The account of the labors and sufferings of the apostle Paul and his companions in Philippi is given in the sixteenth chapter of the Acts. They went to Macedonia in response to the vision of a man of that country calling for help, which Paul had seen at Troas. But when they reached the capital, there was apparently no such man feeling his need and awaiting them. Instead, they came first in touch with a few women who were accustomed to gather for prayer in a quiet place by the riverside outside the city. There the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to attend to the things spoken by Paul. Others too were evidently reached, among them some brethren as verse 40 makes clear. But it was when cast into prison that the greatest work was done. The jailer and his household were won for Christ before the messengers of God’s grace took their departure for Thessalonica.
The infant church was very dear to the heart of the apostle, and he was very dear to them. Their love and care were shown after he left them, at various times, and, one would judge, for a number of years. But at last they lost touch with him, apparently during his imprisonment at Caesarea. It was when he was in Rome that they again got into communication with him and, fearing he might be in need, sent him an expression of their love and care by the hand of a trusted and beloved brother who was one of themselves, Epaphroditus. Having fulfilled his ministry, this faithful man fell sick, and his illness was of sufficient duration for word regarding it to reach Philippi, and the news of the anxiety of the saints there concerning him had come back to Rome about the time that he became convalescent. Deciding at once to return, he was entrusted with the letter we have before us, which was, one would judge, dictated to him by the apostle.
It is an epistle of joy, a letter of cheer. On the other hand, it contains needful exhortation for a wilderness people, liable to fall out by the way.
It would seem that Epaphroditus had communicated to Paul a certain concern that was weighing upon his heart regarding a misunderstanding or a positive quarrel between two women in the assembly—both much esteemed by the saints and by the apostle himself—which if not checked and healed, was likely to prove a source of sadness, and possibly even division in days to come.
This appears to be much in the apostle’s mind as he indites his epistle. He seeks so to present Christ that the hearts of all may be ravished with Him, and thus all selfish aims disappear, and all that is of the flesh be judged in His presence.
This is ever what is needed when the flesh is at work among believers. Therefore the great importance of this portion of the Word of God in the present hour of the church’s history.
The epistle falls very naturally into four divisions, and these are rightly indicated in our common version by the four chapters. The theme of the whole might be put in the three words, “Christ is all!” It is the epistle of Christ. It occupies us with Himself; and each separate division presents Him in some different way, and indicates the subjective result in the believer as he is occupied with Christ objectively in the manner presented.
Chapter 1 sets forth Christ as our life, and the evangelistic spirit or the gospel mind.
In chapter 2 we have Christ as our example, and the lowly mind or the humble spirit of those who would follow Him.
Chapter 3 gives us Christ as our object, and, subjectively, we have the steadfast spirit, the determined mind—that is, the heart and thoughts centered on Himself.
In the last chapter, Christ is set forth as our strength and supply, and naturally we have with this the confident mind, the spirit of trust that should characterize all who know the resources that are in Him.
It will be readily seen that the epistle is a very practical one. It has to do with our state rather than our standing, with responsibility rather than privilege, with communion rather than with union. In other words, it is an epistle suited to our wilderness journey. It was written to guide our feet while going through this world. It is a pastoral ministry of a very precious kind.
Others have written very fully and helpfully on this part of the Word of God, whose writings are readily obtainable. It is not the present writer’s thought to attempt a labored exposition of the epistle, but simply to jot down some notes that embody the results of his own study, and which it is hoped may be used by the Holy Spirit for the edification and comfort of fellow saints, particularly such as are becoming discouraged because of the Way. Much has been gleaned from what others have set forth, and no pretension is made as to originality of treatment. If Christ Himself becomes a little more appreciated by a few of His own, the object in view will have been attained.
Christ, the Believer’s Life, and the Evangelistic Spirit