Reflections on Philippians

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I (try to) post about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on 1 Kings, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy.

Philippians contains a number of well-loved verses (1:6, 4:7-8, 4:13) and also some troubling ones which I won’t presume to solve in this post 🙂

1:1-30

Paul’s focus is firmly on the gospel, mentioned six times in 30 verses. Paul is thankful for the Philippians’ partnership with him in the gospel (1:5). He defends and confirms the gospel (1:7, 16). His imprisonment has served to advance the gospel (1:12). He urges his readers to live lives worthy of the gospel (1:27).

In verses 9-11:

  • he prays that their love would abound. Love for what or for whom? For God and for others fulfilling the two greatest commandments is the most reasonable answer.
  • he prays  that their love would abound in knowledge and depth of insight. Insight into what?  God’s ways and how to live in their light.
  • why does he pray? To the glory and praise of God (1:11).

2:1-30

In verses 1-4, Paul makes an appeal for unity and humility.

  • His first example for the Philippians to emulate is Christ, who humbled Himself  in becoming human and dying a shameful death.
  • His second example is Timothy, and what a commendation he gets: a man who looks out not for his own interests, but those of Jesus Christ!
  • His third example is Epaphroditus,  who risked his life in service to Christ.

Living such a life excludes complaining and arguing (incidentally, the very sins the Israelites were guilty of during the wilderness wanderings).

3:1-21

Paul’s confidence and boast was in Christ alone (3:3-11), and so should ours. The apostle still had some progress to make (3:12-16). How much more do we have?

4:1-23

The theme of joy and rejoicing runs through Philippians despite the adverse circumstances: Paul was in a Roman prison, Epaphroditus had nearly died, there was a threat of infiltration of the Judaizers, Euodia and Syntyche were bickering…

Paul could rejoice and exhort the Philippians to do the same because, unlike his circumstance, the basis for his joy was unchanging. The unchanging nature of God was also what enabled Paul to be content whatever situation he found himself in. The ‘everything’ of verse 13 includes both being in need and having plenty.

He also instructs the church he deeply loved to be known for self-denying kindness (the word is translated ‘gentleness’/ ‘reasonableness’/ ‘moderation’/ ‘graciousness’ in English Bibles). Why? The Lord is near, says Paul. This could either mean He’s coming back soon or that He is physically near to believers. Both seem good incentives to me!

He goes on to address their minds and thoughts with regards to anxiety and purity. The antidote to anxiety is prayer. It seems just too simple to be true; it always feels like I should help God out in hastening the realisation of my request.  But no, pray and the peace of God will stand guard over your heart and mind.

Verses 14-19 contain Paul’s gratitude to the Philippians for having met his needs. It is interesting what he says about their gifts: that the gifts will be credited to their account and that they are a fragrant offering and acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God. Now that puts giving to the work of God in a whole new light!

Sources: D.A. Carson, Dick Lucas/ ProcTrust.