COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” (Phil 3:1, KJV)
While the word “epistle” does mean “letter,” it carries a weightier meaning than the average conception of “letter.” Apostolic writing was personal, but it was also inspired. It dealt with personal matters, but in a manner much higher than nature can reach. Such writing considers life within the context of eternity and eternal judgment. Thus, the “Epistle to the Philippians” becomes a message to the churches, and to every believer everywhere. It is a message driven by the need to edify the body of Christ. The people of God must never allow this knowledge to leave them.
The impact of faith upon an individual can be seen in the Epistle to the Philippians. For those in Christ, people are no longer considered from a human point of view. In the words of Scripture, “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” (2 Cor 5:16, NKJV). Whether it is the Philippians, preachers, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Paul himself, or the Lord Jesus Christ, everyone is seen in view of God’s great salvation. Nothing and no one is viewed in disassociation from that.
Your experience will confirm the rarity of such an approach to life in the average congregation. An invaluable ministry you personally can offer is to restore this indispensable view in your speech and in your manners.
REJOICING IN THE LORD
“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” The word “finally” relates what is now said with all of the previous words. It carries the idea of “in this connection”–a continuation of thought. While it may appear a small matter, the interrelationships of Kingdom thought are refreshing to contemplate. Faith has a way of grouping our reflections under a common focus, and pointing our words in a single direction. The word “finally” also means “from now on.”
REJOICING, as I have pointed out, is a common theme in this book (1:4,25,18,26; 2:2,16,17,18,28; 3:1,2; 4:1,4,10). This is not a shallow word, like laughter or happy, as used in common speech. It is not in the flesh, having its roots in the soul. Rather, it speaks of a joy that springs from understanding, not feeling. Rejoicing, as used in this text, rises above circumstances, and exults in the very midst of restriction and difficulty.
Fleshly happiness debilitates the soul, causing it to ignore the harsh realities of life. But this is not the case with “rejoicing,” or the “joy of the Lord.” Nehemiah once told his fellow laborers, “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh 8:10). Rather than disarming the soul, it causes the person to correctly see the task before him, and aggressively do the work of the Lord. In addressing the matter of enduring persecution, Jesus accentuated this truth. He told the persecuted and abused, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt 5:12).
The exhortation is not “be happy,” or “smile,” but “Rejoice IN THE LORD.” That presupposes there is an acute awareness of the Lord, and that it is delightful. The delighting is not in outward circumstance, but in the Lord Himself. A similar exhortation is found in Romans that sheds more light on the subject. “And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Rom 5:11). Such joy, or rejoicing, is not generated by nature, but is “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The closer we are to Him, the more apt we are to rejoice. The less conscious we are of Him, the less will be our joy. This joy also centers in reconciliation, not the adjustment of our environment.
This Philippians had heard about Paul’s imprisonment and Epaphroditus’ sickness. The Tempter had doubtless used these reports to try and cause distress and undue care among the brethren. God had also given them “to suffer for His sake” (Phil 1:29). But God was greater than their suffering, and they could rejoice in Him–i.e., in His Person and blessing.
Faith focuses upon the Lord, persuaded that “He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6). It does not dwell upon circumstances, whether adverse or blessed. That is why, under all circumstances, we can “Rejoice in the Lord.” He is unchanging, and His salvation “shall be forever” (Isa 51:6). He is good, and His mercy “endureth forever” (Psa 118:1-4). The mind and heart that dwells upon Him will confess, “For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work” (Psa 92:4). The exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord” is nothing less than a summons to consider the Lord, and what he has done in Christ Jesus. As this is done, we will be able to say, “My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD” (Psa 104:34). Rejoice in the Lord!
WHEN WRITING IS NOT GRIEVOUS
“To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous . . . ”Other versions read, “To write the same things again is no trouble to me”(NASB), “irksome” (RSV), “tedious” (NKJV). The words “same things”mean repeating what I have said before. The “things” he is going to mention are twofold. They relate specifically to rejoicing, and generally to false teachers–i.e., spiritual imposters that trouble the church (v 2). Both of these were frequent subjects of Apostolic exhortation. In some of his Epistles, Paul addressed specific heresies and false doctrines (1 Cor 15:12; Gal 1:6-8; Col 2:8,18-201 Tim 4:1-3). This is not the case with the Philippians. They were more spiritually minded, and thus did not require a lot of details.
