(Today’s post by Wayne Bunting)
So today we turn back to the New Testament, and the book of Philippians is going to be covered. Unlike the book of Jeremiah, and the book of Matthew, Philippians is an epistle (a written letter from one person to another) rather than a narrative, like Matthew and Jeremiah are. The letter to the Philippians is a letter of thanks. Paul is thanking the Philippian church for their substantial gift of money to him, and also commending them on their overall awesomeness. While this is the main thrust of this letter, there is also an underlying problem that, while it is not a serious problem, is a potential threat to the Philippians church’s high standing. Paul is concerned with its well being.
The situation that was going on in the church of Philippi was that it had become divided on certain issues, not doctrinal issues, but personal animosities. Because of this the church had broken into cliques and was arguing over each other’s level of importance. Instead of working together for Christ they were distracted by feuds and rivalries. Apparently, part of this feuding took the form of certain members of the church thinking that they themselves were on a certain degree of perfection, had endured many trials, and were therefore standing on a level on which they felt they could look down on others and condemn them. This was a matter of pride and division, and was wrong. Paul is seeking to correct this problem while subsequently honoring them.
Paul writes this letter with a view of the specific dangers that clouded the Philippian church. However, despite this, Paul is writing to thank them for their gift. But Paul doesn’t even mention this gift until near the end. In this he is trying to make the focus not the money, but the spirit behind their giving. They would have probably been looking for some mention of their gift in this letter, but because Paul waits until the end he forces the importance of more pressing matters to the forefront of their attention. He is proud of them, and while he thanks them, he is also concerned about them. This is the tone of Philippians: gratitude and concern.
This is where we find the beginning of Philippians. Paul is trying to motivate this church to rise above these issues by telling them what Christ has done for him, and is currently doing while he is in prison. He is wanting to share with them the grace which has sustained him in prison. Interestingly, Timothy is seen in the introduction of this letter in verse one as one of the authors. So the letter is written by both Paul and Timothy. They both worked to found this church, and so the mention of his name in a public reading of this letter by the Philippians would have been significant to those who heard it. But what is really significant is that Paul mentions that they are “servants of Jesus Christ.” This word “servant” can be understood as describing one who not only worked in the service of another, but also belonged to him, such as a slave, which is the other way of translating this word. In just this first verse Paul is asserting that, although Timothy is his younger disciple, the ones who founded the church of Philippi work together as servants of Christ. They do not allow for bickering or quarreling to hinder their work, despite the apparent varying level of preeminence between them in the church. Now they are addressing the Philippians who should likewise work together for Christ, as opposed to the opposition that they have with each other.
Paul’s mention of his sufferings highlights the fact that the Philippians should surrender their lives for the sake of Christ. The inevitable result of this is that they will suffer for it. Their suffering will, just as Paul’s self example demonstrates, produce fruit for the kingdom of God. So if we can learn anything from the first chapter of Philippians its that we are not to seek division in the church, but rather that we should together in the unity of Christ. Seeking Christ above all else will result in hardships, but these are many times necessary for the advancement of the gospel. Much of the New Testament was written while Paul was in prison, and other letters were written by those who tasted death because of their lives lived for Christ. Now, because of the suffering of the church, we can enjoy the wisdom and teaching of the word of God.
Philippians is probably the most positive of all of Paul’s letters. There is not the rebuke that we see in the other epistles. However, even this church had its issues. Pride can cause a great number of problems to arise in the church. I think that most of us can pinpoint an issue of pride in the church in one way or another, and how its has hindered the cause of Christ. Fragmentation of the body of Christ due to this sort of pride causes division and even a bitter taste in the mouths of those who see it, both in the church and outside of it. The unity of the church is a very strong theme in the New Testament. It serves to show the world who Christ is and also motivates the church to together build itself up. These things get destroyed when we allow ourselves to come before Christ, His mission for us, and the inevitable sufferings that He has destined for us to face as a result of His desire to save the world. We must not shrink away from this, and like Paul we must stop problems from happening in the church before they grow like cancer and destroy what is the work of God in us.