Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reading Through Philippians

Iindex am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The eleventh volume of the series is Jesus Our Joy: The Message of Philippians, written by J. A. Motyer. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from these commentaries on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

The Philippian church was founded on Paul’s 2nd missionary journey in 51 AD. It was the first church founded in Macedonia. He also visited the church on the 3rd journey. They had helped Paul financially and by sending helpers along with him on his journeys and he had a close relationship with this church as reflected in the personal and practical tone of the letter. The letter was probably written from Rome during his imprisonment there. The Philippian church had sent Epaphroditus with a financial gift for Paul during his imprisonment. After recovering from an illness Epaphroditus returned to Philippi carrying this letter from Paul to the church. Paul may have been awaiting the sentence of the court of Caesar as he wrote the letter.

Paul wrote the letter to thank the Philippians for this love gift and help to the ministry, to deal with the problems in the church of rivalry, personal ambition, legalism and hedonism and to encourage believers to live a life of unity, holiness and joy. Paul wanted them to understand how to live in this world as "citizens of heaven." So the message of Philippians is: As citizens of heaven, we must rejoice and endure in the struggle because Jesus’ strength goes beyond any difficult circumstance or suffering we may face.

God, in Christ, will accomplish His plan in His people, His church and in the world despite present circumstances and struggles. The growth in the Philippian church is an example of how God can accomplish His plan. The Gospel message is that God will complete what He began in His people, it will produce brotherly love and concern in Jesus Christ and will grow believers into deeper relationship and imitation of Jesus. Paul’s experience shows that adverse circumstances (imprisonment and opposition) cannot stop the Gospel. His conviction was that everything done for and through Christ will be meaningful and successful. God will enable His people to glorify Him and even death cannot stop Christ from being glorified through his faithful people. Therefore, no matter what the struggle, persecution or circumstance, live according to the gospel.

Leaders (must) see themselves first as members of the body, and only then as ministers. In this way they face every situation from within the local body of Christ and not as people dropped in from outside (or even from above!). It involves patiently waiting for the Holy Spirit to grant unanimity to the church in making and executing plans. It involves open relationships in which the leaders do not scheme to get their own way or play off one against another, but act with transparent integrity. It involves willingness to be overruled, to jettison role-playing and status-seeking, to be ready to cast a single vote with everyone else.34 It involves putting the welfare of the body of Christ before all personal advantage, success or reputation and it involves co-equal sacrifice for the Lord and his gospel. Philippians 1.1-2, 41.

The Lord Jesus Christ is thus the central, controlling factor for Paul—and for all who would live in the apostolic mould. Our faith in the Father of the Lord Jesus is such that we know that all things are working towards the day of Christ, whether they seem so or not. Our Lord is the key of all history and of personal history, and he must be made the deciding factor in every Christian choice. Pre-eminence belongs to that which advances the gospel and proclaims the Saviour.   Philippians 12-26, 67.

Paul called the church to follow the humble and sacrificial examples of Jesus, Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus. He urged them to have the humble, servant and self-sacrificing attitude Jesus had in His incarnation by being unified by a humble attitude and service in the power of the Spirit. The example is Jesus, God in the flesh, did not grasp his rights. Instead, He gave them up which resulted in the Father exalting Him to the ultimate position of power and authority. He urges us to allow Christ to work in you so that you can live peaceful, holy and contented lives. He then urged the church to have the Christ-like attitude and actions of Paul’s joyful self-sacrifice for Christ and His people, Timothy’s concern for God’s people and the work of the gospel and Epaphroditus’ willingness to risk his own life for the gospel.

Unity is not just a useful weapon against the world, but rather it belongs to the very essence of Christian life, for it is the way in which Christians display outwardly what the gospel is and means to them. Unity is the gospel’s hallmark; it says to all who examine it, ‘This life is worthy of the gospel.’...the life worthy of the gospel is a life of unity; the life of unity matches the apostolic ideal for the church. Philippians 2.1-4, 102.

This was the ‘mind of Christ’. He looked at himself, at his Father and at us, and for obedience’ sake and for sinners’ sake he held nothing back. Philippians 2.5-11, 118.

