If anyone was ever in doubt of Paul’s true colors, read Philippians. His humility, his love of the Lord and his complete joy in Christ pour out in these four chapters of this last prison epistle.
To remind you and give you a bit more background, Paul is imprisoned in Rome, and he knows the possibility of his death is imminent (e.g. 1:20-21). The group of believers in Philippi have a particularly fond place in Paul’s heart as it was the first church he started in Europe, with a group of women worshiping at the edge of a river (Acts 16:6-40). A woman named Lydia was the first to become a believer, and her entire household was baptized. When she opened her home to others, this became the first “church.”
He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (1:6)
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel: The whole Roman imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ, and most of the brothers and sisters, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word fearlessly. (1:12-14)
It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. (1:15-18)
Paul acknowledges there may be those preaching a false gospel, but in the grand view, in the big picture perspective, Paul says it doesn’t matter. Christ is still being preached, and he rejoices over that. To Paul, opening the door to Christ is more important than arguing doctrinal differences.
For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, since you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing. (1:29-30)
Christ, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! (2:6-8)
…for it is God who works in you, both to desire his will and to work for his good pleasure. (2:13)
But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself. (3:20-21)
And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (4:7)
Know this: my God will also fill every need you have according to His glorious riches in Jesus. (4:19)
For Paul, the gospel is sufficient. We should not subtract anything from it; nor should we add anything to it. God’s kind mercy (not giving us what we deserved) and God’s amazing grace (giving us what we did not deserve) through the agonizingly painful sacrifice of his Son has redeemed us forever, and the rest of creation waits with baited breath for the final redemption upon Christ’s return.
It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. (1:9-11)
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ so that…you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (1:27)
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. (2:1-4)
Do all things without complaining or arguing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation who have lost their sense of what is right. Among them you appear as lights in a dark world, and you offer teaching that gives life. (2:14-16)
Once we’re mature in Christ, we have to realize we must keep our eye on the goal. Nothing is important – not money or prestige or credentials. It’s all dung, garbage compared to the prize in this race we’re running – there’s only one goal, one prize – our resurrection inheritance as God’s children. (3:7-16)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. (4:4-5)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (4:6)
Paul assures us that Jesus is Number One. He has saved us to be in relationship with Our Father. He has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us. God has given us unending love and everlasting life. Yes, there will be trouble and suffering. No, we are not perfect. But he is with us every moment, and will be with us after death, for the rest of our days, on this earth and beyond. Whatever our circumstances, that is reason to rejoice.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you. (4:8-9)
Next: The Pastoral Epistles: 1 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Timothy