We opened our series looking at the first two points regarding the context of the author and the context of the recipients.
1. Writing From Prison (1a)
2. Writing to the Philippians (1b)
3. Writing With a Purpose (2)
Today we will focus on this third point. We will consider several themes of this letter before looking at several of the reasons Paul wrote this letter. Once we have understood the historical context in which the letter was written we can discover some important implications for our present circumstances.
This is the pattern we always want to follow when we open God’s Word. Although some argue that the culture still upholds these values of objective truths, we are living in an increasingly postmodern age.
Progressive Christianity approaches Scripture as if the meaning of a particular text is shaped by the community that happens to be reading it. We can certainly point to several variant interpretations of Philippians—and I may point some of those out along the way—but the Reformers were clear that the true meaning of any Scripture is singular.
In the principle of Sola Scriptura, found in WCF 1.9, we read:
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
The Westminster Divines support this with two proof texts:
2 Peter 1:20–21 ESV
knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Acts 15:15–16 ESV
And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “ ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it,
That doesn’t remove the fact that there are several implications of the text, but the meaning is objective and singular.
I can remember being in high school bible studies where we took turns sharing “what the text means for me.” That’s a faulty approach to God’s Word. The bible is not a subjective document with a meaning that can be molded to suit every different context. By the way, this is the danger with contextualization. We begin to think the gospel is something that can be redefined and reshaped for every scenario.
Why am I belaboring this? Because I want you to see just how counter-cultural Christianity is to this present age. Postmodernism wants to deconstruct historical narratives in order to attribute new meaning to them. For example, consider The 1619 Project at the New York Times, which rewrites the history of our nation in order to place slavery at the heart of its founding (as if the Pilgrims came to America in order to perpetuate oppression rather than flee it).
But we do not approach God’s Word with such audacity. We come humbly, submitting under the authority of God’s special revelation. And this means we will find ourselves at odds with the popular secular agenda…frequently.
This makes it all the more important that we find ourselves aligned and intimately involved in a local community of saints.
Isolation and loneliness are bad for our spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being. If friendships are so good for us, why are we so bad at developing and maintaining them?
Believers experience genuine fellowship because they are united to Christ and mutually committed to his gospel.
Read Philippians 1:1-2.
Writing with a Purpose (2)
We will see Paul’s intention to remind the Philippians of several themes:
Paul’s Thematic Purpose
Theme #1: The Gospel of Christ – First, notice this introduction includes 3 references to Jesus Christ. Christ occurs a total of 61 times throughout the letter. The gospel permeates this letter reaching a pinnacle at 2:5-11.
Theme #2: Community in Christ – We are partners in several ways:
• The Gospel (1:5)
• The Spirit (2:1)
• The Sufferings of Christ (1:29-30; 3:10)
The letter of Philippians could be taught as a portrayal of the implications of the gospel. It is about living the Christian life within a community of believers. It isn’t without its problems, but it is so much more gratifying than being alone.
Theme #3: Joy – “Joy” and “rejoice” are found sixteen times in Philippians. That is the purpose of the letter. How to be joyful in spite of your circumstances. A wrong view of the gospel (Judaizers) would greatly endanger their joy so chapter 3 is taken up with a strong response to those who are preaching a different gospel.
Paul’s Opening Purpose
The greeting includes a benediction much like the closing of Paul’s letters. Peace (Shalom) was the common greeting in Hebrew and the typical Greek greeting was “rejoice”. Paul amends the word chairein to charis which means “grace”. While Paul alludes to these common greetings, his own correspondence is far from common.
He reminds his Christian readers at the opening of all thirteen of his New Testament epistles that they are the recipients of God’s grace and peace.
Boice, “Grace is the unmerited and abounding favor of God toward men and peace is the result of that favor.”
We know Paul wants his readers to “rejoice”, but he begins by reminding them of the basis for their joy. What makes their joy unshakeable is the fact that they have received God’s favor, even though they know they did not deserve it. They were due to receive wrath, but instead they received grace.
That grace is exemplified from the very beginning of our encounter with God. No one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). We did not seek after him, but he revealed himself to us. We are only able to love others, because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
This is not referring to the peace we gain with God upon our conversion. Although we ought to regularly reflect upon that peace, it is not something that would need to be routinely commended as a benediction. What is needed, especially in the midst of a storm, is that inner tranquility that comes from God. This is the peace that Paul speaks of later.
Philippians 4:7 ESV
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
When we know that God is in control, we are not driven to despair. We are confident that God is working all things for his glory and our good. The peace God provides guards our hearts and minds. Paul’s purpose in writing is infused with his desire to see these characteristics flourishing in the context of the Philippian church.
Alec Motyer explains Paul’s purpose well:
The Message of Philippians c. The Giver from Whom the Christian Receives
When Paul wishes these blessings on Christians, he is not desiring their salvation all over again, though the blessings are those of salvation. He is, first, assuring them of the unchanged attitude of God. The God who planned and accomplished and freely gave salvation is the same God who, by his unchanged grace, gives his people everything they need.
We can easily lose sight of God’s attitude toward us. We struggle against sin, but we never struggle alone. We fall, but we never fall out of Christ’s grip. We experience moments of faithlessness, where we wrestle and argue with God. But we also know that “when we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13).
In Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund reflects on the words of Jesus from John 6:37, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
“No, wait”—we say, cautiously approaching Jesus—“you don’t understand. I’ve really messed up, in all kinds of ways.”
I know, he responds.
“You know most of it, sure. Certainly more than what others see. But there’s perversity down inside me that is hidden from everyone.”
