Lecture 23: Philippians
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Philippians is a joyous book, giving us a glimpse of Paul's prayer life and his call for unity in the church. The "Christ Hymn" in chapter 2 receives special attention.
B. Salutation (Phil. 1:1-2)
C. Thanksgiving and Prayer (Phil. 1:3-11)
D. Imprisonment (Phil. 1:12-16)
E. Call for Unity (Phil. 1:27-2:18)
F. Personal Comments (Phil. 2:19-29)
G. Stand Firm in the Lord (Phil. 3:1-4:1)
H. Being Content and Salutation (Phil. 4:1-23)
Some things of background before we get started, just to reacquaint yourself with Philippians. On Paul’s second missionary journey, he wanted to minister in the middle part of Asia Minor, but he got the vision of the man from Macedonia saying come over to Macedonia, so he kept coming across. Paul went through Philippi in his second missionary journey. In Acts 16, this is where Lydia was, the lady who became a Christian, and this is where Paul and Silas are thrown in prison. God released them and then there’s the story of the Philippian jailer. This is also the place where the magistrates tried to get Paul to sneak out of town and he demanded a public apology for the sake of the church. Anyway those are the stories from Acts 16 in Philippi.
In Paul’s third missionary journey he also went through Philippi, but very quickly. He was wanting to get over to the Greece area, so both on the way down to Corinth and Athens and on the way back, he went through Philippi, but we don’t read of any extended time there. Paul on his third missionary journey did go back, was arrested, and was taken to Rome and had been in jail there for two years when Acts 28 was finished. It was most likely from that imprisonment in Rome that Paul wrote Philippians. It is clear that Paul thought he was about to be released very soon, very quickly. In fact, he was holding Timothy back from going to the Philippians because he thought the verdict was almost in on him. Probably Paul had been in Rome at least a couple of years before he wrote the Book of Philippians.
What had happened is that the Philippian church had sent him yet another gift, they had been a very generous church and had supported him all the way through his ministry. They had sent him some money and he wanted to write back and to thank them, but also he became aware of a couple of major issues brewing in the Philippian church and so, in typical Paul fashion, he wants to address those issues in his church.
In terms of Philippi itself, Philippi was a Roman colony and proud of it. In Acts 16 they were talking about how these men don’t want us to ignore our Roman customs. The city of Philippi was a very special city, settled mostly by soldiers from the Roman army and they were given a special status. To live in Philippi was the same thing as living in the city of Rome. There were certain privileges that were for Roman citizens living in Rome and people who lived in a place like Philippi shared those same special privileges. It was a privileged community; it was a highly Greek community. There doesn’t even appear to be a synagogue in Philipi at this time. You remember when Paul leaves and he goes out to where Lydia was, which is outside the city gates by the river, so contrary to his normal fashion, there was probably no synagogue even to go to. It was a highly Romanized, highly Greek city named after Alexander the Great’s father if that matters.
Unlike Ephesians there is a plethora of really good commentaries on Philippians. One is Frank Thielman’s, he teaches at Beeson Divinity School, in the NIV commentary series. This is a superb commentary; you can understand it and learn from it all of you very easily. Anything that is Greek is going to be translated. If you are more aggressive, Gordon Fee’s commentary on Philippians in the Eerdmans series is an absolute work of art. It’s very detailed, this is the book you read if you’re going to be studying Philippians all year, but he uses Greek script. Again it’s an exceptionally good commentary. There are many others, but those are the two that I tend to go to more quickly than others.
Salutation (Phil. 1:1-2)
Okay, with that being as a precursor, let’s just jump into the Book of Philippians and work our way through it. Paul begins with a normal salutation. We find that Timothy is with him. Remember Paul is under house arrest and when you read 2 Timothy, it’s evident that Paul’s in a total different imprisonment, because it’s the imprisonment where there wouldn’t be anyone with him hardly at all. But Philippians aligns well with the imprisonment of Acts of being arrested in your own house. It’s interesting, one of the things that’s unusual about the salutation of Philippians is that he specifically identifies the overseers and the deacons. Paul doesn’t normally pick out the leadership, but in salutations Paul is almost always dropping hints of what is going to come. When he gets into the problem of lack of unity at the end of chapter 1 through most of chapter 2, there’s a pretty good implication at least that the leadership in the church wasn’t doing their job, so he lines up with them right at the beginning saying, “I’m talking to you guys too.” Then he’s going to get into it later on. It’s a little unusual.
Thanksgiving and Prayer (Phil. 1:3-11)
Paul’s Affection for the Philippian Church
He goes through his salutation and then he goes into his thanksgiving and prayer again, his normal pattern in his letters. As you read this it’s really obvious how much affection Paul feels for the Philippian Christians. For example, in verses 3-5, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you (3), always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy (4), because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now (5).” Then down to verse 7, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel (7). For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (8).” There’s a very strong emotional bond that Paul has with his Philippian church and it’s interesting that as you go throughout the letter, he uses that affection as a motivation. For example, over in 2:1-2: he says, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy.” That’s the appeal you can only make if there’s a strong emotional connection with a church and there evidently was in Paul’s case.
