JohnSWilson3 Blog

“…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.”
March 15, 2010, 4:08 pm
Filed under: M Letter to Philippians

I have been reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians now for some time, thinking about what God is trying to speak to me from this letter. I have to say there have been tons! This letter really is quite unique!

From the beginning Paul has a wonderful outlook on a life that is totally committed to the Lordship of Christ. This Lordship of Christ has brought him to prison, and even in prison Paul sees only good coming from it. Perhaps there is a sense that God is preparing Paul, here in Ephesus, for the dark days of when Paul will be in a Roman prison in Caesarea for over two years and then in the prison of Rome itself for a couple more years. God can do much spiritual good in our lives, when to the natural mind those days should be the most hopeless. But that is the thing about the spiritual life, it is contrary to this world’s thinking. Paul’s attitude was joy in the midst of suffering. I can only reflect on how my attitude can get when I am annoyed, aggravated or frustrated about something or someone. It pales in comparison to thinking of being in a dark, inhospitable prison. How would I take being in prison and suffering for Christ? I guess one’s spiritual life in Christ really doesn’t shine until we face such opposition. Will I choke in my natural self or will I let Christ live His life through me to His glory?

Thankfully Paul had Timothy whom Paul considered “as a son” who had served with Paul “in the work of the gospel.” Timothy was a unique gift of Christ to Paul, Paul had “no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest” in the welfare of others, especially of those Christians in Philippi. Much of Timothy’s initial equipping of being a church planter was with the church in Philippi. Timothy, from living the shared life with those in Asia Minor, and with Paul and his companions, helped this church to live by Christ’s life, through the Spirit. This only happens when there is a deep love for one another.

Paul at this time was possibly having Timothy write this letter for him to this church. Interestingly, Paul describes both himself and Timothy as “servants of Christ Jesus.” Timothy is an equal in the eyes of Paul. Paul is not the head of his companions or of any church, but a servant, in fact the word means ‘slave” in the “Greek Interlinear” (1). We are all “Christ’s slave” because we were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, perhaps the year or two before he wrote this letter. If we really know Christ, really know Him, truly know what He did for us by coming to this earth and dieing on that cross, maybe we might think differently about ourselves, that we are His and not our own. Lord help me to remember this!

But not only are Paul and Timothy slaves of Christ and equals towards one another they are also equals with His body. The same Holy Spirit that indwells them indwells us! We are “all saints,” we are all set apart from sin and have now a relationship “in Christ Jesus.” When God sees us He only sees the beautiful sinless wonderful life of Jesus flowing from within us! We are holy! I am reminded of Gene Edwards book titled “The Divine Romance”! But Paul also includes the statement “with the overseers and deacons” (or servants). Overseer refers to “looking after” according to Vine’s (2). I have a difficult time trying to make these words into an office of sorts in a church. There is no such word in the Bible related to the word office. Paul always described the body of Christ as having members with functions. And the Spirit can use anyone who is growing in His life to function however He desires. There are many conscientious persons in the body of Christ who look after one another, who passionately relate to one another in deep and loving ways. Perhaps a model of life God is using in His body to help the rest of the church see His life expressed, so that the body can see how His life is expressed to the benefit of the body. The same for the use of the word deacons or “servants,” we are all slaves of Christ and are called to be enslaved to one another in love, the actual rendering for “serve one another in love” that Paul told the Galatian Christians. Perhaps Paul has in mind those who serve in specific ways to the building up of the body, perhaps those with serving gifts of the Spirit. Also perhaps the overseers are those who look after and care for the church who speak in specific ways to the building up of the body, perhaps those with speaking gifts of the Spirit? But they are not the heads of the church, there is only one Head, Christ! I like Milt Rodriguez’s, in his book, The Community Life of God, his description of spiritual leadership, in that it is fluid in the body of Christ, Christ letting anyone at anytime the function to care for the body and serve the body in specific ways.

Additionally, perhaps Paul is upfront in his letter, more so than in his others (since this is the first time where he actually brings out specific functions in His letters to the body of Christ), using the functional words overseers and deacons to highlight certain individuals in this body of Christ “to remind the community of their place in Christ,”(3) e.g. he places them after “all the saints.” Maybe Paul is thinking about what happened in Corinth when divisions began to occur because certain members started taking charge, instead of letting Christ be the Head. Everyone in the body of Christ are equals, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” as Paul told the Galatians and then repeated to the Corinthians. Is it possible that as we grow in Christ that we may be tempted to act superior to our other brothers and sisters in Christ? May it never be so. Pride comes before the fall, may we remember this.

Paul opens his letter with the typical statement of “grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The community life of the body of Christ is a life of grace and peace which is not of ourselves but from God! Because we all received the Spirit upon our faith in Christ, making Him our Lord, we receive all of God in our lives, we receive the Triune God. With God, we have Father, Son, and Spirit who live in constant communion of grace and peace with one another as our model for living in constant communion of grace and peace with one another in the body of Christ! Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters is a reminder of our kind of life in Christ!

Paul is overwhelmed by his love for these followers of Jesus. He is reminded of them by God, in his own life with Christ, and thanks God for Him bringing them to his mind. “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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.” Do I always pray with joy for other believers? Wow!

This partnership in the gospel refers to their “fellowship in the gospel.” The good news of Jesus Christ is first and foremost about fellowship with God Himself! Somehow partnership doesn’t seem to convey the connectedness with Christ as fellowship does. And that fellowship with God is through His Spirit to His body who are indwelt by His Spirit. It is the constant flow of fellowship this “matter of giving and receiving” of a life shared together. Instead of trying to get people converted by a rote prayer into a nominal salvation, which is probably not a real salvation, could we show them His life of devoted fellowship that involves sharing life together so that the desire for Christ is rooted in fellowship and love not out of duty? Because Paul saw that their relationship with Christ was rooted out of a desire and love for Jesus, Paul can give this church confirmation of their relationship with the living Lord! “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 you have Christ, if you have His wonderful life in you because you desired Him, you loved Him, and you made Jesus your Lord then you can be confident that your relationship with Him will be guided by Him, and He will bring you to a closer and deeper relationship with Himself even to the end of the age! Perhaps this is the practical meaning of the great commission described by Matthew in his gospel. That going and making disciples through baptizing and teaching, is really about this fellowship of Christ growing through His body towards one another and as a result Jesus Himself is confident when He says “I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” Because Jesus, God Himself, is confident about this matter, we to can be confident! Amen!

(1) Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear KJV-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, 1975, The Zondervan Corporation, 577.
(2) W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(3) Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary of the New Testament, 1995, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 69.

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