From the moment we are spiritually reborn until the time we die, our Christian lives will be filled with triumphs and tragedies. In the midst of life's trials God allows us to recall memories that will encourage us in the hour of need. All Christians eventually encounter, or have already entered, the ring of discouragement. The natural response is to reevaluate the ministry to which you have been called. "Does my ministry really matter?" "Are my motives completely pure?" "Is all the trouble really worth the sacrifice?" Questions about the future, unaccompanied by glorious recollections of the past, will lead to spiritual defeat. During these times we should call to mind the goodness of God.
The reason so many Christians throw in their "spiritual towel" is because they fail to remember the blessings that God has bestowed upon them. It can be extremely unhealthy for Christians to rely on past victories or blessings. However, if we fail to reflect and give God the glory for His intervening grace, He will curse our blessings (Mal. 2:2). The key to victorious Christian living is knowing what to remember when you need to remember.
Paul wrote his heart-felt thanks to the Philippians for their gracious support of his missionary efforts. The records of Luke indicate that the Epistle to the Philippians was written from Rome in A.D. 61 or 62. Although Paul was being held under house arrest for two years, he continued to minister through letters and personal meetings (Acts 28:30-31).
Paul's letter was full of thankfulness, joy, and encouragement. On 19 separate occasions, in four chapters, Paul mentioned joy, rejoicing, or gladness. The church at Philippi experienced numerous challenges, but Paul reminded the church that circumstances do not have to control them.
The Philippian church was the first founded by Paul in Europe. Paul's desire was to go to Asia and preach, but the Holy Spirit of God would not permit him (Acts 16:6). In this context Paul was given the vision of the Macedonian man who was pleading, "Come over to Macedonia and help us" (Acts 16:9). Paul and his companions boarded the ship that would take them to the continent of Europe.
The apostle Paul was overwhelmed with joy as he remembered the glorious acts that God performed while he was in Europe. Every memory brought a response of thanks from his heart to God's Son. Seeing people accept Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior more than compensated for everything Paul had endured while bringing the gospel to them. With a heart filled with joy and gladness, Paul wrote to his beloved church at Philippi. The letter is both practical in application and powerful by inspiration. In the prologue of this great epistle we begin to see the valuable insights of Paul in the context of godly remembrance.
I. God-given relationships (v. 1)
Our first point of recall should be God-given relationships. In Philippians 1:1, Paul speaks of their positions as bond-servants of Jesus Christ. This is a reference to their equality in the Son of God. He could have easily said, "I, Paul, a veteran missionary statesman, and Timothy, a mere novice in the Christian faith." Instead of giving the distinguishing characteristics of an impressive spiritual resumé, Paul made no distinction about individual ability or service. He acknowledged that they were co-servants working in God's fields. It should encourage every one of us to know that there is no seniority in the kingdom of God. Christian giants with 60 years of service have no more access to the throne of God than does the new-born babe in Christ. God's army is looking for foot soldiers, not generals. Praise be unto God, we are all co-equal bondslaves of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When we fail to cultivate godly relationships, we promote division within the body and forfeit our effectiveness for the kingdom. Are you thanking God daily for the men and women who have been placed in your life by God? The relationship between Paul and Timothy does not only refer to equality; it also speaks of encouragement. The word bondservants literally means "one bound to another." Paul was chained to a Roman soldier while under house arrest. It is clearly evident that there is immense joy within his heart. Paul encouraged the Philippians to rejoice with him because he was first bound to the Lord Jesus Christ. The servanthood expressed in this passage is a voluntary act of complete surrender to one's master on the grounds of great love. As devoted followers of Jesus Christ, we should all be willing to surrender our rights and privileges to the Father's will on the basis of our love for Him. Hudson Taylor said: "Let us give up our work, our thoughts, our plans, ourselves, our lives, our loved ones, our influence, our all, right into God's hand; and then when we have given all over to Him, there will be nothing left for us to be troubled about or to make trouble about."
David expressed that thought: "I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:8, NKJV).1 The happiest person is the one who understands that it is a privilege and an honor to be a servant of Jesus Christ.