Paul then moves into his prayer and I think Paul’s prayers are fascinating and always convicting when I compare them to my own. There is so much substance in Paul’s prayer. He doesn’t pray that people will feel good; he doesn’t pray that things work out; you know the kinds of things that I tend to pray about. His prayers are almost always that people will grow deeper in their walk. That’s his abiding passion. Let’s look at his prayer here starting in 1:9, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment (9), so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (10).” There are about six sermons wrapped up there. These are very deep, meaty things. He wants their love to abound, but not in ignorance; he wants their love to abound in knowledge. He wants them to understand God and one another and that understanding is part of their love.
I don’t do many word studies for you, but here’s a quick one. The Greek word for knowledge is epigonos—it means a full and complete knowledge that comes out of experience or personal relationship—that’s Fee’s definition. There is a knowledge that is deep and profound when you simply believe something, but there’s something that happens when we go through an experience and we see that that knowledge is true. That’s the fullness of knowledge that Paul is praying for for the Philippians, “that your love may abound” with this very deep profound, not just experiential knowledge, but a knowledge that has stood the test of time, which has stood the test of experience. He wants them to have an informed love, informed about God, I would assume and informed about one another.
Then “so that you may approve what is excellent”—that’s a little bit of an obtuse phrase, again the commentators say there are certain things in the Christian life that are just really important. Everything is important, but there are certain things that just really stand out as absolutely critical. What they are supposed to do is to know what is truly excellent. Again the implication, I think, is that there’s an approval by testing that they are going through their Christian life and experientially they are coming to a fuller understanding of what truly is excellent and then what isn’t. Then he prays that they be pure and blameless for the day of judgment when Jesus comes again, and that ultimately everything is to the praise of God, everything is to the Glory of God. I think it is interesting to look at these; if you look at all the other sermons, all the other prayers in the first part of Paul’s epistles they share a lot of the same flavor, but they are very deep; they are very profound. Paul prayed that we would grow and that we would grow deeply and that the deep growth the Christian maturity would impact our lives. It’s an interesting thing for you to do sometime.
Imprisonment (Phil. 1:12-16)
He goes through his prayer and then in verses 12-16 he gets into talking a bit about the spread of the Gospel. He wants to tell them how he’s doing and how things are going.
The Sovereignty of God in Spreading the Gospel (Phil. 1:12-18a)
The first point is the sovereignty of God. The word sovereignty isn’t in the text, but this is just one of those magnificent passages that show how in the worst kinds of situations God is still able and willing and active to do good. The Jews try to get Paul killed, they try to get him out of circulation; they try to get rid of Paul to get rid of the Gospel. What does he say? The fact that I’m in jail has only served to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not hurting it; it’s actually spreading it more. In fact, the whole imperial guard now knows that I’m in jail because of my faith in Jesus Christ. Something that Paul probably could never have done on his own, witness to the imperial guard, because the Jews got him in trouble, God in his sovereignty is able now to get the message of the Gospel to this inner group of Roman soldiers that he otherwise would not have had access to. Later on he is going to send greetings from Caesar’s household. In the sovereignty of God and his control of all things, that which appears to be very bad, God can always use for his own good.
This is a really good test case of Romans 8:28, I think. When you think about it, Paul got stuck in jail for at least four years at the end of his life. You can imagine, I don’t know if Paul was frustrated, I would have been if I were Paul. I’m at the end of my life and I’ve got all this learning and all this information; there’s so much I want to teach, and so what do you do God? You stick me in prison for four years? That is probably how I would respond. Paul says, look at all the good that God is doing despite what the Jews tried to use for evil. It’s a great test case on God’s sovereignty. He does share though that what’s interesting is that there are many people who have been emboldened by Paul’s imprisonment to preach the Gospel, which always struck me as an odd thing. Someone gets thrown in jail so you get bolder and start doing what he was doing, but there’s something about watching someone suffer for their faith, which does strengthen our inner resolve doesn’t it. That’s what was going on.
Then Paul adds of course that there are some of those other guys who are preaching, and Paul says they want to afflict me in my imprisonment. Paul says, well in every way whether in pretense or in truth, if Christ is proclaimed; in that I rejoice. In other words, there was enough rivalry and jealousy going on that some preachers saw that Paul could no longer get out and preach like he used to, and so out of rivalry, they were really going at the preaching circuit to build their churches the good old fashioned human way, which never works. There’s a lot of discussion in the commentaries on this, and I think you have to assume that what these people were saying was true because Paul would never say, “if Christ is proclaimed what do I care?” if what they were saying was wrong, if it was false teaching, for example like in Galatians. I think the assumption is what they are saying is true, but they had the worst possible motives to do it—self aggrandizement, and Paul says I don’t really care what their motives are as long as what they are saying is true, Christ is being proclaimed and in that I rejoice. Some interesting lessons there as churches learn to relate to each other it seems to me.
