MATURING IN THE FAITH, Part 1

Confident Living, Philippians 1:6—30

The letter to the Philippians was written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome. In spite of that, this letter is full of joy and optimism. The great preacher, G. Campbell Morgan, nicknamed this letter “a singing letter, a love letter.” Philippians is Paul’s most personal letter; a letter from an old man who was in a reflective mood, remembering with great fondness a body of believers who meant so much to him.

1. Confident of maturing, 1:6—11

a) Continuous good work, vs. 6, 7

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

Verse 6 is such a meaningful verse to so many believers. The expression, “being confident” is causative, meaning that there was absolutely no doubt in Paul’s mind that God was in no way finished working in the Philippians. No matter what the circumstances were, good or bad, God was working in the lives of Paul’s friends to a positive end.

What was this “good work” Paul was referring to? It was grace; the transforming grace of God. As God had been working in them to transform them, the result was their own working for God’s good pleasure:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (2:12, 13)

Salvation is such an amazing thing. It really is the “new beginning” some people long for. In Christ, all the failures and guilt of your past are wiped away. Nothing in the world can compare to what Jesus Christ can do for a person when He works in them.

b) Abounding affection, vs. 8—11

Paul’s love for the Philippians was the same love Christ had for them. He loved them from his inner-most being because that was how Christ loved them. Paul was so united with Christ, that the indwelling Christ loved the Philippians through him.

Back in verse 4, we read this:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…

And here we have a glimpse of the content of those prayers. Paul’s prayers are always interesting to study because they shed light on his core beliefs; his theology.

 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may 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. (verses 9—11)

The word for “love” Paul used was not eros or philia, types of human love, but agape, a divine love. The phrase “your love,” then, really means “God’s love in you.” This hearkens back to the previous thought about Paul’s love for his friends being Christ’s love for them. Earlier in his career, Paul wrote the Roman church this famous verse:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another… (Romans 13:8)

Love is continuous, because it is always owing, always conscious of its debt. Christians are able to love one another solely because God loved us first. Christian love is meant to “abound more and more,” a good way of translating the Greek perisseue, a verb in the present tense, describing continuous growth and advancement.

However, while believers are to be generous in their loving of one another, they are to love while exercising discernment in that regard. Once again, a look at the Greek phrase is enlightening. The words used, epignosis (knowledge) suggests a thorough understanding of general moral principles, and aisthesei (discern) refers to the practical ability to apply general principles in everyday situations. In other words, we might say that Christians ought to love one another from the heart and from the head. We should never allow ourselves to be taken in or taken advantage by anybody, even a fellow believer.

Believers today, like the Philippians of Paul’s day, must always be growing and advancing in the faith. That growth, according to Paul’s theology, is demonstrated in the love we have for one another.

2. Confident of the Gospel, 1:12—18

Paul wasn’t just confident his friends would continue to grow and mature and that God would continue to work in them, he was also confident of the Gospel.

a) Bound and bold, vs. 12—14

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (verse 12)

Stuck in prison with no clue when he would get out, somehow Paul could write verse 12. This man had something lacking in most believers today: perspective. Paul’s commitment to the Word of God was so complete, he couldn’t tell his friends how it was with him without mentioning how it was with the Gospel! In Acts, Dr Luke describes what was happening to Paul in Rome:

They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. (Acts 28:18)

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28:30, 31)

The use of the word “actually” or “rather” in the KJV, suggests that the Philippians may have been expecting bad news from Paul, so he was quick to quell any fear they may have about their friend’s state.

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (verse 14)

Notice that it was not “in spite of my chains” but “because of my chains.” This is more than just a man of God writing something to inspire somebody else, Paul is declaring that the successes he and his fellow workers in their evangelistic endeavors had experienced was actually due to his imprisonment. Another way to look at this verse is that the believers in Rome became bold in their proclamation of the Gospel because Paul was in prison. The word “proclaim” comes from the Greek lalein and denotes that the Romans were no longer silent; they were bolder than ever in spreading the Word.

