Philippians 1:1-6, 9-11; 2:5-11; 3:8-11
Philippi was the first place in Europe where Paul and those with him brought the gospel (See Acts 16:12‑40). From Philippi they moved on to Thessalonica, and then to Athens and to Corinth. As a result, the apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Christians in Thessalonica. The first of those two letters is one of the first recorded in Scripture that he ever wrote. He also wrote later to the Corinthians. We have no letter that he wrote to the Philippians until he was in prison in Rome. But here it is. And we have what the apostle has to say, writing from prison. I do not know how we would get on if we were in prison for our faith – plenty of people are discovering the hard way how they get on in such circumstances at the present time, and, of course, we should not forget them. But, if you are imprisoned, you may have various thoughts; you may have thoughts about the injustice of your being there; you may wonder why God allowed you to be there. Or you might be like the apostle Paul who writes as a mature Christian to those who are not in prison, but whom he desires to encourage to persevere for the rest of the time that they are here.
It might do us good to see a little of what he has to say to the Christians in Philippi. The first thing he wishes to them is grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The company there had small beginnings, but God had His eye upon Philippi and over a period of time – we do not know how long it was – you have a building up, until there comes a point when there are those who are looking after things in Philippi. There is quite a good company together there. And Paul can say to them that he is thankful for everything that he can ever remember about them, because they had “fellowship with the gospel, from the first day until now.” And that is something which we might think about for ourselves.
Paul does not speak to the Philippians much about what we and the Scripture call ‘the Church.’ He speaks to them about life as it is down here; what it is to be a Christian here on earth, and what the prospect for a Christian is, and why he himself was a Christian. You will notice that he begins by speaking about them, and he moves on to speak about the Lord Jesus, as I hope to do in a moment. It is later that he comes back to his own experiences. The very last thing that he touches on is his own circumstances and needs.
So, first of all, he has complete confidence, “that He Who has begun in you a good work will complete it unto Jesus Christ’s day.” It is a good thing for us all to realise that in a gospel preaching. I am not talking about something that is uncertain and that might last or might let you down. As you give your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, you give it to Him for ever and He will take care of it. You can be absolutely certain of where you are going. There may be difficulties along the way, but every Christian is entitled to be sure of where they are going. I say that because not every one is sure. Yet everybody needs to be sure, because it is a great standby as you go through difficult times to know that God is going to see you through, and that He has something in mind for you and for me in the way He takes us.
He has begun a good work. And that goes beyond saying that I am saved. The good work is that God is actually doing something in me, making me different from what I was before, making me a completely different sort of person. Let us just ask ourselves at this time: ‘What is there about me that is different because I am a professing Christian?’ (I hope we can say, ‘Because I am a real Christian.’ But there is a difference.)
God has begun a good work. Well, what is the good work? There is not much doubt what the good work was in Paul, and we shall come to that at the end. But let us ask ourselves: God has begun a good work; what is it going to be in your soul and mine, that is completely different from what we would be as men or women or children of the world?
Paul is praying for them, he says, that they may increase in love. There was a good deal of love in Philippi already, but the apostle is saying there could always be more. And that they might be able to apply themselves to the things that are more excellent – not just excellent, but more excellent – with a view to that day. He has spoken of Jesus Christ’s day, and he is saying that God will finish that work. But then he has something a little bit different to say. He says, “That ye may be pure and without offence for Christ’s day.” That would be, I take it, that there is nothing that still needs to be removed, that we are at the end of the road and we are as God would wish us to be. I think that is a question for me and perhaps for us all: what is going on in my soul by way of that good work which is going to endure and will leave you and me pure and without offence when Christ’s day comes? He says, by then we shall be “complete as regards the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ.” And that, too, is something for us to come back to in a moment.
Now, I want to speak a little about what he has to say in chapter 2. I believe it is right to say that the Christians in Philippi were greatly privileged, not just to receive this letter, but to receive chapter 2 of this letter. The apostle speaks with extreme feeling about his appreciation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it opened the way for the Philippians to increase in their appreciation of the Lord Jesus. It opens the way for you and me, as well, to grow in our love for the Lord and our appreciation of Him.
The first thing he says where I began to read in chapter 2 is quite extraordinary! He says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” That is to say that we are to take our example from Him, and seek not only to be like Him, but to have in our own hearts the same spirit that marked the Lord Jesus as coming into this world, and passing through it, and going through it right unto death.
These are amazing things that the Spirit of God should lay before us, that you and I could and should seek to be like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. That is part of the good work. What does he say? He says that He was “in the form of God,” and He “did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God.” “An object of rapine” means something like this: something to be grasped and held onto. The Lord Jesus was in the very form of God, He was God Himself, He had all the prerogatives and glory of godhead, and He was prepared to lay those aside so as to come into the world which He Himself had made. It is a tremendous stoop, going beyond anything that you and I can actually take in, that the Lord Jesus came down, ‘Once from glory’s height descending, To this earth the Saviour came’ (Hymn 414).