Assurance of Innocence and Release (Phil. 1:18b-26)
As Paul goes on, it is pretty clear that he thinks he’s going to be released pretty soon. In verse 20, “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always, Christ will be honored in my body,” and later on in chapter 2 he says it a little clearer than that, but he’s pretty sure he’s going to be released from this imprisonment.
In the course of this we hit verse 21, and you simply cannot go through Philippians and not highlight verse 21. In fact, Philippians is pretty much just a solid set of quotations, I think, and there are so many good verses in here, but Paul is talking about dying and going to be with the Lord or staying and working with the Philippians. In verse 21 he says, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell (22). I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better (23). But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (24). Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith (25).” That’s quite an amazing statement. It’s amazing on so many different levels. Paul really wanted to go home he wanted in one sense to die and go be with Jesus. He said it’s far better, it’s gain for me—that’s the best of all possible worlds. Yet Paul was so convinced that his work with the Philippians was not yet done that he was able to say I’m sure I’m going to be around for awhile longer. Interesting view on ministry and the sense of my mission isn’t done and so I’m not going to die quite yet. The depth of Paul’s walk with the Lord is sometimes quite amazing.
Call for Unity (Phil. 1:27-2:18)
Starting at verse 27 then going through 2:18, Paul addresses what is evidently the major problem going on in the Philippian church. We know from later on that Epaphrodites has brought the gift from Philippi and evidently Epaphrodites brought more than the gift, he brought a record, a report of the problems going on in the Philippian church, like Chloe’s family had done in the Corinthian church. Evidently, what the leadership of the church was not taking care of was unity, and he specifically names two of them in 4:2 and tells them to get along. Evidently, there was a real problem of rivalry, of jealousy, of one-upmanship, of a significant lack of humility in the church. People were not putting the other person ahead of them, they were putting themselves first. It was creating a major issue in the Philippian church. In 1:27-2:18 Paul is going to address that specific issue of internal riffs and rivalries in the church.
By the way, in chapter 1 it talks about the people who were preaching out of jealousy, trying to afflict Paul in his imprisonment, it never says where those people were, it never says whether they were people in Rome or they were people back in Philippi. I always had assumed that they were in Philippi because that matches the problem we see here at the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2, but that’s an assumption on my part, it may not be.
Goal of Unity (Phil. 1:27-30)
In 1:27 Paul starts, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This is one of, if not the dominant motivation in Paul’s ethical system. Paul, he can, but he doesn’t normally sit there and shake a finger at us, he doesn’t normally threaten us that we’re going to go to Hell or something. He does periodically—there’s Hellfire and brimstone preaching all the way through the Bible—but the primary way in which Paul seeks to motivate people is to point out who they are in Christ and then calls them to act like it. It happens over and over again. Romans 6 I think is probably the strongest statement of that—look at your baptism, you’ve been crucified with Christ, you were buried with him in baptism just as he was raised to a new life, so also you’ve been raised to a new life and all you have to do is look and see who you are in Christ and what happened at your conversion and your behavior should match the reality.
That’s the same thing that is going on here in verse 27, where he says, your manner of life needs to match the Gospel, your manner of life needs to match what the Gospel has done in you; be worthy of it. In some of the theologies you may read, you’re going to come across an expression and they talk about the indicative and the imperative. It’s a very healthy way and helpful way of looking at the whole system of ethics. What does an indicative verb do in English? It’s a statement, supposedly a fact. An imperative is a command. When the theology talks about the indicative and the imperative, the indicative is when the Bible describes who we are in Christ. The indicative, theologically speaking, are those statements that describe who we are in Christ—they are statements of fact. Imperatives are statements of how we then should live. The indicative/imperative relationship is such that this is who you are in Christ so you should act like it. The illustration I like to use when I’m dealing with Hayden is, if Hayden has done something wrong, I can say, “That was a bad thing to do Hayden, don’t do it again.” Sometimes that’s what he hears. Other times he hears, “Hayden, you’re a good kid, good kids don’t do stuff like that.” See the latter is the indicative and the imperative where you’re saying this is who you are, Hayden. This is who you are Christians, indicative, so let’s act like it, imperative; indicative/imperative. It’s a helpful way to look at ethics and it’s one that Paul uses a lot.
Having stated that Paul gets in and he starts talking about the goal that he has for the Philippian Christians. Let me just read it, “So that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (27), and not frightened in anything by your opponents (28).” The fact that they are not frightened and they are striving “is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him,” but live a rich and prosperous life (29) “engaged in the same” …wealth that you see I had and that I now still live in (30)? No—“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him, but also suffer for his sake (29), engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have (30).” Wow, suffering for Christ is a good thing.
