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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Philippians 1

Verses 1-6

Introduction

We are overwhelmed by pleasant warmth when we read this letter. There is a cordial relationship between the sender and the recipient despite the great distance and the different circumstances. Paul is in Rome and the recipients are living in Philippi. He is not writing from a comfortable apartment or from a nice hotel room, but from a jail. A prison those days was not a luxurious dwelling place, as it is today, at least in the West.

We get in this letter a glimpse into the heart of Paul. When we read this letter we do not hear any lamentation as to how bad things are with him. Rather we hear the singing of his heart. How is this possible? This is possible because his heart is full of Christ. He is not overwhelmed by his circumstances. He does not grieve, nor grumble about the Lord. He sees Him Who is above all circumstances. Paul is convinced that his circumstances are in the hands of the Lord.

When we see our life from this perspective we cannot be intimidated. But often it does not happen in our practical life. The Lord knows this. That is why the Lord takes us by the hand through this letter to teach us how to live with joy in our hearts through all our troubles and difficulties of life. Paul also did not learn this overnight. He had to do some exercises. For him this was worth the trouble. If that was so for him, the same goes for you and for me.

I mentioned the word joy. This is the key word for this letter. It is quite refreshing to hear Paul use this word again and again. Furthermore there is no sign of depression over the situation he was in, nor was there any sign of gloom over the developments in the church. His heart was full of joy for he was full of Christ. There was also joy because the Philippians had not forgotten him. Paul very much appreciated the proof of their love to him. How good the feeling when others show that they have not forgotten us and that they empathize with us!

Philippi is first mentioned in the Bible in Acts 16:11-2 Kings :. There it is reported how Paul and his companions entered Europe and brought the gospel to Philippi. The result of their preaching was the beginning of the church in Europe. It was not without resistance; it was accompanied by oppression and persecution. Paul landed in prison. But the light of the gospel shone forth from the dark dungeon.

When Paul wrote this letter he was back in jail. About ten years had passed since his first visit to Philippi. The Philippians had not forgotten him and Paul also had not forgotten them. There was regular contact between them. Several times the Philippians had sent him something to support his living. And when they heard of his detention in Rome they asked Epaphroditus to visit him. They were eager to send something through him. Well, it was well received by Paul, which is evidenced in this letter.

This letter is really a thank you letter. Paul expresses his gratitude for the gift he had received from the Philippians, and much more than that he is thankful to them for their compassion. One can read between the lines how much he is connected to this church. The tone is full of love and the language full of intimacy. He could share his heart and his sentiments with this church. He knew that they would understand him. It is something valuable to know that someone trusts you and understands you.

The Philippians desired to express their love for Paul through their gift. For them it was not ’out of sight, out of mind’, but they kept him in their hearts. They always thought of him with gratitude and concern. Paul in his turn thought of their worry and concern for him. He wanted to remove their anxious concern for him through this letter. A deep affection was present on both sides. What a role model for the local churches is such a relationship with each other and with God’s servants!

Paul is a man who would use any situation for the furtherance of the gospel. Here he makes use of his prison experience to serve people spiritually. In a most friendly way he shares with the Philippians the experiences he went through. The letter to the Philippians is not a doctrinal letter but a letter full of Christian experience. We encounter here deep soul experiences. Christendom is not just doctrine; it is Christ’s life in our life; an experiencing-Him life. Doctrine and life go together and one does not work without the other. In this letter the emphasis is on life unlike in the letter to the Romans in which the emphasis is on doctrine.

An experiencing-Him life is a life of spiritual development. This life is not a search for an optimum fortune; this life does not happen in a snapshot. Spiritual growth is a process that takes place in God’s way according to God’s will. Therefore it is necessary that Christ is central. You must learn to focus your look constantly on Christ. Then only you can grow spiritually. Spiritual growth means being filled with Christ in your heart and in your whole being more and more every day, and that you incorporate Him in all your activities, and that you do nothing without him. Do you dare to say that you are that far in your spiritual journey? I am not. Even the Philippians were not.

This letter is a description of a Christian’s pilgrimage through the wilderness. A wilderness is not a pleasant place to stay. It is dry, withered and dead. So is the world for the Christian. A Christian is not concerned with the things around him on the earth. His concern is about Christ in heaven. His journey is towards Him. He is keen on this objective and this motive is constant in his life. This zeal inspires him for greater activity. He gives up anything that prevents him from achieving this goal.

In this letter you cannot find the word ‘flesh’ (in the sense of sinful flesh) or the word ‘sin’. Nothing is mentioned regarding the struggles of faith. Struggles are a part of life in this world which affects us. In this letter we listen to a man who is full of Christ. When you learn to focus your look on Christ steadfastly at all times, you become invincible to the onslaughts of temptations. Difficulties and problems, doubts and worries do not get a chance to separate you from Christ. Christ is greater than all our problems. When Christ is involved in your life the problems do not disappear, but they come under His control.