It's important to remember the servants of God who have been placed around us. It's also imperative that we call to mind the saints of God with whom we minister. Paul refers in verse 1 to "those that are in Christ Jesus." This refers to a person's position in the context of their relationship with Christ. "Those in Christ Jesus" are Christians whose lives are holy and, therefore, set apart for or unto God, to be exclusively His. Anything that is holy will be separated unto God for His intended purpose. The desire and heartbeat of every believer should be a quest for holiness. "Be holy, for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:16). Holiness is not a choice to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed. Paul knew exactly what he was saying when he wrote to the Corinthian church and said: "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
We are in Christ. We are exclusively His. We don't have a ministry, a message, or even a life apart from what is given by God. We are simply stewards with equal footing in the body of Christ. It is in this context that we are given the privilege of serving the Son of God. When we can serve God with the mentality of an open hand and realize that the ministry is not ours, we will be overwhelmed by the liberty that flows through a lifestyle of utter dependence upon Him.
Paul spoke not only about their position, but he also made reference to their location. Paul was writing to "all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi." Our position is spiritual in Christ, but our location is physical in the world. Paul was talking to the church in Philippi, but he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul was challenging the saints of God to do a "spiritual gut check." Are you blooming in the field where God has planted you? A main reason that pastors become discouraged is that they are more interested in their location of service than their position in Christ. We would witness a second Pentecost if Christians would be consumed with the mission of God instead of the location of God. If you are unwilling to serve God where you are, you will be incapable of serving God elsewhere. The only reason we can serve where we are is because of whose we are. Keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus, and every location will be seen with unlimited possibilities.
II. God's rewards (v. 2)
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." God's rewards are grace and peace. The word translated "grace" (charis) was a common greeting used in the Greek world. Paul was expressing God's grace to the Philippians in the midst of being chained to a Roman guard. Unfortunately, most Christians in the same situation would be explaining personal gripes instead of administering God's grace. If we grasp a simple understanding of the grace of God, we soon discover that the luster of grace is not diminished by the ashes of adversity. Grace shines the brightest when problems seem the darkest.
Allow your imagination to view this scenario. Imagine being chained to the apostle Paul for two full years. A guard might have asked, "Paul, why are you always smiling?" Paul would reply by saying, "Sir, if I had received what I deserved, I would be in hell today. However, God saw fit to meet me where I was and greet me with words of grace. Not long ago, I met Jesus on that old road to Damascus, and God saved me. I didn't deserve salvation, nor could I earn heaven. But I have learned one thing: God's grace is sufficient for every trial we might face." Paul's life was a living testimony to God's love and unmerited favor. Grace is God's enabling power to perform the tasks He has called us to do.
Paul's letter mentions God's grace and God's peace. While grace (charis) is a word of greeting from the Greek world, peace (shalom) is a word of greeting from Hebrew religion. It is important to keep in mind that peace precedes grace. We must know the grace of God before we can experience the peace of God. If you break peace down to its lowest denominator, you will not find God's provision, you will find God's person. "For He Himself is our peace" (Eph. 2:14). The dichotomy of peace in the believer's life is a glorious contrast to behold. If you fellowship with the God of Peace, you will experience the peace of God.
III. Gracious recollections from God (vv. 3-5)
Paul was overwhelmed when he considered the blessing of thankfulness (vv. 3-4). The word thank is related to the Greek words translated "grace" (charis) and "joy" (chara). Paul thanked God for individuals as he remembered them.
The blessing of thankfulness should be subdivided into two categories. The first was Paul's thankfulness for past memories. Ten years had passed between Paul's initial visit to Philippi and the writing of this epistle. Paul reviewed the blessings of God upon his ministry when he was in Philippi. Satan prefers that we recall only the low points of ministry. Remember that any ministry built on Jesus Christ will have more victories than defeats.
Paul thought about his time in Philippi. He was thankful for a lady who blessed him. The story of Lydia is found in Acts 16:14-15: "Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.' And she constrained us."
God had closed the door for Paul to go to Asia because there was an Asian woman in Europe who needed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit would not allow Paul to go to Asia, but He brought Asia to Paul. In Acts 16:13, we discover that Lydia was involved in a prayer meeting by the riverside when she first met Paul and his companions. Eternity with God will reveal if Paul's detour to Europe was the direct result of prayer meetings at the edge of the river. As a result of Paul's obedience to the Holy Spirit, Lydia became the first convert in Europe.
After the conversion of Lydia, we read about a slave girl who bothered him. The young girl was delivered from demon possession in Acts 16:16-18. "Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, 'These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.' And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.' And he came out that very hour."
