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Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 1:1-2


Paul and Timothy, servants[a] of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers[b] and deacons:[c]

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Last week’s post concluded my study of Ephesians.

Today’s post introduces Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which is even shorter than Ephesians, as it has only four chapters. It was written in either AD 62 (according to Matthew Henry) or AD 64 (as John MacArthur surmises).

MacArthur tells us of Paul’s plans for Timothy in Philippi (emphases mine):

Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith, introduced to him, as recorded in Acts, chapter 16, when Paul visited Derbe in Lystra, in the area around Galatia.  He found this young man, took him as his protégé, trained him, taught him.  He became a real son to Paul.  Timothy was his dear companion, the one to whom he would really give the legacy of future ministry when he left this world ... This was written during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment First Timothy was written after his release, and 2 Timothy was written during his second and last imprisonment, just a few years after this …

Timothy was well known to the Philippians, and well beloved by the Philippians As I said, he was there when the church was started in Acts 16; it is the same chapter of Timothy’s coming with Paul.  Timothy comes with him in verses 1 to 3, and by the time you’re in verse 11, they’re at Philippi and the church is born.  So the Philippian Christians knew Timothy from the very, very beginning.  Furthermore, since Paul was going to send Timothy, and wanted Timothy to receive the best reception, he includes Timothy as a true co-worker by including him in the opening greeting He is a true co-worker of the apostle.  And later on, he expands it even more when he says, “He’s the only one who has a kindred spirit with me.”

And thirdly, it is very possible as well that Timothy is the secretary to whom Paul dictated Philippians We know that Paul dictated his letters.  Oh, there were occasions when he wrote, but many of the letters we know were dictated.

MacArthur tells us a bit about Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, from where he wrote this letter:

Timothy had become a vital part of Paul’s life, serving alongside of him for years.  And now he is available to Paul.  Paul is a prisoner He is in prison.  He mentions it four times in chapter 1.  Timothy is not a prisoner, as far as we know.  But Timothy is able to come and see Paul, work alongside and help Paul.  The nature of his imprisonment allowed him that privilege

Now, he was a prisoner at this time, and during this imprisonment he wrote four epistles We know them as the “prison epistles.”  They’re called that because obviously they were written from prison.  They are Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon, that little letter.  If you read Philippians he says he’s in prison.  If you read Ephesians he says he’s in prison.  If you read Colossians he says he’s in prison.  If you read Philemon he says he’s in prison.  We have no difficulty discerning where he is when he writes – four letters.  Now, some have suggested that he may have been in prison in Ephesus; that really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  Others say he may have been in prison in Caesarea.  That doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, I don’t think, as well.  It is best to see him as in prison in Rome when he writes all four of these Why Rome?  Chapter 1, verse 13, mentions “the whole praetorian guard,” which would best be suited to the situation in Rome rather than Ephesus or Caesarea And then in chapter 4, verse 22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household,” would also best be suited to Rome, and there would be Caesar’s household. 

Furthermore, in chapter 1, verses 14 to 18, he talks about all the preachers who are either preaching Christ honestly or contentiously, either helping to assist Paul or adding affliction to his already difficult situation.  And the fact that there were many preachers would be somewhat indicative of a large city like Rome, rather than a smaller place Furthermore, in chapter 1, he seems to be waiting for a decisive verdict He says, “I may live, I may die, I’m hard pressed, I’d like to go and be with Christ, I’d like to stay and be with you, which seems more necessary for your sake.”  He seems to have been on the threshold of some decision about his destiny.  Chapter 2, verse 17, he says, “If it’s now that I’m to be poured out as a drink offering, on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice.”  In other words, “If this is the time for me to die, that’s fine.  On the other hand,” verse 24, “I trust in the Lord.  I myself shall be with you shortly” – seems to me that he was indicating either death or release very quickly.  If that was true, it’s best to see him in Rome, because Rome is the place where such adjudication would take place, where such a verdict would take place.  He would be then released from Rome by the Roman court. 

So it’s best to assume that he is in Rome.  He is chained in bondage somehow, with enough freedom to receive those who want to come and work alongside him, in this case namely, Timothy.  He expects release imminently so that he can come be with them in the event that they don’t take his life.  So we would assume, then, that this is somewhere around 64 A.D., and that this is the last of the four prison epistles, in which he is anticipating either death or release.  So that’s Paul, that’s Timothy, that’s the situation, the servants. 

