Salutation (Philippians 1:1-2)
In many of his letters Paul linked himself with younger and less experienced fellow-laborers, as in his greeting here. An apostle by the Lord’s call, Paul occupied a unique place as His special messenger to the Gentiles. But he never stood aloof in complacent dignity, apart from others who were engaged in the same ministry. He had taken Timothy with him when the young man had not been a believer for long, and later in this letter Paul testified of the truth that was in Timothy.
In his care for the development of the younger brethren, Paul became a model for older teachers and evangelists throughout the dispensation. If others are to follow in the ministry, more experienced men must take personal interest in less experienced brothers who show promise. By associating with young believers in ministry, the older men can lead and encourage them in the path of faith. It is often the other way, and the young become disheartened and slip back into worldly pursuits. If they had been wisely advised and helped when needed, they might have become able ministers of the truth.
Paul and Timothy took no official title in Philippians 1:1. They simply called themselves “servants of Jesus Christ.” The word translated “servants” here means “bondmen.” Paul and Timothy were purchased servants and as such belonged entirely to Him whom they gladly owned as their anointed Master. They were His and renounced all rights to do the will of the flesh.
It is not only ministering brethren who are designated “servants of Jesus Christ” in Scripture. This name is used of all Christians. Though sons and heirs, we are also bondmen of love, whose delight it should be to yield ourselves to Him, as befitting those who are alive from the dead.
Paul greeted the saints at Philippi and made special mention of the elders and deacons. This special mention is unusual. It implies a particular sense of obligation to the elders and deacons, probably in connection with their church’s gift of love. The apostle may also have thought of addressing the leaders or guides in a special way in view of the unhappiness between Euodias and Syntyche, which he wished to rectify.
Elders may or may not be official. In the early church they were definitely appointed by apostolic authority. Today it may be unwise, and going beyond Scripture, for saints without that apostolic authority to set up or ordain official elders. On the other hand, those obviously possessing the qualifications indicated in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus should be recognized by fellow believers as God-appointed elders, whose counsel should be sought and whose responsibility it is to watch over souls and oversee the house of God. To fail to recognize such qualified men would be lack of subjection to the Word of God. A true bishop or overseer would be the last man to insist on obedience to him. He would rather lead by serving the saints and by the force of a godly example.
Deacons, who minister in temporal things, should be chosen by the saints for this purpose. The word deacon means “servant,” not in the sense of “bondman,” but in the sense of one who acts voluntarily and in response to the expressed desire of others.
Notice the little word “all” in Philippians 1:1. It is used in a significant way in this Epistle and is not used in the same way anywhere else in the writings of the apostle. Observe the use of the word in 1:1, 4, 7, 8, 25 and 2:26. It is plain that Paul desired to bind all the Philippian believers together in one bundle of love, refusing even to seem to recognize any incipient division among them. He greeted them all; he thought well of them all; he prayed for them all He knew that in the end it would be well with them all, so he exhorted them all to stand fast in one spirit.
As was customary in his letters, Paul wished his friends grace and peace, linking the two blessings together. “Grace” was the usual Grecian salutation. “Peace” was that of the Hebrew. Grace in its highest sense—undeserved favor—can only be known by the Christian. True peace—whether peace with God, which is fundamental, or the peace of God—rests on the work of the cross. The apostle’s wish for the saints at Philippi was that they would enter into and enjoy the peace of God from day to day. Both kinds of peace come from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have been brought into this place of favor.
Introduction (Philippians 1:3-11)
In these verses we have the apostle’s own introduction to this delightful specimen of early Christian correspondence. His interest in the saints at Philippi had not ceased with his leaving their city. Through the passing years he had kept them in his heart and presented them to God in prayer. There were sweet and blessed memories too that filled him with gladness as he looked back on the time of ministry spent among them and as he learned of their continuing in the grace of God.
Paul thanked God for every remembrance of them. There was nothing, apparently, in their past history that caused him pain or anxiety of mind. And so, in every prayer of his for them all, he made his requests with joy. Their fellowship with him in the gospel had been consistent from the beginning. Notice the significance the word “fellowship” has in this Epistle and how frequently “the gospel” is mentioned. An assembly of saints walking together in the fear of the Lord, exercised about presenting the word of life to the unsaved, is likely to know more of real fellowship than a company of believers occupied chiefly with their own affairs and blessings. On the other hand, no assembly can prosper that fails to recognize the importance of the divine and holy principles given in the Word to guide believers while they are in this world.
