COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“Just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:7-8, NKJV)
There is a fellowship in Christ that is intensely personal and enjoyable. It transcends institutional affiliation and identity with cherished traditions. It is more profound than anything related to career development, social agendas, or national interests. In Jesus we come into the religion of the heart. Grace sensitizes us to the things and the people of God. In our most severe trial, the saints of God become exceeding precious to us as they fellowship in the very grace we have experienced. This is contrary to man’s natural bent, which causes him to be basically self-centered.
IT IS RIGHT FOR ME TO THINK THIS IF YOU
“Even as it is meet (right or proper) for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart . . . ” (KJV). The imprisoned Apostle has expressed confidence that God will continue performing the work He has started in the Philippians, until Christ’s appearing. He now affirms this is not the mere expression of fleshly emotion. It is not a fervent desire that God will continue working in them, but a confident persuasion that He will–and there is a vast difference between the two.
There are some people for whom strong spiritual aspirations are questionable. Their condition is uncertain, and we do not know if they will finish the race or not. Compare the assurance in Paul’s expression to the Philippians with his words to the Galatians: “I am afraid for you . . . I have doubts about you” (Gal 4:11,20, NKJV). For the Galatians, it was “right” to desire that Christ be “formed” in them (Gal 4:19). With the Philippians, it was “right” to expect it would be accomplished. This is a higher level of expectation, prompted by the recognition of a present Divine working.
A certain relief and consolation comes with confidence that God will continue working in someone until the day of Christ. This is the opposite of“the deep concern (anxiety)” for the churches which came upon Paul (2 Cor 11:28). There are spiritual weights that are decidedly reduced when those with whom we labor are growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. When doubt of them completing the race is replaced with a certainty of its victorious completion, grace is ministered to the heart.
Now Paul affirms the rightness of this confidence is owing to them being in his heart. This is an expression denoting the love of the brethren–having them in our heart. Remember, Paul’s recollection of unbelieving Israel caused him to say, “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart” (Rom 9:2). He could not forget their condition, and it weighed him down. But with the Philippians, great confidence was sanctified by having them in his heart. That is what “the love of the brethren” does for the soldier of Christ. This type of confidence was expressed by he aged John. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). That is having the people of God in your heart!
At least one other translation of this verse reads, “because you hold me in your heart” (NRSV). But the meaning is the same–he is speaking about the love of the brethren. This is a preference for them–a longing for them. Their company is enjoyed and sought. Their good is contemplated and pursued. The individual who loves the brethren abides in the light (1 John 2:10). Loving the brethren is evidence you have been born of God (1 John 4:7). If we love one another, God dwells in us, and His love is being perfected in us (1 John 4:12). What powerful evidence is delivered to us when we have the brethren in our heart–when we love them!
Consider that all of this was prompted by the faith and faithfulness of the Philippians. Their spiritual demeanor confirmed that God had begun a good work in them. That is what endeared them to the Apostle–what God had done in them. It also made it right to be confident He would complete the work.
PARTAKERS OF MY GRACE
“ . . . inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace . . . ” (KJV). The manner in which Paul speaks of grace is refreshing, and contradicting of the world’s way of reasoning. He associates grace with his bonds (chains) and defending and confirming the Gospel. In the former, men restrained him for preaching. In the latter he was granted liberty to do so. In both, grace was the consistent and present factor.
He calls it “my grace” because he had participated in it. Grace had enabled and sustained him, upheld and strengthened him. The Philippians had joined with him in this experience, identifying themselves with him. They had associated themselves with Paul by ministering to him and praying for him. Thus they were “partakers” with him in the grace he experienced.
Paul considers his life in Christ as one contiguous whole. He does not view it as differing and contradicting segments. As he says later, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” 1:21). He associated all ofhis life with Christ and experiencing His grace. He takes the extremities of his experience, and gathers them together under the canopy of grace.