Stand Firm in One Spirit
Let me highlight some of the things in this chapter. First, Paul’s goal for the Philippians is that they stand firm. That’s what he wants them to do, he wants them to stand firm, to not waver in their commitment to Christ, not waver in their commitment to one another. In light of the persecution that they are obviously facing, in light of the internal factions that are obviously in the Philippian church, he wants them to hang in there. He wants them to stand firm, theologically he wants them to persevere—that’s what he wants them to do. Stand firm, don’t waver in your commitment, stand firm in one spirit. The ESV went with a small ‘s’ and the idea would be stand firm as one person in a unified fashion. The problem is that that’s what the next phrase says, in one mind. Paul doesn’t generally repeat himself without a difference in meaning. I opted for the translation that it’s stand firm by one Spirit (capital S), meaning the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit provides the power for you and me to persevere. The Holy Spirit provides the power for you and me to hang in there, and that’s exactly the point that Paul makes in Ephesians 4:3-6, that there’s one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and that the Spirit is the power by which we stand firm and stand together. He wants us to stand firm, empowered by the Spirit with one mind in unity in other words.
Then, he spells out two consequences that are going to come if we stand firm: (1) We will strive side-by-side for the faith of the Gospel. Wouldn’t that be a neat slogan for a church? That a church be characterized as people who are side-by-side, not one up the ladder one down the ladder? Not one on the ladder and twenty off the ladder? You could drive this metaphor in the ground, but this is side-by-side striving for the one purpose of the advancement of the Gospel. The single focus on the Gospel is proclamation, the making of new disciples and the making of fully devoted disciples. That’s your focus and if we are of the same mind, if we’re united by the power of the Spirit, then the idea is that we’re going to be working side-by-side for the same goal. The goal is not a bigger church; the goal is the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Then he gives a second consequence of not being frightened by those who are persecuting you. It’s easy when you’re out all by yourself, all alone and there’s no one, then persecution is pretty hard. Suffering as a Christian, being teased and taunted and left out, especially for high school kids, it’s a hard thing, but if we’re striving side-by-side for the single focus of the advance of the Gospel then we’re not going to be nearly as susceptible to the jeers and the taunts of the sinful world. Then as Paul goes on to say, the very fact that you do hang in there, that you do strive side-by-side, that you don’t get frightened, should scare the other people that no matter what they throw at you doesn’t seem to affect you and you keep going on. The fact that you are persevering is likewise a sign that you truly are a Christian and all of this is from God. It’s quite a goal that Paul holds out for the Philippian church—single-minded, focused devotion on the advancement of the Gospel, such that it encourages you and scares the people who are outside the church.
Call to Unity (Phil. 2:1-4)
With that Paul then moves into the actual call to unity, and we’re going to spend most of our time in this passage because this is the most important theological part of Philippians.
He goes through this wonderful warm-up starting in 2:1, “if there is any encouragement in Christ,” and the grammar says that there is, encouragement in being joined together, being joined with Christ, “any comfort from love,” if you’ve received any comfort by the love of God lavished out upon you, “any participation in the Spirit,” if you have experienced the power of God’s Spirit, “any affection and sympathy,” with one another and the answer to all these things is, “yes we have,” then, Paul says, “complete my joy by being of the same mind (2).” If you were to go word for word it’s a little deceptive, but if you were to go word for word in Greek it’s “think on the same thing,” but the word think is to think in terms of a mindset, your disposition. Think on the same thing, have the same mindset, the same disposition be like-minded, have a focus, that’s what I want you to do.
This is after all what Jesus prayed for right in John 17, what was the one thing that Jesus prayed for you and for me? That we be one as God the Father and God the Son are one this is John 17. Do you remember in John 17 what was at stake? That if we are one as the Father and Son are one, then the world will know that you have sent me. In other words, the Gospel is at stake, and it is when we strive side-by-side for the Gospel, when we have the same mind, people look at that and they will understand, of course in conversion they will come to understand that God the Father sent God the Son—that’s what’s at stake in this like-mindedness, in this unity message that’s all the way through the New Testament.
Of course you can never say that we have to be same minded without having qualification. The two qualifications are, do we have to agree on everything? No. Dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists, charismatics and non-charismatics are all welcome here, right? These are things we have agreed to disagree on. We don’t have to agree on everything, but the other side of that is just as bad and just, if not more so, destructive, and that is, we’re just going to get along and not even have the same mind. We’ll just get along; don’t worry about these insignificant differences. You think you get to Heaven by being baptized as a baby? Don’t worry. That’s okay, we’re all just going to get along. That’s some people’s idea of being of the same mind, and it’s equally foolish as the first. Being same-minded doesn’t mean that we’re a cult where I tell you everything that you have to believe, but the other side of the spectrum is also not true, that there are things that matter, there are things that are worth fighting over and we’re not going to lower everything to the lowest common denominator just so we can all be of the same mind. That’s what’s behind the ecumenical movement, at least it was. Can we get a statement of faith that is so factious and so empty that Baptists and Unitarians can both agree? No, it’s not possible, but the goal of all of this is that we have the same mind, that we be like-minded, that we have the same love for each other, the love that I have for you is the love that you have for me. That we be in full accord and complete and total agreement on this focus on the essentials of what we’re doing.