“Fellowship in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5) may be experienced in various ways: by prayer, by participation in public testimony, and by furnishing the means that enable laborers to carry on the Lord’s work unhindered by anxiety. All servants of Christ going forth for His name’s sake, “taking nothing of the Gentiles” (3 John 7), should be entirely cast on the Lord for His support. On the other hand, it should be esteemed a privilege by those remaining at home to help those laborers by ministering in temporal things. Such ministry will never be forgotten by Him who said, “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward” (Matthew 10:41).
I remember another believer’s definition of fellowship. He was a teamster. When he was asked, “What do you understand by fellowship?” he replied, “For each one to pull his own trace and keep it tight.”
The apostle had no doubt as to the final outcome for every true believer. He was absolutely confident that the One who had begun a good work in them would not stop until He had perfected that which He Himself had commenced. But the final outcome would only be attained and manifested in the day of Jesus Christ. A godly old brother used to say, “The Lord always looks at His people as they will be when they are done.” It would be good for us to learn to look at them in the same way.
An incident is told of an artist who had conceived in his mind a great picture that he meant to be the masterpiece of his life. He was working on a large canvas, putting in the drabs and grays that were to compose the background, when a friend entered unnoticed. The artist worked on with enthusiasm, not aware of the onlooker’s presence. Finally, happening to turn, the artist saw him and exclaimed, “What do you think of this? I intend it to be the greatest work I have ever done.”
His friend burst into laughter and replied, “Why, to be frank, I don’t think much of it. It seems to me to be only a great daub.”
“Ah,” replied the artist, at once sensing the situation, “you cannot see what is going to be there. I can.”
So it is with God our Father. He sees in every believer that which will be fully brought out at the judgment seat of Christ, and He is working now toward that end. We too often see the present imperfection and forget the future glory. But in the day of Jesus Christ when all shall be manifested, every believer will be conformed to the image of God’s blessed Son. Surely we can join with the apostle even now and say, “It is meet for me to think this of you all” (Philippians 1:7). To look on God’s people in this manner will deliver us from much strife and disappointment when we see carnality in those from whom we expected better things. It is humbling and helpful to remember that others probably see similar imperfections in us.
Paul carried the saints at Philippi in his heart. Though in prison, he recognized their fellowship in the defense and confirmation of the gospel and he rejoiced in the manner in which they shared this grace with him. He called God to witness how greatly he yearned after every one of them in the tender love of Christ Jesus.
The apostle’s prayer in Philippians 1:9-11 reminds us of the prayer in Colossians 1. He would have their love abound more and more in knowledge and all perception, or discernment. Brotherly love is not a matter of mere sentimentality; it is love in the truth. This calls for study of the Word of God in order that one may know just how to manifest that love on each particular occasion. Let us remember there is never a time when we are not called on to show love to our brother, but we cannot always manifest it in the same way if we are subject to the Word of God. We need instruction in the Word and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit so that we may perceive what is in accordance with the mind of God.
The first clause in Philippians 1:10—”That ye may approve things that are excellent”—is sometimes translated, “That ye may try the things that differ.” The meaning is practically the same, for by testing things that differ, we approve what is excellent. The test is the Word of God. That Word is given to test all things and to manifest what is truly excellent. The Word explains to the believer how he should walk so that he can please God and be sincere and blameless in the day of Christ.
The Anglicized Latin word “sincere,” which literally means “without wax,” was used to translate a Greek word meaning “sun-tested” (Philippians 1:10). It might seem at first as though there is no connection between the Greek and Latin terms, but there is. The ancients had a very fine porcelain, which was greatly valued and brought a high price. This porcelain was so fragile that it was only with the greatest difficulty that it could be fired without being cracked. Dishonest dealers were in the habit of filling in the cracks with a pearly-white wax, which looked enough like true porcelain to pass without being readily detected in the shops. If the ware was held to the light, however, the wax at once became apparent as a dark seam. Honest Latin dealers marked their perfect wares sine cera, “without wax.”