Instead of struggling in faith you experience the power of the Spirit. Where Christ is seen, the Holy Spirit is at work. As your eyes are fixed on Christ the Holy Spirit keeps on working. The Holy Spirit gains free access to fill your heart and your entire outlook with the Person of Christ.

This letter has four chapters and in each chapter the life of Christ is the theme:
1. Chapter 1: Life consists solely of Christ.
2. Chapter 2: Examples from the life of Christ – how this life first became visible in Christ and then in others.
3. Chapter 3: Describes the power this life offers to everyone who desires to live this life.
4. Chapter 4: How this life lifts a Christian above all his circumstances.

Salutation, Thanksgiving and Prayer

Philippians 1:1. In his usual style Paul first mentions that he himself is the writer of the letter. Then as he often does, he includes someone with him as he writes this letter. This time he has Timothy who is his “true child in [the] faith“ (1 Timothy 1:2). Young Timothy was of special value to Paul as his trusted companion in his work (Philippians 2:20-Song of Solomon :). He was also well known to the Philippians. Paul mentions his name also as co-sender of this letter to make it clear that he also stands behind the contents of the letter. That was important because Paul was hoping to send him shortly to them.

That Paul mentioned Timothy’s name also as co-sender does not mean that they had written this letter together. In many places Paul uses the word ‘I’ which shows that he is the real writer.

Also note that Paul does not write as an apostle. He introduces himself and Timothy as “bond-servants of Jesus Christ“. That means the servant or slave has been purchased by Christ so that he or she is free. The one who is convinced about the price the Lord Jesus paid for his redemption will always want to be His slave. By saying bond-servants of Christ, he places himself and Timothy on the same level with the Philippians. The contents of the letter do not carry any greater weight when it is connected with his apostolic authority. The important matter is to show its contents in everyday life. That is seen in his life as a bond-servant and not on the basis of his position as apostle.

If he had written as an apostle, then he had given the impression that one must have the position of the apostle to have Christian experience. The Christian experience he presents here is not apostolic in nature, but it is an experience in the range of ordinary Christians. It relates to every ordinary Christian who is a bond-servant of the Lord. Love for the Lord Jesus is the motive to show in our life the contents of this letter. This letter is not a command from above.

Paul really has in his mind all the saints. We see this in the manner in which he addresses his readers. He writes to “all the saints” and that means no one is excluded. By the use of the word “all” he makes it clear that he stands above all parties and differences. He writes not to the church in Philippi but to the saints because the Christian experience is something personal. These saints are “in Christ Jesus”. That is their spiritual position. They are also the saints “in Philippi”. There we see their earthly position.

It is in Philippi their role in their social and church life takes place; there they have their responsibility, and there they bear their testimonies. You can apply this to yourself. You have been set apart in Christ from this world, and that is the meaning of saint. You no longer belong to the world. In Christ Jesus you have been separated from the world to live for God. In the place where you live you do this in everyday life.

It is true that the “overseers and deacons” have been specifically mentioned, but that does not mean they had any special status. The word “including” shows that. They have been put on a par with the saints (cp. Acts 20:28). It is clear from Acts 20 and Titus 1 that overseers means the same as elders (Acts 20:17-Hosea :; Titus 1:5; Titus 1:7). Elder denotes the maturity of the person and his experience in life. Overseer denotes the nature of the work or the task.

I would not be surprised if you have questions about the appointment of elders. I can say a few things about it. In the New Testament we read three times about the appointment of elders (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5). These passages do not suggest that the church appointed them. You read of the apostles who appoints them for the purpose of the church (Acts 14:23). We read that overseers were first made by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28; and you read that someone else appoints them in the name of an apostle (Titus 1:5). Since we have no more apostles, no one can handle in the name of an apostle, and therefore it is difficult to appoint elders today.

Are not elders necessary? Does not 1 Timothy 3 speak about the qualifications of overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-Judges :)? Certainly I did not say that they are now redundant. What I assert is that they cannot be officially appointed by the church. Believers who know the Lord and walks with Him for a considerable period of time are encouraged to seek the position of an overseer (1 Timothy 3:1). Blessed are those local churches that have such men in their midst.

“Deacons” are people who are responsible for the material things of people in the church. This is not a lesser service than that of the overseer, but another one. The overseer is mainly responsible for the spiritual needs of the believers. Both these services require a direct dependence on the Lord. They cannot show any nepotism. They are no respecters of persons. Then only their service can be of any use to the saints and to the honor of the Lord.

Philippians 1:2. Paul closes his salutation with the usual words of blessings. He wishes his readers the consciousness of “grace” and inner “peace” for their everyday life. Grace means free and unmerited favor. To live a life in the consciousness of grace bestowed is a life lived in which the peace of God is experienced.

He wishes that this peace and this grace will be given to them by the two Persons in the Godhead Whom they are associated with. The Father and the Lord Jesus Christ have a great interest in the believers. Believers enjoy peace and grace when they have this great interest in everything related to the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. In the light of this letter we can say that grace and peace encompass the total Christian experience. You can relate these two blessings to everything you experience in the shaping of your character as a Christian.