Now on to Philippi, which was a distinctive and historic city in Macedonia with certain Roman privileges.

Matthew Henry gives us an overview of its history:

Philippi was a chief city of the western part of Macedonia, prote tes meridos tes Makedonias polis, Acts 16 12. It took its name from Philip, the famous king of Macedon, who repaired and beautified it, and it was afterwards made a Roman colony. Near this place were the Campi Philippici, remarkable for the famous battles between Julius Cæsar and Pompey the Great, and that between Augustus and Antony on one side and Cassius and Brutus on the other. But it is most remarkable among Christians for this epistle, which was written when Paul was a prisoner at Rome, A.D. 62.

John MacArthur has more about its distinctive status in the Roman Empire:

The city had some distinctives; listen now.  Since the time of the Phoenicians, it had tremendous gold and silver mines When they first discovered gold and silver, of course, it became a boom town And people rushed into that area before there was even a city there and began to mine the area.  And due to the tremendous discovery of gold and silver there, the place became a commercial center in the ancient world, a great trade center Its location is exceedingly strategic It is right at the top of the Aegean Sea, right at the very top.  And you know that Asia Minor dips down into the Mediterranean, that Greece dips down into the Mediterranean, that Italy dips down into the Mediterranean, so any road going from east to west has to go across the top of the Aegean and Adriatic Seas, which jut up like this between Greece and Italy and Asia Minor So all the major roads ran right across the top edge of the Aegean and Adriatic Sea, which would say they ran right dead through Philippi.

Furthermore, there was a range of mountains, and the pass from Asia to Europe went through the pass of those mountains. That was the only way to get through without climbing all the peaks, and the pass was Philippi.  It strategically located itself right at the pass between Asia and Europe, the East and the West.  Running right through that pass, for 500 miles from Greece to Italy, was the Ignatian Highway When it hit Italy and turned toward Rome, it became known as the Appian Way, which all those who study Roman history are identified with.  It was built in 146 B.C.  The Ignatian Highway was the trade route east to west; Philippi was right on the trade route.  It was a strategic site in Europe, a strategic site to build a city.  The city itself was built by Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great And the reason he built it was to command the pass – to command the road One of the most decisive battles in history was fought there much later; it was at Philippi that Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius, and thereby decided the whole future of the Roman Empire – very strategic city.

Thirdly, it was a Roman colony Not only did it have gold and silver mines – which, by the way, by the time of the Apostle Paul had been exhausted, and they were no longer functioning, but nonetheless they had acted as the foundation to the commercial enterprise, and the commercial enterprise was still going on.  And not only was it at a key strategic location, but thirdly, it was a Roman colony.  And to be a Roman colony was really the very, very height of dignity for a town Roman colonies had military significance They were a part of the Roman settlement in order to create the Pax Romana, or the Roman Peace.  The way Rome founded Philippi was the way they founded most of the cities They would find a city that was strategic to them.  It was already a Greek city, but they wanted it to be a Roman colony, so they would take about 300 soldiers, veteran soldiers near retirement, pack them up and their family, and have them go settle right in the middle of that city, and begin to govern that city and lead that city and turn it into a Roman colony.  And that’s what happened; some veteran Roman soldiers came with their families, perhaps some others as well, and settled there with Roman culture, Roman life style

The people in a Roman colony enjoyed three things: they enjoyed what the Latin language called libertas, which means self-government They were not governed by Rome They were governed by themselves.  The Roman government gave them that privilege, having sort of ordained their government by settling with soldiers.  Secondly, they enjoyed what the Latin language calls immunitas, or immunity.  That meant they were never to be taxed by Rome So they were free from taxation, and they were free from the government of Rome.  Thirdly, they enjoyed ius italicum, the rights of Roman citizenryThey had all the rights of anyone who lived in Rome.

