An Applied Outline of Philippians

Posted on 11 January 2011

One of Pauls’ favourite letters, written from prison, still gives encouragement and challenge today!

Philippians 1:1,2:
Debtors to God’s Mercy

One of the most significant experiences in the apostle Paul’s life was his ‘Macedonian call’ (Acts 16:6-10) for it led to the most fruitful and significant period of his missionary activity as he and his colleagues established congregations in what is now modern Greece. The first church was founded at Philippi, after a remarkably brief visit of a few weeks (Acts 16:11-40). It is clear from this letter that the ‘firstfruits’ of his ministry in Greece always retained, for him, a special affection. At the point of writing the letter Paul is keen to return to Philippi but, presently hindered, is hoping to send his co-worker Timothy to visit them (2:19-24). Meanwhile, he sends this letter….

Verses 1-2 are a ‘Christianised’ version of a typical letter of the period: including the addressors (1), addressees (2) and an initial greetings (3). Anticipating a number of the themes that later appear in the letter, they have much to teach us today.

First of all, they remind us of what should be the basic self-understanding of every Christian (1). Paul and Timothy had every reason to speak highly of their gifts and accomplishments – not least as Christian leaders and Church-planters. But there is no sense of self-assertion or pride in their mutual designation as ‘servants’ of Jesus. Very simply, they acknowledged no ground for self-esteem except that found in their relationship with Jesus and they recognised no status except that which rejected every claim to such and was seen in the denial of any rights except those of unquestioned obedience to Jesus. If this was true for them, how much more is it to be true of us.

Secondly, we are reminded of several vital truths about the Church (2a):
• We are all set apart to reflect the character of God himself through our relationship to Jesus.
• ‘Leadership’ in the Church is a partnership with all the congregation and is, itself, supremely seen in its service of others (this seems to explain the word order here). Leadership in the Church is not a status to crave and cling onto: it is a servile task to be performed to the utmost of our ability and modelled on Jesus himself.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, we are reminded that the understanding we have of ourselves and the Church emerges from Gospel ‘realities’ (2b). 

• Every Christian is (and remains) a debtor to grace. The undeserved mercy of God underlies and undergirds all that we are or ever can be. I am nothing, God in Christ is all!
• Every Christian is the debtor to a grace that has brought ‘peace’ with God. Mercy has restored our friendship to God that was lost at the Fall through sin. We are ‘rotters’ who have experienced the undeserved mercy of God that has restored us to himself.
• Every Christian is a debtor to grace and the beneficiary of peace through the ‘combined efforts’ of God the Father and his Son. The ‘effectual call’ of the Father through the self-offering of the Son has brought us, the undeserving, near to God.

All of which helps us understand the first verse and a half. We are all undeserving servants and, if the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, we cannot but live as such!

Philippians 1:3-8:
The Marks of a True Christian

A first century letter invariably followed its giving the addressors, addressees and an initial greeting (see 1:1,2) with words of praise for the recipients. Paul follows this pattern here (1:3-11) but in a manner that offers far more than merely conventional sentiments!

In the first part (1:3-8) examined here, he reveals his deep affection for the Philippian church (8) a sentiment that extends to ‘every last man jack’ of them (4); though he was not unaware of their failings as the rest of the letter will demonstrate. Such love naturally arouses his thankful intercession for them (3,4a). However, the focus of his delight is grounded in the fact that they are, demonstrably, fellow heirs of God’s grace (7a). It is helpful for us to trace out the logic and the application of his thinking to ourselves.

For Paul, the Christian life owes its origin and certain outcome to the work of God himself (6). Whatever other factors may exist in defining the Christian life (for example, my personal response to the invitation of the Gospel and my own struggles to be faithful) these are all secondary to the work of God. It is he who initiates it through new birth, he who sustains it through his indwelling Spirit and he who brings it to its intended and certain end ‘in the day of Christ Jesus’ when he returns and his kingdom is finally established. For Paul, this was doubtless a foundation stone of his belief system but a truth that sustained him in trial and his present imprisonment. It should do the same for us!

While it is true that from this statement we might deduce the truth ‘once saved, always saved’, it is the evidences of this fact that delights Paul here: and the implication is that where the evidence is not present we can have no certainty of the saving work of God! So what evidence does he offer us to examine the reality of our own faith?

Fundamental to all, is their commitment to the Gospel shown in sacrificial and practical ways (5,7a). As the latter verse demonstrates, this is the basis of his confidence that they really are the heirs of God. These two verses hint at several things expanded elsewhere in the New Testament:

• from the very earliest days of the Church and, unwaveringly thereafter, they had given sacrificially to support Paul’s ministry (5);
• in recent days, this had been accompanied by their support of him in prison (7b).

Thus, whether in the context of his evangelistic and church planting programme or the present need for support while no longer able to function thus freely, they had committed themselves to him and his ministry for the Gospel’s sake. The former made financial demands, the latter more subtle demands in standing up and being counted in a hostile and dangerous situation. Either way, God’s grace in the Gospel had so grasped them that they did all that they reasonably (and unreasonably) could to make the Gospel known by responding practically and specifically to ‘Gospel work’.

Herein, therefore, lies perhaps the primary evidence that we are God’s workmanship: those who are his workmanship will be committed to making the Gospel that has transformed them known by practical and sacrificial acts of service. It offers a spiritual ‘litmus test’ to our individual and corporate spiritual health? How do we fare?

Philippians 1:9-11:
The Leader’s Longing for his People

In the previous two studies we noted that a first century letter invariably followed its giving the addressors, addressees and an initial greeting (see 1:1,2) with words of praise for the recipients. Paul follows this pattern here (1:3-11). In the first part (1:3-8) he prayerfully celebrates the evidence that their Christian life is securely grounded in the work of God himself and demonstrated in their sacrificial commitment to the Gospel.

At this point, Paul turns to intercession for the Philippians. But first, as we look back to verses 8, we note he reveals the nature and measure of his love for them as the ground of his prayer: his longing for them is that of someone overwhelmingly homesick, his love shares in the deep gut-wrenching emotion of the Saviour and his affections extend to each and every one of them. What a model for every church leader… and what an example for every church member!

His prayer, then, is that, very simply, each one will show the marks of the ordered and developing Christian life. He traces out several stages to this growth as he offers up his prayer.

The source and dynamic of the Christian life is the knowledge of God and participation in his love (9). Thus Paul is not speaking about knowledge about God but the intimacy of loving fellowship with him that marks out a truly Christian encounter with God.