Philippians 1:3. The basic tone of the letter is gratitude. Paul begins to thank spontaneously when he thinks of the Philippians. Sometimes you also could have experienced similar feelings. When you think of certain people you cannot easily suppress certain feelings. The feelings correspond to what these people mean to you. If you had negative experiences with them your heart will not overflow with gratitude when you think of them. But if they are people to whom you owe a lot then things are different.

How good memories make a man happy and grateful! It is the same here with Paul when he thinks of the Philippians. He makes them know that he thanks God when he thinks of them. God also saw to it that this bond of fellowship exists.

Philippians 1:4. Paul’s thoughts are filled with the involvement of the Philippians and therefore he always prays for them, and thanks God upon every remembrance of them. One can also learn another fact from this. His prayer for them is not a burden, nor a lamentation before God. It builds up confidence in him. He prays “with joy” and that is “for you all”, so for all of them.

It looks as if there are no exceptions in this church. They were all totally involved in the gospel Paul preached. Even now while he was in prison they were all participants in the gospel. They always stood behind him. The gift they sent him testified to it. I am jealous of such a church. Aren’t you?

Philippians 1:5. The Philippians were not just nice people; they were his brothers and sisters. With them he shared his testimonies and with them he shared his faith in the Lord Jesus. They had accepted the gospel on the first day they heard it from him (Acts 16:14; Acts 16:33-Nahum :). They then supported him in the preaching of the gospel, not simply once as people do it at the spur of the moment in emotional excitement.

There are Christians who are excited momentarily when a gospel outreach is organized. It is wonderful to do something for the Lord along with many people. But again when the action is over and normal life resumes its course, their activity for the gospel is also over. It was different with the Philippians. Their attachment to the gospel was not out of impulse or out of a temporary emotion. It continued “until now”.

Philippians 1:6. Paul is realistic enough to see that “until now” is not the end of the line. The Philippians must go ahead a further distance. But he has full confidence in them and sees the end ahead with joy. The fruit witnessed in their life was the result of the good work God worked in them. That gave him the confidence for the future. He knew that God would continue His work in them and complete it. The completion will take place on “the day of Jesus Christ”.

The “day of Christ” is the day when Christ would appear in His glory. The whole Christian life spans between two days – the first day (Philippians 1:5) and the day of Christ. The first day is the beginning of the race, the day on which they (we) heard the gospel and accepted it. The day of Christ is the period when Christ will openly take control over the world (Psalms 2:8). For us that day begins when we believers “shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-Esther :), after which we will immediately “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Then we will look back upon our life with the eyes of the Lord and arrive at the same judgment as His. “We will be like Him” (1 John 3:2). Then God’s work in us is completed.

Now read Philippians 1:1-6 again.

Reflection: What can you learn from the way Paul gives thanks and prays for the Philippians?

Verses 7-11

The Love of Paul for the Philippians

Philippians 1:7. Paul substantiates what he said earlier about his prayer with thanksgiving for the Philippians, and about his fellowship in the gospel, and about his confidence that God will complete His work in them. He is “right” in mentioning all these positive thoughts about them for several reasons. One reason is that they had him in their hearts. They did not think of him now and then. He belonged to them entirely. Though he was not physically present with them they carried him in their hearts. They cherished an abiding love for him, and he felt their love for him.

I think that you can imitate the Philippians. You can also have Paul close to your heart and love him. When you read his letters you simply show your love for his teachings. Then what is said of the Philippians could also be said of you. Others will thank and pray God for you. They will see your life and notice that your life is dedicated to the gospel; they will see that you live for the gospel; they will see that God works in you and therefore are confident that the Lord will complete His good work which He began in you.

Another reason why Paul rightly had good thoughts of them is because of their practical Christian living. They loved him so much that they had him in their hearts, but also because their love had hands and feet. They rallied behind him as he defended the gospel. The gospel when preached is always opposed and attacked. But the Philippians were always with Paul and together with him they resisted the opposing forces. They showed others that the gospel is the only way to salvation and this gospel included all other blessings. Their own repentance was the confirmation of the truth of the gospel.

We can dispute and refute on various issues. But living witnesses which testify to what happened to them when they accepted the gospel cannot be denied. They had to be killed to stop their mouth. Even then they speaks still (Hebrews 11:4). Anyone who thinks that he can stop the course of the gospel by throwing its preacher into prison makes a great mistake. That happened to Paul. The opposing forces only paved a new road for the gospel.

The “grace” he speaks about enabled him to endure his chains and to defend the gospel and to confirm it. He felt his preaching as well as his imprisonment as personal grace. Talking about this grace he says “you are partakers.” You are all partakers of the grace that is my portion.

You see how Paul and the Philippians built up a unity. Participation in a common cause promotes unity and fellowship. Do you identify yourself with the Lord’s workers and their situations? Then you also partake of the grace they received for this cause. It is not about persons but about God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Where the consciousness of the grace increases the dedication to the Lord and the unity of the believers will also increase. This is true not only among believers who together form a local church but also between the local church and a worker somewhere in the world.