The city rulers were called praetors; we translate that word magistrates And the police were called lictors, and they were the ones who took care of law breakers.  They imitated the Roman style of life.  They imitated the Roman culture in every sense.  William Barclay says, “These colonies had one great characteristic: wherever they were, they were little fragments of Rome, and their pride in their Roman citizenship was their dominating characteristic.  The Roman language was spoken.  Roman dress was worn.  Roman customs were observed.  Their magistrates had Roman titles, and carried out the same ceremonies as were carried out in Rome itself.  Wherever they were, these colonies were stubbornly and unalterably Roman.  They would never have dreamt of becoming assimilated to the people amidst whom they were set.  They were parts of Rome, miniature cities of Rome, and they never forgot it,” end quote.  They were proud to be Roman citizens.

Now, in spite of all of that about Philippi, that’s not why it was famous That didn’t permanently put this city on the map of the world, and the map of history.  Yes it was a prestigious place; its official Roman name was Colonia Julia August Philippensis; it’s a pretty big name for a little place.  Much honored, but isn’t why it’s well remembered.  Some cities are well remembered because they were honored cities.  Paul Rees wrote, “For continuity across the centuries, such is Rome’s distinction.  For architectural glory and lavish elegance, such was Babylon’s bid for immortality.  For cultural brilliance, such was Athens claim upon the world’s remembrance.  For a distinctive quality in its citizens, such is the persistent fame of Sparta.  For an extraordinary tradition of religious faith and devotion, such is the deathless repute in which Jerusalem is held.  But in ancient Macedonia, not far from the western shoreline of the Aegean Sea, once stood a city that lives on in human memory for none of those reasons,” end quote. 

But why does it live on?  I’ll tell you why: because the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote this little letter to that city and immortalized it – immortalized it. 

Students of the Book of Acts, which Luke wrote, recall that Paul’s planting the church in Philippi is in Acts 16, about which I wrote in 2018:

Acts 16:1-5 — Paul, Timothy, Silas, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Eunice, Lois

Acts 16 introduces us to Timothy, who accompanied Paul and Silas on their ministries. Timothy was probably from Lystra — we cannot be sure — although the churches Paul and Barnabas established earlier were in the area of Derbe, Lystra and Iconium. Everyone spoke highly of Timothy’s reputation, and, after having a circumcision — being half-Jewish it was seen to be expedient to preaching to Jew and Gentile alike — the young man joined Paul and Silas. As Paul wanted to revisit the congregations he and Barnabas had co-founded, it was essential to tell the Gentile converts they did not have to follow Mosaic law, particularly in terms of circumcision. Those were decisions from the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). These decisions, scripturally determined by consensus, comforted the Gentiles and increased the growth of the early Church via the Holy Spirit.

Acts 16:6-10: The Holy Spirit and Spirit of Jesus, Paul, Phyrgia, Galatia, Mysia, Bithynia, Macedonia, Luke

Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, moved on from the area around Derbe and Lystra and arrived in Phyrgia and Galatia. The Holy Spirit forbade them from going eastward into Asia (a country at the time). They arrived in Mysia, with an intent to travel to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow that. So they went through Mysia — no doubt preaching and teaching — to end up in Troas, where they met up with Luke. Luke was a physician and was no doubt useful to the three men as well as to others on their travels. Verse 10 changes person, from the third to the first, with ‘we’.

Acts 16:11-15 – Paul, Lydia, first European convert, women, Philippi, Thyatira

Lydia and her household become the first European converts in Philippi, Macedonia. Lydia was originally from Thyatira, the expert city in purple dyes and fabric, which was Lydia’s line of work, although John MacArthur says hers were of the everyday — not the regal, shellfish derived — variety. Lydia opened her heart and mind to the Lord and divine grace worked through her when she listened to Paul’s words. The earliest worshippers in Philippi met at her house. Paul later wrote epistles — letters — to the Philippians.

Paul never did meet his man from Macedonia who appeared in his vision from the preceding reading. Yet, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke visited Philippi and helped to establish a church there amongst a group of women who met by the riverside outside the city on the Sabbath. According to John MacArthur, they were probably exiled Jews who settled in the city without a synagogue.

Acts 16:35-40 Paul, Roman citizenship, imprisonment, Lydia, Silas

Paul and Silas are imprisoned after driving out a demon from a girl used for divination purposes. When they are released thanks to their Roman citizenship, the authorities tell the two men to leave the city, which they do after visiting Lydia.