And, as with human intimacy and love, the primary fruit is empathy with the other (9, end). And, again as in the best of human relationships, such loving empathy enables the wishes of the beloved to be recognised and effects a transformation in the lover’s sustained attitudes and conduct (10).  Thus, the right relationship with God, specifically, ‘union’ with Jesus, will produce the harvest of ‘righteousness’ (the truly Christian lifestyle of delighted obedience to Christ, 11)…. And such a lifestyle inspired by God, completes the circle, and brings glory to him.

Note that Paul does not define the Christian life by a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. Clearly there are things that God approves or disapproves! But such lists are fairly ineffective to effect obedience and are not characteristically Christian unless they spring out of a deepening relationship of love for God…. And it is this that Paul prays for the Philippians. It ought also be the manifesto of all leaders, and the measure of our prayer for them that they might so pray for and care for the ‘flock’ as to see such lives

Philippians 1:12-14:
Inexplicable Advance

Paul is in prison. Those whom he loved and who loved him are understandably concerned and, perhaps, puzzled. The imprisonment of the one who seems indispensable as evangelist to the non-Jewish world appears to make no sense at all!

Paul’s response is to tell the Philippians something that might not have appeared self-evident (12a). The Gospel has not been hindered by his imprisonment (12b)! He provides several pieces of evidence:

• The Gospel has been proclaimed throughout the ‘elite’ military force that protected the Emperor and undertook the Empire’s most important security tasks (13a). As one group of guards succeeded to another, Paul, the captive was presented with a captive audience to preach the Gospel!
• The Gospel has penetrated far and wide (13b). We cannot know who ‘all the rest’ were but Paul’s words imply that widely through Rome it was known that this prisoner was a Christian and something of his message, therefore, widely penetrated the nerve centre of the Empire.
• The Church in Rome had become galvanised to more energetic and bold evangelism (14)… at least most of them.

The implication, therefore, was that far from being a disaster for the Gospel, Paul’s imprisonment was a terrific (but, initially humanly unexpected) boost to it!

So much for Paul’s experience… what might we learn from this?

• The removal from the ‘firing line’ of apparently indispensable personnel for the promotion of the Gospel does not mean that the cause of God is imperilled or necessarily suffers!  This is affirmed by the apostle and often demonstrated in Church history: not least that of the contemporary Church. We do well not to associate Gospel success to closely with certain persons, groups or strategies. Let God rule!
• Personal inconvenience, pain and suffering is, not infrequently, the setting through which new spheres of witness are opened up and the context that challenges others to ‘take up the reins’ and adopt a deeper commitment to making Christ known.
• Simply, God’s ways are, inscrutably, not our ways. He works out his purposes by means beyond our comprehension and quite apart from our understanding. We must trust him.

None is indispensable, no particular strategy is essential, well-being and freedom are not necessary elements in the extension of God’s work. God’s plans and purposes alone stand firm.

Philippians 1:15-18:
Hostile Preachers

This is a sad passage! Paul has just celebrated the fact that, humanly unexpectedly, his imprisonment has forwarded rather than hindered the work of the Gospel. One of the reasons for this is that many in Rome have been galvanised to a more enthusiastic evangelistic ministry (12-14). He still continues to rejoice in this (18) although he recognises that some (but not all, see verse 15) are doing so for impure motives. So much is clear: much else is muddy in this short passage and we need to do some detective work to establish exactly what is going on!

What is clear is that the preachers of whom he speaks are not false teachers. The beginning and end of this passage makes this clear: they ‘preach Christ’ (15) and ‘Christ is proclaimed’ by them (18). There is not even any evidence that they adopted different emphases from the apostle: this was not the ancient equivalent of Methodist over against Baptist! If they had to ‘tick box’ their beliefs, the evidence is that their message would have been identical to that of Paul.

Thus, the issue is not a different message or a variety of the same message: it is their motives and, specifically, their attitude to Paul that was the problem. Their aim was to compete, in some way, with Paul (they were motivated by ‘rivalry’, 15,17). We do not know why since ‘thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment’ (17) is unclear without the context. Simply, united in the Gospel they were divided from Paul.

Various explanations for this may be imagined: perhaps they resented the authority, ability or success of this ‘new preacher’ on their patch. Jealousy driven by pride is often at the heart of rivalry. Now, possibly, they were thrilled he was out of the equation and thought they could ‘rub salt in the wound’ by stepping into the gap left by his imprisonment.

Thankfully, there were others who out of love for the apostle and his God were ready to supplement his currently restricted labours.

So much for the situation described…. What is its relevance to us? There are several points that are of immediate application:

• All too often it is those closest to us in our understanding of divine truth that are the most ready to rise up against us.
• Pride and jealousy, rather than differences of opinion, often explain the divisions that exist among Christians; whatever the ‘presenting’ reason for disagreement.
• The imagined or real greater authority, ability or success of others is a pernicious ground to such jealousy.
• Such attitudes mean that the motive and goal of ministry is lost. It is love for God and the Gospel of Christ that is to be the driving force of all we do for God… and that may mean taking second place to another.
• And this is the big challenge for all of us. When all else is stripped away, what drives us? Is it love for God and Christ’s Gospel or some petty and worldly pride that insists we come first. Anything else and we are not only divided from one another but estranged from God and divided against ourselves.

Philippians 1:18-20:
Joyful Confidence

In prison, Paul has been able to encourage the anxious Philippian believers with the fact that, in a humanly unexpected way, his incarceration has advanced not hindered the cause of the Gospel (1:12-14). Many, indeed, have been galvanised to bolder preaching: though, sadly, some have done so to ‘get back’, in some way, at the apostle (1:15-18). Thus, he rejoices that the Gospel of Jesus, the only thing that really counts to him, is advanced.

Not that such rejoicing is easy! The words in 18b almost seem to suggest an act of the will, ‘Yes, indeed, I will force myself to rejoice!’ How realistic! Finding joy for the believer is, perhaps, rarely a warm inner feeling that bubbles up inside of us. It is the considered response, even in the midst of trial, to the truths of the Gospel. This is a lesson to the modern Church where (like the world around) emphasis is placed on feelings. Genuine Christian feelings follow faith and faith is grounded in the facts of the Gospel.

Paul has just celebrated the success of Gospel-preaching as a basis for joy. Now, however, he adds another reason.

