Lesson 14: "I thank my God... for your fellowship in the gospel "
Paul's Prison Epistles. This is lesson #14. Please open your Bible to the book of Philippians. We want to start our textual study of that letter which Paul wrote (as he sat anchored to a chain in a Roman prison) to the church at Philippi. We said this was written about AD 62, or approximately ten years after Paul and Silas, Timothy and Luke helped established the Philippian congregation. Epaphroditus had more recently come to Paul on behalf of the Philippian Christians bearing a gift of some kind for the apostle in bonds, probably some kind of financial support (I conclude this from Phil. 4:10-18.). So, in your imagination, take a deep breath of that prison air and glance out of the corner of your eye at the soldier that kept Paul (Acts 28:16) the day this old apostle began to put the ink to a fresh scroll that turned out to be this Philippian letter, preserved by the H.S. for our benefit and that we can study more than 19 centuries later. As his chain clanked and as his thoughts were slowly converted to graphics that day; however the process, Paul's message through the Holy Spirit to the Philippians and ultimately to us was this: (please read with me!). We're going to read the first eleven verses (v.1-11, Phil. 1:1-11). Are you ready? Beginning in Phil. 1:1, let's read! "Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."
O.K., let's backup to v.1., which starts off "Paul and Timothy." Paul included Timothy's name here (I would assume) because Timothy was well known to the Philippians. Timothy was at Philippi when that congregation began, you will remember; he was with Paul and Silas and Luke at the time of the Macedonian call. Timothy had been back to Philippi on other occasions; for example, Acts 19:22 and as I said, he was well know and appreciated by the saints at Philippi. However, you and I learn in this verse that Timothy was with Paul (there in Rome) at the time of this writing. Timothy is mentioned also at the beginning of the Colossian letter and again in Philemon; another factor that lends support to the time of writing, of course. You might have noticed, Paul did not refer to himself (here) as an apostle as was the case in Romans, I & II Cor., Gal., Eph. and other places, perhaps, where his apostleship had been questioned. This is an indicator (then) that the Judeaizing sect had not been a problem at Philippi. Paul referred to Timothy and himself as "servants of Jesus Christ." A title that might have been' applied to the lowest slave in the Philippian congregation. Paul did not encourage titles that lifted one Christian above another. Christ is our Master, all Christians are simply servants or ministers. Then, notice who Paul was writing to: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus...at Philippi." Saints means those who are sanctified or set apart. How are they set apart? They are "in Christ Jesus," i.e. they have been baptized into Christ. "For as many of you have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Gal. 3:27). "We are all baptized into one body..." (I Cor. 12:13). One body means: one church. It's as simple as that. Paul wrote to "all the saints" or we would say: all the Christians at Philippi. Now, who else did Paul write to? The bishops and deacons. Notice the "s" on bishops and the "s" on deacons. More than one bishop and more than one deacon. There were always more than one. The word "bishop" comes from a Greek word "episcopus." Thus, you might think of the word "bishop" as having a Gentile flavor. The word "elder" has a Jewish flavor. Otherwise, the word "bishop" and the word "elder" are used interchangeably in the N.T. when speaking of such congregational overseers. The word bishop means: officer or overseer; the same thing is implied in the Jewish word "elder." One translation uses the words "overseers and ministers" instead of elders and deacons (here in Phil. 1:1). The Ephesian church (we talked about before) had elders (Acts 20:17). The Jerusalem church had elders (Acts 21:18). Elders were ordained in every church (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). The qualifications for elders and deacons are found in I Tim. ch. 3 and Titus ch. 1. It's the scriptural way. We learn here, Philippi was no exception. At the time of this writing, the Philippian congregation had elders and deacons. Deacons took care of the poor and other such necessities. The next verse (v.2 here in Phil. ch. 1) is verbatim to Eph. 1:2. This was Paul's common greeting. Remember, Paul was an ambassador for Christ. The word "ambassador" is not used in this letter; but, I trust you remember Eph. 6:20; there, Paul referred to himself as an ambassador in bonds. An ambassador, we said, is one who speaks on behalf of his sovereign; thus, Paul extended greetings of grace and peace on behalf of God our Father and "from" Jesus Christ our Lord. "Grace unto you," the thought is simply free and unmerited favor. One translation says (here): "Favour" another renders it: "spiritual blessings."
Perhaps, I should take a moment to remind you, there was a congregation of the Lord's church, at least one, which met there in Rome. You will recall, Paul wrote a letter to the Roman church (what we call the book of Romans) some four or five years before the time of this Philippian writing. Some of those Roman brethren came to meet Paul as he was escorted into the city in chains (that's Acts 28:15). In this Philippian writing, there is not much reference or connection to that congregation. I'm talking about the Roman congregation. However, more in this letter than in the Ephesian letter; we just finished. Paul DID send greetings to the Philippians for (or in behalf of) the Roman brethren. That's Phil. 4:22, to which Paul added: "chiefly they that are of Caesar's household." Thus, we might, conclude that some of the Christians in that Roman congregation were employed by the Roman government and worked there in or around Nero's palace. Possibly some were soldiers. Naturally, the Christians employed there were more likely the brethren that visited Paul more often. Thus, these were primarily the ones sending greetings to the Philippian church; not that others had no regard, you see. Further down in this chapter (Phil. 1:14), Paul 'said his bonds gave confidence to many of those brethren. We'll get to that.
