Free Bible Study Magazine
By Dr. Tony Keys. Available now for £8.80 from Amazon.co.uk
Day 1: Read Philippians 1: 1-11
As well as the commentary (see abstract below), this superb resource contains ideas for personal/group study to aid reflection on the passage. We like it so much we’ve put it in our own bookstore! Highly recommended.
A. Paul’s Apostolic Prayer (1: 1-11)
This prayer is a window into Paul’s deep pastoral care for his converts. Not only should this passage be seen as a window into the heart of Paul, but it also should be seen as a mirror in that not only do we see Paul’s example but that example is reflected back into our lives and becomes part of our lives.
V.1-2 Right at the beginning of the letter, Paul describes himself and his colleague Timothy as “bondservants of Jesus Christ”. He begins by giving his own credentials, calling himself a servant or slave of Jesus Christ. The Greek word for servant is ‘doulos’ and it has two basic backgrounds which Paul applies here: the first is based on Paul’s favourite title for Jesus, which is ‘Lord’. The Greek word for ‘Lord’ is ‘kurios’. It describes someone who has undisputed possession of a person or a thing. It means master or owner in the most definite and absolute sense. The opposite of ‘Lord’ is ’slave’ or ‘servant’, which is how Paul saw himself. Thus Paul saw himself as the undisputed possession of Jesus Christ. The term ‘bondservant’ refers to someone who is devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests. On its basic level, a bondservant is simply following one’s master to the complete disregard of one’s own will, emotions and desires.
The second background to the word ‘bondservant’ which Paul applies comes from the Old Testament. It was also a word used to describe a great man of God, such as a prophet. It was undoubtedly the greatest title one could give to a prophet because it distinguished him from other men, not only as a servant of God but also as a person who has a God-given authority to speak and to act in God’s name, as God’s accredited representative. The title shows Paul’s first consciousness of his God-given apostolic authority.
Paul then addresses the recipients of the letter, whom he says are “saints in Christ Jesus”. The word ‘saint’ in the Greek is ‘hagioi’, which means ‘holy’ or ‘to separate’. Used in the context that Paul uses it, it means people who are different from other people because they have been separated, consecrated unto God because of their special relationship with Jesus Christ. The bishops and deacons enjoy a special mention because of the importance and responsibility they held in the church. The bishops were the pastors who taught the word of God and nourished the flock. The deacons were those whose responsibility lay with administration.
Paul evokes a blessing of grace and peace upon the lives of his readers. It is the same blessing that he evoked upon the church at Ephesus. ‘Grace’ represents a believer’s standing, and ‘peace’ the believer’s present and continued experience with God. Theologian Charles Hodge explained the relationship between divine grace and the human heart: “The doctrines of grace humble a man without degrading him and exalt him without inflating him”. Such a blessing can only humble us in the presence of God’s great love for us.
V.3-5 Paul in V.3 has no regrets when he thinks of Philippi, only fond memories for which he gives God thanks. Paul’s thanksgiving in V.4 is accompanied by a joyous intercession for all the church and its spiritual needs. The little word “all” shows that all of Paul’s hopes, desires and prayers are extended to all the church at Philippi. The repetition of the small word ‘all’ throughout this letter shows Paul’s singled-mindedness for unity and equality within the church, which is necessary for the growth of the church. Paul doesn’t distinguish between a personal, social, national or educational background in his prayers and neither should we, for ‘all’ are included in the blessings of God.
Paul continues to tell us in V.5 that the reason for his joy is because of their “fellowship in the gospel”. The word ‘fellowship’ as used here is ‘koinonia’ in the Greek. The word means more than just sharing a common or mutual interest or casual relationship as we have when we meet in a general assembly such as on Sunday mornings. Rather, the word ‘fellowship’ carries the concept of partnership in achieving some sort of enterprise. The Philippians’ co-operation was not limited to the first time they met Paul, but continued on. Their co-operation was expressed in their zeal to preach the gospel, prayers for him and their sympathy and sacrifice in raising money to meet Paul’s personal needs while he was in prison. Prisoners in those days received little food from the prison and relied heavily on friends to help them.
V.6 There are few things more painful and sadder than an unfulfilled life. It’s like Schubert’s unfinished Fifth Symphony, waiting in vain for the master’s final touch. One day, the evangelist Billy Graham and his wife Ruth were driving through a long stretch of road construction. They had numerous slowdowns, detours and stops along the way. Finally they reached the end of all that difficulty, and smooth pavement stretched out before them. This sign caught Ruth’s attention: “End of construction. Thanks for your patience.” She commented that those words would be a fitting inscription on her tombstone someday.
Though our lives here upon earth are under God’s construction, Paul is confident that what God has begun in their lives He will complete. Why? It is because God is not like man who may become wearied or exhausted in a work they have begun and then give-up. God’s steadfastness is inexhaustible. He never forsakes the works of His hands. Paul makes it very clear that it was God who took the initiative to begin the good work in each of our lives and it will be Him who carries it through to perfection. Paul goes as far as to tell us when this day of perfection will come: it will be on “the day of Jesus Christ”. On that day we shall be presented to Christ as His perfect bride.
Michelangelo is well-known for not completing his projects. In Florence, the great city of the Renaissance, there is a museum where some works of Michelangelo are on display. Amongst many of those works of Michelangelo is the half-finished sculpture of St. Matthew. This unfinished work was a prime example of Michelangelo’s philosophy of art: he believed that in a stone there was a figure or statue waiting to be released, and that the work of the artist was to free the statue from the stone. This particular statue is so lifelike that many tourists imagine that at any moment St. Matthew might just step out of that huge stone. Unlike Michelangelo, God does not stop working in our lives to conform us to the image of Christ. God will finish what He has started; ultimately, God has no unfinished works of grace!