Paul has no certain outcome as to the future: it may be his meeting with the Emperor will result in his death (as we see at the end of verse 20). But, whatever the outcome, he has absolute certainty of both his successful perseverance (‘now as always Christ will be exalted in my body’, 20) and his ultimate happy vindication (‘I will in no way be ashamed’ (20). Also, see 19 where ‘vindication’ is a better translation than ‘deliverance’). Life and death can both be faced with some equanimity.

How can he be so joyfully confident? Paul offers two reasons (19). On the one hand, he refers to the ministry of Christ’s Spirit within him. This might not surprise us: if anything can keep us going it is God himself! Yet, for many of us, that certainty is, perhaps, absent. We look too much to ourselves and too little at him! We forget who is at work in us. No wonder we feel uncertain of our ability to stand firm for Jesus! We have every reason to when we alone are the basis of our hopes.

But the other reason is a surprise! It is the prayers of the relatively small Philippian church! It is not clear whether the help of the Spirit is consequent upon the prayers or that we have two separate matters. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter. What we are assured of is that prayer for others is a significant (far more significant than we imagine!) basis for their faithfulness to the end. Together, the Spirit of Christ and the prayers of God’s people ensure an individual believer’s successful pilgrimage… and, wee might suggest, any successful work of God.

Together, then, these two things reassure Paul that, possible storms ahead, he will have sufficient courage to honour Jesus (20a).

There is much for us to learn here. We need to remind ourselves of what actually is true about us if we are Christians… and we need, too, to recognise how important the fellowship of prayer is to the successful outcome of our lives and witness. When we do so… we can rejoice.

Philippians 1:21-26:
For me to live is Christ

Paul, in prison, faces trial and possible death at the decision of the emperor. For many in the ancient (and modern) world, death was the great enigma: scarcely something to be welcomed. While Paul was human, and the process of dying was plainly not something he looked forward to (it might be horrendously painful as it sometimes is for us and our loved ones), death itself was ‘gain’ (21). How can this be?

The key to the answer lies in verse 23. Since Christ Jesus dominates his life to the (relative) exclusion of all else and death merely issues him into deeper conscious fellowship with him… to be with him is, understandably, ‘better by far’. This reminds us that at the heart of the Christian faith is not a creed but a person, that Christianity is not so much a system of beliefs but the enjoyment of the presence and fellowship of Jesus. To the extent that this is not true for us, to that extent Paul’s perspective appears strange and alien to earth-bound and world-driven people. It is a mark of our spiritual maturity and the genuineness of our faith that we can utter, from the heart, Paul’s words.

However, Paul was faced with a genuine dilemma (23a suggests the picture of being hemmed in by a ravine): while to be with Jesus in heaven is ‘far better’ there are (for the moment) other considerations that, ultimately, outweigh his desire for deeper fellowship with him. Thus, he refers to ‘fruitful labour’ (22) and, specifically, explains that this lies in the benefits that he can bring to the Philippian believers (24). Specifically, with every one of them in mind (again), he refers to the fact that his ongoing life in the present world will effect their spiritual progress leading to the experience of deep inner joy that characterises him and that is the fruit of faith (25,26). Once again, we note that Paul was driven by the Gospel. His great longing is that ‘each man Jack’ of them might come to experience deep in their inner being the joyful fellowship with Jesus: whatever their circumstances.

We sometimes sing ‘Jesus, all for Jesus’. For Paul this was the great reality. He longed for Jesus himself and ever deeper fellowship climaxed in the life to come. And he longed that others might know what he knew: the bliss of fellowship with the Saviour. Thus, he sets himself here as an example and challenge to us. In the face of ‘all for Jesus’ what are our petty disputes, our differences of opinion and perspectives?
Philippians 1: 27-30:
The Centrality of Christ

Paul, in prison, has commenced his letter to the Philippian church in the usual way with greeting and commendation (1:1-11). He has followed this with some reflections on his present situation (1:12-26). Such has been intended to do two things. Firstly, he wants to encourage the Philippians to recognise that God is a work even in his imprisonment (1:12-18) and share his conviction that, whether in life or death God will vindicate him (1:18-20). Secondly, he wants them to learn from him that fundamental to the Christian life is fellowship with Jesus and that this fact shapes all his actions and hopes… as it should theirs (1:21-26).

All of which proves to be something of a preamble to the main body of the letter which commences with the present passage that acts as something of a summary of all that follows.

Thus, he begins by stressing that Christ and his Gospel are absolutely critical to all that they are (27). Consequently, together (‘yourselves’) they are to act as his followers (‘conduct’ hides a word usually used bears the sense of ‘act as true citizens’): belonging to him, copying him and empowered by him.

Paul notes that, when such is true, he expects (whether through a visit or news conveyed to him) that:
• they will experience the unity that the Spirit brings;
• they will do so as an army gathered around its leader and his cause. (27, end)

Moreover, they will be able to do so in such a way that they will not be fearful of the enemies that stand against them and, in so doing, will demonstrate to the watching world (not least the enemies) that they are God’s people (28). The implication is, perhaps, that only by being a ‘Gospel church’ will they actually be able to do this: divided among themselves, lacking the focus that the Gospel brings, out of fellowship with Christ and his Spirit, they cannot possibly expect success!

But Paul makes one further point. Paul sufferings and those of the Philippians that are occasioned by their fellowship with Jesus are battle scars or, in a sense, trophies (29,30). For Paul, being in fellowship with Jesus implies victory (see 19) but a victory that cannot be achieved by any other means than the resurrection power of Jesus being manifested through the scars of spiritual battles.

So what are we to learn?

• A true church is one which is characterised by a unity of purpose and shared conduct consistent with those who are fellow-citizens of Jesus’ kingdom;
• A true church must expect opposition and suffering at the hands of its enemies;
• A true Church will recognise the scars of battles as the trophies of successful combat and ultimate vindication. The power of Jesus’ resurrection is seen in his keeping us together and using us together amid the surrounding darkness and pain.

Philippians 2:1-4
The Successful Church
Paul began the main body of his letter at :1:27 and introduced his theme: to ‘conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’ Typically it is Jesus who is the focus and reference point for how we should live. In 1:27-30 the emphasis lies on how to live in the face of external threats. Here the focus lies upon conduct within the community (2:1-11, at least!). How then should ‘Gospel’ people live together?

In response, we cannot fail to notice Paul’s passion here: his words are surely less to be analysed and more to be felt as he piles up one adjective after another! It is a passion drawn, possibly, by the parlous state of the Philippian church. It may reflect the need for that which ought to be true to be demonstrated. Certainly, it emerges out of his passion for Jesus.

