Exhort 8 April 2007 - Paul’s letter to the Philippian Ecclesia
Dear bre. & sis., let us ask ourselves the question, what is our first reaction when we read the statement of the apostle Paul, “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved”(Phil. 4:1)? Or again, what are our impressions when we read, “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (ch. 1:8)? Surely we are immediately impressed with the apostle Paul’s love for this ecclesia. But are we also aware that these are but two of many such expressions? This epistle has been aptly termed an “epistle of brotherly love” for it abounds in thoughts of love, thanksgiving and encouragement. The apostle stresses his affection for them, e.g. the verses 3 to 8 of ch. 1 emphasise time and time again his profound feelings for them, such is the magnitude of his love. But these are not just words or platitudes. Ch. 1:8 says, “For God is my record”. This is a genuine love. And they loved him. So great was their wholehearted support for the imprisoned apostle that he writes this profound letter of gratitude.
We naturally ask ourselves the next question, why is this so? And the answer is a real exhortation for us – for by assessing the qualities of those Philippian bre and sisters, as revealed by the Word we can examine ourselves, and if there are any deficiencies within us, we can resolve to do what we can, to build up ourselves and our ecclesia towards the example set by the Philippian bre. & sis.
Firstly, let us consider their status in Christ. The city of Philippi had strong affinity with Rome as a Roman colony granted many privileges and of high reputation in the empire (see Acts 16:12). The citizens were proud of the privileges of their citizenship (see v. 21). Yet Paul appeals to the bre. & sis. living in that city to lift their minds to the citizenship in heaven “from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). What does Paul mean? Let’s note the contrast between v.19 and v.20. Paul is contrasting two attitudes of life.
The bre. & sis. knew that their Roman society was but carnal and temporal. By way of contrast to their city, these bre. & sis. were encouraged to lift their minds above, to that of God’s commonwealth, God’s laws, and His plan and calling. They were encouraged to look beyond their own environment. In ch.1:27 Paul exhorts them that their conversation (Grk. Politeuma - “manner of life”) “be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ…that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel”. Clearly he wants them (and us!) to act as citizens worthy of the Gospel, to be aware at all times of their privileged relationships and status in Christ’s ecclesia. ，
This means that we don’t get caught up in any show of patriotic pride in our own country, but rather to Christ’s coming Kingdom and our position as future citizens of that kingdom. So, bre. & sis. let’s lift our minds above earthly things, as Paul reminds us in Col. 3:1-4. What a glorious prospect! Here is a wonderful future greater than anything the world could offer. With sincere thankfulness we realize that our “citizenship” in Christ is promised by God, and related to our solemn vow at baptism (Rom. 6:3-6,10-13,18). Let us be worthy citizens belonging to Christ and to each other. We must realize at all times that we are in this world but “not of it”; that we “render unto Caesar” what obligations we have as law-abiding citizens but our greater loyalty is to Christ, our risen Lord and therefore we ought, at all times, for conscience sake to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Our allegiance is to Him and it is from His right hand that we await our King. We look ahead for the establishment of his kingdom, soon to be built on the ruins of man’s society.
We need not feel isolated or at a disadvantage with such an attitude. We have no cause to be ashamed because of our worldly critics. If we but imagined it we could open our ears and hear the cheering on from the bre. & sis. of the past. If we but looked around us we could see by the eye of faith the angels of Yahweh protecting us. We can then call to mind many examples of faithful brethren & sisters who have all renounced their earthly status and sought after an everlasting citizenship in God’s Kingdom.
One such example is the father of the faithful – Abraham (Heb.11:10,13-16). Let’s resolve brethren & sisters, like Abraham, to seek an inheritance in that “city”. Very soon our saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ shall return from heaven bringing with him an amazing change to our lives and our bodies changed to be like his glorious body (Phil. 3:21). Let us then be ever conscious of our responsibility to be citizens worthy of the precious Gospel, like Abraham, looking above the temporal to the coming of an eternal inheritance. Let us show our allegiance to that kingdom by “standing fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel”.
