Many pastors have an entrepreneurial spirit. They like to cast a vision and develop a plan to fulfill that vision. But, so often, the strategy that underlies the vision and the plan are business models. It was so common for churches to apply tactics from Good to Great, that the author, Jim Collins, wrote a separate booklet for non-profits. I remember noting it was required reading for the church planting elective in seminary.
Now, I’m not suggesting we have nothing to learn from the business world. But it deserves nowhere near the attention we give it. When we consider Paul’s model for pastoral ministry, we find very little social analysis and strategy. Instead, we find someone who was committed to building up a community in their love for Christ and one another.
Paul’s joy and gratitude in prayer are explained and defended in verses 6-8 before he prays for their ongoing spiritual maturity. Verse 6 is a pivotal verse that really establishes his gratitude and prayer for the saints in Philippi.
In Philippians, Paul focuses on people not programs and tasks. Our central purpose in and mutual commitment to Christ strengthen the bonds of our affection. And these relationships become the grounds of our confidence in the work God is accomplishing through the gospel.
Paul is confident that God is at work in Philippi because they partake of the same grace supplied by a compassionate Savior. We cannot assume the Philippians lacked assurance in their salvation, but we can know that Paul sought to affirm them in their faith in order to encourage them. Whether or not you struggle with assurance, this passage ought to leave you encouraged in the work God is doing in Christ.
How should we address our lack of assurance? Paul answers this question by modeling the solution. The affirmation of a seasoned saint can strengthen the resolve of a weary soul.
Read Philippians 1:6-8.
The Preservation of the Saints (6)
Paul’s joyful thanksgiving has bolstered his confidence in the work that God is doing through the Philippians. The same God who started the work will complete it upon Christ’s return.
Hebrews 10:14 ESV
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
The work of redemption was accomplished on the cross. And that work was based upon the “everlasting love” of God who remains faithful to his elect children.
This work of applying that redemption in the life of believers is progressive and ongoing, but it is certain. Paul’s confidence is based upon the ongoing fruit that he is witnessing. He knows the partnership he enjoys with the Philippians is a good work that God has prepared for them to walk in (Eph 2:10).
It is a good work that they are accomplishing in the power of God. Or, we might say, it is a work that God is accomplishing through them. Paul says it both ways (cf Phil 2:12-13). Our phrasing can easily trip us up. And it is helpful to be precise when talking about God’s ongoing work of sanctification. But it seems like Paul has the ability to be fluid even in his prayers to go back and forth between thanking God for the work that HE begins and completes and the partnership that the Philippians actively participate in.
Of course, we need to recognize that our sanctification is never perfect in this life. We continue to struggle with indwelling sin, facing the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But as the Canons of Dordt teach us, “God is faithful, who having conferred grace, mercifully confirms and powerfully preserves them therein, even to the end.”
The same word “complete” is at the root of what Jesus declared on the cross “It is finished!” We can be assured that if Christ has begun that work in you, he will continue that work in you. And he will not stop short of finishing the task. On the cross, Christ accomplished the work, and in his saints he applies that work until they arrive where he is.
Boice, “God never begins a thing he does not intend to finish. And when he does it, God does it all!—in spite of our foolishness, in spite of our running away, in spite of ourselves! We are brought to safety, not by our own efforts or our own devices but solely by the faithfulness of our heavenly Father.”
Even as God is “the Hound of Heaven” in seeking us, he remains relentlessly committed to keeping us!
Even as God is the “Hound of Heaven” in seeking us, he remains relentlessly committed to keeping us!
Reflect upon the faithfulness of God to complete the work that he began in you. It is all too easy to get trapped in a cycle of despair. We hear so much bad news that fills us with dread everywhere we turn. We see our nation making the same moves that caused the downfall of the most powerful nations in history. That concern with political agendas can easily become an obsession.
In those moments it is necessary to turn our thoughts toward God. Remind yourself of his sovereignty and of your utter dependence upon him. That doesn’t mean you can’t prepare and strategize. It will require some thinking to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. But all of that thinking should come from a place of security rather than desperation.
Assurance stems from knowing God willed my salvation and that he will bring it to completion. Our perseverance rests on his preservation of us!
If you don’t begin there—and return there often—your lack of assurance will become all consuming. Your joy and contentment will become overwhelmed by despair and depression. The Puritans called this the dark night of the soul.
Thomas Cranmer wrote that we should not only hear God’s word, but that we should “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” upon it. Fill your mind with these doctrinal truths. Ground your faith in the faithfulness of God.
› Paul’s confidence in God’s preservation of the saints leads to his…
The Affirmation of the Saints (7)
Paul’s use of φρονεῖν throughout the letter indicates a frame of mind by which one interprets the world (Phil 2:2, 5; 3:15, 16, 19; 4:2, 10). The term is used to describe “either a true or a false mental attitude” (O’Brien). “Feelings” are only in view as reactions to the mindset.
Paul knows his confidence (v6) is well-grounded because they are in his heart. He knows that he has their support wherever he is and whatever he is doing. In other words, he knows they are united to Christ and one another. It is clear to him—in mind and heart—that they are partakers of the same grace that God supplies. Paul literally considers the saints in Philippi to be fellow-fellowshipers (συγκοινωνούς).