In the same manner the apostle would have the saints tested by the sunlight of God’s truth and holiness, and found to be without wax; that is, he would have them be straightforward and honorable in all their dealings. Anything that savors of sham or hypocrisy is like the wax used to hide imperfections in the porcelain.
“Without offence” (or “blameless” as in Philippians 2:15) refers to motive, I take it. “Without offence” is not the same as “sinless,” which would imply complete moral perfection. Blamelessness implies right motives.
‘The fruits of righteousness” of Philippians 1:11 is the same as “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” of Hebrews 12:11, where the “fruit” is the result of being exercised under the hand of God. All righteousness is through Jesus Christ, for the glory and praise of God.
Joy in Evangelism (Philippians 1:12-20)
It is always a sad sign, an evidence of spiritual decline, when the heart loses its interest in the message of grace. Some are so occupied with the deeper truths of the Word of God that they allow themselves to speak slightingly of the simplicity of the gospel. Paul was the pre-eminent teacher of the church, but to his last hour his heart was filled with gospel zeal. His sympathies were with the evangelist carrying the word of life to men dead in trespasses and sins. Even in his prison house Paul rejoiced that his life had been devoted to the progress of the gospel.
Satan doubtless hoped to hinder Paul’s evangelistic efforts by locking up the apostle in a jail, but even there it became obvious to caesar’s court and all others that Paul’s bonds were for Christ’s sake. The very soldiers appointed to guard him heard the glorious proclamation of grace for a guilty world, and it is evident from Philippians 1:13 and 4:22 that numbers of them believed. Who can fathom the joy that must have filled the heart of Paul as he led one guard after another to the Savior’s feet? Just as Paul and Silas were used in the conversion of their Philippian jailer and his household, so here grace triumphed over unfavorable circumstances. The prison cell in Rome became a gospel chapel where souls were born of God, and stern soldiers became captive servants of One greater than caesar.
In Philippians 1:14 the apostle spoke of another cause of joy. While he was going about from place to place preaching the word, there were gifted men who held back, thinking perhaps that they were in no sense on a par with him. They permitted the timidity and backwardness of the flesh to hinder their launching out in a work to which the Lord was beckoning them. But now that Paul was in prison and could no longer go about from place to place in this happy service, numbers of these men came forward and went forth preaching the word boldly and without fear.
On the other hand, there were some restless men who had not commended themselves as being fit for evangelistic work. While Paul was free, these men were kept in a place of subjection, but now that he was incarcerated they saw their opportunity to come to the front. They went forth preaching Christ with their lips, although their hearts were filled with envy and strife. But no jealous or envious thoughts entered the mind of Paul. He rejoiced in those who preached the word through goodwill and out of love, knowing that he was appointed for the vindication of the gospel, and although he could not rejoice in the spirit that moved the others, he was gladdened to know that it was Christ who was being preached. He was thankful for every voice telling out the story of the cross, and he would not permit anything to rob him of this joy.
The contrast is marked between the attitude of Paul and that which often prevails today. How seldom we see simple, unalloyed rejoicing that Christ is preached, whatever the aims and methods of the preacher are. Untold harm is often done by harsh, captious criticism of young and earnest men who perhaps have much to learn.
They may offend by their uncouthness and their lack of discernment and understanding of the ways of the Lord; nevertheless they preach Christ and win souls. God said, “He that winneth souls is wise,” or as the Revised Version so strikingly puts it, “He that is wise winneth souls” (Proverbs 11:30).
Anxious young men have often been hindered by the criticism of their elders. Oh, for more of the spirit of Paul that would lead us to rejoice whenever Christ is preached! There may be much that exercises our hearts and leads us to prayer—and to godly admonition at times. But faulty methods and expressions, if rightly dealt with, may soon disappear as the earnest young evangelists grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.