Philippians 1:8. Such an intimate bond of fellowship seeks to express itself in more concrete ways. They want to see each other and be together. Paul wants them to know how much he loves them and longs to see them. That he calls God to be his Witness does not mean that he is concerned about the Philippians’ difficulty to believe him. It is as if he sought for himself the strongest expression to emphasize his desire for them. His desire for them had nothing to do with human sympathy. He did not want to see them because they were so nice to him. He wanted to be with them because his heart yearned for them.

“Affection” literally means bowels or entrails and it denotes the inner feelings and affections. However, these are not human emotions but it is the affection “of Jesus Christ”. Paul shows that his affections towards the Philippians are compared to the affections of Christ for His church. There we not only love the nice brothers and sisters but all without distinction. It is important to develop such feelings in our relationship with our brothers and sisters.

Philippians 1:9. Paul already said that he thanked and prayed for them, giving the reason why he did so (Philippians 1:3-Deuteronomy :). Now he mentions what he prayed for. Love is not something which is limited to the barest necessities. The nature of love is its abundance. Paul speaks about “your love” that it “may abound still more and more”. Once the faucet of love is opened the volume of love that flows out becomes greater and greater.

But the river of love requires a channel to flow through. Love is never wasteful or unreliable. That is why Paul prays that their love must be led by “knowledge and all discernment”. Love does not operate foolish. Spiritual knowledge is essential to express love and to prove love. Otherwise love is a hollow concept. We need to know what the Bible means by love. A sinful relationship cannot be labeled as love. True love will point out such a wrong relationship. Sin must be condemned so that God’s love can be enjoyed.

With “all discernment” Paul adds spiritual understanding to his prayer. It is one thing to have knowledge of something, but it is another matter to use knowledge in the right way at the right time. That is why discernment of a particular situation or circumstance is necessary, not in small measure, but in all discernment. Try to acquire all discernment. Well, we are unable to achieve that by ourselves. That is why a prayer like this is essential. You can add this as a prayer point for yourself and others.

Philippians 1:10. Love directed by knowledge and discernment is necessary to “approve the things that are excellent”. You see how everything is viewed positively. To approve what is excellent is quite different to avoiding what is evil or spasmodically trying not to sin. To approve means to examine closely and carefully whether something is genuine and to make a decision based on this examination. It is an examination to check if a thing is worthy to be believed.

One for whom Christ is everything is not content with anything lesser than the best. The good is not sufficient and only the best is good enough. When you look for the best in earthly things, why not you look for the best in spiritual things? The best is that you know Christ and that it may result in glorifying Him with your life.

A few examples: You want to use the best Bible translation, and you want to belong to a local church where the Lord Jesus is the Center and the Word of God is recognized in all its authority. You want a job or profession in which you can work for His honor and you want to spend your free-time activities in a way that you can express your gratitude to Him.

These are few examples in which choices are included. It is your choice to choose what is best. When you choose the best in spiritual areas, your walk and behavior will be in compliance with God’s perfect light. In a dark world you will be without offence and you will increase in purity. This is the growth process. This process comes to an end when “the day of Christ” dawns or when the Lord takes you to Himself before this day.

I already said something about the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6) at the end of the previous section. On this day you will be completely “sincere and blameless”. But it is the intention of God that you work on it now. He would like to see that you live a life that is pure and blameless as much as possible. A sincere or pure life is a life without ulterior motives, clear and transparent. Impure motives are not there. A life blameless or without offence, is a life on which no one will find fault. To meet the expectations of God, you do not look to the commandments or impose laws upon yourself. You must only look to Christ. You learn from Him so that the result that He desires in you is achieved with love as the motivating force.

Philippians 1:11. A life without ulterior or impure motive is rare but not impossible. Anyone can achieve this, in whose life Christ takes the first and the only place. Such life will be like a tree which is full of fruits. It has its roots in Jesus Christ. It draws its life’s nourishment from Him. The fruit consists of everything in life of which we say, it is righteous (Ephesians 5:9; Galatians 5:22). That refers to everything you say and do. Unjust acts are not there. You give everyone his due, and you are honest in your evaluation of God’s people and others and in judging words, events and actions.

This is possible only “through Jesus Christ”. All what you do, the whole “fruit of righteousness”, is to “to the glory and praise of God” now as well as at the appearance of Jesus Christ, and to all eternity.

The fruit of righteousness was found in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ in its fullness. Everything He did was a fruit which was characterized by righteousness, the right of God. His whole conduct was a righteous conduct.

Now read Philippians 1:7-11 again.

Reflection: What is the reason you think that you can yearn for a brother or sister?

Verses 12-18

The Progress of the Gospel

Philippians 1:12. Only after he expressed his joy over the Philippians and his desire for them, Paul says something about his own circumstances. You can always count on the interests of others in your circumstances, when there is a true bond of love between you and them. Look how he reports. He does not complain, nor does he exploit the good nature of Philippians. He does not give an impressive report on hardships he has to go through. He wants to show how God stands above all his circumstances which helped in the progress of the gospel. Is this not the true Christian view of life? It does not come naturally nor is it something you can read in an instruction booklet, but you must learn it by experience.

