Today: [Philippians 1:] Faith Under Fire: Have you ever been criticized or persecuted for the cause of Christ? Paul writes the book of Philippians from prison encouraging the believers in that city to stand fast in the face of persecution. Are you a threat to the enemies of the cross? Then you can be sure resistance will come. When those kinds of pressures touch our lives to prison epistles of Paul will hold much comfort for us as this first chapter of Philippians assures us.
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[Phl 1:1-13 KJV] 1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2 Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6 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: 7 Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. 8 For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and [in] all judgment; 10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ; 11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. 12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things [which happened] unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; 13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other [places];
The book of Philippians derives from a letter authored by Paul around 55 AD some ten years after he first visited this city located in Greece. The initial purpose of the message is to inform the Philippians of the health and well being of Epaphroditus, one of Paul’s traveling companions who had delivered a financial gift in Paul’s name to the church there and had fallen ill. Unlike Corinth and some of the churches in Galatia Paul had good relations with the congregation in Philippi and they had a reputation of being very supportive of him as their apostle.
It is believed that Paul was in Rome at the time this letter was crafted although some scholars suggest it originated in Ephesus. Timotheus is probably the secretary who writes for Paul as he is mentioned in the greeting that addresses the letter specifically to the elders and deacons of the church. It is noteworthy that there is no mention of a singular pastor as this was not the custom of the apostles in setting up church leadership. Churches were governed by groups of elders who were supported and facilitated in their work by committees of deacons to look after the logistical needs of the congregation. Neither did the churches meet in buildings constructed specially for worship but instead met in homes and public venues. This is important to point out because those who follow traditional patterns of church-going and leadership today marginalize and often sharply criticize groups today who operate in plural leadership or in house church settings as being “fringe” or “cultic” in nature. In reality, churches led by plural eldership meeting in homes have more ground to stand on biblically than those who do otherwise, church traditions notwithstanding.
Paul describes the people of God in Philippi as partakers of God’s grace because they did not shrink from supporting Paul even when they heard he had been arrested and imprisoned. This is important to point out because the Romans didn’t charge Paul with being too godly or spiritual, they brought charges against him that were designed to sully his reputation and stain his good name. What would be your response or that of your church if a traveling minister familiar with your group was brought up on charges? Would you continue to support his ministry or would you distance yourself from this person? What about your church or your pastor? Would they believe the best and stand by their leader or back away in their own self-interest? We often forget that many of the books of the New Testament were prison epistles written by men who were surrounded by scandal.
Partially the purpose of writing to the Philippians (v. 12) is to inform them of the particulars of his incarceration and the fact that though he was in prison, the gospel was being preached even there to his captors and fellow prisoners. Many other ministers of the gospel as well in Rome where Paul was held did not shrink from preaching because Paul was being held but in fact became bolder to preach the word without fear of suffering the same fate. Today there is much pressure being brought on the church from the courts in civil matters, and there are articles of faith central to our beliefs that are coming under fire in such a way that opens us as believers up to litigation and in some cases imprisonment even in the western world. If your church was taken to court what would your response be? What would you do if it became known that just for attending the church you might be charged as a co-defendant or litigant in a court proceeding? Would you stand by your pastor or would you back away?
[Phl 1:14-30 KJV]
14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16 The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: 17 But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. 19 For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 According to my earnest expectation and [my] hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but [that] with all boldness, as always, [so] now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether [it be] by life, or by death. 21 For to me to live [is] Christ, and to die [is] gain. 22 But if I live in the flesh, this [is] the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I wot not. 23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: 24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh [is] more needful for you. 25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; 26 That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. 27 Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. 29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; 30 Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear [to be] in me.
While many ministers stood by Paul in his defense of the faith, there were others who took occasion of the scandal of his imprisonment to rail against him and tear his reputation apart for their own selfish reasons. Paul acknowledges this with dismissal saying it doesn’t matter just, so Christ is preached he will leave them to the judgments of God in the matter. Even today there is very little fraternal spirit among pastors and leaders. The prophets very seldom stand together in solidarity and local pastors in a community even less so. I was in the inner councils of a large church in Springfield, Missouri listening to a pastor of that church making boast that a neighboring church had folded and they had gained almost their entire congregation. His criticisms against the pastor of that group were very sharp and uninformed. I knew that pastor and his wife to be godly people, and it grieved me that this pastor of a large congregation would be so callous and uncaring toward a fellow pastor going through the crisis of his life.
Paul goes on to speculate as to whether he would be released or whether he would be put to death because the charges against him might bring capital punishment and death. He realizes he isn’t in control of the outcome and resigns himself to the matter saying (v. 21) for him to live is Christ and to die is gain. He realizes that he might allow a wealthy patron to win his freedom by bribery (which was common in those days) but questions doing so expressing a desire to depart conflicting with a longing to be of further use to the cause of Christ by being spared. Ultimately he purposes it would be better not to die, and history tells us he does have a reprieve and will travel to Spain and preach the gospel there whereupon he does return to Rome, arrest, and execution.
Knowing that it will be some time before he visits with them again, Paul urges them to conduct themselves in such a way that the reports back to him of their testimony will be excellent and reflective of a people standing fast in the faith and in unity with one another in the cause of Christ. He encourages them not to be afraid of those who were threatening them which to their enemies was a sign of their perdition but to God an indication of abiding faith in the face of fierce persecution. There will be times in your own life that others will put pressure on you as well. If you don’t give in to them, they aren’t going to conclude that they have erred in being in conflict with you. On the contrary, they will naturally conclude that you are a reprobate because they can’t imagine anyone not submitting to their authority or doing what they think is right. There is suffering that comes to us as believers (v. 29) as Paul points out. What kind of suffering is it? Being in the same conflict that Paul is in because of his faith and his refusal to be silent in preaching the gospel. What about you? Have you ever come under fire for your beliefs? If you pursue hot after God, you can rest assured there will be criticisms and resistance even from those closest to you at times. You must have a made up mind as Paul is encouraging these people that you are going to seek first the kingdom even if there are consequences for doing so that are not of your liking.
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