In this short paragraph, then, he makes two points (with a third to follow): the Philippians (and us) are to develop a serving heart through the way they view themselves (1,2), others (3,4) and Christ himself (5-11). Here we trace his argument, especially with regard to the first two.

Christian churches, Paul argues, are to be composed of those whose minds, affections, will (‘spirit’) are united in a common purpose: the glory of Christ and his Gospel (2, and the surrounding context). This is his longing and desire for them: indeed, when fulfilled it would fill to the brim his joy in God.

How then can such occur? The first answer lies in verse 1. Such unity is the fruit of Gospel realities. Simply, if they know Christ and the comfort that his love for them brings and if they have experienced a genuine encounter with the Spirit then they cannot but know the tenderness and compassion for one another that they have experienced from God himself (1). 

Yet, such needs to worked out and, in particular, pride is to be rooted out (3). Note:
• The first phrase (‘selfish ambition’) is not intended to ‘knock’ ambition per se. The key word is ‘selfish’. A Christian simply cannot be driven by self if embraced by Christ: his grace drives out all pride and only the one who has not looked deep into the abyss of the human heart and cried out for mercy, can be proud.
• Failure here, invariably leads to ‘vain conceit’, an empty, showy decking of oneself with trappings that cover a fundamental filthy nakedness.
• Faced with real self-knowledge it is difficult to assume that others are not more deserving of honour (3b).
• Faced with such, whether the call is to consider their needs or gifts (the text is uncertain), equally, it is such that is the focus of a life that has met with Jesus.

Of course, the greatest incentive of all, is the example, of Jesus. WWJD might be better HDJL ‘How did Jesus live?’ It is the litmus test of our own growth in grace. If we live as he did, driven by the same motives to glorify God in selfless self-sacrifice we will be nearing the mark. And if we are nearing the mark, we will live in unity with a common purpose to glorify God ourselves.

How rarely is this true. How seldom do we witness the reality of Christ dwelling by his Spirit in us or the Church? We might be encouraged to ask ‘Am I truly a Christian?’ or, at the very least, to be driven to seek to know more fully our own poverty and his amazing grace.

Philippians 2:5-11
The Mind of Christ

After his introductory comments in 1:1-26, Paul begins his letter ‘proper’ in 1:27 by introducing the main theme of the correspondence: his desire that the Philippian believers conduct themselves worthy of the Gospel of Christ in striving to make Christ known.

So far, he has applied his ‘wish’ to two areas: 1) their relationship to the hostile world (1:27b-30) and their relationships with one another (2:1-4). In each case, he has emphasised their need for unity (1:27b, 2:2). In the latter verse, he stressed that such unity can only become a reality through that self-knowledge that comes from knowing Jesus and being empowered by his Spirit. Those who know themselves as debtors to Jesus’ loving mercy cannot but echo the tenderness he has shown them to others and cannot but strip away their self-seeking masks of pride and abase themselves before one another. 

With this as the background, we notice that, here, Paul picks up a phrase that has occurred in each of the previous sections: the call to ‘one/the same mind’ (1:27, 2:2) and says that they are, each one and together, to ‘have’ the ‘mind’ of Christ Jesus (2:5). It is likely that, by this, he means more than Jesus is our example. He is, but he is more. Jesus is both the measure and the means to living worthy of the Gospel. The hymn writer caught it well, ‘May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day’. By the indwelling of his Spirit, our mind becomes his mind, we think and act as he acts since we are united to one another.

And we are not left in the dark as to what sort of ‘mind/set’ characterises those among whom Christ dwells by his Spirit. Note then what Paul teaches:

• While human self-assertion is evidence of vain conceit (2:3), Jesus’ could never claim any dignity or right to authority that was greater than his by right (2:6a). He was God, yet the very nature of God is to be self-denying (‘being in very nature God… he humbled himself’).
• In order to make the Gospel known (always the context here), his willing and loving self-denial was demonstrated in
1. the incarnation,
2. his obedience,
3. his death and
4. the nature of his death: the ultimate humiliating scandal (2:7,8). Sinners, we have nothing which we can strip off. He had everything yet, ‘emptied himself of all but love and died for Adam’s helpless race’.
•   Jesus was not given honour except on the basis of his ultimate act of self denial (2:9-11). Divine honour was his only through the unparalleled act of selfless love and self-giving sacrifice.

The implications, in the light of Paul’s previous words are not difficult to determine. In a world (like Paul’s) that despises humility we are to be ‘counter-cultural’ and be marked by the evidence of the life of Christ within us that makes no empty boasts and refuses all self-assertion.  We are to defer willingly to others, to look to their interests, to spend and be spent (even at great cost) in the service of others. Why? For only the way of self-immolation is the way to the divine ‘well done, you good and faithful servant’. This does not make us doormats. Jesus certainly wasn’t. It does mean, however, we take our stand not for self but for him and his Gospel: that is the measure… and, even here, we need to ask whether what we are doing is actually done for him (the worst form of vainglory is to hide our pride behind a ‘Gospel’ mask).

Philippians 2:12-18
Lights to the World

In 1:27 Paul introduces the main theme of his letter: that the Philippians live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ and do so ‘standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel’. In the following verses, he explains how this unity is necessary to successfully stand together against external assault (1:28-30) and is vital to their effectively functioning as ‘Church’ (2:1-4). He then sets out the standard and the means to such unity: in fellowship with Christ, reflecting his own self-denial humility (2:5-11).

The present passage is linked both to the main theme and the immediately preceding passage, the ‘therefore’ picking up both the main theme and the emphasis on Jesus’ example and union with him.

However, his argument takes a new step. Whereas in 1:28-30 emphasis on unity is presented as a means to counter attack from without, here he emphasises that the unity of the fellowship becomes an attacking weapon: thus, his primary aim is that through his people, the Gospel of Christ may shine out in a dark world as they hold forth the word of life (15,16a). His secondary aim is that in this way his own ministry will be vindicated (16b). Simply, successful evangelism and mission is dependent upon the local church showing itself not simply by word but in its character as indwelt by Christ’s Spirit and living his life before a watching world.

As we consider what it means to be ‘Church’ we need to think Paul’s thought after him. We note, too, that the measure by which he wished to measure his ministry (and ministers should wish to measure theirs!) is ‘forming’ congregations into a unity that effectively engages and wins the unbelieving world. As far as he was concerned, even if his life was ‘poured out’, such would merely be the icing on the cake of their own faithfulness in unity (17). In such he could rejoice and bid them rejoice, too (18).

