Five Joys, Philippians 1:3-8

Paul begins his letter to his friends in the Philippian church by thanking God for them.  He did this often, as a matter of fact.  In all but one of his letters, Paul the Apostle was ever genuinely thankful for those to whom he was writing, even if he was writing to discipline or correct them.

Paul had a very special relationship with the Philippians, though.  He doesn’t just thank God for them, he thanks “his” God for them—

I thank my God every time I remember you.  (verse 3)

He says this only of the Philippians, indicating his personal devotion to them.  This departure in style and form shows the depth of the relationship the great Apostle had with the folks in Philippi.

His thankfulness for them was not based on any single memory, just his remembrance of them.

1.  The Joy of Remembrance, 1:3

The literal meaning of verse 3 is:  “on account of the whole remembrance of you.”  Paul is not thankful for a bunch of unconnected memories of their good deeds, but for his total experience with the church in Philippi.

There is an old saying that, hopefully, doesn’t apply to either me or you:

Some people cause happiness when they arrive; others when they leave.

Have you ever stopped to do a “self-inventory” lately?  How we treat people and our general attitude toward life can cause people to think favorably about us when we are gone or have the opposite effect; some people are glad when you leave!  If we live as Christ lived, then people will thank God for us, just as Paul thanked God for his Philippian friends.

2.   The Joy of Prayer, 1:4

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…

One way Paul expressed his love for the Philippians was in intercession for them:  he prayed for all of them.  The word often associated with verse 4 is “supplication.”  This is a word full of meaning that, sadly, means very little to the modern reader, hence the TNIV’s use of milder “pray with joy.”  A “supplication” is a prayer request for a definite need that is keenly felt.  We know that the Philippians had dire financial circumstances sometimes, so perhaps this is what Paul is referring to here.  Perhaps there were other problems in the church—persecution, for example.  Whatever the circumstance, it was keenly and painfully felt by the church and this caused Paul to intercede for them.

Furthermore, a “supplication” is never prayed out of duty or form.  Paul, moved with thanksgiving for the Philippians could easily pray for their greatest needs from the heart.

Notice, also, that Paul says he prayed “for all of” them.  This should not be overlooked, for the welfare of each member affects all members.

3.  The Joy of Participation, 1:5

because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now

Here is the immediate, obvious reason for Paul’s thanksgiving, though the ultimate reason is found in verse 6.

The word “partnership” is a modern way to translate the well-known Greek word koinonia, often seen as “fellowship” throughout the New Testament.  Koinonia carries three distinct meanings, and likely Paul had all of these in mind:

  • The good fellowship all Christians have with each other within the Church;
  • The good fellowship all Christians have with Christ and the Holy Spirit;
  • The sharing of possessions between Christians in the Church.

Koinonia speaks of a living and vital relationship, and here it refers to the quality of the relationship Paul had with the Philippians and the quality of the relationship they all had with God.

It isn’t a stretch to say that the koinonia Christians have with each other should easily transcend the koinonia they have with anybody in the world.   Jesus Christ is like a Magnet that calls people to Himself for koinonia, and as we respond in faith to Him, we meet others who have been called and we are fortunate enough to have koinonia with them as we all approach Him together.  And why shouldn’t Christians have great fellowship with each other?  Have we not all been saved from our sins?  Is not the same Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us?  Are our lives not hid with Christ in God?  We have more in common with members of the Church of Jesus Christ than with sinners in the world, no matter who they may be.

But specifically, Paul writes about the Philippian’s participation in the Gospel.  What does Paul mean?  The word “in” comes from the Greek eis, which is used technically in such contexts to indicate the destination of financial payments.   Paul is likely referring to financial help he had received from them in the past, and such help made them his partners.   The Philippians didn’t just pay lip service to Paul’s work; they didn’t just tell him they loved him; they demonstrated their loyalty to him in giving to his support, often when they could least afford to.  The Philippians understood the Church to be a “workshop, not a dormitory.”

It didn’t take long for Paul to see their loyalty to his work; writing that they were partners from the very first day.  Who can he be referring to except Lydia, the first convert and member of the Philippian church?  How was she his “partner?”  The first thing she did was to open her home up, making it the meeting place for the new church!  She did what she could for the furtherance of the Gospel.

4.  The Joy of Assurance, 1:6

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

If the immediate reason for Paul’s thanksgiving was expressed in verse 5, (fellowship/partnership), then this verse gives the ultimate reason.  It had been God’s presence in their lives that led the Philippians to do the “good works” of verse 5.    What God was doing in their lives was also a “good work,” and Paul knew that God would continue to work in and through his friends.

When we look at verses 5 and 6 together, something strikes us:

–> Because of your partnership…

–> He who began a good work in you…

Any teaching of salvation must contain both these elements or it becomes an unbalanced doctrine.  While it is undeniably true that God begins the work of salvation and that God brings it to completion, it is also undeniably true man is not merely a passive bystander in between! He has work to do for the Kingdom of God.

The fact that God brings His work to completion in believers also tells us that nothing can stop God’s will from being accomplished in the lives of His people or for the world.   It is people who carry out experiments; God has the plan.

This must have been a welcomed bit of encouragement for his friends, who routinely faced hardships and sometimes lived in difficult circumstances.

Theologically, this verse forms the essence of the doctrine of perseverance.  Paul’s confidence is not based on anything other than his personal relationship with God.  God’s character guarantees the success of his life and that of his friends.   God’s nature guarantees that the faithful, regardless of their circumstances, will never be lost as long as their faith is in Him.  Paul is certainly not teaching the idea of “eternal security” here; he later on gently admonishes the Philippians to live right so that his work may not have been a waste of time (2:14—16).

5.  The Joy of Christ-like Love, 1:7, 8

These are some of the most personal verses Paul ever wrote; he held the Philippians close to his heart and he knew, deep down inside, that no matter where he was—even if he was in prison—his Philippian friends would never desert him.

all of you share in God’s grace with me.  (verse 7b)

They were co-workers with him; solidly behind Paul every step of his way.  The koinonia they shared as members of Christ’s Body guaranteed this.  This is why Paul had such deep love and affection for them.

Is this how you feel about members of your church?  It should; it’s how Jesus feels about you!   The people to whom Paul was writing were not sinless and perfect; they had faults and foibles as we all do.  But Paul could feel the way he did about them and he could love them “from his heart” because he was filled with the Holy Spirit and one of the gifts of the Spirit of LOVE.  It was the Holy Spirit loving the Philippians through Paul that led him to write—

I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.  (verse 8)

May the Lord help each of us to have the same attitude toward our brothers and sisters at church as Paul did for his good friends in Philippi.

(c)  2010, WitzEnd

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