V.7-8 These verses are not only a window but an example of the depth of partnership that Paul formed with those whom he nurtured in the faith. Paul developed a leadership style with those he led which today is known as leadership-as-a-partnership. Jesus first demonstrated this type of leadership in John’s Gospel 15:15, where He explains the partnership that we have entered into with Him. He tells us that He will no longer call His disciples ‘servants’, but ‘friends’. The emphasis of the verse is placed on the close fellowship that Jesus and we, His disciples, share. It is a partnership that is no longer motivated by duty but rather by friendship. We have become Jesus’ colleagues, the ones with whom He will share the secrets of heaven. This relationship and partnership with Jesus enhances our performance and fruitfulness in taking the gospel into the entire world. As leaders seek to emulate the example of Jesus and Paul, they will see a greatly improved performance from those they lead.
This partnership Paul had with the church at Philippi did not come about overnight, for it had been forged through thick and thin. They had partnered with Paul in spite of the dangers of aligning themselves with a prisoner of Rome, and whom some saw as an enemy of the state in the furtherance of the gospel by publicly speaking in defence and confirmation of the gospel.
The terms “defense” and “confirmation” are legal terms. The first, ‘defense’, in the Greek is ‘apologia’, and refers to ‘an attorney or barrister presenting a verbal defense of a client’. The second, ‘confirmation’, in the Greek is ‘bebaiosis’, which means ‘to build-up or strengthen from within or to make something stable’, so it proclaims that through public speaking the church at Philippi showed that the claims of the gospel were true. The result was not only that the church was strengthened through teaching and had a great influx of converts, but the church at Philippi also became partners with Paul in the benefits of the “grace” of God.
So it’s only natural that Paul expresses his heartfelt desire in the beginning of V.7, that the work that God has begun in them of which he spoke in V.6 be completed at the return of Christ, and for Paul’s longing to be reunited with them. He says in V.8, “How greatly I long for you all”; the word ‘long’ in the Greek is ‘epipothein’, which means ‘an intense yearning to be reunited with someone’ – in this case, the church at Philippi. Their fellowship/partnership meant so much to Paul. The yearning he has described here is the yearning and love that Christ has for the church as a whole. Paul had become so much the under-shepherd of Christ that his heart throbbed with the heartbeat of Christ.
V.9-11 Because of his personal partnership with the church at Philippi, Paul prays for three things that the church might receive: the first is “that their love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment” (V.9). True, their and our love had already been shown to the Lord and others, yet Paul wished it to go on into perfection, not only in quantity but also in quality, into depths and heights it had never reached. It is said that one day Michelangelo entered his studio to examine the work of his students. As he came to the painting of one of his favourite pupils, he stood and looked at it for a long time. Then, to the utter surprise of the class, he suddenly took a brush and wrote one word across the canvas. That one word he splashed on the picture was ‘amplius’, meaning ‘larger’. Michelangelo was not rejecting the work, for it exhibited great skill and was good as far as it went, but the small size of the canvas had made its design appear cramped. It needed to be expanded. Paul when he writes the ‘abound’ is like Michelangelo writing the word ‘amplius’ across many of our lives: he is not rejecting the work of God in the Philippians or in our lives but rather he wants to see it expanded, increased, made larger, in ‘knowledge’ and ‘discernment’ (V.9). So that they would not go off in blind and misguided enthusiasm in love, he prays that they have it directed by knowledge. ‘Knowledge’ here means ‘sensitivity’, not only to the word of God but to the needs of others and to their individual situation. The word ‘knowledge’ is coupled with the word ‘judgement’ or ‘discernment’, which not only emphasises the word ‘knowledge’ but stresses the point that love must seek out those things that are spiritually beautiful. Love without these two qualities may be honourable and its motives worthy, but it may do more harm than good. Why? It is because it cannot “approve the things that are excellent” (V.10). The word ‘approve’ in the Greek is ‘dokimazein’, which is a word used for testing metal or coins to see if they are genuine, pure and not false. Real love is not blind; it can test everything to see if it is pure or false.
The second thing Paul desires is that we might be enlarged in holiness or sanctification, for he says, “that you may be sincere and without offense” (V.10). It means that Paul wishes that our lives be pure, free from any inward pollution and that our conduct be not a stumbling block to others. The word ‘sincere’ in the Greek is ‘eilikrineis’, which comes from two Greek words: ‘eile’ meaning ‘sunshine’ and ‘krinein’ which means ‘to judge’. In the ancient markets, people would take cloth out into the open and hold it up to the sunlight to see if it had any flaws. Our lives are like that cloth: they must be able to stand the test, to be taken out into the open and lifted up before the true light that emanates from the Son and found to be without fault.
Finally Paul prays that we might be enlarged “with the fruits of righteousness” (V.11), which means he desires that our lives be like heavily-laden fruit trees, abounding in a holy life for praise and glory to God. Paul points out that these things can only be obtained through Jesus Christ.
• Now that you have completed your readings for today, write down in your Reflective Journal any thoughts you may have that you would like to discuss at the Group Discussion, or any notes of special significance to you.
• Whilst making this entry in your Reflective Journal, keep in mind that: The purpose of reflective journaling is to enhance your learning through the process of writing and thinking about what you have learnt from the Scriptures.
Reflective journaling is recording your new insights, connections with other learning, feelings, and conclusions.
Reflective journaling answers: “What does this text mean to me personally as a believer?”
Dr. Tony Keys (from Victoria in Australia) is a prolific author with degrees in biblical/theology, education and leadership/ management. Tony is passionate about developing leaders and conducts leadership seminars for pastors around the world.