Let us now consider the high example set by the members of this Philippian ecclesia, an example that we would all do well to emulate. As we do so we will be impressed by their spiritual progress in the Truth, by their maturity and by their generosity. We shall find ourselves wondering how we compare with them. Let’s look to them as an example, encouraging us to lift ourselves to their standard, to bind ourselves together as a united ecclesia. By doing so Paul can, this morning, speak to us all as he does to them. Yes, Paul does write to them ALL. He emphasizes the word “all” 9 times when writing to this ecclesia and 6 of those are in chapter 1. He doesn’t single out brethren & sisters like Lydia or the jailor but rather all of them. In ch. 1:1 he does mention the bishops and deacons – quite possibly this group got together and arranged a fund raising appeal for the gift conveyed by one of their members, Epaphroditus, to Paul imprisoned in Rome. ，
These were very committed, selfless brethren & sisters. Consider Lydia, a woman of substance, generous and hospitable. The jailor who would never forget those amazing events when Paul and Silas who had been singing praises when beaten in the jail, brought salvation to him and to his household. Think of Luke assisting the ecclesia to grow spiritually after the departure of Paul and Silas. This was “good soil” in which the Gospel seed would grow and flourish. Yet it was God who was working in them (Phil. 1:6, 2:13). Paul doesn’t claim any personal credit. Brethren & sisters do we acknowledge that it is God who grants the increase to our labours, that we are co-labourers with God? What a privilege to cooperate with the will of Almighty God!!
Even though there was a dispute between two sisters that worried Paul (ch. 4:2) he appeals for reconciliation and ecclesial peace. He was deeply concerned for unity (ch. 1:27, 2:2-4) but there cannot be an enduring peace in ecclesial life unless there is the mind of Christ governing our lives, our thoughts, our speech and our actions (ch. 2:5). And in the context of the supreme example of the Lord Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul mentions the wonderful, selfless spirit of his son-in-the-faith, Timothy (ch. 2:20,21). Totally selfless!! He was prepared to serve the brethren & sisters with the lowly spirit of a bond slave, not caring for his own state but serving them as he would Christ. That’s the mind of Christ in action (ch. 2:5-11).
Let’s take a closer look at one of the brethren who came from this ecclesia and who was taking Paul’s thanks back to them – Epaphroditus (ch. 2:25-30). This dedicated servant of Christ was not content to simply convey their greetings and their gift to Paul. Whilst with Paul he was prepared to serve Paul almost at the expense of his own life (v. 30). So working on behalf of his beloved ecclesia, the work of Christ, seen in the labours of Epaphroditus was progressing - with total disregard for his own comfort and wellbeing. He was so much like his home ecclesia and Paul warmly commended his dedicated spirit. He was almost fulfilling the words of Christ, “whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” and he was prepared to do that, if necessary. Obviously he was valuable to Paul, but Paul was prepared to let him return to Philippi so that he might continue in that dedicated spirit for their benefit back home. But it is truly wonderful that the example of Epaphroditus was typical of this ecclesia as a whole. There was a similar devotion. They gave support to Paul on more than one occasion (2 Cor. 8:1-5). But the amazing thing about this ecclesia was that it was not rich! It wasn’t easy to give and to give again, and again. The real exhortation is that they not only gave from their meager resources but they gave themselves in willing service (2 Cor. 8:5). The apostle Paul was deeply moved by this generous, loving and totally unselfish spirit seeing it as a sweet fragrance, well pleasing to God (Phil. 4:18).
It is for these and several other reasons that this ecclesia is a cause for joy to Paul (ch. 4:1). He remembers them constantly in his prayers (ch. 1:3,4). He does have the care of all the ecclesias on his mind daily (2 Cor. 11:28) and this one brought him special joy and thanksgiving.
Here was an ecclesia of different backgrounds and problems, of different temperaments, interests and tastes - and we are no different!! Paul’s exhortation applies to us as much as it does to them. Let us blend our capabilities into a oneness in Christ, with Christ and Paul as examples of service to their brethren and sisters.
This letter of brotherly love is an intimate and familiar letter in which the apostle Paul pours out with delight the fullness of his heart for this ecclesia. We read of Paul’s confidence in them. Could the same be applied to us? Can we develop the individual and collective ecclesial characteristics shown by the Philippian brethren & sisters? Can we conduct ourselves as citizens worthy of the Gospel? Can we stand fast in one spirit?
Yes, brethren & sisters we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (ch. 4:13)!
Bro. Andrew Hill (Aberfoyle Park, South Austra lia)