In Philippians 1:19-20 we see how the apostle relied on the prayers of the people of God and how encouraged he was by the increase of gospel testimony. He felt that it foreshadowed his own deliverance and pointed to the time when he would again be free to preach Christ openly and widely according to his earnest expectation and hope. If that should not be the will of God, he would be free to glorify Him in a martyr’s death. Paul had but one ambition: that Christ Himself should be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death. No matter what he might be called on to do or to suffer, if the One whom he had met on that unforgettable day on the Damascus turnpike were exalted and honored, he would be satisfied.
It is this utter absence of self-seeking that commends any true servant of Christ. We see such an attitude in John the Baptist, who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). It should be the supreme characteristic of the evangelist, pastor, or teacher. Where this spirit of self-abnegation for the glory of the Lord is really found, it commends the ministry, though it makes nothing of the minister. Oh, that we all might be more selfless!
Christ in Life or Death (Philippians 1:21-26)
The statement “To me to live is Christ” describes Christian life in all its fullness. It has often been remarked and is well worth remembering that Christians have many experiences in life that are not properly Christian experiences. The man described in Romans 7 is a Christian who is in the midst of a conflict that will result in his future blessing, but the conflict itself is not properly Christian. In Philippians 1:21 Paul wrote of the life in which Christ so dominates and controls the believer that his one object is to live to His glory. This should be the experience of Christians at all times.
Unfortunately, few of us enter unreservedly into this life. It implies a surrendered will and a body yielded to the Lord who has redeemed it, that it may be used only to His praise. This is life in its truest sense, and probably no one ever entered into it so fully as the apostle Paul.
We may better understand the meaning of Philippians 1:21 if we consider for a moment what life means to many others. The christless businessman, whose one aim is to obtain wealth, might well say, “To me to live is money.” The careless seeker after the world’s pleasures, if he told the truth, would say, “To me to live is worldly pleasure.” The carnal individual, given to luxurious living and self-gratification, would say, “To me to live is self.” The politician, exulting in the plaudits of the people and craving notoriety, might declare, “To me to live is fame and power.” But Paul could say, and every Christian should be able to say, “To me to live is Christ.”
Only those who are able to say, “To me to live is Christ,” can heartily add, “and to die is gain.” Death is no enemy to the one to whom Christ is all. If he lives, he has opportunity to manifest Christ down here; if he dies, he is with Christ, and nothing could be more precious than that.
The apostle himself was in a dilemma as to whether he would prefer life or death, were the choice left to him. If permitted to continue in the body, he would have further opportunity for service for Him who had claimed him as His own and called him to the ministry. On the other hand, he longed “to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Paul’s life had been one of toil and suffering for Christ’s sake, such as only a Spirit-sustained man could have endured without fainting.
As the apostle lay in a Roman prison, his heart longed for release, a release that would mean to be forever with Christ. Labor for Christ was sweet, but rest with Christ would be sweeter. Whitefield used to say, “I am often weary in the work, but never weary of it.”
Such was the attitude of Paul. He loved to serve, yet he longed too for the hour of release. His motive was not selfish, for his one object was Christ, whether in life or in death.
It is amazing how anyone who has read Philippians 1:23 could question for a moment that the Word of God teaches the consciousness of the spirit after death. Paul had no thought that his spirit would be buried with his body in the grave, or that his soul would sleep until the resurrection day. Death to him would be a departure, an exodus, a moving out of the travel-worn earthly tabernacle and a going to be with Christ until the first resurrection at the coming of the Lord.
As he weighed the pros and cons, he revealed his unselfishness. He saw the need of the church of God. As it is now, so it was then. There were many evangelists, but few teachers and pastors who really carried the people of God on their hearts. For this reason Paul felt that to remain alive for the sake of the flock was more important than to seek eternal rest for himself. So he said he had confidence that he would remain here a little longer for the “furtherance and joy of faith” of God’s people (Philippians 1:25).
I think Paul fully expected the Lord to permit him to revisit Philippi so that the saints there would rejoice more abundantly in Christ Jesus. They were his children in the faith and as a tender father he longed to see them once more before closing his earthly ministry. We have no record in the Word of God as to whether this desire was fulfilled, but there are early church traditions which indicate that it was. We know he was released from his first imprisonment and allowed to go about in freedom for several years before being apprehended again and martyred for the sake of our Lord Jesus. Paul followed Him even to death.