Same Love, One for the Other
Then he says, practically let me tell you what that’s going to look like, that means, verse 3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” What do I mean by more significant? Let me tell you, verse 4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” I remember when I was younger, that I was always struggled with this because we’re not all the same, right? We all have the same inherit value to God, not one of us is more valuable to God than another, but how can you think that someone is more significant or of a greater intrinsic worth? What Fee said in his commentary is that humility is not thinking that the other person is more intrinsically valuable than you, because Jesus humbled himself on the cross and certainly Jesus did not think he was of less worth or of less value than someone else, but Fee defines humility in terms of actions, that’s my way of summarizing I guess, but the idea is that humility is putting the needs and the interests of other people ahead of your own.
Example of Christ’s Humility (Phil. 2:5-18)
Humiliation (Phil. 2:6-8)
That’s a different way to think about humility, but it explains why Jesus, and therefore, why God can be humble. Doesn’t that sound weird? Isn’t it weird to refer to God as humble? Or am I the only one that that sticks in my throat? As he’s about to say, Jesus was the exact representation of God, in the form of God, and the whole purpose of the humiliation was to illustrate the character of God that he puts the needs of others first. This is difficult because there’s nothing more important than the glory of God, and he does all things for his glory, so how can God do all things for his glory here? Well the answer is, by putting the needs of others ahead. It goes full circle and brings glory back to God where it belongs.
Paul is setting the stage: he wants these people to be single minded, focused on the Gospel of Christ, to be together, to be functioning as an adhesive group, bound by love, Jesus would say. So he’s going to give them an example of Jesus. By giving them the example of Jesus, he’s not saying do what Jesus did, because none of us, I suspect, are going to die on a cross and be exalted to Heaven and be given a name that is above every other name. Some of the commentators chaff on this passage because we can’t do what Jesus did, but it’s a technicality. By looking at Jesus’s humiliation on the cross and exaltation to Heaven, Jesus is teaching us about the character of God. It is that characteristic of humility and the character of God that Jesus illustrates, that is to be our characteristic as well.
Don’t ever forget why the next several verses are there. It’s to illustrate the character of God and the humility that you and I are supposed to have. He starts in verse 6, “who,” speaking of Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he made himself nothing,” how did he make himself nothing? He took the form of a servant, specifically he was born in the likeness of man, in other words, was human servant and if that weren’t enough he was found in human form. He humbled himself even to the point of dying, and not just any death, but death on the cross.
What the passage does is start with the preexistence of Christ, the fact that he lived before he was born and it says he was in the very form of God. Now when you hear the word form in English what do you tend to hear? Maybe I’m the only one that does it, but I tend to hear “a close representation, outline,” but the word means the exact opposite of that, it means the exact representation. Fee’s definition is “that which truly characterizes a given reality.” When Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God it means that Jesus was the exact representation of God, in other words, he was God. This is one of the strongest statements to the divinity of Christ in the New Testament. The problem is the English word form and later on the word likeness, he’s going to appear in the likeness of a human being. Again, with likeness we hear approximation. Again it means the exact representation. He was fully God and he humbled himself and became fully human, but as a fully human being, he humbled himself to death and ultimately to death on the cross.
One of the keys in there is this word, made himself nothing. Have you ever heard of kenosis? Have you ever heard that word? It’s what the NSB is getting at when it translates emptied himself. The question is, emptied himself of what? It’s been a debate for centuries, what did Jesus empty himself of when he became human? Did he become less than God during his incarnation? One answer that is given is that he emptied himself of the independent exercise of his divine rights. He didn’t know certain things, he got tired; he couldn’t do many miracles at Capernaum because there wasn’t much faith there. The idea behind all of these is that he became less than what he was and the commentaries are pretty straight up now that emptied himself doesn’t have an object. He emptied himself, in other words, he gave himself, or as the ESV says it, he made himself nothing. In the incarnation, Jesus doesn’t become less than God, early church has a word for that theology it’s called heresy. He didn’t become less than God, he didn’t lose something that was his, but rather he took on a full humanity. The kenosis theory, the incarnation, is that Jesus gave up something in order to become human, and you just have all kinds of problems with that in biblical theology. Jesus made himself nothing in other words, he humbled himself, he gave himself for his creation and he put their needs ahead, I just can’t say ahead of himself, but I don’t know what else to say, and he died on the cross.