What, then, are the marks of a fellowship living in unity and ready to be a powerful witness to the world around? Here we need to backtrack to the first verses in this paragraph.

• The people will be those for whom the greatest reality is God himself: a conviction that discovers his empowering grace in their seeking to live in obedience to this awesome fact (12,13).
• Such people, he says, recognise that they live in a perverted and perverse world, which (implied) is ever ready to welcome those who demonstrate the conduct of the pit, in whose sphere they themselves dwell (15 middle).
• It follows that certain things will characterise the true children of God:
a) they will be free from all selfish complaining, unbalanced criticism of others in small matters, impatience toward what is not understood, grudging willingness to be helpful, all demonstrated by word and action (all ideas contained in ‘without grumbling’, 15a);
b) their ‘inner thoughts’ will be similarly free from such negative attitudes (‘disputing/questioning’);
c) more positively, they will be free of any conduct that the unbelieving world can seize on as a ground to expose their hypocrisy (‘blameless’);
d) similarly, their inner life will be one unsullied by that root of sin that produces such a fruit (‘innocent’): Paul is, notably, interested in both the negative and positive traits that emerge from that seat of what a really person is!

Thus, they will be ‘children of God’ who demonstrate their family likeness in being ‘blameless’.

And so we are called to turn this mirror on ourselves. When we describe our ambitions for ‘Church’ do they fall in line with those of the apostle (and God)!? When we examine ourselves, do we find a ‘filial likeness’ to Christ? Are we so dominated by the reality of God that our lives are shaped by both him and his empowering presence? These are serious questions and we cannot evade them if we are to ‘work out our own salvation’ and find our way to the heavenly home.

Philippians 2:19-30
Exemplary Service

Certain passages in Paul’s letters offer us an interesting ‘bird’s eye view’ into his own experience and the life of the first century Church. The present passage is one.

In a nutshell, Paul is in prison: though still hopeful of release (24). Meanwhile, while in prison, the Philippian church had sent one of their own, Epaphroditus, to offer the sort of personal support that Paul needed but that, in view of the distance, they could not all supply (25,end, 30 end). Unfortunately, while in Rome, Epaphroditus seems to have been taken seriously ill and nearly died (26,end,27).Miraculously, he recovered (27) and, in the ministry of supporting Paul in prison, had risked his own life as a his friend and collaborator (30). Nevertheless, this had all taken its toll. With great pastoral sensitivity (and despite his own needs) Paul wished to send back the home-sick and/or stressed out messenger (26) so that his own concerns for Epaphroditus’ well-being be met (28,end). Lest, however, Epaphroditus is deemed to have failed (or felt that he himself had failed), Paul gives him a glowing testimonial (25a). Since Epaphroditus was probably both the bearer of this letter and was present when Paul dictated it (he may even have been the scribe) this commendation must have been an enormous encouragement to him.

Meanwhile, Paul’s concern for the Philippians extends beyond Epaphroditus to the congregation as a whole. With this in mind, he plans to send Timothy, hopefully as some form of advance guard for him (19,24), as soon as he can release him (23).

But why speak of Timothy (someone familiar to the Philippians) in the way that he does in 20-22? The answer may lie in three things that are mentioned about him: a) when people encounter Timothy they meet a ‘second generation’ Paul (22): what one is, so is the other; b) unlike other half-hearted disciples, he is single-minded and selfless in his devotion to Jesus (21); c) such devotion goes hand-in-hand with Timothy’s genuine interest in the Philippians (20). In the context of 1:27-2:18, it is likely that such comments are intended to set forth Timothy, Epaphroditus (and by implication Paul himself) as examples of Christ-modeled living. This, in turn, helps us understand its application to us!

Note, therefore:

• We are reminded that Christian discipleship places Jesus, his will for us and his own selfless example at the heart of all we are called to be and do;
• We have our attention drawn to the fact that such discipleship will have at its very core a passionate concern for our brothers and sister in Christ;
• We have emphasised that discipleship can be time consuming, disruptive, personally uncomfortable, dangerous and, even, life-threatening;
• We are told that discipleship (especially leadership in the Church) can create such insuperable pressures as require the individual to step down from service but to do so without any sense of failure but with the LORD’s ringing commendation in our ears… even if others condemn and we condemn ourselves!

Thus, Paul stresses the high calling of each and every believer, those united together in the Gospel, while (at the same time) showing a deep realism for the realities of Christian service; sometimes enough is enough but human weakness or overwhelming stress is not ground for condemnation. It is the Lord who judges and he understands and speaks well of the over-burdened Gospel worker.

Philippians 3:1-3
In Christ Alone

Paul moves to the practical climax of his letter (‘Finally’). Yet his theme, to encourage the Philippians to walk worthy of the Gospel, continues. Moreover, he picks up the reference to false-teachers in 1:28-30 and expands upon his comments there.

The first point he stresses (by the threefold repetition of ‘Look out for’ (2)) is that it is very easy for the Church to be infiltrated by false teaching. Constant watchfulness is, therefore, vital, lest the people of God are led away from dependence on Christ.

While he is dealing with a specific threat that appears to have arisen among Jewish believers who had failed to recognise the significance that Jesus’ coming had had upon the religious system they had inherited, their mistakes have been (and are often) repeated. The language of verse 2 sounds harsh, but reflects the language of the false teachers. They spoke of the ‘ordinary Christians’ as like ‘unclean animals’ (‘dogs’) who did not serve God in the proper way (‘evildoers’) and who, specifically, lacked the ‘proper’ sign of circumcision that showed they were his (‘mutilation’ is a similar word to ‘circumcision’ in Greek). The Philippians were, therefore, scarcely Christians at all in the view of this group of false teachers since they were placing their confidence in the wrong place. Not infrequently such claims reappear: those who follow the ‘simple’ Gospel are besieged by those who wish to add something to the message that has been received.

Paul, however, rejects this . Boldly, he suggests that circumcision, without the proper grasp of the Gospel is mutilation; painful and valueless. He offers three reasons for this conclusion:

* the one object of the Chistian’s boasting is Christ Jesus.
* the true believer places no confidence in anything they are or have done.
* the Christian can alone serve and obey God through the empowering of Christ’s Spirit.
This, he says, is the ‘mark’ of a true Christian (he uses ‘circumcision’ here in a symbolic way).