The words “have turned out” are significant in this regard. It means that it is in contrast to what one expects. Paul is in imprisoned. It seemed as if the enemy had obtained a great victory. This might have been discouraging to the Philippians. But as for Paul there was no trace of consternation. On the contrary, he encourages the Philippians by telling them that this exactly fits into God’s plan. The enemy meant evil, but God used it for the good (Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20).

Often Paul uses the expression “I want you to know”. This he does when he wanted to draw attention to something special (Romans 1:13; Romans 11:25; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 11:31 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:13).

The enemy thought that he had shut up Paul through imprisonment and thereby gave a severe blow to the gospel. But that was not the case. Actually God opened up new possibilities for the preaching of the gospel. The enemy also helped in the furtherance of the gospel. The enemy restricted Paul’s freedom of movement. But he could not stop his mouth nor affect his conviction. Paul might have been bound but the Word was not bound (2 Timothy 2:9).

In this way a number of soldiers, to whom Paul was chained in his imprisonment, heard the gospel (Acts 28:16) as he preached to anyone who visited him (Acts 28:30-Obadiah :). Those who were used to the worst curses should have spoken to each other about this remarkable prisoner. Satan gave this great evangelist of all the times access even to the “whole praetorian guard”. As a free man he would have never had this access. Thus the gospel came to places where it would have otherwise never reached. You see how God is exalted above satan’s raging and used his evil intentions to carry out His plans.

Philippians 1:13. It becomes clear to all everywhere that Paul is not incarcerated as a criminal to serve a penalty rightly awarded by the law. He was indeed taken prisoner by the Romans but he knew that he was not a prisoner of Rome. He never calls himself that way. When he talks about his imprisonment he always does so in relation to Christ. He is His prisoner (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1; Philemon 1:9), or as he says here “my imprisonment in [the cause of] Christ”. He is imprisoned for Christ’s sake. He does not take his circumstances from the hands of the enemy but from the hands of the One Whom he serves. Christ decides his fate; not the Roman emperor.

Philippians 1:14. There is one more consequence of Paul’s detention. When others saw Paul’s testimony during his detention they took courage and began to preach the Word. Paul’s imprisonment inspired them to do the work of an evangelist. Sharing the Word is everyone’s responsibility. No one can pass the buck. But sometimes there are inner obstacles. Sometimes some brothers think that they are not as good as the other eminent preachers. Such brothers need help to overcome their inferiority complex. Paul never wanted to see himself as an obstacle to other believers who served the Lord in their capacity. Sometimes God Himself intervenes and sends the more experienced ones to other places, and then it is a great encouragement to see others begin to preach the gospel and fulfill their responsibility.

The Lord remains the same whether Paul or any other gifted brothers are there or not. The Philippians had put their trust in Him. Even so we can put our trust in Him and speak the Word of God without fear. Our confidence should not be in ourselves; for then the Lord cannot work. Once you put your trust in Him you can see what He can do with your life and with your testimony.

Philippians 1:15. The absence of the apostle not only gave room for the shy ones. It also gave some people the opportunity to excel themselves in their work. Now it was their time to shine like stars. Their rival (so they considered him) had disappeared and with him his influence. They were people who tried to undermine Paul’s authority in the church and set believers against each other. They preached Christ “even from envy and strife”. They not only sought their own reputation but also wanted to hurt the imprisoned apostle. Their intentions were malicious.

If you are not aware a little bit of the corruption of your own heart, you would say: how could that be possible. But even today it happens. God’s servants sometimes want to take over the leadership of the church for selfish reasons. Often that happens at the cost of others who mean a lot for the church.

Philippians 1:16. Then the one, who served the church, having the view that the church is his own, reacts fleshly to the injustice done to him. Paul presents a good example here. He does not paint all with a single brush. He differentiates them according to their motives. Those who preached with good intentions did so out of love. There is no room for envy and strife if love is the driving force. Then we accept the fact that God entrusts every one with a specific task. Each task is different from the other. It is important that we accept the God-given differences and to act accordingly. Those who were guided by love accepted Paul’s special mission to defend the gospel.

Philippians 1:17. The ideas or the intentions of some were mean and base. Their wonderful preaching which tickled the ears of people arose from “selfish ambition” which comprises selfishness, ambition and unsound rivalry which are related to one another. They labored to gather people around themselves and form a new party. Such people thought that such activities would jeopardize Paul’s mission and that it would add afflictions to his chains. This only revealed their wicked hearts.

Philippians 1:18. Certainly Paul’s reaction could have been different too, if he were like them. We could also be upset about a lot of wickedness against our personal integrity. It is even more painful to see the work that we should have done breaking down before our eyes. Isn’t it a paradox to proclaim Christ and at the same time do so out of undesirable motives? Does it not seem impossible to misuse the Name of Christ for personal and selfish purposes?

