Paul's Thanksgiving, Assurance, & Prayer
"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Phil. 1:3-11, NASV)
This is a tender scene. It tells a special story, the Spirit-inspired account of the intimate and affectionate relationship that flourished between a gospel preacher and a congregation who supported him in his evangelistic work (cf. 4:1,15).
Before we consider an exegesis of this New Testament text, a brief history of the city of Philippi is in order. It was named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Philippi was a prominent city and a colony of Rome (Acts 16:12). It was situated on a fertile plain, approximately ten miles inland from the Aegean Sea. Philippi was a city of commerce and trade with nearby silver and gold mines. The Egnatian Way, a major artery connecting Europe and Asia, passed through it. Philippi was truly "at the crossroads."
A brief history of the Philippian church would likewise be beneficial. In the midst of his second missionary journey, Paul received a night vision, a "Macedonian call" (Acts 16:9-10). In Philippi, Paul and his companions met Lydia, a Thyatiran business woman (Acts 16:14-15), and through the providence of God, a jailer (Acts 16:16-34). From these humble beginnings in this thriving, southeastern European metropolis, the church grew. 1
That the book of Philippians is one of Paul's prison epistles is obvious (cf. "imprisonment," literally, "bonds" in 1:7,13,14,17). Yet the theme of this book is jarring: JOY IN CHRIST! (cf. 2:17-18; 4:4) The words JOY and REJOICING nearly leap off its pages.
After a brief salutation recognizing the make-up of the Philippian church (saints, bishops, and deacons - v. 1) as well as God's twin blessings of grace and peace (v. 2), Paul expresses gratitude unto God for "every remembrance" of them (v. 3).
Let the reader take note: Paul is thankful for THREE PRECIOUS THINGS in vv. 3-7:
PRECIOUS MEMORIES (vv. 3-5);
PRECIOUS FELLOWSHIP (vv. 5,7); and
PRECIOUS HOPE (v. 6).
In vv. 3-5, the first major section of our text, Paul LOOKS BACKWARD TO THE PAST in the best possible way. He reflects on sweet memories of the Philippians' "participation in the gospel from the first day..." (cf. 4:15-16) "Participation" is from the Greek koinonia meaning "fellowship; joint participation; partnership; communion." "In the gospel" denotes their financial support of Paul's preaching (cf. 2 Cor. 8:1ff; 1 Cor. 9:6-14). Those who supply wages to gospel preachers -- whether at home or abroad -- are co-workers and partners with these men (cf. 2 Cor. 11:7-9).
Paul turns from these precious memories of the past to revel in his PRECIOUS FELLOWSHIP with these beloved brethren, even "...until now." Here he is "circumspect" as he LOOKS AROUND IN THE PRESENT. (cf. 4:18) Is it possible that we take too little time to thank God for the precious fellowship that we enjoy with faithful disciples today? (cf. 1 Jn. 1:3; Psa. 133:1)
Next, in the second major section of our text 2, Paul expresses fervent confidence (vv. 6-8) in a PRECIOUS HOPE to come. Here he LOOKS FORWARD TO THE FUTURE. The same God who had begun "a good work" in the Philippians would perfect (i.e., finish, complete) that work in them. Is it not the same with all Christians anytime anywhere? Those who are in Christ are "partakers of grace" and sharers in this same hope.
What had God begun in the brethren there? Paul says it was "a good work." What was this good work? Verses 9-11 give the answer. (cf. Eph. 2:10; Col.1:28) What would be completed in them? Obviously, it would be that same good work.
How long would this good work continue to be perfected? "...Until the day of Jesus Christ." What specifically is this "day?" It cannot be the day of Christ's coming as the world's Redeemer; that day has already come (Matt.1:21). It must refer to a future day, the day of His coming as the world's Judge (2 Pet. 3:8-12; Rom. 2:5-10), a day of review and reward for the saved, a day of review and "reward" for the lost. (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-12; Prov. 11:18; 26:10, KJV)
Would you look to the future? Learn from the present. Would you learn from the present? Look to the past.
Paul could look to the future in confidence by learning the lessons of both his past and present fellowship with the Philippian church. Even in his chains, Paul RECEIVED assurance of their future assistance by remembering their past and present support of his labors for the truth's sake. The Philippians were in a team effort with him and held up his hands in his "defense and confirmation of the gospel." (cf. Exod. 17:8-12). With a prophetic eye, Paul could peer into the Philippians' bright future, joyful in the knowledge that they were "saints in Christ Jesus" (1:1) blessed by God's grace and peace (1:2; 4:7). When Christ returned, He would finish the work that He had started in them, work which was even then "under construction." (2:13; cf. Eph. 3:20; Col. 1:29) Until that day arrived, the Philippians would also do their part (cf. 2:12); what they had woven in time, they would wear in eternity. Ultimately, though, Paul's assurance was based, not on their feeble efforts, but on God's ability to "finish the job" that he had begun in them.