Exaltation (Phil. 2:9-11)
Then what happens is the exact opposite. You know in one of the mysteries of life, why did Satan put into Judas’s mind to betray Jesus? Did you ever think about that? I’m assuming that Satan’s not stupid, just really deceived and going to burn forever, but my assumption is that he has a vague idea of what’s going on in the spiritual realm. So why did he put it in Judas’s heart to have Jesus killed, which would accomplish Jesus’s purpose and seal his fate? I’ve always wondered about that—what on earth is going on? It reminds me of the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where the stone plate gets broken (I think that’s the right one). In the story of Aslan, where the white witch kills Aslan, and everyone’s sad. Aslan, who’s Jesus, is dead, and the next morning the stone table is cracked and there’s Aslan. The girl said, “What’s going on Aslan?” Aslan said, “Well the knowledge of the white witch goes way back, I think to the dawn of time, but there’s, in Lewis’ words, “there’s magic that goes beyond the dawn of time such that as if anyone willingly gave his life, then the power of the stone tablet and the power of the witch is broken.” I don’t understand how Satan could have been so deceived as to play into God’s hands, but that’s exactly what happened.
At the very bottom of Jesus’s humiliation where Satan would have been jumping for joy, I’m assuming, then Paul says that in fact, his humiliation was the cause of the exaltation. Notice how verse 9 starts with therefore, because Jesus was humiliated all the way to the death on the cross, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Some people think that the name is Jesus, but I think that Fee’s right that the name is Lord. Jesus is not a name above all other names, it’s like Sam, it is about one of the most common names in Jewish culture, but God exalted him, he didn’t reward him, he didn’t give him something that wasn’t his already. You have to say that otherwise Jesus becomes less than God, but he highly exalted him by universally declaring who Jesus truly is, by universally declaring what his name is and the name is Lord. Lord is the translation of the Greek kurios, and kurios is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Yahweh. In Jesus’s resurrection and ascension God exalts him by declaring that this is truly who Jesus is, that he is Yahweh that he is Lord.
The ramifications of that are huge aren’t they? That means when you read Genesis 1, when you read Exodus 3 and the burning bush and the story of Yahweh parting the Red Sea and Yahweh being faithful to King David and Yahweh speaking through the Prophets, that this is Jesus. So in his death and his resurrection, God makes it clear that Jesus is in fact God. Verse 10 is one of those really encouraging verses; when I get depressed this is one of the verses I think of. Someday this fight is going to be over, someday it’s all going to be done and every knee is going to bow and every tongue is going to confess that Jesus Christ is Yahweh, not to his glory, but to the glory of God the Father. Because the glory passes through Jesus to his Father. The only question is, are you going to bow the knee willingly or are you going to be forced? At times I think of all the junk in this world, and all the opposition that we have as Christians and what a cesspool of a place this is, what Paul calls a twisted generation in a couple of verses. It really is, but someday it will be over and someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess and the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness and sin will be taken away and we get to move into the next Age, the Messianic Age. Apart from the immediate context, this is one of the coolest verses in the Bible as far as I’m concerned because it’s something to fight for, it’s something to look forward to, it’s something to live our lives in anticipation of and someday we get eternity to enjoy it.
Consequences of the Truth (Phil. 2:12-18)
Well, as we look at the rest of Philippians there’s not a whole lot that I have to say that you’re not going to get out of just straight reading, but let me go through and we’ll hit some of the highlights and talk about it. In Phil. 2:12-18 you really have the conclusion to Paul’s call for unity by way of humility and focus for the Philippian Church. That’s why verse 12 starts with a therefore, therefore in light of what now know about God based on what Jesus has done, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (12), for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (13).” The consequence of knowing this about the character of God is to call the Philippians to holiness, it’s to call them to sanctification, and it’s to call them to work out their salvation. Obviously Paul is not saying working hard so you can be saved, but he’s saying work out the consequences of your salvation. Be who you are, the indicative and the imperative. He’s saying you need to work out the consequences of what it means to be a Christian. Do it with fear and trembling, sanctification is serious work, there is a lot at stake and it needs to be done seriously with fear and trembling.
I think Paul really is right on the border with paranoia because he was so misunderstood so many times that he’s always qualifying himself. At the Pastor’s Conference at Piper’s church we went to, Randy Alcorn was always qualifying himself, “No, I don’t mean this, I mean this,” and I wanted to say, “Come on, have a little faith in us just say what you think.” One morning he read a letter from one of the Pastors and it was so rude, it was so ugly, it was so non-Christian and everyone just ruptured in laughter and I was thought, “I guess there’s no way if you don’t qualify yourself all the time someone’s not going to listen to you and is going to misunderstand you.” Anyway, Paul was a bit that way and so having said this great verse (v. 12), he qualifies himself.
