Humility and greatness. 1:27-2:4
After Paul details his personal circumstances as a prisoner, 1:12-26, he moves on in his letter to encourage his readers. In the passage before us Paul exhorts the Philippians to steadfastness, unity and humility. First, he calls on his readers to "stand fast" together for the gospel, striving against all opponents, v28, through suffering v29, and conflict, v30. He then goes on to encourage his readers to engage in a determined oneness of intent, 2:1-2. Finally, he encourages his readers to take on humility, 2:3-4.
v27. "Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel", NRSV. For Paul, this involves standing firm "in one spirit" and "as one man", ie. standing together with one common purpose. Standing firm involves "contending for gospel truth." Paul hopes that his converts will stand up for Jesus, stand up for who he is, what he has done and what he has said. This entails standing up for Christian belief, for gospel truth, for "the faith."
v28. "Without being frightened." Against those hostile to the gospel, we must stand without fear. Such a stand evidences two things to those who resist the gospel: it is a sign of their inevitable destruction and a sign of the salvation of those who believe.
v29-30. "It has been granted to you..... to suffer." Paul indicates that two things have been graciously given to us by God - "to believe" and "to suffer". When it comes to believing, some argue that it is a special gift of God bestowed on the potential believer to enable them to exercise saving faith. Yet, it is more likely that the gift is salvation (the grace of God found in Christ) which may be accessed through faith. The other gift is suffering: a believer's Christ-like struggle, self-denial, hardship and persecution. This suffering comes through our conflict with the "spiritual powers in heavenly places." It is sometimes an actual conflict with those opposed to the gospel, but more often it is an internal spiritual struggle with the temptations of the flesh. Such suffering is "because of Christ", ie. because of our association with Christ. Such suffering is common to the Christian way.
2:1. Paul alludes to four experiences in the Christian life which serve to strengthen fellowship amongst the believers:
i] Encouragement or comfort, possibly exhortation, which we experience in our Christian walk through union with Christ;
ii] The impelling love of the Holy Spirit, ie. the inward motivation of the Spirit enabling us to love one another;
iii] A bonding with the indwelling Spirit of Christ;
iv] A natural affection, mercy and tenderness toward others.
v2. "Make me completely happy ..." Paul now encourages the Philippians toward a mutual love that will fill him with joy. If the Philippians can be of the same mind together, that is, be concerned about the same things, if they can strive at mutual love and common purpose, then Paul will be filled with joy. We exhibit a common purpose when our thoughts and endeavors are directed toward one thing - the cause of Christ.
v3. Paul will also be filled with joy if the Philippians can avoid acting "out of party spirit, or a cheap desire to boast." Churches are not immune from self-seeking egotism. Such must not exist in the Christian fellowship, rather we need to develop a modest opinion of our own worth. Better to see others as the excellent ones.
v4. He will also be filled with joy if they look to each other's interests and not merely their own. Unselfish consideration toward others is the best formula.
I don't know whether you have noticed or not, but these days there are many church buildings coming up for sale as private dwellings. Congregations are constantly dying and their once loved church buildings end up on the real estate market. This is particularly so of churches that are village-based rather than regional. With the reduction in attenders, the little local parish church struggles to survive. The only positive side to all this is that little old churches make unique homes.
In response to the fear of congregational death we amalgamate rather than happily sit with Jesus and his two or three disciples. We forget that over the last two thousand years, church buildings have regularly been full, then empty and then full again.
From his prison in Rome, Paul addresses three gospel issues that are totally unrelated to congregational size:
1. Steadfastness in the gospel. The Lord Jesus desires that the fellowship of believers will stand firm for gospel ministry and not end up debilitated by fear. The communication of the gospel to our local community must take pride of place in the life of a Christian congregation, whether that congregation be 2, 20, or 200.
2. A common purpose of intent. Second, the Lord Jesus desires that the fellowship of believers has together determined a direction which is honoring to him. The aims and objectives of the church must come from a common mind which reflects the mind of Christ.
3. An unselfish consideration of others. The Lord Jesus desires that each church member willingly seek the welfare of others rather than promote their own self-centred egotism. We should love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is qualities such as these which concern our Lord, and not the number of occupied seats when we gather for worship.
Discuss the three elements that Paul wants to know of the Philippian church and apply them to your own church.
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