“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6).
Some theologians and commentators present the apostle Paul as a rather strict and harsh character, but certainly his letter to the Philippian church does not testify to such an assessment of him. Instead he comes across to us as a loving and concerned man of God who has the best interests of his flock at heart. Whatever scholars might say, from what we shall see in this and future studies, Paul’s Christlike nature shines through.
Paul praised God for the church at Philippi whenever he remembered them in prayer. How often, when we pray, do we call to mind all the nasty and unkind things others have done for us? Maybe we call down God’s wrath upon them rather than ask for them to be blessed. Whenever Paul thought of the believers in Philippi he could not help but rejoice in the Lord and request that they be abundantly blessed just as he did for other congregations also. “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (Romans 1:9) … “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3) … “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Colossians 1:3).
The word “remembrance” does not describe a passing thought as Paul moves on to pray about his own conditions, rather it means ‘to make mention’, and thus suggests that he made mention of each person by name. This, with the word “joy”, reveals that such prayers were a daily delight rather than a bothersome burden. We note that the word “joy” is the characteristic feature of this letter, just as ‘love’ is in the Epistle to the Ephesians. Nothing about the church in Philippi caused Paul any great pain, but instead he felt immense joy knowing that they loved the Lord. The Greek word used here for “joy” is ‘chara’ means ‘inner gladness, deep-seated pleasure’. The apostle had a personal and intimate interest in them ever since he brought the message of salvation to Philippi. He prayed that they would have the love that leads to spiritual maturity and moral purity. The salvation of others ought always be a source of joy for us too, for it is certainly for the present inhabitants of Heaven. “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10).
If the apostle Paul needed the support of likeminded believers, how much more do we? Do we take the time to thank God for each other? We do not exist in a vacuum, therefore we need the rest of the body of Christ if we are to grow and prosper in the Lord. “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light … And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 1:12, 3:15). All this is lost on those who forsake the “assembling” of themselves “together” with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25).
He was overjoyed and thrilled knowing that these Christians had faith. Whenever he received news of their work in spreading the gospel, it must have made the chains a little lighter. “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (Proverbs 25:25). Though he was awaiting trial and an uncertain future, amazingly Paul writes an uplifting letter, and in doing so shares his joy with the church. Are we a source of joy to those around us?
“Fellowship” expresses the fact that the Christian community is meant to be more than a title we hang over a doorway or a meeting we might attend during the week. Paul was in fellowship with the Philippian believers even though he had not seen then for several years and despite the fact that great distances separated him from them. It was the gospel of Christ that united their spirits together. Christians have the fellowship of the Father (1 John 1:3), of the Son (1 Corinthians 1:9), and of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14). The word has the meaning of ‘having things in common’ or ‘common ground’. What other common ground can believers have than Christ Himself! Where He is not the centre of our focus there is no grounds for true Christian fellowship. In other words, our lives are bound together in the Spirit of Christ. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:7). We will see in a later study that the church supported Paul financially too and so this fact must be seen in the light of their “fellowship” with him. “Distributing to the necessity of saints” (Romans 12:13) … “And all that believed were together, and had all things common” (Acts 2:44) … “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” (Acts 4:32).
It had been ten years since the gospel had been preached in Philippi, but the believers there were still actively serving the Lord and His church. The church had remained true to Christ and was willing to support the ministry of Paul. He was convinced that their zeal for the Lord would continue to increase and that God would continue pour out His power upon them. There is nothing lacking in God’s power, for He is more than able to bring all who submit to Him to perfection and completeness in Christ. The modern church might not like to hear about sanctification, but without it there can be no victory or blessing. “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy” (Jude :24) … “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Verse 6 of this study offers us a very important truth, one that some seem eager to ignore or explain away. The final part of God’s work is the redemption of the body in the day of Christ; therefore it cannot be accomplished until He returns. “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57). This of course does not mean that He is not working in us right now. He is working in us to perform His will and to conform us to the image of His Son. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). The words “perform it until” have the meaning of ‘perfect it up to’, therefore God’s work continues until “that which is perfect is come” (1 Corinthians 13:10). The Psalmist writes, “The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me” (Psalm 138:8) and we can rest assured that God always finishes what He sets out to do, for is not “Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2)? When we get discouraged let us remind ourselves that God picked us for His team and that He had not given up on us. “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8) … “That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10).
Paul’s confidence in the believers in Philippi was not based solely upon God’s work in them, but includes the zeal and sacrifice of faith that they possessed (1:7, 4:15-18). In this we see that our faithfulness towards God is a vital part of what proceeds from salvation, for He will not work in those who resist His work of grace. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Those who labour for the Lord in faith and obedience will see their work come to completion. We will not see the ultimate result of our work until Christ comes to set up His Millennial Kingdom, but evidence of the work must be in existence before He does. Salvation is not a static or stagnant work of God, therefore we must continue to rely upon Him while He completes what He started in us. Our faithful God will not forget us, grow weary with or give up on us. “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). Whatever we do, let us do it as a service of love and joy for the Lord. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17). Let us also uphold our fellow-labourers in prayer and support them as the Lord leads.