Acts 17 returns to the third person, meaning that Luke was no longer with Paul, Silas and Timothy.

John MacArthur says that Paul left Luke to lead the church in Philippi until his return.

Henry gives us a brief overview of Paul’s church planting in Philippi and its practical applications for us:

III. The beginnings of that church were very small; Lydia was converted there, and the jailer, and a few more: yet that did not discourage him. If good be not done at first, it may be done afterwards, and the last works may be more abundant. We must not be discouraged by small beginnings. IV. It seems, by many passages in this epistle, that this church at Philippi grew into a flourishing church, and particularly that the brethren were very kind to Paul. He had reaped of their temporal things, and he made a return in spiritual things. He acknowledges the receipt of a present they had sent him (iv 18), and this when no other church communicated with him as concerning giving and receiving (v. 15); and he gives them a prophet’s, an apostle’s reward, in this epistle, which is of more value than thousands of gold and silver.

MacArthur tells us about Paul’s time in prison in Acts 16. The employers — probably owners — of the girl with demons lost their money from her once Paul rid her of her demons, so they complained to the authorities.

MacArthur describes the girl’s circumstances and Paul and Silas’s painful time in prison, which ended joyfully with a conversion:

That world was full of the occult.  And this girl, it says at the end of the chapter, was making – the end of the verse, verse 16, was making much money for her masters by fortunetelling The actual word is by frenzy.  She would go into a frenzy when the demons would take control of her, and she was making money for her masters She followed after Paul.  She kept crying, “These men are bond servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” 

Was that true?  Absolutely true – absolutely true.  Everything she said was true I want you to know, folks, the greatest hour of danger in the life of the church is the hour when Satan tells the truth Great danger; and that is what makes false teachers so devastating and so dangerous They are only dangerous when they tell the truth, is that not right?  They are not dangerous when they lie, because we know they’re lying.  But they are dangerous when they tell the truth.  And so the key to being a successful false teacher is to tell as much truth as you possibly can.  Paul doesn’t need that – neither does Jesus – so he turns around and casts the demons out of her

Well, that infuriated her masters because they lost their profit, verse 19.  They saw the hope of profit was gone; they seized Paul and Silas, dragged them to the marketplace before the authorities Apparently they didn’t grab Timothy and Luke, for some reason.  They took these two who were the spokesmen.  “And they said, ‘These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews,’” anti-Semitism – anti- Semitism.  “‘They’re proclaiming customs not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.’”  And here’s this proud Roman colony mentality, “They’re violating our Roman customs.”  And then mob rule takes over, and you have a lynch mob, and the whole crowd rose up, and “the chief magistrates” – that’s the praetors – “tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods” – give them over to the lictors “They inflicted many blows on them, threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely.”  Of course, he would pay with his life if he lost them.  “He received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, fastened their feet in the stocks.”

Now, you’ve got to understand the issue here.  They had just been flayed open by a bundle of rods in the hands of experts that left their back a pulp, that often caused intense hemorrhaging, often caused injuries to organs, often smashed vertebra, crushed ribs, and could cause death So these aching, bleeding, limping men are then taken in, thrown into a deep, dark cell in the inner dungeon, and then they’re put in stocks Not the kind of stocks that we think of – we think of the English, that you drip your hands through, and sort of stick your feet through, and stick your head in, and sit like this.  The stocks that the Romans used had a series of holes extending further out.  Depending on the size of the individual, they stretched the legs to the farthest possible extremity, and then locked them in those holes And then they stretched the arms to the same extremity, and locked them there.  And in that condition, they were placed in that inner dungeon, aching, bleeding, sitting in a dark cell, cramping up in ways that we couldn’t even imagine, along with the filth of the cell, the rats, in their own excrement – whatever it was, that was the condition.  And why?  Because these men lost their money when they lost their demon-possessed girl.

By the way, something in me wants to believe that that demon-possessed girl wasn’t just half delivered, but that she not only was freed from a demon, but she was introduced to Christ I hope to meet her in heaven.  There they are in jail.  And what is their attitude in jail?  Verse 25: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and” – what – “singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”  So you think you’ve got troubles?  The church in Philippi was born out of joy – was born out of joy And I’ll tell you something, it’s a joy unrelated to circumstances They were alone.  They were in pain.  They faced the loss of their life.  And they rejoiced.  That’s joy, that’s not happiness, that’s joy – that’s joy – so deep, and so profound, that nothing touches it They knew the joy which is a gift from God to those who believe, being produced in them by the Holy Spirit because they were willing to obey God, being mixed with trials, and they set their hope on future glory.  That’s why they knew that joy. 

