Philippians in 1,000 Words
A letter from a man named Paul to a church in a town called Philippi. It’s a letter to everyone in the church, a church that Paul started, with his friend Timothy – they’re all included. This is because of the grace and peace they have received from God: their relationship with Jesus is what shapes all other friendships.
The Philippians are often in Paul’s thoughts and prayers, and thinking about them makes him happy. They are partners together in God’s mission: Paul has helped them and they have helped him. Paul longs to see them again, and he wants more for them – he wants them to abound in all the good things of God. He wants them to be happy!
Paul’s goal in life is clear: to tell people about Jesus, and the Philippians are caught up in this goal too. Paul is in prison as he writes this letter, but he knows his boldness has given courage to other believers. God has Paul right where he wants him, and we are right where God wants us so we can make Christ known. The gospel of Jesus Christ is really good; we’ll get happy when we talk about it.
Paul lives life enthusiastically! Whatever circumstances he finds himself in he wants to be fully focussed on preaching Christ and experiencing joy. Supported by the prayers of other believers, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, Paul is full of hope about what Jesus can do through him.
Christ is the centre of everything for Paul. Whether he lives or dies, it’s all about Jesus. This means that both life and death have their advantages – whatever happens to us Christians, it’s win-win in Christ!
This isn’t to say that life is always easy – Paul, the prisoner, certainly knows that it isn’t. In fact, we need to be very honest about the reality of conflict. Conflict is an inevitable part of our lives, as we live in a world disordered by sin. Like athletes in the arena we will suffer opposition! Jesus suffered, and so will we: this reminds us that we still live in an evil age. But our suffering can be a means by which we experience more of the love of God, and it can be part of the process of us becoming more like Christ. Conflict and suffering can create divisions in the church, so we need to stand our ground, and stand together, and be brave!
And the way we’re going to get properly happy is by drinking in all the benefits of the gospel. We’re meant to experience the encouragement of Christ, and his comforting love. We’re to know what it is to partner with the Holy Spirit, and the affection and sympathy he pours into our lives. We’ll experience these things as we stand united, with the important issues about life and faith settled in our minds. Choosing to serve one another over and above our own selfish desires we’ll find our joy being made complete.
This is the way that Jesus lived: the one who was God himself really did become a man, and he really did become a servant. Jesus was truly God and truly man – and we need to see that both are true! This is extraordinary, but it is even more extraordinary that this Jesus should be prepared to die for us, even dying on a cross. One day every knee will bow before Jesus, and every tongue confess that he is Lord. As those who already bow and confess we are to follow his example of humility. We’re to work at our obedience to Jesus, because there is no lasting happiness for us outside of him. Rather than being grumblers and moaners, let’s give ourselves to Jesus, and to one another, and rejoice as we do so.
If we’re going to live this way, in happy obedience to God, and in imitation of Jesus, we’re going to need to work at our friendships. We have some great models for this: Other Christians who have shown us what true friendship is – putting others first, cheering others on, working hard together. Real friends fight for one another, and do all they can to help meet one another’s needs. We’re not going to be best friends with everyone, but the church only works as it should when we’re together as friends.
We need to watch out, though, for people who pretend they’re our friends, but are really intent on robbing us of our joy. Don’t tolerate people in the church who try and point you anywhere other than Jesus. Their way can’t make you happy! Remember, the way that we get right with God doesn’t have anything to do with who our parents were or the kind of morals we’ve adopted – it’s only because of Jesus that we are welcomed by God. In fact, knowing Jesus, and anticipating resurrection life in him puts everything else in the shade. Compared with what we get in him, everything else is a pile of old junk!
Paul is so convinced of all this that for however long he lives he’s determined to keep going, like a runner in a race, in order to lay his hands on all that Jesus has for him. Paul sets us an example worth following – and we should not be too proud to imitate anyone we see running this race well. We must never forget that we are already citizens of heaven: one day we’re going to look just like Jesus – powerful and glorious! – so let’s live in anticipation of that right now.
Remembering who we are, and how we’ve worked together, and seeing things with an eternal perspective, let’s not allow disagreements to undermine us. But let’s keep making the choice to be happy in God – and keep on making it! We need to stay focussed on the Lord, and pray about everything (big and small) and turn our minds towards good things – those things that will help us be like Christ and live like Christ.
We Christians are called to partner together. Often this will mean no-strings-attached financial giving to support others in ministry. We need to learn the secret of contentment – that we are equally unfazed if we’re struggling to make ends meet or living on the fat of the land. We’re not ashamed to to be shamed for Christ; nor are we embarrassed about enjoying the good stuff of life. What really counts for us is that we are sustained by Christ!
Our heavenly Father loves us, in that we are secure. All of us are in this together: Yes! And it all begins and ends with grace. Yes!
(Of all the commentaries available, I found the one by Matthew Harmon, in the Mentor series, most consistently helpful.)