Paul was totally not open for such considerations. His reaction is quite different in nature. His exclamation “what then?” sounds like a cry of victory. Do not think this is a call coming forth from indifference or callousness. With this short sentence he sets aside all the resistance and the incriminating actions of the enemy. He does not think of a circular letter to counter all the false allegations of the enemy. He does not give any instructions to the Philippians as to how they should handle such mean people.

This shows his attitude, and awareness of Whom his heart is filled with, namely Christ. His enemies attacked him and he defended the gospel, but not himself. In this he points to Christ. His enemies as humans could not act above themselves. Paul stands above his circumstances because his heart is filled with Christ.

What can the enemy do with such a man? Christ and the salvation of others are more important to Paul than the question if he could continue the work himself. God continued it further. Our God reigns no matter what happens with you or around you. He is sovereign and He uses His word to achieve His end no matter who preaches or how it is preached. This awareness makes him happy now and forever. It also makes you happy when you learn to look at circumstances like him. Then you are invincible, not because you are strong but because He is strong.

Now read Philippians 1:12-18 again.

Reflection: What is the secret not to be depressed by circumstances?

Verses 19-24

Magnify Christ in Your Body

Philippians 1:19. In Philippians 1:12 Paul said that he wanted the Philippians to know something. Now he says what he himself knows. To know something means to have knowledge of it. In the meantime you have already understood that the knowledge of certain things about God is not intended as food for your intellect. All what you know about God and all that He gives you as knowledge is given to you that it might work something in your life. That does not only refer to the knowledge that you acquire through Bible study. It also is related to the experiences which you obtain in your faith life. Paul refers to the latter. He knew that all that happened to him, and about which he speaks in the previous verses, was used by God to achieve the one purpose, namely “deliverance” or salvation.

The salvation here of course is not the salvation through faith (Ephesians 2:8). He was already in possession of it. He lived consciously of the fact that all things were in the hands of God. Therefore he was sure that he would overcome all the circumstances, safe and unharmed.

Yes, to a certain extent the tide of circumstances had already carried him towards the goal, and now he is sure of reaching it. He saw that God used circumstances as means of transport to bring him to the place where He wanted him to be. Paul saw all what happened to him not only in relation to the here and the now, and that is very valuable, but he saw everything from the perspective of the future. All the events in his life did not happen by chance but they were contributions to a final result. Is it not a great encouragement for you too to look at all what happens in your life from this perspective?

Paul not only rests in the idea that everything is in the hands of God, but he also knows that he is upheld by the “prayers” of the Philippians. God uses the prayers of His people to accomplish His goal. This is a great encouragement for you and me to pray much for others. We find a beautiful example in the book of Acts of the power of prayer (Acts 12:5-Esther :). The means of God’s provision for His own is never exhausted. Paul knows that the Lord is sovereign over circumstances when others pray for him. In addition he has the inner “provision [or sustaining] of the Spirit”.

Every believer receives the Holy Spirit at his conversion and He lives in him (Ephesians 1:13). He is the Spirit of sonship through Whom the believer knows the Father, and he calls Him “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6), and he lives through the Spirit; he walks in the Spirit, and he is led by the Spirit and he brings forth fruit through the Spirit (Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:18Galatians 5:22; Galatians 5:25). But here Paul calls Him “the Spirit of Jesus Christ”. This is not an accidental remark. By so calling the Spirit, Paul relates the circumstances in his life to the earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then he also relates his life to the place where the Lord now is. “Jesus” is the name of the Lord in his humiliation. “Christ” is the name of the Lord in His exaltation.

The Lord’s earthly circumstances were much more difficult than those of Paul. But the Lord did everything in the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). The Lord Jesus is no more on earth but is in heaven in His glory. His glorification is the proof of His victory over satan, sin and death. That is the reason why Paul did not live in depression; he lived through this victory. The full result of this victory will become visible at the salvation in the end. Paul was looking forward to see it.

Philippians 1:20. Paul was not depressed which is evident from the fact that he sought with a great desire to magnify Christ through his body. Christ is being magnified when He is brought closer to people. You can compare this to how a star is brought closer by means of a telescope. The star does not change its size. The significance is not the telescope. If you only look at the telescope and not through it you see nothing of the star. Even so Paul wants to diminish (even as we must diminish), that more is seen of Christ. You see something similar in John the baptist (John 3:30).

The “expectation and hope” Paul is full of, has two sides. On the one hand he did not want to recant any single aspect of what he always preached and translated into action in his life. His incarceration was not a punishment from God for a false proclamation or for a perverted life. On the contrary, and that is the other side, he wanted to see to it that, now also while in imprisonment, there existed no limitation to magnify Christ “with all boldness” in his body.

The means to bring Christ closer to people is our body. We share with others what we are through our body, and indeed through our speech and actions. When we consider ourselves important, we so speak and act that attention is drawn towards us. When we see Christ as important we so speak and act, that He would be seen.