How does this apply to us?
* Human beings are reluctant to believe that they are completely dependent on Jesus for their relationship with God. They (‘we’) always want to think that somehow, something we do clinches the deal, makes us a superior form of believer. Paul will have nothing of this and neither should we!
* To serve Christ Jesus we must live in utter dependence on the empowering presence of his Spirit. We cannot live too the glory of the glorious Jesus unless he lives within us and works with us to accomplish his will.

So the final word is Paul’s first word: ‘Rejoice in the Lord!‘: a command that he loves to share and is beneficial to the Philippians (and us). Our confidence and delight is to be in him and him alone. All other grounds prove illusory and unsatisfying. We are saved by Christ alone!

Philippians 3:4-7
None but Jesus
Paul is deeply concerned that the Philippian believers will be led astray by false teaching: specifically errors that promote a Jesus plus theology. In other words, a view that argues that faith in Jesus is merely some form of supplement to the practice and teaching of Judaism (3:1-3).

In the verses that commence with the present passage (3:4-7), Paul, by means of an autobiographical illustration, shows how far a Jesus plus theology is from the Gospel of Christ.

The marks of one version of the Jesus plus theology is it places self back at the centre. It exalts in what I am or what I have achieved. The reasons for such confidence can vary but, reflecting upon his life before he became a Christian, Paul lists those things that he placed in the ‘credit’ column when it came to ensuring he was ‘on-side’ with God. Consider to what he appealed:
• he had the benefits of the perfect start in life (‘circumcised on the eighth day’);
• he was part of a community that had not compromised on the faith of his ancestors (‘of the people of Israel’ contrasts with those whose adherence to Judaism was defective);
• he was a member of the ‘aristocratic’  elite of the people (‘of the tribe of Benjamin’);
• he was a member of the small religious elite (‘a Pharisee’);
• he showed a religious zeal to hunt out all those whose beliefs departed from those he had received (‘as to zeal, a persecutor of the Church’). There is deep irony here, but we must acknowledge his absolute fidelity and consistency to all that he had received. His attitude, activities and achievements were exemplary;
• by the standards of the most rigorous and demanding version of the ‘old paths’ he scored 100% (‘under the law, blameless’). This claim must not be watered down. Paul was probably the best Jew who ever lived!

There was, however, one damning feature about it and he discovered this on the road to Damascus. He uses the language of accountancy to emphasise his point… in language that is incredibly passionate and strong! On the one hand, he discovered, were all the accumulated ‘credits’ that he has listed. On the other was the personal knowledge of God in Christ. From this perspective, all the accumulated credits were equivalent to a massive deficit. No help, if anything they were a hindrance!

Paul will explain this more fully in the following verses, especially 8-12. However, the point is well made: if you and I build our security with God on any supposed basis that we can bring and see Jesus as the icing on the cake or some sort of starting point to our life with God (rather than its beginning, middle and end) we have, very simply, lost the plot and abandoned the Christian faith and any hope of a relationship with God. So we can return to his earlier list and apply it to ourselves. Are there parallel grounds upon which we build… if we do we are none of Christ’s!

Philippians 3:8-11
Gaining Christ!

There are certain passages in Scripture where one feels one is walking on especially holy ground. That is true here.

Zealous to ensure that the Philippians live worthy of the Gospel (1:27), he has focused in the preceding verses on the need to avoid the sort of Jesus plus theology that is, in fact, to miss out on Christ altogether (3:1-6). Appealing to his own experience, Paul demonstrates that to build on anything other than Jesus is ruinous. To look elsewhere is to take pride in a deficit balance (3:7)!

Paul had discovered this in his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. Now, years later, that discovery has deepened and come to dominate his entire life. Thus, the earlier judgement has not changed: literally, verse 8 reads, ‘Indeed, I continue to count everything as loss.’  But it has deepened. Thus:
• ‘for the sake of Christ’ (7) has become ‘because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’, that I may gain Christ and be found in him’ (8,9);
• ‘loss’ (7) has become ‘rubbish/dung’ (8);
• ‘whatever gain’ (7) is supplanted by ‘suffered the loss of all things’. 
For Paul, knowing Jesus, is better that the loss of reputation, career, friendships, even family. A quiet life without Christ is not to be compared with a life with Christ even though subject to all the trials that he had had to face, to imprisonment, even the prospect of painful martyrdom!

But how can we gain Christ? From using the language of the accountant that has dominated the earlier verses, he, first turns to that of the law court: he speaks of ‘righteousness’ or ‘acquittal’. Simply, he says, the way to ‘gain Christ’ is not (even as a supremely ‘good’ person) to build the case for acquittal and restoration to fellowship with God through Jesus but to rest in the faithfulness of Christ (9). It is Christ’s faithfulness to the demands of God, received by simple faith, that is the basis and the entry point into knowing him. 

Yet, the path to ever deepening fellowship is to discover the power that raised Christ from the dead through discovering him and his empowering presence along the path of ‘obedience unto death’ (10, see 2:8) that characterised him. The language here is general:
• it embrace, perhaps above all, the pursuit of the death of pride that has always characterised the Christian life in its best exponents, especially in those who think they are spiritually ‘mature’ ;
• it probably includes the sort of experiences through which Paul had been led (see above);
• it may include the crucible of suffering and pain, faithfully borne.

All of which is the royal road to intimacy with him that will characterise the age to come. Consequently, Paul is a ‘driven man’: driven by an overwhelming and life-defining pursuit of Jesus (11).

A very different path and prospect than that offered by the Jesus plus theology that separates us from fellowship with him and, almost invariably, offers a relatively pain- free, instant route to a spiritual maturity that rests on personal achievement and not the longing for intimacy with Jesus. What, then, about you and me? What defines our life, its expectations, our conduct? Can it be said of us that we walk worthily of Christ, that his experience in 2:5ff defines us, too?

Philippians 3:12-16
Getting Spiritual

Paul’s great concern in this letter is his desire to see the Philippians (and us!) walk worthy of the Gospel of Christ (1:27). In the present chapter he has emphasised that this cannot be achieved if our understanding of the Gospel is defective (3:1-3). Specifically, he rejects all attempts to reach Christian maturity / perfection by means of a Jesus plus theology. On the road to Damascus he had discovered the only way to such maturity was ‘in Christ alone’. There, he had rejected all those things he had ‘once held dear, built my life upon’ and recognised his orientation was now to be ‘Jesus, all for Jesus’ (3:4-7). Decades later, imprisoned and in danger of death, he remained convinced that the focus and aim of his entire life was to ‘gain Christ’ and prepare, through his present struggles, for that intimacy with him that characterises the age to come (3:8-11). All of which brings us to the present passage: in which Paul prepares to apply his experience to that of the Philippians (3:12-16).