How can you work out your salvation? The only way you can work out your salvation is to understand that God has already been at work in you. Everything we do is in response to what God does to us. Our salvation is in response to him drawing, our sanctification is in response to what he has made us and so also God is at work and when we talk about the enablement of the Holy Spirit, I mean this is about as clear as you can get it because it’s not just somehow God gives us ability, he actually giving us the desire to grow in our walk with him. Did you ever just sit back and say, “Why do I really believe this stuff? Why do I want to grow—where did that come from?” There are so many forces at work against us and the answer is God through the Holy Spirit gives us the desires that we have and then the very ability to carry them out. Humility isn’t natural, right? It’s just not natural, and yet it’s God who gives us the desire to pursue humility, and then in fact gives us the ability to grow in humility. J. B. Phillips says God is at work in you giving you the desire and then the ability to do it.
Then, Paul says, I’m going to make this so clear Philippians that even you can’t misunderstand what I’m saying, do all things without grumbling or questioning. You know there are very few things that we have to do to really be advanced in our Christian walk, because there are just a few basic sins that are all pervasive and one of them is grumbling, negative spirit, judgmental spirit, gossip and slander, putting someone down to make you look better. If we could handle that we would be blameless and innocent children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation among whom you shine as lights in the world. I really mean it if we, as the church could learn not to grumble, not to go around doing everything connected with that, they’d be writing articles on us. People would be saying, “see how they love one another.” I think all we really have to do is keep our mouths shut and we’re half way there.
That’s the end of this central thrust that Paul is making of like mindedness, same mindedness, putting the needs of someone else ahead just like Jesus did for us. God will enable you to do it, He’ll give you the ability to do it—will you please stop grumbling. I mean it’s more than just grumbling, but there’s a reason why he put the grumbling right there, and I’ve got to assume it was one of the major things that he was addressing.
Personal Comments (Phil 2:19-29)
Paul launches into some personal comments; he wants to say I’m going to send Timothy to you as soon as I find out what’s going to happen with the court. I’m absolutely sure I’m going to be freed, and Epaphroditus, who was evidently the Philippian who brought the gift to Paul, had grown very sick and almost died, and so now that he’s better Paul wants to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi probably with the letter. He was probably the one who carried the letter back to the Philippian church.
Stand Firm in the Lord (Phil. 3:1-4:1)
Chapter 3 is about standing firm in the Lord, and I’m not sure if there is one central theme, but Paul is just calling them to persevere, “1…rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” In other words, I don’t mind repeating myself. He says watch out for, and I said Jews, but again you have to careful about over generalizing. Paul’s saying be really careful about the people who want you to fall back into Judaism specifically want you to be circumcised, people who think that they are keeping the law and are boasting. If anyone has a right to boast about observing the law, it’s me. I blow them away, Paul says, and goes into a discussion of all the things he had accomplished, but in the light of everything he had accomplished as a Jew before he became a Christian, this is Paul’s summation of his life, starting at verse 7: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ (7). Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish (8),” and we’re being very polite in that translation “in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him,” and if you want an encapsulated verse of Paul’s theology here it is in verse 9, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ (9),” in other words, “the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” I mean that’s a great summation of Paul’s theology.
“That I may know him (10),” you can’t read that without hearing the incredibly powerful personal element can you. He says, these other people out here, he calls them dogs and some other names, you know they want to glory in the flesh and they want to pretend like they are obeying the law, but what I want them to do is know Christ, and there is a strongly relational element in these words, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (10), that by any means possible (11),” in other words, I’m going to do whatever it takes, whatever it takes I’m going to do it, “I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” It’s a very powerful encapsulation of Paul’s theology.
I’m just going to read this it is so good, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect (12)," Paul knows that even he has a ways to go, "but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own." Do you see the indicative and imperative? Jesus has made me his own, that’s the indicative, I am a child of God through the work of Christ on the cross, therefore—imperative—I’m going to press on, I’m going to keep pushing toward the goal. I suspect that what happens in the life of any church, is that it gets to a point where it says you know I’ve pushed long enough; I’m a little tired, let’s just coast. You know those churches? I just can’t imagine Paul ever going to one of them or ever doing that. He simply is not going to get tired, he’s not going to let go, it’s never enough. He understands where he is, but he is going to keep pushing and pushing and pushing.
