Philippians 1. Love, Joy and Peace.
Key Notes: Paul and Silas in Philippi. Paul is a prisoner in Rome talking to his captors, enjoying it.
Paul was preaching and working in northern Asia Minor when he heard the call to “come over to Macedonia and and help us.” (Acts 16:9). He had not done previous work in Greece. His first stay was in Philippi of Macedonia, a Roman colony where there were not enough Jews to make a synagogue: it required ten adult males. He, with Silas and probably Luke (”we”, Acts 16:13), met God-fearing women at a river-side prayer meeting. Lydia accepted Christ and provided a meeting room in her house. Acts 16:16–18
Soon Paul and Silas were mocked and harassed in the streets of Philippi by a demon-possessed girl who was a fortune-teller. When Paul exorcised the demon, and her owners realized that they had lost their income, they hauled Paul and Silas into court. They were illegally beaten and put in stocks in the prison. (He later said “…we …suffered …and were shamefully treated in Philippi….” I Thes.2:2). But God heard their prayers and songs in the night and broke the jail down with an earthquake. The jailer was converted with his family. (Acts 16:19–43). Paul and Silas had to leave, but there was the basis of a church left behind, perhaps with these three outstanding converts-Lydia, the jailer, and the freed slave-girl.
It is now years later, about 60AD and Paul, having been seized in Jerusalem, is under the Praetorian Guard in Rome. (Acts21–28). He is writing letters, including one to the Philippians. Timothy is with him, and Ephaphroditus, a Philippian church leader.
Paul’s morale is excellent. This letter is called the Epistle of Joy. The words joy (Gr. "charis") or rejoice occur about 18 times. We will try to understand the basis of Paul’s joy. Thinking or feeling (Gr.”phronein”) is prominent, and that word appears 11 times. The letter is full of “pearls”— at least ten short sentences that are well-known and worth memorizing.
1:1–2 He prays grace and peace to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” Overseers and deacons indicates that the church has a recognized organization.
1:3–8 He prays for them with joy and thankfulness for their partnership in the Gospel, partakers with him of grace. He holds them in his heart. He yearns for them with the affections of Christ Jesus, from the bottom of his heart. Later he speaks of “My brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown….” (Phil.4:1)
His love is not abstract. He has had the personal encouragement of one of their leaders, Ephaphroditus, who ministered to him in prison on their behalf. (Phil.2:25). They also had sent him a generous gift more than once (Phil.4:14–18), which probably included money, clothing, parchments, and food. In IITim.4:13 he listed specific things he needed in prison.
1:9–11 He prays for their love, knowledge and discernment,
"that you may approve what is excellent" "…whatever is pure…gracious…worthy of praise….” Phil.4:8.
"that they... may be pure and blameless",
"filled with the fruits of righteousness."
“…to the glory and praise of God.”
The word “pure” in Greek means to be judged in the sun-light, as translucent pottery is held up to the light to be sure there is no crack or flaw. “Filled with the fruits of righteousness” reminds one of an apple tree at harvest, loaded with attractive, delicious, and useful fruit.
1:12–14 Now Paul turns to his situation in Rome. He is under house arrest. Luke told the story in Acts.
”And when we came to Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself with the soldier that guarded him.” (Acts 28:16). “And he lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered.” (Acts 28:30–31)
“…it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and all the rest that my imprisonment is for ("in") Christ; and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear.”
This disaster, being in prison far from the intended sphere of his work, was a strategic victory. He had access to the elite guard of Nero’s palace. The guards probably rotated in and out on a regular basis. They would soon learn that this was not a criminal or a political prisoner but a prisoner of conscience, speaking about his commitment to a Jesus they had never heard of. Paul’s teaching penetrated the house of the Caesar, “the praetorian guard and all the rest”—servants, stewards, politicians and perhaps even some senators, an access otherwise unthinkable. This emboldened the Philippian Christians to speak out.
1:15–18 Preaching was sometimes favorable to Paul and sometimes not. Not everyone loved Paul or approved of his methods. He had the reputation for generating more than a half dozen riots that embarrassed gentler folk. (Acts 9:29; 13:50; 14:19; 16:23; 17:5;’:26; 21:28; 22:22; 23:10). But all were preaching Christ, so that we think Judaizers and heretics were not involved here.
1:16–20 Paul was in hope of being released, but he was quite ambivalent about his future. He would cheerfully die. He was not depressed or suicidal; he was simply not unafraid of dying, because he knew that that meant that he would be with Christ. Christ must be honored in his body, by life or death, because to him to live was Christ. Living meant working for them; dying meant gain for him. On balance, he thought it was better to live and serve them.
1:27–30 Their manner of life (Gr. “politeuesthe”, to be a citizen) should be worthy of the Gospel. Their citizenship, which is in heaven, should be reflected in the way they live.
Not being frightened by adversaries is an indication of their salvation and the opponents’ destruction. The intent of their enemies was to frighten them into insignificance. If they were not frightened, but emboldened, the opponents must realize that God was on their side.
But their suffering is part of being a Christian, as it has been for Paul.
We can see Paul approached by a new soldier on guard-duty. He expects to be bored and has brought some dice and a few denarii, hoping to entice this Jewish rebel into a game of chance. Paul begs off, saying he does not bow to Lady Fortune. He offers him a bowl of pistachios and asks him when he knows about Zeus, Hera, and Ceres. The soldier cracks a nut and shrugs. Nobody believes that stuff any more. Then Paul offers to tell him about how the world was created and what God had planned for human beings. The soldier crunches another nut and sits down to listen. After eight hours on duty, the soldier trots off to the barracks to tell his buddies about a Savior who has come into the world. This happens day after day. A philosopher comes in the evening to talk about the nature of evil. A servant-girl stands in the doorway and says she has heard about some Good News. She tells Caesar’s wife.
Paul is indeed joyful, perhaps even laughing. He is sitting in a most strategic location and enjoying every day in the ministry. He has the affection of the Philippians, a thousand miles away from Rome, whom he loves and who have helped him greatly. There are other preachers in Rome, doing good work whether they like Paul or not. He is at peace, whether to live or die matters little. He has no fear, only anticipation of more service for them, or rest in the presence of the Lord.
Love leads to joy, shared with the Philippians in the bonds of Christian service. And love and joy lead to peace. Love, joy and peace are the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal.5:22). They do not exist in a vacuum, but in the practice of Christians living and working together for Christ and His Kingdom.
Pearls of the day.
“And I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (1:6)
“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (1:21)