In the midst of the night, as they sang praises and all the prisoners listened, the Lord decided to shake the place.  Shook the whole place, all the doors opened, all the chains broke, all the stocks split; everybody was loose The jailer realized it, in verse 27, decided to kill himself rather than be humiliated publicly by an execution for having lost his prisoners.  Starting to commit suicide, Paul cries out with a loud voice, 28, says, “Do yourself no harm, we’re all here.”  What a leader – what a leader – secured the whole place.  “He called for lights, rushed in; trembling with fear, fell down before Paul and Silas.  And after he brought them out he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  You say, “How did he know even to ask the question?”  Well, maybe he heard Paul preach, and maybe he heard, surely he heard Paul sing, and surely they sang the gospel ...

He heard it.  He knew enough.  “He said, ‘Sir, what must I do to be saved?’  They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you’ll be saved, you and your household.’”  And some people say, “See, it’s so simple, just believe.”  But there’s a lot in that belief.  What kind of faith?  And who is the Lord Jesus?  And verse 32 says, “And that’s why they spoke the Word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.”  They had to explain what it all meant.  “And he took them the very hour of the night, washed their wounds,” and they had a baptismal.  He baptized the jailer and his whole house “He brought him into his house, set food before them, rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.”  That’s the birth of the church of Philippi Special, isn’t it?  It started with a lady in her household down by a river, and the jailer and his household in a cell, and they came together.

Verse 40: “They let them go.”  You know why they let them go?  They found out Paul was a Roman; scared the living daylights out of them.  He was a Roman.  They could really be in trouble for doing that to a Roman citizen They said, “Just get out of town – please, get out of town,” verse 39, “Get out of this city, we don’t want this coming back to Rome.”  They went out of the prison and they entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed The church is now meeting in Lydia’s house; that’s the birth of the church.  They had a bond with Paul that was marvelous.  They saw him in a terrible extremity.  They loved Paul.  Lydia and her household loved him, the jailer and his household loved Paul.  There was a bond there.  There weren’t very many Jews there so they didn’t have to deal with the Judaizing element; that’s probably why there’s no major problems in the Philippian letter to deal with, because that church wasn’t under the onslaught of the Judaizers.  They were just some believers in the midst of paganism.  The lines were drawn very clearly.  And all through this letter, there’s some warnings, and some exhortations and encouragement, but no problems in the church are ever discussed That must be partly due to the fact that there was no Jewish synagogue there to threaten the church. 

Therefore, MacArthur says that Philippians is a letter of joy because their church was born in joy:

As we approach this epistle, which I’ve entitled “The Epistle of Joy,” I trust and I pray that God is going to shape our hearts and our lives and our attitudes through this experience.  Four brief chapters.  The theme of these chapters is joy; Paul mentions it at least 16 times in these four chapters He also mentions Christ 50 times And that is because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

Moving on to today’s verses, Paul announces himself and Timothy as servants of Christ Jesus and addresses this letter to the saints who are also in Christ Jesus and the overseers — or bishops — and the deacons (verse 1), who are servants or ministers, depending on the translation.

Some translations use ‘bondservant’, ‘bond slave’ or ‘doulos’ instead of ‘servant’.

MacArthur explains what a bondservant was, a slave who served a master out of a deep love for him. This dates back to the Old Testament:

“Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Christ Jesus.”  That title, by the way, is used by James, James 1:1; by Peter, 2 Peter 1:1; and by Jude, in verse 1.  So the writers of Scripture love to call themselves bond slaves of Christ.  The term doulos conveys the idea of ownership, possession, allegiance, dependence, subjection, loyalty; all that we think a bond slave would convey