Paul began his day by leading a wealthy woman from Asia to Christ. Around mid-day, he led a poor slave girl from Greece to Jesus. As a result of this miracle of deliverance, Paul and Silas were beaten and incarcerated. Can you imagine Paul's confusion? If Paul had not been thrown in jail, he wouldn't have witnessed God's mighty works at midnight. Paul could even thank God for the jailer who beat him.
The remainder of Acts 16 tells the story of a man who found freedom in prison. (Read Acts 16:23, 25-31.)
God intervened in such a miraculous way that Paul and Silas were able to lead the jailer to faith in Jesus. Back up and pay attention to some details in the progression of events. Lydia was a rich woman from Asia Minor. The second convert was the poor, demonized girl from Greece. The third person to accept Christ was the Philippian jailer, a middle-class man from Rome. In one day, God touched two continents, three countries, and by doing so, He saved the rich, the poor, and the middle class.
Jesus' target group was every person who ever breathed the breath of life. As a result of Paul's obedience, God gave him a ministry that reached many different nationalities and all levels of society. The key to ministry in this millennium is the same as it was in the first century: be obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified! "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself" (John 12:32).
Paul was grateful for past memories (Phil. 1:3). He was thankful for his present ministry (v. 4). I am thankful that the One who lives within me has begun a good work in me (past tense), and will continue this work (present tense) until the day of Jesus Christ (future tense) (see v. 6). The older you get, you will be motivated less by what God does for you, and enamored by what God chooses to do through you.
God allowed me to spend some time with several friends in Tingin, China. I was going through an extended period of seeking God's face and rechecking my motives for ministry, when something unusual happened. It is not often that I have a moment like this, but I felt as if the Spirit of God was instructing me to begin a mentoring program. God laid it upon my heart to find young men who have surrendered to preach, completed their college education, and are on their way to seminary. God provided resources for this ministry. I am in the fifth year of the program. The young preachers come to First Baptist Church Woodstock and work out of my office for one year. I pour my life into these men. After investing in their lives, we send them off to seminary. I plan to mentor 25 young preachers through the present ministry that God has given me.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, a major focus of his ministry was praying for his first European church. Paul prayed for specific people within the Philippian church. He was able to pray personally for the individuals he vividly recalled, such as Lydia and the Philippian jailer. Paul felt privileged to be able to pray for his European brothers and sisters in the faith. Paul's habit of "making request with joy" seems to indicate that he did not consider it a burden to intercede on behalf of others. The word making is in a tense which emphasizes Paul's constant practice of making requests for them. The practicality of his prayers illustrates his consistency to approach the throne of grace.
Through the fruits of Paul's ministry we see the blessings of thankfulness. Through his relationship with Jesus Christ and other believers we see the basis of his thankfulness. The following chorus is often sung at the conclusion of a service to express thankfulness to God:
Blessed be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
A thankful heart is a spirit-filled heart. Paul refers to having "fellowship in the gospel." The word fellowship comes from the Greek word koinonia. It means sharing, association, and fellow-feeling. Paul is thanking God for the fellowship that he shares with the Philippian church as they strive together for the sake of the gospel.
Paul's relationship with the Philippians is manifested in three stages. First, their relationship is a partnership. Paul said that he was "praying for you with all joy." This is usually the initial stage of all relationships, and in many cases it is also the final stage. The key to a growing and healthy partnership is participation. This stage is characterized by a level of commitment that has been built upon the partnership foundation. Paul not only prayed for the church at Philippi, he was intrinsically associated with them. It's not hard to find people who are for your ministry. It is difficult to find those who will partner with your ministry. The true test of koinonia is a mutual sharing of responsibilities and blessings.
Paul's relationship with the Philippians was growing and active. In order for a relationship to last, there must be some type of progression. Paul's prayer of thanks to God included requests "from the first day until now." Relationships that last will be built on a partnership, proven by participation, and strengthened by progression.
IV. Glorious revelation (v. 6)
It is marvelous to see lives revolutionized by the power of God. Praise God, we do not have to worry about the final outcome of a believer. God promised to complete His task from repentance to regeneration. Paul said that we can be "confident of this very thing." We need to remember that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The principles of His Word are timeless, and the power of His Word is tested. I want the remainder of my ministry to be characterized by God-given relationships, strengthened by God's rewards, supported by gracious recollections, and empowered by glorious revelation. Remember, we only have one life to win our victories, but we have all eternity to enjoy them.