Philippians 1: 1 – 26.
Imprisoned in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote his Epistle to the Philippians around 61 A.D., on the theme of thanksgiving and joy, as a result of their partnership in the gospel from the church’s inception (Phil 1:4-5). The Greek word used for ‘partnership’ in the New Testament, implying a commitment for a mutual purpose or vision, is used interchangeably with ‘fellowship.’ He was at pains to emphasize that he loved them dearly and was rooting for their growing faith, and thanking them for their collective self-sacrificing fellowship in the gospel (Phil 1:6-8), he assured them that God would certainly complete the work He had begun in their lives as they persevered in their journey of grace and faith. It goes without saying that God is only able to transform us into Christlikeness when we intentionally allow Him to do so, obeying Him and willingly accepting discipline from Him (c.f., Heb 12:4-11; Matthew 13:1-23; John 2:24-25). Unquestionably, due largely to the diversity in the church presently, as in the past, the only element that would hold believers together is Christ Himself, the epitome of the gospel; hence, the centrality of the gospel in our fellowship with all believers is crucial.
Paul’s prayer for the believers is insightful: to be able to love God is to know Him within a consistent cherished relationship over time, and invariably it reflected an unconditional love for His people. This agape is exercised in the context of our mental grasp of spiritual truths in the light of our practical and experiential knowledge of God, as we follow in step with the Holy Spirit in making moral decisions in every situation (Phil 1:9). Hence, Christian love is utterly devoid of individualism as it rises above the natural human capacity towards self-indulgence. Paul also desired that the Philippian believers excel in righteousness in their commitment to their Master, simply due to their position in Him, in order to glorify and honour their Maker (Phil 1:10-11; c.f., 1 Peter 1:15-19). In perspective, the Apostle’s prayer highlighted the outworking of the gospel in the lives of believers; a model for our prayer life as we intercede for others in our community.
Despite his somewhat restricted circumstances, it did not prove to hinder his passion for the advancement of the gospel. Paul’s unquenchable positive outlook as he rested in God’s grace was his certain knowledge that his future was in His entire control, to do whatsoever He desired, and this enabled him to live life to the fullest even under the most threatening situation (Phil 1:12-18; c.f., 2Cor 11:23-31). As a result, his reputation in the cause of Christ had spread throughout the whole Praetorian Guard, and those rather timid brethren in the Roman church were emboldened by his example to preach the gospel, even though some were preaching Christ out of envy, it did not matter, as long as they were not sharing a heretical message. The Apostle’s incarcerated reputation was inconsequential to him as long as the gospel remained central in his life. Likewise, the testimony of Jesus by His Holy Spirit in us requires us to persistently fulfil His command so that all may hear the gospel (Matt 28:18-20).
Therefore, as the ultimate self-discipline for one who had made the gospel the focal point of his life, the Apostle lived and laboured for those who had been transformed by it (Phil 1:19-26). Paul was not too concerned about his imminent judgment, nor his own possible demise, given the Roman Emperor’s disdain of Christians at the time, but he was preoccupied with the spiritual growth of the Philippian believers. If death came before he was able to complete his Christ-centred task, then he would willingly submit to it, since “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Nevertheless, his hope was that he may be able to come to them again to minister to them. Since the gospel is central to our salvation and reconciliation with our eternal God (John 1:1-5; Col 1:15-20), its message ought to be internalised deep within our spirit, drawing out from us ceaseless thanksgiving and praise, with an inexpressible joy towards our God. And when His unutterable burden for fallen humanity becomes ours, His agape will inevitably have its fullest expression through us and the life of His body, the church, in this world.