Unity in Evangelism (Philippians 1:27-30)
The word “conversation” (Philippians 1:27) had a broader meaning in Paul’s day than it does today. It referred to behavior in general, not just the talk of the lips. The apostle’s exhortation meant that the entire manner of life of the people of God should be in accordance with the gospel of Christ.
No more important message was ever committed to man than the word of reconciliation, which God has graciously entrusted to His people in this present dispensation of His mercy to a lost world. That gospel tells of the divine means of deliverance from the guilt and power of sin. How incongruous, then, are the testimonies of those who undertake to proclaim that message with their mouths, but deny its power in their lives! A walk worthy of the gospel is a walk in the energy of the Holy Spirit; it is a life surrendered to Him, whose lordship the gospel declares.
In Philippians 1:27-30 the apostle was not referring merely to our individual responsibility to walk worthy of the gospel. As he wrote this passage he was concerned with assembly responsibility. He wished to hear that the Philippians as an assembly were standing fast in one spirit and with one mind, cooperating vigorously for the faith of the gospel.
Nothing so mars gospel testimony as contention and self-seeking among God’s people. Contentious Christians discredit the message they profess to love. When jealousies and envyings come in to hinder the fellowship of those who should be standing together heart to heart and shoulder to shoulder for the truth of God, the effect on the world outside is most lamentable. Unsaved members of believers’ families are particularly affected. Nothing is more harmful to them than to find out that their elders are not unitedly standing together for the Word of God.
Is there not something in this passage that deserves the careful consideration of present-day believers who gather in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? Have we not allowed personalities, bickerings, and strife to mar and hinder gospel testimony?
Contention in the local church may impede the work of the evangelist. On the other hand, it must be confessed that some who possess the gift of evangelism have ignored to a marked degree the importance of fellowship in gospel testimony. They have launched forth without the prayerful endorsement of older, more godly saints and afterward have been surprised and grieved over not finding heartier cooperation in the churches whose judgment they ignored in the beginning.
The evangelist is the Lord’s servant and therefore not subject to human dictation. But fellowship involves mutual responsibility, and evangelists need to remember that the gift of evangelism is not necessarily accompanied by piety and does not always carry with it good judgment and sound wisdom. It is important for the evangelist to cultivate humility if he wants to have the hearty fellowship of assemblies of believers.
When a humble spirit is manifested by the evangelist and there is vigorous cooperation on the part of a local church, God can be depended on to work in mighty power for the salvation of lost souls and the blessing of His people. This is a combination the enemy dreads. When those in an assembly of believers are walking in love and are exercised about the Lord’s things, they need not fear the attacks of evil powers—natural or supernatural—from without. The unholy hosts read their own doom in the happy fellowship of the saints of God and see in it a proof of the truth of the Lord’s words: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The thought that many seem to have in mind when reading Matthew 16:18 is that the church of God is like a city besieged, beleaguered by the enemies of the Lord and carrying on a defensive warfare, albeit with the pledge of eventual victory. But this is not the picture presented by our Lord. An invading or besieging army does not carry the gates of its cities with it. It is Hell, or Hades, or the realm of darkness that is being besieged by the forces of light who are carrying on not a defensive warfare, but an offensive warfare. To them the promise is given that “the gates of hell shall not prevail.” This is the “perdition” spoken of in Philippians 1:28.
Fellowship in this offensive warfare cannot be fully experienced apart from suffering, but this is to be esteemed a privilege by those who fight under the banner of the risen Lord. It is given to such warriors, as a reward greatly to be desired, not only to trust in Christ as Savior, but also to toil manfully and to suffer that His name may be glorified in the place where He was rejected and crucified, and over which He soon will be coming to reign.
How blessedly and how fully the apostle entered into this toil and suffering! With joy he endured and suffered so that Christ might be glorified. Even at the time he wrote this letter he was a prisoner for the Lord in a Roman jail. Meanwhile some of the saints at Philippi were living in lazy comfort and stooping to quarrel among themselves. Paul’s words in Philippians 1:30 would surely stir their hearts and consciences as they contrasted their easy lives with the sufferings of Christ’s dear servant, who was in prison because of his unselfish devotion to the Lord he loved. May we learn to walk in the same spirit and mind the same things.