Some will think it foolish to consider imprisonment an advantage from God. Yet Paul relates his “bonds,” or chains, to the grace of God. How can this be so? In Christ Jesus, suffering is the appointed prelude to reigning (2 Tim 2:12). Jesus told us we are blessed “when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matt 5:11). The reason for the blessedness is glorious: “for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt 5:12). The opposition of men thus becomes the evidence of a reward in heaven. The greater the opposition, the greater the reward. It is BECAUSE of the reward that the godly are persecuted. A place for Kingdom laborers has been prepared in God’s Kingdom “from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25:34). It is necessary, however, that we be“counted worthy” of that Kingdom–thus the suffering (2 Thess 1:5). Little wonder the Apostles, after they had been beaten severely, “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). There is not only grace, therefore, to sustain us in the bonds, but grace brings us into the afflictions themselves, giving us unspeakable benefit IN them. The Philippians had fellowshipped in this grace by sending Epaphroditus, who was with Paul in prison (2:25-27).
Paul refers to the unrestrained preaching of the Gospel as “the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” He knew grace had been given Him to minister “the Gospel of God” (Rom 15:15). To the Ephesians he confessed grace was “given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8). True preaching consists of defending and confirming the Gospel: showing its relevance, and substantiating its power. The substantiation of Gospel power is seen in its effects within those who embrace it. It is the means employed by God to accomplish salvation. The Philippians were participating in Paul’s ministry of the Gospel, hereby confirming their acceptance by God.
I LONG AFTER YOU
“For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (KJV). Paul now calls the God of heaven to witness the truth of what he says. Those who have a Sinai-view of oaths cannot receive such a word. Yet, Paul often spoke in this manner. “For God is my witness” (Rom 1:9), “before God, I lie not” (Gal 1:20), “God is witness” (1 Thess 2:5), “I call God for a record upon my soul” (2 Cor 1:23). Holy men and women speak with God in perspective, summoning heaven to confirm that what they say is the truth. This requires a strong faith, for no person unsure of their relationship to God through Christ can speak in this manner.
While false prophets resort to “flattering words” to motivate their hearers, the Apostle speaks of what is in his heart. He speaks before the heavenly gallery, calling the God of all the earth to attest to the truth of what he says. It would be most illuminating were modern preachers and teachers to follow this procedure!
The Apostle confesses to having a great longing, or yearning, for the Philippian brethren. This is a remarkable testimony to the spirituality of those saints. No man of God has aspired to be with those whose hearts are hard, vision stunted, and conscience seared. There were only a few people Paul acknowledged he longed to see. The Romans (Rom 1:11), the Thessalonians (1 Thess 3:6), and Timothy (2 Tim 1:4). That does not speak less of other saints, but it does accentuate the effect of especially vigorous saints.
Paul’s longing for the Philippians was not a mere human emotion. He longed for them “in the bowels of Jesus Christ,” or “with the affection of Jesus Christ” (NKJV, NASB, NIV). The word “bowels”refers to the seat of the affections, rather than the affections themselves, and is a more literal translation. They are to affection what the spring is to the water–the source! Of this expression, Vincent well says, “Describing his longing, not as his individual emotion, but as Christ’s longing, as if the very heart of Christ dwelt in him. ‘In Paul not Paul lives, but Jesus Christ’” (Bengel). This is precisely what Paul described in Galatians 2:20: “Christ liveth in me.”
Paul’s longing for the Philippians was a fellowship with Christ (1 Cor 1:9). It is how Jesus felt about them, and Paul shared in that affection. This is a remarkable benefit of living by faith–to possess Christ’s view of His people! It is part of having “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16), allowing that mind to be “in” us (Phil 2:5). This is another way of saying Paul did not know these saints “after the flesh” (2 Cor 5:16).
It is no wonder the Spirit says we are “taught of God to love one another” (1 Thess 4:9). It is by granting us fellowship with the very seat of Christ’s affection for His people. The apparent rarity of this experience attests to its greatness. I have met precious few souls that had a strong affectation for deeply spiritual people–those who fellowshipped in the afflictions and proclamations of the Gospel. Yet, this perspective is available to all who are in Christ Jesus. They can live with the “mind of Christ,” and obtain a view of His people that He Himself possesses. May the Lord grant us an eagerness to possess this mind, being an encouragement to His saints.