Paul attaches two examples to his affirmation of the Philippians. One is the love they have shown to him in his imprisonment. They sent him financial support along with the fellowship of Epaphroditus.
The other example is “the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει). We have been talking about “apologetics”, defending our faith, in the adult Sunday School class. Here, Paul may be referring to an actual legal defense. In other words, he knows that the Philippians are praying with him and supporting him as he prepares to make his legal defense.
But, in light of his evangelistic emphasis in verses 12-18 (Phil 1:16; cf 2 Cor 7:11), I lean toward taking this as a reference to the same thing. “Confirmation” represents the vindication of the truth of the gospel. Peter uses a form of the word when he exhorts “confirm your calling and election” (2 Pt 1:10). It carries the idea of establishing the gospel; making it sure.
Paul’s love is expansive and intensive.
Acknowledge the fruit that has been produced in the life of other brothers and sisters in Christ. Do we perceive the work God is doing in others? I pray that we would appreciate the fruit of others and that it would increase our confidence in the work of God. The purpose is not to become so enamored by the fruit, but to become all the more convinced that God is doing something among us. All that God does is good, and we ought to appreciate it whenever we gather or remember one another. That appreciation will also increase our anticipation of Christ’s return where he completes the work. Each step of progress marks the work God is doing to bring us all the way home.
Paul defends his confidence with specific examples. He doesn’t simply tell them “You guys are great! Keep up the good work!” This implies recognition of the work as well as the acknowledgment that the work has actually had an impact upon him. Not only is our confidence strengthened by particular examples of fruit, but those examples ought to move us!
Affirmation is not something very many of us are good at practicing. We tend to look for and quickly find and point out the negative we see in others. Many of us are quick to correct and rebuke, but slow to affirm and encourage. Why is that?
How encouraged would you be if more people noticed and acknowledged something you said or did? How much more joy might you experience interacting with fellow Christians? You know how much of a blessing that would be.
This isn’t about taking our focus away from Christ, it’s confirming our interest in the work of Christ that we see in one another!
Now, if we share some words of affirmation and the response is, “Thank you, I was really trying to impress everyone in order to draw attention to my actions…” Well, they just got their reward. But, I think most of us understand how to deflect any personal affirmation to the glory of God. We ought to recognize that anything worthy of affirmation in our lives is due to the grace of God in which we have become partakers.
Affirmation is good. It is right and just to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is fitting for us to build one another up in this way. Observe one another and remember to verbally acknowledge the fruit that you see.
› God’s preservation of us motivates us to affirm his work in others which becomes…
The Inspiration of the Saints (8)
Just in case you think Paul is all head and no emotion, he takes v.7 even further. Here he vows before God, that he has a longing for the Philippian with Christlike affection. He feels a deep yearning for all of them. If he had the ability to see them, no personal inhibition would have kept him from doing so.
“Affection” (literally ‘bowels’ or ‘inward parts’). σπλάγχνοις = seat of human emotions. Sometimes translated heart. It speaks of the compassion that Jesus frequently showed to the spiritually malnourished crowd.
Paul’s affection for them is not selective. He doesn’t pick out his favorites and overlook the rest. Notice Paul’s mind, heart, and affections are all invested in developing and maintaining this partnership in grace. Paul’s not ashamed to show his longing for these dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
I wish I had three simple steps for developing empathy and displaying a Christlike affection for others. We could all manufacture a pseudo-yearning for one another. I don’t know how professional counselors and therapists pull this off. I imagine many of them are like Dr. Leo Marvin from, What About Bob?
“Death Therapy”—“This is tricky…I’m all tied up. I’m tied up. Yeah, that’s it. You’re saying I’m all tied up inside. Okay. I’m all tied up inside, and, these phoney bombs mean that…if I don’t untie myself…inside…the emotional knots…I’m gonna explode! Yeah! Oh, it’s so simple, yet so brilliant.”
Our affection grows as our appreciation grows. Notice, Paul isn’t merely saying, “I focus on growing my affection for Christ, and it naturally overflows to others.” Paul yearned for the saints, but that yearning flows from Christ. He displays a longing for them because Christ is stirring up in him a love that is fanned into flame by the gospel.
May the Lord develop in us the longing and yearning for Christian fellowship that is only possible in the context of the Church. This fellowship is motivated by the affection of Christ.
Bockmeuhl, “Paul’s deeply emotional expression of Christian affection in this verse is not primarily the sign of a gushing temperament, but of a gushing christology!”
Octavius Winslow, The Sympathy of Christ:
He was willing Himself to wear the chain He came to loose, to share the sorrow He came to soothe; and the remembrance that He was likewise “in the body” constantly forced itself upon His mind, imparting to His deep sensibility and tender compassion the power and the lustre of an actual and personal participation in the calamities He repaired, the wants He met, and the griefs He assuaged.
The affirmation of a seasoned saint can strengthen the resolve of a weary soul.
What does it reveal about our hearts if we lack this kind of affection? If I’m not moved by the burdens of my brothers and sisters in Christ, then something is not right in my heart. My icy demeanor is not a symbol of strength, but indifference. It ought to be shocking when a professing Christian holds nothing in his heart but disdain or indifference for the bride of Christ.
However, where Christ is at work in our hearts, an affection for his bride is sure to follow. An increasing love for Christ will result in an increasing love for the Church.