I know it all.
“Well—the thing is, it isn’t just my past. It’s my present too.”
“But I don’t know if I can break free of this any time soon.”
That’s the only kind of person I’m here to help.
“The burden is heavy—an heavier all the time.”
Then let me carry it.
“It’s too much to bear.”
Not for me.
“You don’t get it. My offenses aren’t directed toward others. They’re against you.”
Then I am the one most suited to forgive them.
“But the more of the ugliness in me you discover, the sooner you’ll get fed up with me.”
Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book if you are interested in reading the whole thing. I have enough for each family to take one.
Paul’s Practical Purpose
Paul is sending Epaphroditus back to the congregation in Philippi with a thank you for their generosity (4:10-20; cf. 1:3, 5; 2:25-30). Epaphroditus had been sent from Philippi to bring a gift to Paul in prison. On this journey Epaphroditus became very sick and had to remain with Paul for a time. Now that he is returning, he is taking a letter from Paul to his friends.
Paul is also writing to assuage their concerns about him since they knew of his imprisonment.
Paul vigorously defends the Philippians against the attacks of the Judiazers (3:2, 18-19). Paul speaks of three other opponents which we will cover as we read. Some have attempted to consolidate all of the different opponents into one group, but it seems most plausible that Paul is referring to different groups of opponents.
In light of the attacks of Paul’s opponents along with internal strife within the church, Paul calls them to unity (1:27-30; 2:1-4, 20). This call to unity is what drives Paul’s exhortation for the Philippians to be humble as exemplified foremost in Christ.
This is a letter of friendship and moral exhortation rather than polemical and apologetic. Paul is encouraging the saints as family members. While theology is not absent from the letter, Paul does not make lengthy theological arguments to support his point.
Last week, I emphasized the importance of friendship and I want to reiterate that this morning. Friendship is something we crave by virtue of being created in the image of God. It is something we possess by nature.
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote about friendship in the fourth century BC. He spoke of three types of friendship:
1. Utility (usefulness – work)
2. Pleasure (play)
3. Virtue (character) – See Phil 4:8-9.
Speaking of the first two types of friendship Aristotle writes, “Friendships of this kind are easily broken off, in the event of the parties themselves changing, for if no longer pleasant or useful to each other, they cease to love each other.”
Roman statesman, Cicero, wrote about friendship in the first century BC.
Cicero, “There is no surer bond of friendship than the sympathetic union of thought and inclination.” Also, “The whole essence of friendship is the most complete agreement in policy, in pursuits and in opinions.”
But Christian Friendship goes even deeper because it is transformed from a 2-way to a 3-way bond, by our union with Christ (Phil 1:27-30; 2:1-5). The relationship between Paul and the Philippians is defined by…
• Affection (1:8, 21-24) Paul shows his great love for the Philippians.
• Partnership (koinonia 1:5, 7; 2:1; 3:10; 4:15). Aristotle, “All friendship involves koinonia.” Apparently, Paul agrees with that assessment.
• Giving and receiving (4:15).
• Common struggles and joys in Christ (1:29-30; 2:8, 17-18, 25-30; 3:8-10). Several martyrs have found solace in the theme of suffering for Christ found in Philippians.
The Framingham Heart Study revealed several interesting findings related to friendship:
If you become obese, the odds increase by 71% that your same-sex friend will do likewise.
If you become happy, a friend living within a mile has a 25% greater chance of becoming happy as well – and even a friend of a friend has a 10% greater chance.
Misery was not comparably contagious.
Bavinck, “The goal of friendship is not effort but relaxation, an exercise of love and enjoyment. In friendship we seek to complement ourselves. It is therefore particularly important at a young age, when we are still being formed; in later life we maintain friendships rather than establish them. Among pagans, friendship is manifested particularly in hospitality toward guests.”
This is the opposite of what we often find among friends today. Facebook has butchered the word “friend” for the 21st century. Listen, social media cannot satisfy your need for connection. Social media is manipulated by an algorithm that makes it highly addictive. The designers know that emotional posts are attractive, especially those that cause frustration. It encourages narcissistic behavior and replaces genuine friendship with superficial likes.
The Christian community is far superior. We will find it to be crucial to survive the onslaught of cultural and political persecution that is sure to come our way in the next few years.
Christian community is stunted because we begin to do things in our own strength rather than relying on the grace and peace that God has supplied. We must stop relying upon our own inadequate strength to avoid conflict and trust in the Spirit’s guidance and provision.
The Lord has empowered you by his grace and enabled you to utilize your time in a selfless way. We use our time in order to better serve others. That might require a radical mindshift for you.
Receiving the grace of Christ and enjoying the peace of God motivates us to adopt a radically new mindset. Paul references the mind eleven times in Philippians. He knows how important it is for our thoughts to be rightly ordered. When that is the case we begin to think like John, who said, “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
“Grace and peace” are specific blessings addressed to the Church. These are the means by which God sets us apart from the world as saints. Do you recognize that you possess these gifts? Are you resting in the grace and peace God has supplied to you through his Son?
You need to hear this not just weekly, but daily! It’s not the sound of a broken record, but the loving refrain of a persistent Savior who is committed to your perseverance! Hear him afresh. Receive his benediction again and again and again!
May the Lord fill our greetings with genuine interest and affection. May Grace Presbyterian Church be known for our love for one another because we are learning to rest in the love of our Savior. That only takes place where relationships are established on mutual commitments to the gospel. Jesus Christ has not merely modeled Christian service, he has promised to enable it by his Spirit! The grace we receive in Christ results in the peace we enjoy through Christ.