Paul adds something more. He wants to magnify Christ “whether by life or by death”. That is not boasting. He wanted just one thing: the glorification of Christ. His life was all about this. He was for it even if he should die. When you consider your life and death from this perspective, what a rich life you must have then! John the baptist was approximately thirty years old, when he was beheaded for his faithful witness. Jim Elliot was not even thirty when he was killed along with four other young men by the Auca Indians when he wanted to reach them with the gospel. As a twenty-one year old student he wrote in his diary: ‘If my life perishes, Lord, then it belongs to you. I do not aspire for a long life but a full life, just like yours, Lord Jesus.’

Philippians 1:21. I wish that you and I have such a desire in life. Such a desire is fulfilled in the life of people who desire to say like Paul, because they imitate him: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This is said by a man who could no longer serve his Lord publicly for a few years. That must have been a great ordeal for him. But the Lord Himself took the place of the work. For Paul life was not his ministry but Christ. For him life consisted only of Christ. Christ was the substance of his life, and the hallmark of his life. That is why for him to die is gain; for then he would be with Christ. In 2 Corinthians 12 he writes how he had a foretaste of it (2 Corinthians 12:2-Numbers :).

Philippians 1:22. If Paul had to make a choice between life and death it would be difficult for him to choose. He sees two possibilities, not in the light of what it would cost but in the light of the advantages. The deciding factor in the choice was the well-being of the church. He came to this good decision because he lost sight of himself and his own interests, but exactly like Christ he only thought of the needs of the church.

It was clear to him that it meant difficulties if he remained alive. However he gladly took these difficulties, because life offered opportunities to magnify Christ in his body, to bring forth fruit in his ministry for Him. It poses the question to you as to if it is worth the trouble to remain alive. Do you live for hobbies, or for your favorite sport or for your strong challenging profession etc. or only for Christ?

Philippians 1:23. Paul was thrown back and forth in weighing both the possibilities. Both the possibilities had something very attractive, and both pressed him and fought for precedence. It was a great desire “to depart and be with Christ”. The word depart literally means release. This is a word which is used for the loosing of the ropes of a ship that it can depart. We hear Paul calling out: ‘Untie the ropes that bind me to the earth; then I can be free and be with Him after whom my heart yearns.’ Upon reflection he says: It is far better to die. Beyond death there is nothing but paradise (Luke 23:43), where fellowship with Christ is enjoyed fully and undisturbed.

Have you ever heard about the so called soul sleep or if you would hear about it, this verse makes clear that it is not true at all. Soul sleep means that a believer after his death remains in an unconscious state. But being with Christ denotes a full and conscious fellowship with Christ. Any idea of soul sleep is excluded here (Revelation 6:9-2 Samuel :).

Philippians 1:24. Paul says what he prefers, but his choice is that he wants “to live [on] in the flesh”. That of course means that he wants to live in his body – that is to remain alive. In weighing his options he gave greater weight to the necessity of service to others.

You see the true servant in Paul. He thinks on what is necessary and useful for others and does not give priority to his own desire. This is something that you and I certainly can learn from him.

Now read Philippians 1:19-24 again.

Reflection: What would guide you when you stand before certain choices?

Verses 25-30

Conduct Worthy of the Gospel

Philippians 1:25. The love of Christ for the church was the deciding factor for Paul. If he remained alive it was good for the church and therefore he would remain alive. When you have Christ and His interests in your mind you will know peace and tranquility. How can one look after the interests of Christ? It is by looking after the interests of the church.

Paul’s mind is at rest. His trust in God only became still stronger through these exercises. He has a certainty to remain with his beloved Philippians. The result is that he can help them further in the way of faith. This again shows that they in turn can live their faith with even more joy.

Faith is not a statistical or a doctrinal matter, or any other boring or miserable matter. Faith is dynamic; it sets people in motion. The objective is that you grow in faith. When faith increases, and when your knowledge of Him and what you believe increase, your joy will also increase. From the beginning faith and joy belonged to each other (Acts 16:34) as sorrow and repentance go together (2 Corinthians 7:10). Show that you are a happy Christian!

Philippians 1:26. Paul longs to be back with the Philippians. Not to receive all sorts of thank you sayings from them. Also not to be admired for his special experiences. No, he would gladly contribute to the glory of Christ Jesus. The progress achieved on the way of faith and the great joy his ministry worked out should not redound to his honor but to the glory of Christ. Again and again we see how the servant pales into insignificance in order to make room for the One Whom his heart is filled with. I wish this is so with everyone who does a service to you and also with you when you do a service to another. Every service has value or worth only when it increases the honor of Christ.

Philippians 1:27. Here begins a new passage in this letter which goes till chapter 2:11. Until now he wrote about his personal attitude toward the Philippians, what they meant for him and what he meant for them. Now he moves to another point, and that is really how the church stands in relation to Christ. Paul focuses his attention to the practical condition of the believers, their walk, their behavior, and on what the world would see in them.

Here he has two things in his mind. First they should stand firm in one spirit and secondly they should not be terrified in anything by their opponents. These two factors have an interaction: when they are in one spirit, they will have the strength to fight the enemy. Philippians 1:27 is a rich verse. It begins with ‘walk’ and ends with ‘fight’, and spirit and mind stand in between.