This is the balance and testimony of the verses: the Christian life, growing in the likeness of Christ, is a blend of rest and activity—not alternating from one to the other, but a blend in which, at one and the same moment, the Christian is both resting confidently (for example, on what God is doing within) and actively pursuing (for example, the duty of being blameless). Philippians 2.12-18, 126.

Putting this positively, a Christian displays his pre-eminent devotion to the Lord Jesus by seeking the true welfare of others...just as verses 20–21 identified seeking the good of other Christians with giving the prior place to the interests of Jesus Christ, so verses 21–22 identify giving the prior place to the Lord Jesus with being a slave for the gospel’s sake. And this, in consequence, is the portrait of the pre-eminent Christian, cast in the apostolic mould and useful for the work. He puts the Lord first by seeking the spiritual good of others through a sacrificial gospel ministry.  Philippians 2.19-30, 140–141.

The confidence and focus of the successful Christian life is relationship with Jesus Christ. The wrong basis for confidence is one’s own life, legalism, righteousness and rituals. Even Paul’s strict legalistic righteousness as a Pharisee was not enough. The right confidence is Jesus’ righteousness found in a growing relationship with Him. Our goal should be to experience who we are in Jesus Christ. We must focus on the heavenly goal and work hard to be what He calls us to be. Maturity  is seen as, in Christ, we live up to the image of Christ.  To focus on the present and live for one’s lusts results in destruction. You are destined to be a citizen of heaven. Live like one now.

May we be like Paul in seeing Christ alone as our wealth, and in being determined to evaluate everything else in the light of the full satisfaction only he provides. Philippians 3.4-8, 162.

Paul’s desire to be ‘found in Christ’ means the same: he wants whoever looks at him, to see him as a man in Christ; whatever his experiences should turn out to be, he wants to face them as a man in Christ. Jesus is his permanent address. Paul may be in Rome, Philippi, Jerusalem; he may be healthy, sick, worried, free of care—but he will always be in him. Philippians 3.9-12, 164.

Thus, there are two aspects to the life modelled on the apostolic pattern. On the one hand it is a life of personal commitment, effort and determination (verses 13–14); on the other hand, it is a life resting upon great certainties, in particular the abiding truths of the cross (verses 18–19) and the coming (verses 20–21) of the Lord Jesus. It is a life, therefore, of consecration and conviction.  Philippians 3.13-16, 173.

Only in relationship with Jesus Christ can we find power for heavenly living on earth. Relationship with Christ gives power to stand firm and live in peace and unity with one another. Relationship with Christ brings joyful, peaceful, pure and righteous thoughts and actions and allows you to live above the circumstances of life. Circumstances do not matter because God can supply what is needed for any situation. God often provides through the generosity of His people and rewards them for it. Thus, the grace of God brings us together to bring glory to God.

If we are, as a church, to stand fast in the face of the world, then we must attend first and foremost to our personal sanctification, the state of our own heart and thoughts. If, however, we are to enjoy the power of God at work in our inner being, then we must give attention to these outward laws which God imposes upon us. We must model our relationships on Christ, surround our circumstances by prayer, drill our minds in godly thinking, and subject our life to the Word of God. Do this, ‘and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus … and the God of peace will be with you’. If we ignore the laws we must be prepared to forgo the blessings. Philippians 4.4-9, 213.

Paul’s experience of the trustworthiness of God can therefore be ours. We too can find ability to do all things (meet all circumstances with contentment) ‘in’ him who infuses us with dynamic power—if we attend to the preposition ‘in’. Power arises by constantly and restfully enjoying the benefits of the atonement, constantly and deliberately taking refuge in his proffered security. This sort of trust produces that sort of victory. Philippians 4.10-20, 220.

We have allowed the church to lose its distinctiveness as the new humanity; we have identified it with nationalistic causes; we think nothing of it when Christians take up weapons of war, prepared in principle to kill their brothers and sisters in Christ; we have lost our love in denominations which blandly unchurch those who own the same Saviour and owe their eternal security to the same precious blood. There is a shame and a pity here that go beyond words to express. Is it any wonder that, as we look around at the poor, fragmented, inadequate thing that passes for the church of Christ, we find it powerless against worldly assault and doctrinal error? We have lost the unity without which a resolute stand is impossible. Philippians 4.21-23, 224.

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