The frequency of Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice” is evident in this Epistle.“I joy, and rejoice with you all . . . Rejoice with me . . . ye may rejoice . . . Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! . . . That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ . . . for your furtherance and joy of faith . . . ” (2:17,18,28; 4:4; 1:25,26). It was not grievous, or difficult, for Paul to keep mentioning this matter. He knew the nature of the Kingdom, as well as the frailty of our memories. There are things worth repeating. These are foundational matters which, when thought upon, sustain the soul. In this regard, effective preaching or writing consists more of affirmation than explanation. There are certain matters which always surface when men speak or write with “the same spirit of faith” (2 Cor 13).
There is another matter to be seen here. The real Kingdom worker finds joy in his labors–he is not grieved or chagrined by them. I have often seen people working for the Lord who were repulsed by the work itself. They found no delight in laboring for Christ, always cast down by the circumstances under which they labored. This is not an appropriate response, even though it is common. Speaking of laboring together with Himself, Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:39). To His disciples he said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This presumes a great delight in the work of the Lord itself.
The experience of Elihu has been exalted and sanctified in Christ Jesus:“I will speak, that I may be refreshed” (Job 32:20). Those who have a word burning in their heart cannot bear to keep it in. They long to speak what God has given them. As Jeremiah once said, “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.’ But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not” (Jer 20:9). In the Prophet’s case, grief was related to keeping it in, not speaking it out! Weariness came when the Word of God failed to erupt from his mouth, and relief came when it did.
This is the experience to which Paul refers. It is common in all who are called of God. Satisfaction cannot be found doing something other than what we have been called and gifted to do. This is why it was not “irksome” to Paul to keep admonishing the saints to rejoice, warning them of false prophets. He knew he was called to such a work, and the saints required it.
WHEN IT IS “SAFE” FOR US
“ . . . but for you it is safe.” Other versions read, “it is a safeguard for you” (NASB, NIV). The idea is, What I am writing is certain and reliable, and will help to free you from danger. The tenuous nature of living by faith is accentuated in this phrase. A paradox may be seen in spiritual life. We are secure and in jeopardy at the same time. This is a circumstance designed by the Lord. Stated in terms of Scripture, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor 4:7). Not only do we have the Spirit of God within us, we also can find“another law in [our] members, warring against the law of [our] mind, and bringing [us] into captivity to the law of sin which is in [our] members”(Rom 7:23). Although ignored by multitudes of church folk, that circumstance can prove to be our undoing if not duly heeded.
Paul thought of the spiritual safety of people, and he did so because he had the Spirit of Christ. This reveals the utter absurdity of a doctrine that affirms there are no dangers or jeopardies for the believer. Various terms have been applied to such doctrines: i.e., “Eternal security,” “Once saved always saved,” “Security of the believer,” etc. To be sure, faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4-5). But that faith must be kept, and fought for (2 Tim 4:7; Rev 14:12; Phil 4:12). The consideration of this constrained Paul to write things that contributed to the safety of believers.
And what things are “safe” for such as have “from the first day until now” fellowshipped in the Gospel (Phil 1:5). First, there is safety in the “joy of the Lord.” Rejoicing in the Lord is an aspect of faith itself. Such is called“the joy of faith,” or “joy in faith” (Phil 1:25). This is not a joy that is pumped up through emotional stimuli. It is a joy that erupts when the extent of the Savior and His salvation burst upon the soul. When the soul finds its delight in the Lord, it ceases to walk in forbidden places. The desires of the heart are so sanctified by spiritual joy, that what is craved can be given by God. Thus it is written, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psa 37:4).
When the heart is weighed down with care, our reasoning becomes distorted. Thus the mighty prophet Elijah reasoned it was better to die than live, and that only he remained faithful (1 Kgs 19:10,14). Martha lost her bearings about Jesus when swept up in the care of servile work (Lk 10:41). When the eyes of the heart are diverted to the troubling affairs of this world, joy is crippled, and all of our spiritual faculties function slowly. How we need exhortations that are “safe” for us.
The “joy” that protects the soul requires frequent affirmations of the Lord in Whom it rejoices, and the Divine benefits that cause it to grow. Preachers who feed the people on Law, mere human responsibilities, and philosophical jargon, do nothing for the people. They only move them closer to danger, and crack the door for the devil to enter. Being an aspect of faith, joy must be fed. It must be robust and strong, able to soar above the agitated waters of this world. Only then will the saints be alert enough to detect false teachers and avoid them. A lamenting church will soon be spotted by the devil. Let us contribute to making our brethren more God-conscious!