First he speaks to them about their “conduct” which should be “worthy of the gospel of Christ”. That means that they should lead a life that befits the dignity of the gospel. When we say that we believe the gospel and at the same time so live as the world does then we blemish the gospel. Then we are not worthy representatives of the gospel.

The word ‘conduct’ is related to the word citizenship (Philippians 3:20). We can compare it well with the position of the residents of Philippi. The city of Philippi was a colony, an outpost of Rome. The city was in an area far away from Rome, but it was governed by the laws of Rome.

Applying this, we can say that we are an outpost of heaven on earth, a piece of heaven on the earth. We are surrounded by enemies. In this strange world we have to uphold the honor of heaven, the place where we are really at home. Our conversation, our approach, and our whole behavior must be in agreement with the worthiness of heaven where we are at home. We have become citizens of heaven through the gospel, and there we are at home. Our task is to walk and behave correspondingly with that place.

Paul lays great emphasis on the significance of a worthy walk. On the one hand he stresses that their walk must be completely detached from his person. Whether he is with them or not, that is beside the point. They all should strive together in practice. On the other hand he expresses his deep compassion for them and his personal commitment to this matter. He would like to see in them or hear of them striving side by side.

It is all about standing together. How can they do that? When they all have the same conviction and the same goal to pursue. The onslaught here is directed against the unity of Christians. That is why the call is to stand together firmly. Conflicting interests defuses the energy. Mutual interests bind together. That means to be “in one spirit”. Sometimes you can have the same conviction, but you may not want to stand up for that conviction. That is why it is important that we also fight together “with one mind” (cp. Acts 4:32). This is lacking sometimes even among very committed people.

We can take up a fight when we are inspired and convinced of the matter that we stand for. The commitment in this fight is no less than the “faith of the gospel”. Jude calls for a fight for the faith (Jude 1:3). He means that with the absolutes which God has given to us in His word we must stand against the attacks of the enemy. Paul says that all what the Person of Jesus Christ is must be shown to the world. That provokes hostility and we must unite with Him against it. We have accepted Him, and when we are consistent in following Him, we partake of what was done to Him.

Philippians 1:28. When you fight together, the enemy will attempt to intimidate you. He will use all means to terrify you. The word “alarmed” reminds us of a horse which when frightened refuses to move on. The devil can take up the form of “a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8). He can show up his wide open mouth in many different ways. But when your confidence remains fixed on the Lord he can do you no harm. The Lord has overcome the world (John 16:33) and rendered the devil powerless (Hebrews 2:14). And if you resist the enemy this way he will have to admit his impotence.

This acknowledgement at the same time is the clear “sign of destruction”. The proof of destruction of the enemy lies in the fact that we are not terrified by him. Despite the world’s power at his disposal the enemy is powerless against the power of God. You need not fear however strong the opponents are. That does not mean that we should underestimate the power of the enemy. Never underestimate his power (Jude 1:9).

For the believer resistance from the world is always proof of his salvation. That seems to be a strange argument. To understand this we must bear in mind that we live in a world which is not yet openly ruled by Christ. For instance you can ask why committed Christians should suffer. When things go well with the opponents, and when they even have a say, is it not proof that God is on their side? It is quite the opposite. In 2 Thessalonians 1 you get the same proof (2 Thessalonians 1:4-Judges :). You read that the believers are now oppressed, but when the Lord Jesus reigns, they will rule with Him. Today’s sufferings are proof that God is on the side of the believers.

Philippians 1:29. However, struggle and suffering, resistance and opposition are not absolute proofs that you are on the right side. You may know that and it could give some consolation and you may consider it an inevitable evil from which unfortunately you cannot escape. But that is below the measure of faith you have. Suffering for Christ however strange that might sound is a privilege. To believe in Him is certainly a great privilege, and your experience too must affirm it. But in addition to the privilege of believing in Christ, to suffer for Him is an equally great privilege (Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 4:13). When we do not know this suffering, we must ask ourselves, if we live Godly (2 Timothy 3:12).

This is all about suffering for His sake. This is a suffering that is your portion in this world, when you have chosen to be on the side of the rejected Lord and have chosen to walk in fellowship with Him. You will experience this suffering when you look at the world as a terrain where you have nothing to seek and nothing to lose. Are you ready for it?

Philippians 1:30. What Paul wrote to the Philippians was not the jargon of a room. He knew what trouble they had. They had seen that struggle in him when he was with them for the first time (Acts 16:22). Now when Epaphroditus read out this letter and explained it they heard of his struggle in the Roman imprisonment. Paul connects with the Philippians in their struggle. This is genuine brotherly fellowship. He wants them to know that he is one with them. This is the only thing that can win hearts. They were physically separated by distance, and they were intimately connected to each other through the hearts.

Now read Philippians 1:25-30 again.

Reflection: How can you conduct worthy of the gospel?

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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Philippians 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/philippians-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.