For those of you who are older than I am this is an honest question and I’m trying to ask it fairly. In one sense I’m a tremendously discontented person, I’m very aggressive and those of you who know me know that and nothing’s ever good enough and I drive everyone nuts. When Scott and I were in business together there was no decision we made that I couldn’t remake 27 times—I drove the poor kid nuts. Is there a tendency when you get older to say, that’s enough, I’m tired of pushing? I guess I’ve assumed that that would be a temptation, and one that I would guess especially when the body starts to hurt a little more and you don’t have the energy, that it’s easy to give in. Is that generally a true thing? Let me put it this way, I’m retired, and is it easy to think that when you retire from work you retire from spiritual growth? I’ve often wondered because I would think it would be hard to keep pushing. I’m trying to empathize with you and am doing a really bad job, but I would think it would be hard to push and to push and to say I’m non perfect, I’m going to keep pressing on because Christ has made me his own—there’s more that I can learn, there’s more that I can grow—I can get deeper with him—I can grow closer to him. I get exhausted doing it and I’m a mere 51 years old. Does this get to be more of a challenge? That’s a good way to say it—does that get to be more of a challenge as you get older or is it like the pace is getting faster and faster? I’ve always wondered, I’ve always wanted to ask someone just a little older than myself that question. Not that I’ve already obtained this—and we all say to that Amen, nor that I’m already perfect, Amen, but I press on to make it my own. Paul says in Corinthians, I continue to pummel my body less having preached to others I be denied the prize. Because Jesus has made me his own—indicative/imperative, “…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” That’s pretty cool.
Series of Admonitions (Phil. 4:2-9)
In Phil. 4:2, he makes it very clear that there are co-labors, probably leaders in the church that simply cannot get along, and he’s begging them to get along. “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord (2).” In other words, please do what I’ve been talking about in chapters 1 and 2 will you please get along—please. “Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women (3).” True companion sounds like a name, but we have no evidence that that name ever existed in Greek. If it were a name, you see the footnote, it would be Syzygus and the word means true yokefellow. We don’t know if there’s another person or if he’s talking to the ladies, “Help these women, who have labored side by side.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
Verse 6: “Do not be anxious about anything, unless your son is starting to drive—doesn’t yours say that? We really have different translations. “Do not be anxious about anything,” except a 2-million-dollar debt on a building—does yours say that? Well, mine does. This is a Bill’s Standard Version. Verse 6 is really an obnoxious verse isn’t it, “do not be anxious about anything.” We like to be anxious, it gives us an illusion of power and control. “Do not be anxious about anything,” and by the way I think I used this in a sermon awhile back, there’s nothing I can’t be anxious about, there’s nothing I can’t worry about, I am the ultimate worrier in areas. When I was more meshed in computers I use to try to anticipate problems—I would completely make up problems, then I would think of all the different ways of what the consequences could be. Every problem I imagined, I had 5 different scenarios on each of them. Then I used to read magazines and books to try to figure out how I would solve each of those problems. There was nothing that I couldn’t be anxious about. I spent a lot of time reading. “Do not be anxious about anything,” unless it’s really important and then God can’t take care of that so you have to. By the way, when I preached that sermon I got almost more comments from that than any other sermon, so I know I’m not the only one in this boat. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (7).”
Then the most annoying verse in all of Philippians, Verse 8, “Finally, brothers,” let’s be inclusive here, (and sisters), “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence,” and there is, “if there is anything worthy of praise,” and there is, set your mind on these things. I had an old pastor who always talked about the Philippians 4:8 test. Stick it on your wallet, stick it on your television and then see if you can be true to it. I suspect our lives would all be significantly different if we really obeyed this verse.
Being Content and Salutation (Phil. 4:1-23)
Then less he hasn’t completely and totally annoyed the Philippians, he adds in verse 11, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” and the reason he gives is verse 13, the reason that I can be content in every situation is because I can do anything through him who strengthens me. It’s really interesting, in Ancient culture if you gave a gift, you only did it for one reason and that was to get back, and reciprocity was huge in Greek culture. What he’s doing in this final paragraph is he’s saying, in fact if you read this it’s like here’s how not to say thank you—this is not the way to say thank you to a gift. For example, he says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” In other words, I didn’t really need it and then later on when he’s saying thank in verse 17 he says, "Not that I seek the gift," I mean not that it’s really that big of a deal to me, "but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit." I want the benefit that you’re going to receive from it, and you can hear ancient culture going, “What is the benefit I’m going to receive from it, because I should get something back from it.” Then he says at the end of 18, it was “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God,” not me to God. “And my God will supply every need of yours,” in other words, I’m not giving you a penny back, there’s no reciprocity here, this is not like for like. God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. I think he is being kind, but in that culture if you start thanking people for a gift, you’re running down the wrong road. He wants to say it was you, but understand this is where it stops. You’re not getting back from me, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
That was my theme verse my four years in Boston. Boston for me was a time in which God made it very clear to me that I was supposed to learn to be content being away from, I better be careful since this is being taped, being away from family and friends and being in a totally foreign culture that I despised. It became very clear to me that I was supposed to learn to be content in one of the worst situations that I could possible imagine myself to be in. I never learned it. I was never content in Boston, and you know the interesting thing about when God tests you, if you fail the test you may never get the opportunity again to prove your contentment in him and your acknowledgement of his all sufficiency. I love Spokane so it’s no test for me to live here like it was in Boston, so I lost my chance to learn to be content in a horrible situation. Just a passing word of encouragement that if you’re in one of those situations where you are supposed to be learning to be content, do it because you may lose the opportunity to ever learn that particular lesson.
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