Then, in v.3, Paul began with the same style, used more than once, in the Ephesian letter we have completed, i.e. telling them about his prayers in their behalf. Paul said, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you." This again was a common phrase with Paul. He said this in Rom. 1:8; he said it to the Corinthinas (I Cor. 1:4); he said it to the Thessalonians (II Thes. 1:3); he said it here to the Philippians and perhaps other places to still others. However, the point is: that as Paul reviewed his relations with the Philippians, he was elated or prone to joyful, high spirits; i.e. in contrast to such occasions as Paul described back in Rom. 9:2 where he said he had "great heaviness and continual sorrow" in his heart for his Israelite kinsmen. He said in Rom. 10:1 that he prayed for his Israelite brethren also. However in v.4, Paul said it was a joy indeed to pray in behalf of the Philippian Christians; to me: this is a very complimentary statement. V.5, Paul thanked God for their "fellowship in the gospel." Fellowship here was translated from that Greek word "koinonia" meaning "partnership" or "participation." Luke used this word back in Acts 2:42 to describe the very first conduct of Christians after Pentecost. Other places the word is translated "communion" (I Cor. 10:16) and "contribution" (in Rom. 15:26). Thus, what I'm trying to say is; that Paul was thanking God for more than just their friendship, more than just good manners. It's more like what Paul said about Titus in II Cor. 8:23, where Paul used another form of that same word. There Paul said: "Titus...is my partner and fellow helper." That's the idea here! The Philip-pians were Paul's partners and fellow helpers. Paul thanked God for their help and participation. Fellowship how? "Fellowship in the gospel," i.e. their partnership in spreading the good news about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus; which proves, of course, Christ's second coming and the general resurrection is truly coming (I Cor. 15:20). How long had the Philippians done this? "From the first day until now" (v.5). Ever since Paul had known them, starting there on the river bank (Acts 16:13). Paul had no doubt about the Philippians, "being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ," (v.6) i.e. until Christ's second coming. Paul used that same phrase again down at the end of v.10. Paul said, "I have you in my heart," (v.7). Paul said, "ye all are partakers of my grace," i.e. Paul wished favor upon them. This is an expression of Paul's love. This was true when Paul was a prisoner, this was true when Paul was defending the gospel and this was true when the gospel was confirmed. I'm not sure on this word "conformation;" but, I tend to see it as having to do with miraculous verification via the apostles' work. You might toy a moment with Mark 16:20, "confirming the word with signs following." Do you remember that? Also, check out Heb. 2:3. My concept is miraculous verification, which all the apostles did. Then in v.8 (here), Paul said: "God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowls of Jesus Christ." To "long after," of course, you understand as an expression of Paul's desire, with great feeling, to visit his Philippian brethren. However, that "in the bowels of Jesus Christ" part might not come through so easily. You and I, today, tend to think of bowels as having something to do with food tubes (we call them intestines) that conduct foods away from the stomach. Those people, it would appear, on the other hand, used that word to mean a place of tender feelings or the seat of our emotions. I suppose it had something to do with that pit-of-the-stomach sensation you and I tend to associate with roller coasters and fast elevators. Paul is describing his feeling as he longs after the Philippians. Instead of "bowels" (here), the ASV uses: "tender mercies."
In v.9-10-11, Paul expressed prayerfully that the Philippians would continue as staunch Christians; devout servants and followers of Jesus Christ our Lord and that they might be prepared for Christ's second coming and the judgment.
O.K. up to now (v.1-11), we might classify what Paul has said as salutation and prayerful greeting and appreciation. However, in v.12 through the rest of the chapter Paul changed thoughts; he began a new paragraph on that scroll, we might say. This paragraph has to do with Paul's conditions in prison, his mental state and'what he was accomplishing even in bonds. Logically, we should consider this as a block; however, considering the time we have left in this lesson: let's read only v.12-18 and try to get through that. Are you ready? V.12-18, Phil. ch. 1, beginning in v.12. Let's read! "But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice."
Paul did not want the Philippians to pity him. He kept a positive attitude; we might say. He accentuated the positive and minimized the negative. Many today and most of us whimper and whine over every little negative matter. The world owes us a living and we're not collecting our share. Taxes are too high, the economy is bad, crime is on the increase, and the world is down on ME. We have so many labor saving devices most do not know what it is to earn a living by the sweat of our brow. We want health care, child care, senior care, an education thrust upon us... no homework... vacations at every break and the government should pay for it all. Very few have time to worship God, attend church services, study the Bible, sing or pray. Very little giving, very little visiting, and let's face it, very few who really care. Now, contrast our modern thinking with Paul's attitude; he said almost with enthusiasm, "brethren" I'm advancing the gospel even here in jail (I'm paraphrasing). His trial must have been the talk of the palace. This was giving publicity that couldn't be bought with money. "The things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel" (v.12). You can almost hear a Hallelujah! as if to say: some are being saved even here, "pulling them out of the fire" as Jude said in the 23rd verse of his epistle. need continues: some of my brethren are taking courage. They "are much more bold to speak the word without fear," (end of v.14). Brethren, we need courage to speak the word today, without fear. We need! to do what we can with what we have. That was what Paul was doing! If a prisoner chained to a soldier can get the attention and respect of Nero's guards and Nero's civil servants "in all the palace" (v.13), possibly those who did the menial tasks; the housekeepers who swept the palace, the cooks and the gardeners in a heathen palace. Surely, with all of our computers and high tech communications devices, we can "further the gospel," the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus our Lord a little bit. Please don't be embarrassed; but, let me be straight out ask you: how much are you doing? Are you encouraging your friends, your neighbors and your relatives to study? Have you obeyed the gospel, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ? It can be obeyed! Do you remember II Thes. 1:8? The gospel saves, Paul said so, I Cor. 15:1-2. How many have you enrolled. How many have YOU taught? Are you doing the best you can with what you've got? How can I help? Have a good day.