It emphasizes, however, something you might not grasp, and that is willing service Can you grab that thought?  Willing service.  We think of slave in the English language, we think of forced behavior, unwilling duty, abusive subjection, but that’s not the idea.  A bond slave was a slave bonded to the individual.  And it was often the case that that bonding was out of affection and love and a sense of esteem, not some kind of abject fear For example, do you remember in Exodus, chapter 21, verse 5 that the law of God provided for a slave who wanted to permanently bond himself to his master Many of the slaves in the ancient nation of Israel loved their masters deeply and dearly, and as a result, they wanted to serve their master for life If a slave so desired, he would go to his master and say, “I want to serve you for life.”  And the master would then follow the law of God, which said, “Take your slave to the door, pull his ear lobe, and drive a spike or an awl through his ear.  And the piercing of the ear, and the hole in the ear, will be the signal and symbol to all who see him that this man is a slave out of love.”  This is a servant of love who has chosen a lifelong bonding to some he longs to serve.

So Paul and Timothy don’t see themselves as slaves in some abject way, having to do something they don’t want to do, but as willing bondservants of Jesus Christ, serving out of joy, out of willingness, out of affection, out of love.  Notice, please, “bondservants of Christ Jesus” – that was always Paul’s focus His service was always to Christ – always to Christ.  He was not a bondservant of the church He was not a bondservant of the leaders of the church.  He was not a bondservant of Rome, even though he was a prisoner of Rome.  He was a bondservant of Christ Jesus – always connecting his life to Christ.  And that is a ministerial perception that is absolutely necessary for anyone who serves the Lord.  If you attach yourself to people, they will disappoint you If you attach yourself to the church, they will disappoint you in the church.  If you attach yourself to the Lord, you will never be disappointed If you decide to evaluate your ministry on the basis of the opinion of people, you will go astray.  On the basis of the opinion or success of the church, you will go astray.  But if you choose to evaluate your life and ministry between you and the Lord, you will never go astray, because you will always know where you stand

Service to Christ is the perfect freedom Service to Christ is the perfect freedom.  Paul says in verse 7, “In my imprisonment,” he says in verse 13, “my imprisonment,” verse 14, “my imprisonment,” verse 17, “my imprisonment,” or my chains, or my bonds.  But in spite of all of this, he was not the slave of Rome; he was the servant of Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus Christ who would meet all his needs.  It was Jesus Christ who would choose all his duties, like 2 Samuel 15:15, where it says so beautifully, “Thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my Lord the King shall appoint.”  It was Jesus Christ who would provide all his needs, who said, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  He served Jesus Christ.

Notice that Paul lists the members of the congregation first, then the church’s leaders and afterwards those who serve the poor and the widows.

Henry says that this is because Jesus is no respecter of status:

He mentions the church before the ministers, because the ministers are for the church, for their edification and benefit, not the churches for the ministers, for their dignity, dominion, and wealth. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy, 2 Cor 1 24. They are not only the servants of Christ, but the servants of the church for his sake. Ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake, 2 Cor 4 5. Observe, The Christians here are called saints; set apart for God, or sanctified by his Spirit, either by visible profession or real holiness. And those who are not really saints on earth will never be saints in heaven. Observe, It is directed to all the saints, one as well as another, even the meanest, the poorest, and those of the least gifts. Christ makes no difference; the rich and the poor meet together in him: and the ministers must not make a difference in their care and tenderness upon these accounts. We must not have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons, James 2 1.

Henry tells us more about the leaders of the church in that era:

… the ministers, or church-officers—with the bishops and deacons, the bishops or elders, in the first place, whose office it was to teach and rule, and the deacons, or overseers of the poor, who took care of the outward business of the house of God: the place, the furniture, the maintenance of the ministers, and provision for the poor. These were all the offices which were then known in the church, and which were of divine appointment. The apostle, in the direction of his epistle to a Christian church, acknowledges but two orders, which he calls bishops and deacons. And whosoever shall consider that the same characters and titles, the same qualifications, the same acts of office, and the same honour and respect, are every where ascribed throughout the New Testament to those who are called bishops and presbyters (as Dr. Hammond and other learned men allow), will find it difficult to make them a different office or distinct order of ministry in the scripture times.

Paul sends his wishes to them for grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (verse 2).

We have read similar greetings from Paul in other epistles.

