COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Phil 1:3-5, KJV)
Spiritual life involves associations with kindred spirits. Having been brought into “one body” by the grace of God, there are interdependencies within that body that are essential and enjoyable. This is particularly true as we walk in the Spirit, and live by faith. The anticipation of brethren dwelling together in unity was expressed by the Psalmist, for the Lord commands the blessing of “life forevermore” in such sacred environs (Psa 133:1-3). A religion that promotes isolated living is a robber to the souls of men. We begin new life in association with kindred spirits, and, in the end, we will enter an eternal “city.” Blessed is the person who knows, and takes advantage of, holy associations in this world. They will be better suited for the life that now is, and that which is to come.
THANKFUL UPON EVERY REMEMBRANCE
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you . . . ” The faith-life is a selfless life. By that I mean it is not self-centered. There are, indeed, personal considerations, but they are within the context of a greater life than our own. First, our lives are “hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). Second, they are intertwined with those who are also “in Christ Jesus.” Our life is a shared life, “for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25). There are spiritual benefits that simply cannot be received in isolation from those who are holding to “the Head” (Col 2:19).
Knowing this, Paul made a practice of remembering believers with whom he came into contact. Guided by Divine providence into such holy associations, he gained much advantage from them. The Philippians are a case in point. What a marvelous circumstance is confessed in this statement! “I thank my God on EVERY remembrance of you.” This was not true of everyone Paul remembered! There were some recollections that brought a weight to his soul. He once spoke of “the care of all the churches” which came like a debilitating weight upon him every day (2 Cor 11:28). He also recalled how Demas forsook him (2 Tim 4:10), Alexander opposed him (2 Tim 4:14), and Hymenaeus and Philetus had erred (2 Tim 2:17). He did not give thanks for such associations, which brought pain to his heart. But this was not the case with the Philippians.
The “remembrance” of which he spoke implies something that stirred the memory–a mentioning of the Philippians, considerations, or sights and sounds that brought them back to his mind. Paul wrote of hearing of the faith of the Ephesians and Colossians, and giving thanks for them (Eph 1:15-16; Col 1:3-4). He recalled the labor of the Thessalonians, and mentioned them in his prayers (1 Thess 1:2-3). He told Timothy he remembered him in his prayers“night and day” (2 Tim 1:3). Hearing about Philemon’s faith and love, Paul always mentioned him in his prayers (Phile 1:4-5). The powerful effects of spiritual life upon others must not be undervalued.
Interestingly, this is the only place this precise statement is found. It reveals the spiritual stability of the Philippians. There are countless professed believers I have met whom I rarely recall. They provided no sustenance for the soul, and gave little indication of involvement with God. They do not flee from my memory because I disdain them, but because they lacked mutuality in the Son. As you walk in the light, you are drawn to kindred spirits. It is not merely a sense of comradery that produces such influences. Such associations bring strength to the soul. Faith is refurbished, hope renewed, and joy made more full when we behold the life of Christ in others.
Even the memories of holy associations have a calculated effect upon the soul. With the Philippians, “every remembrance” of them produced thankfulness in Paul’s spirit. Any mention of them, a visitor from them, or a recollection of their spiritual consistency brought profit to the Apostle. Oh, it is a noble aspiration, indeed, to seek to so live that the very remembrance of us will bring benefit to our brothers and sisters. There is no way to estimate the value of remembering godly influences God has orchestrated.
REQUESTS THAT ARE MADE WITH JOY
“ . . . always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy. . . ” Here is a most unique expression revealing the interdependence of life in Christ’s body. When Paul prayed for the Philippians, he did so “with joy.”Contrast this with the effect of hearing of divisions in Corinth (1 Cor 11:18), or of reversions to the Law in Galatia (Gal 4:11). Paul did not mention special prayers for either of those congregations. He made no allusion to joy produced by their memory, or to a strong desire to be with them. He thanked God for what was given to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:4), but not for the manner in which they were using those dispensations. Neither congregation is said to have brought joy to the Apostle–only concern.
The Philippians, however, were so absorbed with the work of the Kingdom, that every time Paul prayed for them, he did so “with joy.” When Paul prayed, the Philippians would come into his mind. The recollection of past associations with them produced “joy.” The knowledge of the inheritance reserved for them produced “prayer.” Joy spoke of the past, and prayer of the future–both gloriously entwined in the spirit of the Apostle.