Paul’s confidence was not misplaced. It was firmly grounded in the Gospel. What motivated these Romans so? Certainly it wasn’t the hope of Paul’s release, because nobody knew when or even if Paul would ever be released. Their new-found courage and confidence in the Gospel came from Paul’s triumphant example in carrying on his work while under arrest. It was his courage and his confidence in the Gospel that made the difference in their lives.

b) Reason to rejoice, vs. 15—18

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (verse 18)

We don’t know what Paul’s stature was, whether he was a tall or a short man, but spiritually and he was a giant. While he was in prison, many genuine believers were now witnessing and evangelising, picking up the slack because Paul was unable to get around town. But at the same time, others had taken up the pulpit, preaching the same Gospel Paul was preaching, but for very different reasons. These people, not false teachers, were taking advantage of the fact that Paul was stuck in one place, out of the public’s view. They preached, not because they cared about saving souls, but to advance their own agendas, whatever they might have been. We aren’t told, but since human beings never really change, we suspect it had to do with money and power.

But Paul tells his friends that, really in the great cosmic scheme of things, it is the Gospel that changes lives, not the one preaching it. As long as the person preaching is preaching THE Gospel, who cares why they do it? We can almost hear Paul adding, “Let God sort it all out, not me.”

3. Confident about the future, 1:21—28

Paul had no idea what his future held, but, as the song says, he knew who held his future.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (verse 21)

a) Life or death, vs. 21—26

What exactly does this now-famous phrase really mean? Will L. Thompson’s words express Paul’s thoughts perfectly. Of course, his famous hymn is “Softly and Tenderly,” but the lesser-known “Jesus is All the World to Me” contains Paul’s thoughts:

Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all;
He is my strength from day to day, without Him I would fall.
When I am sad, to Him I go, no other one can cheer me so;
When I am sad, He makes me glad, He’s my Friend.

In the Greek, the opening words of verse 21 are emphatic; he is giving a personal testimony about how he truly feels. But he is also drawing a contrast between himself and those other preachers he referred to earlier, who preached the Gospel for all the wrong reasons. Paul, in contrast to them, was not self-centered, but Christ-centered. He was so in life and he would be so in death.

Everything Paul did, he did for the cause of Christ. And even death was considered by Paul to be “gain,” that is, something positive. It meant that, at last, he would be united with One he lived for.

Whether or not he ever regained his freedom was literally of no consequence to the apostle. He looked forward to seeing Christ in death, but at the same time, if by God’s grace he was let out of prison, he saw that as an more opportunity to continue doing what he had been doing: preaching the Gospel.

b) Heavenly citizenship, vs. 27—28

Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together with one accord for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.

Ever optimistic, Paul wanted to encourage his readers to remain resolutely steadfast and faithful, unafraid of what the future may hold. If ever there was a message for the Church of Jesus Christ today, it is to “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together with one accord for the faith of the gospel without being frightened.” We see so much disunity in the Church these days. If the Church were to live and function as it ought, the world would listen to our message. But the part of this piece of advice that stands out to us is the phrase “without being frightened.” Why would Paul write that? Those who live lives consecrated to the Lord will always be objects of derision. The world loves to mock the principled Christian. Even other Christians poke fun at their fellows who take their faith seriously. Paul knows this all too well, and so he offers the advice: don’t be afraid of anybody who may oppose you.

The true believer really has nothing be afraid of in the world because he’s just passing through on his way to heaven. Chuck Swindoll once said that a Christian should pitch his tent with shallow pegs. The reality is, this world is NOT our home. How invested should we be in it?

Paul describes believers as “citizens of heaven.” That phrase is deeper than it seems. The word Paul used was politeuesthe, from which we get “citizen.” In its original meaning, it meant to live according to laws and regulations. Philippi was a Roman colony, and some of its citizens were from Rome, but all Philippians were entitled to all the privileges of Roman citizenship. Even though Philippi wasn’t IN the Roman Empire, it was a tiny piece of the Roman Empire on foreign soil. Probably most of the citizens of Philippi had never been to Rome, but they were subjects of Roman law. Moffatt’s translation of verse 27 is a little more revealing: “For we are a colony of heaven.” As Philippi was to Rome, so is earth to heaven.

In fact, while the Christian lives on the earth, his allegiance is to Heaven. Once we were citizens of Earth, but not any more, and so our loyalty is Heavenward. This change in loyalty necessarily means a change in lifestyle. Citizenship carries with it both privileges and responsibilities. Christians are called to live according to the values of their heavenly commonwealth, not of the culture around them.

When we live like that, we are demonstrating our maturity in Christ.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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