Thus, perhaps unlike false teachers who so often offer a quick route to ‘perfection’ or ‘maturity’ he picks up the language of the Olympic athlete and refers to his strenuous efforts to make good what Christ has already done for him (12). It is possible to see what Paul says here as his striving after holiness and that is, surely, not absent; but the stress is upon the pursuit of Christ and intimacy with him… and this is a life-long pursuit after the One who has, first, sought him.

To achieve this, certain prerequisites are required:

• the first, is not to assume we are ‘there’: every relationship stagnates and fails to reach its fullness without constant effort and the recognition that there is more to know and experience; this is Paul’s meaning here (13). Nothing quite so effectively stalls growth that the assumption we are fully grown!;
• the second, is not to carry with us the burdensome baggage of the past (13, ‘forgetting what lies behind’).  Such may, variously, be pride in our achievements / experiences or, by way of contrast, the burden of past failure. Each inhibit growth. We must, says Paul, set aside both!;
• finally, we must be focussed on the goal (‘straining forward to what lies ahead’). The language here and in verse 14 emphasises strenuous and focussed effort. Aimlessness always fails to hit the mark. Simply, that call is the invitation to heavenly intimacy with Christ Jesus (14).

So Paul throws out a threefold challenge:

• ‘OK’, he says, ‘if you consider yourself spiritually mature’ you will inevitably agree with me (15a)!
• ‘If not, you may lack maturity; but don’t despair, God will make the truth known to those who seek him’ (15b).
• ‘Whichever’, he says, ‘don’t fail to live out the reality of where you are now’ (16).

Paul longs after Jesus. He wants to know him better. This is the sum and substance of every ambition and aim in his life. He knows that he has not ‘arrived’ (whatever others might claim) but with undeflected aim he casts aside every entanglement and ‘goes for broke’. How far do we measure up!

Philippians 3:17-21
The Marks of a Cross-centred Life

Paul’s burden throughout this letter is that the Philippians (and all who read his words) walk ‘worthy of the Gospel of Christ’ (1:27). He has emphasised that this is both a matter of thinking straight and acting appropriately and is, above all, Cross-centred and, as the previous verses have stressed, requires sustained effort (3:12-16). This, obviously, prompts the present impassioned appeal.

Students of this passage continue to debate the identity of the ‘enemies of the cross’ that Paul speaks of here and whether they are within or without the Church. As to the former question, we best recognise that the description fits many throughout Christian history up to the present… even, possibly, us. As to the second, the vehemence of Paul’s words suggests that such are a threat that arises within the visible Church. As such, then, Paul is suggesting that within many (any?) gatherings of those who bear the name Christian, two very different groups of people are to be found.

With deep sorrow, he reminds his readers that some of those who, presumably, gather among them are actually ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’ (18). It might be assumed that such are easily identified but, apparently, this is not the case: there is no suggestion that they deny any fundamental Christian truth nor that their outward conduct is obviously a departure from Gospel norms. They are recognised at a more deep-seated level. This is the point in verse 19 where Paul says four things (in reverse order):
• their ambitions are dictated by worldly standards. The way we think dictates all that we are. If we fail to think like ‘Gospel people’ we will be driven by the hopes, expectations and ambitions of the fallen world.
• their values are earth-bound. This inevitably follows. Those things that, as Christians, we should value above all things… perhaps, here, above all, the self-giving humility that characterised Jesus (see 2:1-11) are absent. Bluntly, says Paul, to place our ambitions anywhere else is to glory in that which should bring us the greatest embarrassment if we but had eyes to see.
• their appetites are unspiritual. This inevitably follows. Our world-view shapes our values and dictates our conduct.
• their destiny is Hell.

And Paul’s point is that lurking behind outwardly impeccable Christian lives, can lurk the attitudes and conduct of the pit. We should be warned and discerning… and we should be different.

• we should follow the example of Paul and others whose lives, under scrutiny, bear the marks of genuine Christianity (17: the verse is perhaps best translated, ‘join together with others and imitate me…’
• we shall recognise them by their ‘heavenward’ orientation (20,21). Such will not be dictated by the standards of the world but the recognition that they live under a different citizenship, their ambitions dictated by a longing to see Christ’s saving work on the cross perfected in them and in his world.

We neglect Paul’s words to our cost. We should be always about self-examination (and listen to the critiques of others and, above all, God’s word). Hypocrisy is a peculiarly ‘Church’ trait. So what drives and shapes you and me?

Philippians 4:1-3
That the World may know its Saviour

The dominating theme of this letter is Paul’s desire to see the Philippian believers live ‘worthy of the Gospel of Christ’ (1:27). He has traced out this theme in various ways, beginning, at 3:1, a section of more specific application (‘Finally’ best has this sense). With the present verses, this application becomes very specific: very simply, two women leaders within the Church (and who have a good record in Christian ministry) are struggling to be reconciled to one another and need ‘help’ (3). To assist their progress an un-named colleague is beckoned to help (‘true companion’), possibly with the assistance of Clement and others (3b, which might however be a reference to other fellow-workers of the two women). We notice that these people are not part of the group whose ‘end is destruction’, 3:19) since these women’s names are, apparently, ‘in the book of life’. We learn, then, that colleagues in the Christian Church, even those in mission/ministry, may sometimes struggle to live in harmony with one another.  We note, further, that we have an obligation to seek to work with them to assist them to the place where they ‘agree in the Lord’ (2). Blessed are the peace-makers.

Significantly, Paul does not attempt to arbitrate (or encourage arbitration) on their disagreements. This may have a place, but, first, there is the need to ‘agree in the Lord’ (2). Clearly, this does not mean that they must have the same opinion on every matter (an impossible goal!) but that they/we are to be refocused on the ‘one thing needful’ and him who is the example and empowering presence to unity of mind and spirit. It is not without significance that ‘in the Lord’ occurs twice in these verses and again in the verse that follows!

It is also not without significance that the apostle refers to those who have ‘laboured side by side with me in the gospel’. In the light of his emphasis upon Gospel life and witness throughout this letter, it is the damage caused to the Church’s witness that troubles him here. A disunited Church damages Christ and his Gospel. A divided Church closes the door to effective proclamation of Christ: men and women are left in spiritual darkness through our self-seeking attitudes.

