After his greeting, Saint Paul begins his letter to the saints in Philippi by giving thanks. Now, there is a way of flattering people by telling them that you give thanks for them, which is empty words used to influence them. We do not say that Paul does this by inspiration of the Spirit. Rather, he is most sincerely thankful.
Preachers can have trouble with thankfulness. The pastoral ministry is difficult at times. People can create problems and be stubbornly sinful. The yoke of serving the saints may be heavy and burdensome. If a preacher focuses too much on such negatives, then he can become bitter towards his people.
Anyone can fall into this kind of trap. I think it is very common in America. Even in ordinary relationships, we often fail to be thankful to our fellow man. Even more so, we often fail to give thanks to God. Instead, we can be fixated upon the bad things in life instead of giving thanks for the good. This has a withering effect upon the heart and mind and soul. Bitterness takes for granted that life should be designed to please and serve you in the way you desire, or else you will be sour and grouchy. This is an idolatry of self, as we judge man and God alike by how well they serve our individual desires. God keep us from that.
Instead, we should be thankful, which brightens our spirits and helps our relationships. The proper way to do this is set as a fine example by Paul. Notice that he does not thank the people for how well they have behaved, but he thanks God. Paul sees the positive aspects of the Philippian saints as being Godís work in their lives. God created their fellowship in the Gospel, and will continue it until the day of Christ. They are fellow partakers with Paul of Godís grace. These things are from God, not men.
This is why Paul longs for them. At the time of the writing, he was stuck in a Roman prison. He could not freely travel to Philippi or anywhere. It was not that he wanted to be free, but that he wanted to be with them.
Paul also was praying on their behalf. He asked God that their love abound more and more in knowledge and discernment, approving what is excellent, so that they might be sincere and without offense, filled with the fruits of righteousness. These things also only God can give.
Insincere love is easy. Love that is a shallow feeling in the heart, no matter how deep it feels, is nothing compared to a mature love that has knowledge and discernment. But the sinful human nature would rather follow the easier path of putting in very little work, yet feeling as if my love is better than others because I can feel how greatly I love, but their love seems paltry to me. Discernment recognizes oneís own faults. Knowledge gives legs to love, allowing us to have skills and opportunity to do hard work for the brother in need, rather than sitting there full of feelings yet doing nothing useful.
God help us all to be better at such mature love.
Speaking of maturity, Paul displays an amazing way of seeing the big picture in his life. He could be moping in prison, moaning about his unjust incarceration. Instead, he is quick to explain to the saints that his captivity is useful and good. He is not talking about usefulness for himself, but for the cause of the Gospel. That is true selfless maturity.
He sees the Gospel influencing the guards who held him. They had come to understand that Paulís chains were in Christ. That seems to mean that Paul had explained to them that he was held for trial for the sake of Christ. Paul had surrendered his freedom because he had publicly proclaimed the Gospel of the death and resurrection of the Lord. What a small price to pay for the everlasting truth of God! Paul saw that clearly, and now others did as well.
In more detail, Paul talks about how various brethren had become bold to speak the Gospel because of Paulís imprisonment. Some were preaching out of envy and strife, but some also from goodwill. Therefore, whatever the motivation, Paul says, he rejoiced that Christ was being preached.
Now, we are not sure who these people were who preached out of envy and selfish ambition. We might suspect that they were a sect called the Judaizers, also known as the Circumcision Party. But that seems unlikely. In Galatians, Paul says that such people were teaching a gospel which is no gospel at all. So why would he say here in Philippians that he rejoiced that Christ was being preached? We must assume that Paul was not referring to those who had twisted the Gospel of Christ into no Gospel at all, or else he is approving of the preaching of false doctrine.
More likely, these other preachers did not like Paul for some reason, but they still preached the pure Gospel. The negative qualities did not get in the way of the message. True, a preacher should not have these qualities: strife, envy, and selfish ambition. A preacher should not exhibit sinful impulses before the congregation. Yet the Gospel was still being preached, and for that, Paul rejoices.
Paul continues to describe his hope, which is also the reason he is able to be content and thankful in the midst of prison and the activities of false preachers. He says, ďFor I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.Ē All things will turn out for his deliverance, but how does he know? Because all things work out for good for those who love God. The prayers of the saints cannot fail to entice blessings from God, although the blessings may not come in a form that we desire or expect. As Paul says, whether in life or death, Christ will be magnified. Even if things should take the worst course in this life, still the glory will go to God in Christ our Lord. Even death will not destroy the reality that has been created in us by the death and resurrection of our Lord.
Therefore we will not be ashamed, since Christ is our glory. Even if we should languish in prison, we are glorious in Christ. Even if we should suffer horribly, we are victorious with Christ. Even if people should slander us and drag our name in the mud, we have a name from God that can never be dishonored. For we are the saints of God through the holy Blood shed for us. We are full of the fruits of righteousness which our Lord finds pleasing in His sight, as the Holy Spirit gives us rich supply.
Therefore we can not only be thankful and content in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, but we can be bold in Christ. Our courage need never fail, because we hope in a Rock that can never be moved, which is Christ our dear Lord. We do not have to hide in shame, but we can hold our heads up. For our boasting is not in us, but in the Lord.
In His great Name. Amen.
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