Here is an aspect of prayer we do well to explore. Jude spoke of praying“in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20). James spoke of prayer “offered in faith”(James 5;15, NASB). Paul wrote of praying “with the spirit and with the understanding” (1 Cor 14:15). Here, however, we read of praying “with joy.”For some, this is doubtless a totally new thought. There are some who never pray unless there is a crisis. For them, prayer is always related to sorrow, concern, and a heavy heart. Others only pray perfunctorily–out of habit. For them, prayer brings neither exhilaration nor debilitation. But what about praying “with joy” –when your heart is lifted up, and your spirit wafted into the heavenlies on the wings of cheerful radiance?
You know the impact of receiving the Gospel “with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:6). Think of the effect of joy permeating your prayers! It will bring the joyful note of spiritual optimism to them. There will be a sound of expectation in your prayers as requests are mingled with anticipation. Oh, for more of this experience–praying “with joy.”
Here is a remarkable ministry we can have toward each other. Our lives can be so conducted that the recollection of them will produce joy in the hearts of our brethren. That joy can be experienced when they pray. Ponder, for a moment, the versatility of prayer. When your heart is in tune with heaven, and the gates of your spirit are opened to heavenly influences, your prayers can be helped by holy recollections. Do not pray with restricted vision and dull hearts – seek to have a heart large enough to remember saints when you pray. The memory will help you pray better. It will cause joy to come into your heart and make your thoughts more clear. Faith and hope will join together in making your prayers more effective.
That is a ministry we can have to one another. What a marvelous potential for the Kingdom! There is every reason to believe you can be an advantage to your brethren, even when you are not with them. The memory of your person and work can impact upon the prayers of fellow believers.
FELLOWSHIP IN THE GOSPEL
“ . . . for [because of] your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” Here is a remarkably large verse! The Apostle states the reason for his joyful recollection of the Philippians in prayer. First, they had participated in the Gospel, having received it by faith. Second, they responded immediately to the Gospel (i.e., “from the first day”). Third, they were continuing in the “fellowship [participation] in the Gospel.” An additional consideration is their continued support of, or sharing with, the Apostle in his labors (Phil 4:14), although that appears to be a secondary consideration here.
The word “fellowship” is a significant one, having to do with nearly every aspect of the Kingdom. It speaks of sharing, participation, affiliation, and joining in. Believers have been called into “the fellowship” of Jesus (1 Cor 1:9), the “fellowship” of ministering to saints (2 Cor 8:4), and “the fellowship of the Spirit” (Phil 2:1). There is even “the fellowship of the mystery” which has been hidden in God (Eph 3:9), and “the fellowship” of Christ’s sufferings (Phil 3:10). Spiritual life is not being a spectator, or identification with a mere organization. In Christ, we are participants.
To “fellowship,” or participate, in the Gospel, is to experience union with the Christ of the Gospel. We are dead with Him (2 Tim 2:11), buried with Him (Rom 6:4), and are risen with Him (Col 2:12). We are seated together with Him in heavenly places (Eph 2:6), and anticipate sitting with Him in His throne (Rev 3:21). That is “fellowship in the Gospel.”
The Philippians entered into this fellowship “from the beginning.” They were not tardy in their response to the Gospel. Their participation was not the result of a long and arduous process. Promptly, upon hearing the truth of the Gospel, these brethren embraced it through faith. That was the case with Lydia and her household (Acts 16:14-15), and the Philippian jailer and his household (Acts 16:27-34). It is rare indeed, that we hear of such souls–those who immediately respond to the Gospel. Such are sources of great joy.
This church was noted for its constancy in the faith. They not only reacted in faith “from the first day,” they maintained that posture “until now.” How many are the souls who have left their first love (Rev 2:4), departed from the faith (1 Tim 4:1), and whose love has waxed cold (Matt 24:12). Multitudes have drawn back, failing to press into the most holy place (Heb 10:22-39). They have not gone on “to perfection” (Heb 6:1), or grown up into Christ “in all things” (Eph 4:15). While there is grace for constancy to be common, it appears that few have availed themselves of it.
But this was not the case with the brethren at Philippi! They continued in this life-sustaining fellowship, causing joy to well up in the heart of the Apostle. It is a most noble ambition to aspire to spiritual growth and constancy. Our faithfulness can bring the strength of joy (Neh 8:10) to weary pilgrims along the way. It will cause renewed life to course through the souls of Kingdom warriors, enabling them to pray “with everlasting joy upon their heads” (Isa 35:10; 51:11). Kingdom laborers need the advantages brought by the recollection of our fellowship in the Gospel! Let us be sure they have it.