But we have neglected verse 1! Significantly, the verse reminds us of two vital truths. Firstly, the ‘therefore’ reminds us that Paul’s teaching here flows out of all that has preceded: perhaps, especially the reference to our ‘citizenship is in heaven’ (3:20) and the servant-hearted humility of Jesus (2:1-11). Paul is insistent that Christians live to another master than the world and that such a master is supremely revealed in self-denial.

Secondly, we note Paul’s passionate concern for those whom he ‘loves to bits’ and yearns to see both now and in eternity as the garland that is his supreme honour. The following verses might seem harsh unless viewed from this perspective. How he longs for them to stand with him in the Lord that he may know them as his present delight and his future glory. It is the deep longing of his pastoral heart that dictates his comments here.

The application is obvious. Typically of this letter, Paul’s pastoral scalpel probes, painfully, our deepest desires and longings and seeks to bring healing by refashioning them into conformity with Jesus. Are we ready to welcome the pain so as to find true healing of our innermost lives. Only so will be learn to live as Paul calls us to live. Only so will the world be able to welcome its saviour.

Philippians 4:4-9
Peace with God and one Another

The Philippian church were subject to persecution, threatened by false teaching and subject to division within (the latter highlighted in the previous verses). Such must have caused anxiety, depression and disillusionment. Paul, however, has been concerned throughout his letter to emphasise ‘walking worthy of the gospel’; not least so that the dissemination of the gospel of Christ is not prejudiced. Thus, he responds to the Philippians’ concerns with a command!

Insistently, by repetition, he demands that what is indeed humanly impossible, is to be characteristic of them: they are to rejoice ‘in the Lord’ (4). Now, Paul is no triumphalist nor a stranger to the pressures of life, Church and ministry. However, he does recognise that a) another perspective and b) the empowering of Another does provide a different viewpoint. Seen from the recognition of all that we are in Christ and strengthened by him, joy can be expressed not on account of but in our difficulties: even if it need to be an act of the will! Consequently, unreasonable anxiety has no place in any activity or context (6).

How will such a Christ-centred joy be shown and stimulated? Paul offers us several answers:

His answer includes the following points:

1)  perhaps, susprisingly, he suggests that it will be seen in the ‘sweet reasonableness’ or winsomeness that is characteristic of every relationship (5);
2) This attitude will emerge out of a deliberate attempt to focus mind and heart and cultivate those biblical virtues as supremely exemplified in Jesus (8);

3) Such a mindset leads to a quality of ‘inner life’ that knows the peace that flows from security in God: a security grounded in who Christ is an what he has and does do (7).
4) It will be grounded in the knowledge that ‘the Lord is near’: both in the sense of ‘being at hand’ and to be depended on and ‘is returning’ and, therefore, conduct is undertaken in the light of our preparing for eternity.

5) Mature believers will provide the example and inspiration (9).

And such will remove petty disputes, self-assertive demands, self-righteous opinions, over-occupation with hurts and offences. It will refocus our lives on Jesus and his Gospel and, despite our trials, will provide a deep inner peace that can only be known by those who walk before him, follow his example and seek his empowering.

Philippians 4:10-20 (I)
The Marks of Gospel People

Paul begins to draw his letter to a close and first, he offers a sort of ‘receipt’ for the recent gift that the Philippians had sent to him by the hand of Epaphroditus. What is said reflects, among other things, upon the nature of the relationship that Paul and the Philippians had with one another, the response that they had made to him and his Gospel and, consequently, their priorities as a church and, finally, Paul’s attitude to money! Each bring with them contemporary challenges.

Paul’s missionary visit to Philippi had been brief but the response to his preaching had been wholehearted and, despite the fact that the Macedonian churches were not wealthy, they had (uniquely) immediately taken steps to provide him with financial support: both while in Thessalonica and when engaged in ministry elsewhere. Most recently, after a period of time in which they had been unable to get their support to him, they had sent Epaphroditus to bring a gift and personally spend time with Paul… thus, sharing with Paul’s in his difficulties. Paul is clearly grateful (slightly embarrassedly so!) but the accent of his words appears to lie in seeing this conduct as a reflection of what he had taught and how he had lived; each, in themselves, ‘walking worthy of the Gospel’. So here is concrete evidence of what ‘walking worthy’ may look like! What, then, are the lessons? When we have been grasped by the Gospel:

• we give freely for the Jesus of the Gospel as we do for those we love (15, not for Church!);
• we show a sustained and practical interest in the work the Gospel-bearer (10,14-16);
• we participate in the difficulties of such workers (14);
• we benefit from our sharing with others in their work: both now and to eternity (17b);
• we bring joy to the heart of God (18, end).

At the same time, we observe the relationship between Paul and the Philippians. It was clearly mutual (14), viewed as a matter of ‘giving and receiving’ (15) and warm. While Paul was the apostle/evangelist who had brought them to faith and while they would have included citizens and slaves, there is no real sense of ‘them and us’. Love destroys the barriers that human society builds and love for Christ reduces us all to mere fellow brothers and sisters of him. A people walking ‘worthy of the Gospel’ will show such a mutuality as that which characterised Paul and the Philippians.

These is, of course, more to be said about this passage… but that can await the next time. For the present, it is enough to ask the questions ‘to what extent do I show that I have been grasped by the Gospel?’, ‘to what extent is that true of us as a Church?’ and ‘what sort of relationships characterise us? Are they those that flow from the Gospel?

Philippians 4:10-20 (II)
Contented Security

Paul has begun to draw his letter to a close. He offers a sort of ‘receipt’ for the recent gift that the Philippians had sent to him by the hand of Epaphroditus. What is said reflects, among other things, upon the nature of the relationship that Paul and the Philippians had with one another and the response that they had made to him and his Gospel. Each, as we noted in the last study, bring with them contemporary challenges.

Here we return to the same verses but concentrate our thoughts on Paul’s attitude to the monetary gifts they had supplied and continued to supply him. Note the following:

• he is very grateful for their support in the past ‘when I was in need’ (16b) and the present support that has ‘amply supplied’ for his needs (18b). Their support has left him comfortable.

• he is not driven by the pursuit of money (17) and his delight in receiving gifts is as much for the blessings that the givers receive as he does (17b).

• his joy, therefore, is less in the gift than in the LORD who has worked in them to provide so generously (10).

• His security is not determined by his physical and material well-being (11,12). He has known the range of human experiences of want and plenty, and there is no suggestion that he found the former a blessing in itself. Contentment has arisen from his recognition that whether his situation is good