And then there is this other word, He “emptied Himself.” The Authorised Version has another way of putting it: He “made Himself of no reputation.” And that, surely, is also true! There are things of which you could truly say the Lord Jesus emptied Himself: He took a humble place. And yet there was always a majesty about Him. When they came to take Him prisoner, He only had to speak and they went away backwards and fell to the ground (John 18:6).
He did not lay aside His capacity to work miracles. What He could do by way of giving sight to the blind, giving hearing to the deaf, making the dumb to speak and, above all, raising the dead were some of the things that the Lord Jesus retained by way of His own glory and majesty. There were those who were with Him and saw His glory. John, the great evangelist, says, “We have contemplated His glory” (John 1:14). It is a wonderful thing that there were those, however little they took it in, who had some appreciation at least of Who it was that was among them.
And yet, the Lord Jesus was found here in most humble circumstances: He took a bondman’s form. It never says in Scripture, that I know of, that He was a slave as men would reckon things. He was a bondman to God; He was One Who was here to serve God and to serve man. That is the One Whom we proclaim as Saviour. He took His place in the likeness of men, indistinguishable, as far as anyone could see, from other people.
“Having been found in figure as a man.” You will notice how careful the Scripture is in the way it speaks of Him. “Found in figure as a man.” A real man, but never laying aside His deity.
He “humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death.” His obedience did not begin at the Cross, He was obedient all the way through His life, obedient, subject to the Father’s will. He became obedient even unto death. He did not draw back at that point. Indeed, He says Himself, “Now is My soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour. But on account of this have I come to this hour” (John 12:27). There would be no profit in His having been here amongst men, and all the miracles that He did, if He had not dealt with the greatest issue of all, which was that of sin. That was the vital thing.
And so He became obedient even unto death. And Paul adds, “And that the death of the Cross,” which would make anyone pause both in those days and now: the death of a common criminal, an agonising and terrible death, the death of the Cross!
It is interesting that in these verses Paul does not refer directly to the way of salvation being through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. We might touch on that in regard to the next chapter. But as to this chapter, what he is occupied with is the glory of the Lord, the One Who came down so low and has been exalted so high.
“Wherefore also God highly exalted Him, and granted Him a name, that which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” The time is coming for that, you know. “Heavenly and earthly and infernal beings.” One of those infernal beings we read about earlier, the demon that possessed that slave girl (Acts 16:16‑18) – just one of many! They are going to bow the knee to Jesus. The blessing for the Christian now is to bow the knee already – not to wait for the day when every knee will have to bow, whether it wants to or not. There will be those who do not want to. Let us not be among them. Let us be among those who are glad to bow the knee now.
We have been reading at home about Joseph’s experience, in Genesis. There came a time when he was sent out over the land of Egypt, and there were those who went before him to say, “Bow the knee!” (Gen 41:43). He was one who was raised up and given authority. So it is here: at the name of Jesus every knee is to bow. You and I do well to bow the knee to Him now.
Now, just a few words as to the next chapter. We have moved away, now, from what was directly for the blessing of the Philippians: in this chapter we come to what Paul had proved as blessing for himself, and desired should be a blessing for them as well. He speaks, very freely and simply, of what he had let go and what he was very glad to let go.
He says, “Surely I count also all things to be loss” on account of something that he had got that was better: “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” If I let everything else go to know the Lord Jesus, that is better than anything else. And what did that mean when it came to the point? He says, first of all, “That I may be found in Him.” That is the great place for the Christian to be: “There is then now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). We are “taken … into favour in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). That is the place for the Christian, to be “in Christ.” I do not think I could explain that to you, but if you are a Christian you will know what it is to be in Christ, not in yourself at all – not standing before God as just ‘me,’ but standing before God in Christ, and accepted in Him. Because the Lord Jesus is received with blessing before God, you can be received with blessing as well. Give a little thought, I suggest, to that word “in” and what it means – whether you have proved it as I have proved it to be true for myself, that my place before God is not in myself at all but in Christ.
“Not having my righteousness.” Righteousness is not something that the world makes very much of: the world is more concerned about not being found out! But that is not how things are before God: righteousness is being really as you should be before God. And how is that to be? Well, Paul looked back as to one way: “my righteousness” would be on the principle of law. If you could get through one day and not break any of the commandments, and then another day and get through that, and so on, well, at the end you might be able to say, ‘I have my righteousness on the principle of law.’ But, as the apostle himself said, when it came to it he did not get through one day without ever doing anything wrong, let alone getting through the second day.
He needed a remedy, you see, which was better than what the law could offer. He says that he has found another way of righteousness, “that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God through faith.” And that is all that you and I are called upon to do – to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith in His redeeming blood; faith in the fact that He is available to you as Saviour, the One Who has borne our sins in His body on the tree (1 Pet 2:24).