MacArthur explains their importance:

Grace, charis, peace, eirn, the Hebrew shalom – “I wish you grace, I wish you peace.”  Grace is the gift of God, peace is the resultBecause of grace, we have peace.  I wish you grace, I wish you peace.  The source is God the Father, the source is the Lord Jesus Christ.  I wish the best for you.  It’s a common greeting.  He gave it in Romans 1:7, he gave it in 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Colossians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, Philemon 1:2 and 3.  It’s a familiar greeting.  But it says, in summary, I want the best for you – I want the best for you, God’s best.  You see, here’s a man who is concerned about others, who is lost in his concern for others

MacArthur summarises the church in Philippi for us:

It was born in joy Is it any wonder that Paul wants to write back to them and say, “Now, look, we started in joy, and I just want you to know we still have to maintain that joy, so I want the saints and” – please notice – “the overseers and deacons” – the two roles that the church has in its leadership and service that are defined in the New Testament, overseers, elders, pastors, same idea, deacons, those who serve in any capacity.  I won’t go into that, we’ve covered it in deep detail in our study of 1 and 2 Timothy – but he writes to these precious saints.  The church has already grown to the place where it has elders and deacons.  Several years have passed, the church is flourishing It’s got its structure; it’s got its leadership.  There are those in leadership, the overseers.  There are those in service, the deacons.  So he’s simply saying, “I thank God for you, and I’m writing to you because I want you to know about my heart, my joy”.

Despite the setbacks that Paul has, he is still joyful about the Philippians.

MacArthur summarises these setbacks and Paul’s upbeat mood:

In chapter 1, he says, “People have disappointed me, but I’m rejoicing.”  In chapter 2, he says, “The plans have sort of disappointed me.  I’m sending Epaphroditus, I’m going to send Timothy, I’m going to be all alone, I’m still rejoicing.”  Chapter 3: “I’ve lost all of my possessions, I’m still rejoicing.”  Chapter 4: “I’m in very, very trying circumstances, I’m still rejoicing.”  That’s his message.  And we’re going to learn in these four chapters that people are going to fail you, plans are going to fail you, possessions are going to fail you, and circumstances are going to fail you, but it doesn’t ever need to touch your joy And before we’re done, you’ll understand why. 

These are the next several verses from Philippians 1:

Thanksgiving and Prayer

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,[d] both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

MacArthur explains that joy comes only through hardship:

So the true joy that the believer knows is a gift from God to those who believe, being produced in them by the Holy Spirit as they receive and obey the Word Let me add another thought.  True joy is a gift from God to those who believe the gospel, being produced in them by the Holy Spirit as they believe and receive the Word, or receive and apply it, and it is mixed with trials – being mixed with trials.  A very important element, very important; you will never experience the reality of true joy unless it is made very clear by contrast to trials It is, in a very real sense, known only by its contrast – sadness, sorrow, difficulty.  First Thessalonians 1:6 says, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord” – listen to this – “having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”  That sums it all up: the Holy Spirit, the tribulation, the word, the joy.  In 2 Corinthians, you remember chapter 6 and verse 10, “As sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”  In other words, you’re going through sorrowful circumstances, but always rejoicing.  Do you remember the words of James, in chapter 1, verse 2, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials”?  And the words of Peter, 1 Peter, chapter 1, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”

MacArthur thinks that, out of all the churches Paul planted, he loved the one in Philippi most of all:

He loves the Philippians and they love him.  In fact, it’s my personal conviction that the love bond between Paul and the Philippians exceeded the love bond between he and any other of the churches.  There was something so deep and so special about their love relationship that in the situation he is in as a prisoner, and he mentions his imprisonment four times in chapter 1, he is basically writing to the Philippians because he’s concerned about their sorrow. 

These are some of the themes we will be looking at in Philippians:

He’s concerned about their unity He’s concerned about their faithfulness He’s concerned about a lot of things that come through the letter.  But from the relational viewpoint, his deep concern is that these people who love him so much will be sad because he’s a prisoner They will be sad because of his circumstances.  They will be sad because of his deprivation.  They will be sad because of the portent of the loss of his life.  And he writes to say to them, in effect, “Look, I rejoice, so don’t you do any less.”  And thus the epistle is intended to convey the joy of its author. 

I am looking forward to this epistle, even if much of it is in the Lectionary.

Next time — Philippians 1:12-14


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