blessedly revealed in Romans, does not enter into true Christian experience. True Christian experience is to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and to manifest Christ in that walk. This the Epistle to the Philippians reveals from beginning to end. The name of our Lord is used over fifty times in the four chapters. He is the believer’s life; Christ must be always before the heart and He must be made known by the believer in his life, following Him as the pattern and looking to Him as the goal.
The words “joy” and “rejoicing” are used eighteen times in Philippians. It is the Epistle of rejoicing. “He went on his way rejoicing” is the description of the experience of the eunuch after he had believed on the Lord. The true believer’s way should be one of constant rejoicing. The whole atmosphere of this Epistle is that of joy, and so the believer in whatever earthly circumstances he may be placed should manifest the joy of the Lord. Paul, the great apostle, and now the prisoner of the Lord, as years before in the Philippian prison, sends forth from the Roman prison the triumphant song of faith and holy joy. There is not a word of murmur or complaint. it is “counting it all joy” and “glorying in tribulation.” He had Christ; He knew Christ; Christ was his all; he knew himself in His hands and the glorious goal was ever before him and the Holy Spirit filled him therefore with joy. And such should be the experience of every believer. The word Philippians means “those who love horses.” The racehorse in fullest energy stretches its neck to reach the goal. This epistle describes also the Christian race. This is especially seen in the third chapter where the energy and holy ambition of the new life to win Christ, to attain and to reach the goal is given. The Epistle likewise reveals the real affection and fellowship which exists between the servant of the Lord and those who have received blessing through his ministry. The annotations of this precious little Epistle contain many hints on the true Christian experience and walk.
The Division of Philippians
The division into four chapters is the correct one. As stated in the introduction it is true Christian experience which this little Epistle unfolds, showing the motives which should govern the believer in his life, the energy he should manifest, the resources which are at his disposal and the victory over all circumstances through Christ. The Christian in a normal, spiritual condition as seen in this Epistle has been aptly described as on a journey with an object before him, which is Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is therefore the theme of each chapter. Hence we have four aspects of the true Christian life and experience.
In the first chapter Christ is made known as the all-controlling principle of the life of the believer. Christ is our life; He indwells the believer, and true Christian life and experience is to live for Him and be fully controlled by the Lord. “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 ). In the second chapter Christ is seen in His humiliation and obedience as the believer’s pattern. The One who passed through this life, who left the glory to humble Himself, who was obedient unto death, the death of the cross; He who endured the cross and despised the shame, who is now exalted at the right hand of God and has a name which is above every name, is to be constantly before the believer’s heart. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 ). In the third chapter Christ is the bright object and the final goal before the believer. In the energy of the new life the believer reaches out after that goal, never satisfied with anything else. It is the desire to win actually Christ, to lay hold of that for which he has been laid hold of by Christ. “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11 ). In the fourth chapter we learn that Christ is enough for all circumstances. The believer, who, like the great apostle, can say, “for me to live is Christ”; who ever follows His path of self-humiliation and obedience, constantly reaching out for the goal, will find that Christ is sufficient for all earthly circumstances. “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13 ). This then is the division of this brief but most important and practical Epistle:
I. CHRIST, THE CONTROLLING PRINCIPLE OF THE BELIEVER’S LIFE (ch. 1)
II. CHRIST, THE BELIEVER’S PATTERN (ch. 2)
III. CHRIST, THE OBJECT AND THE GOAL (ch. 3)
IV. CHRIST, THE BELIEVER’S STRENGTH, SUFFICIENT FOR ALL CIRCUMSTANCES (ch. 4)
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