But, be clear, He has not borne the sins of all, He bore the sins of many. The way is open for any of us to be among the many. Thank God for all in this room who can say for themselves, ‘I am one of the many whose sins the Lord Jesus bore!’ He gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:6), but not all avail themselves of it. And to go on in your sins and to die in your sins is a very fearful thing, because we shall all have to give an account of ourselves to God.
When the apostle was speaking to his fellow Christians in Corinth, he said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord” (2 Cor 5:11). I do not want to dwell on that, but we need to think seriously about what Scripture has to say and how important it is to claim the righteousness which God supplies. There is a very beautiful chapter in Second Corinthians, chapter 3, a ministry of righteousness. What you cannot do for yourself God does for you, He supplies it: a place in Christ before Him, and your sins – what about them? – your sins forgiven!
I have to ask myself, ‘Am I conscious, am I confident that my sins have been forgiven?’ My sins are many, maybe you would say the same. I do not have to know about your sins, God knows all about them and He knows how to deal with them. He has given His beloved Son to die for your sins and for mine. And on that account you can have peace with God, so that you go to sleep at night at peace. And you get up in the morning at peace. When you know that there are problems coming up in the day, yet you have peace because you can trust God, the God Who has given His Son for you and your sins. He will surely see you through the difficulties and trials of life.
There are some, we do know, who are passing through very great trials, and there are some that we are praying for, and need to pray for, very diligently at the present time. I hope we do so. But let us not lose our confidence in God. If you lose that, you have lost everything. If you cannot trust God, what have you got? Nothing! You have to trust God. Prove Him. I appeal to you, to us all, to trust God, to prove Him. Not to be reckless, not to be careless, not to tempt God, but to trust Him and to prove Him. The hymn says, ‘Knowing that Thy way is best’ (Hymn 335). Maybe sometimes we are not too sure that that is really so.
But it is the best. The apostle writing here from prison says that what God has done for him is for the best. But there are a few things he says: first of all, “to know Him” – to know the Lord Jesus – “and the power of His Resurrection.” There was a power which was shown in the Lord Jesus being raised from among the dead. What about that power coming home to us, to give us access to a world which lies beyond death and beyond the grave, and to know that that is where we belong?
Ah, says Paul, there are one or two things that lie along the road! If you want to know the power of His Resurrection, there are at least two things to watch out for on the way: “the fellowship of His sufferings,” and “being conformed to His death.” There is not time now to even try to expound on that. Just watch out, if you want to know the power of the Lord’s Resurrection, watch out for two things that lie along the road: the fellowship of His sufferings, and being conformed to His death.
You might say, ‘What does all this mean?’ Well, just look at the life of the apostle; that will show you soon enough what it means to have fellowship with the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not His atoning sufferings, but His sufferings as a Man Who was here for God. ‘Being conformed to His death’ is letting that shape me. ‘Being conformed’ is that you are made like what you are being conformed to. Very testing things, these; I feel how little I know about them! But I present them to you as being the inescapable word of Scripture, that that is the way that the apostle reckoned to go if he was to know the power of His Resurrection. He says, “If any way I arrive at the resurrection from among the dead.”
‘Well,’ you might say, ‘but Paul, you said right at the beginning that you could be absolutely sure that God has begun a good work and that He will complete it unto Jesus Christ’s day.’ What is all this about, “if any way?” Why an “if?” Well, you see, you have to know it now, I have to know it now for myself. For myself, I have to recognise that there is a world that lies beyond the grave – and not only beyond the grave, it is a different kind of place altogether! It is the presence of God Himself, Who is directing things and Who will direct your life.
It is not for me to speak about myself, but there are many things that I have felt the need to do as life has gone along, which I have done, I trust, because I felt the eye of God was upon me. Not upon me to intimidate me, not to lay false burdens upon me, but rather because I would not be happy with God if I went about things any other way. Plenty of times, of course, I have done the other sorts of things and not been happy as a result. But it goes beyond conscience: it is more than conscience, it is a desire, however simply and feebly, to please the Lord and to please God.
What is the reward? Oh well, do not look for a reward in the world! No, the world will not be any the more grateful for that. But it is a good thing, you know, to seek to be in “the way everlasting” and seek to be here, even in some small way, pleasing to God. The apostle is a great example in this. The supreme example is the Lord Jesus Himself. We follow – I follow – but very feebly in the way. But I would commend to you that there is another world where righteousness dwells, and the more we seek to bring that into our own lives and be governed by the light of that world, the more at ease we shall be in the presence of God, and the more satisfying we shall find life down here to be. It is the way the apostles went. It is actually the way that many a man in the Old Testament went as well; we have the great advantage of knowing the One Who has been here for God. Men like David, Solomon and the prophets desired to be here for God, and there are great lessons we can learn from them, but there is only one perfect example. He is One Who has come out from God and has gone back to God (John 13:3), and the true blessing is to enjoy a current link with Him. May that be the soul experience of us all, for His name’s sake. Amen.
12 May 2013