Needless to say, Paul also EXTENDED assurance to his Philippian comrades regarding his on-going gratitude. (vv. 7-8) He refuses to be matter-of-fact about his relationship with them. With an oath, he boldly exclaims, "God is my witness that I tell the truth when I say that my deep feeling for you all comes from the heart of Christ Jesus Himself." (v. 8; translation by F. F. Bruce) "Heart" ("affection," NASV) is the Greek word splanchnois (literally, "intestines" or "entrails"; cf. "bowels," KJV) and refers to the seat of emotions in the human spirit, an attitude of profound compassion (cf. 1 Jn. 3:17). 3 Therefore, in the most profound way possible, Paul reassured his Philippian partners that he WAS thankful, continued to BE thankful, and always WOULD be thankful for their fellowship with him in the gospel.
Finally, in the third major section of our text, Paul shares the details of his prayer on their behalf (vv. 9-11). He had been praying that that they would abound in four areas (vv. 9,11). First, he prays that they would abound in LOVE (cf. 1 Thess. 4:9-10). "Love" as saccharine emotion is nowhere taught in the Bible; love must be channeled by truth. Second, he prays that they would abound in REAL KNOWLEDGE (cf. Col. 1:10). False knowledge (1 Tim. 6:20-21) or knowledge as the mere accumulation of Bible trivia (without love and without an application to life) are equally futile. Knowledge--even a knowledge of the truth--must be motivated by love (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1b; 13:2; Eph. 4:15; Matt. 22:37-40; Psa. 119:41-48). 4 Thirdly, he prays that that they would abound in ALL DISCERNMENT (judgment). (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10) Fourthly, he prays that that they would abound in RIGHTEOUSNESS (v. 11; cf. Gal. 5:22-23)
Sandwiched between his remarks concerning the need to "abound...in...all discernment" (v. 9) and to be "filled with the fruit of righteousness," Paul includes his desire that they would be able to "approve the things that are excellent" (v. 10a; "distinguish between the things which differ," footnote) F. F. Bruce translates this as "...able to choose what is best." 5 The spiritually mature are obligated to take the lead in this area and help weak brethren (and the world, too, if they will listen) distinguish between good and evil, fruitfulness and fruitlessness, vitals and trifles, the transitory and the eternal (Heb. 5:14; cf. 1 Tim. 4:8; 6:17-19; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). 6
Paul concludes his prayer with a desire that they would be "sincere and without offence." (v. 10b) "Sincere" is from the Greek eilikrines. 7 "Without offence" does not mean flawless perfection since only the Lamb of God attained unto that ineffable standard (Jn. 8:29; 1 Pet. 2:22). It does denote "blamelessness," i.e., having been cleansed of the sin-stain by Christ's blood (1 Jn. 1:7), living a life without spot or blemish (cf. Eph. 5:27), complying with the proviso of divine forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9), and, of course, "being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the praise and glory of God." (v. 11, KJV; cf. Job 1:1; Psa. 119:1; Eph. 1:4)
In the life of the thankful, confident, praying, maturing Christian, there is no room for self-congratulation (Lk. 17:10). Like Paul, we give God the glory and the praise. This is why man is. (cf. Rev. 4:10-11; Eccl. 12:13).
At one time Paul had the liberty to visit Philippi of Macedonia. Regrettably, the Roman Empire had taken that freedom from him. However, no man could take away his freedom to praise and to pray. No government could shackle his zeal and optimism. Paul's body was in chains, but his spirit was unchained!
The book of Philippians is quite simply the greatest "thank-you note" ever written! How impoverished we would be if God had not preserved this priceless gem! In Philippians 1:3-11, we see a man in Christ, eager to pray "without wrath and doubting" (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8). In a dank, dark prison cell, Paul was joyfully thankful, joyfully confident, and joyfully prayerful. He knew that whatever the form of outward circumstances, his joy in Christ was unwavering and indefatigable (cf. 4:10-12; Acts 16:25). Paul was at peace in the bosom of the Immutable One. (cf. Isa. 40:11; Mal. 3:6a; Heb. 6:17-18; 13:8) He is an extraordinary example of a man who knelt before God... and was able to stand up to anything!
What a tremendous lesson for us! What would WE do if we were thrown into jail because of our faith in Christ? Would we sing praises like Paul? Would we pray like he did? Would we mail out letters of comfort and encouragement to our brethren? I am afraid that some of us would whimper and whine in a fetal position in the corner. Perhaps a few would weep and wail through the cold, steel bars, protesting their innocence. Others (the majority perhaps?) would brood sullenly upon their prison cots, a scowl upon their faces, silently cursing both their accusers and their captors, wondering why God was letting them suffer, perhaps even questioning His motives in letting them suffer... For shame!
It has been said "Every preacher should have his Philippi." If this is true, wouldn't the reverse also be true? Wouldn't it also be wonderful for a church to support a preacher with the heart of Paul? Who in spite of his surroundings, could be thankful, not an ingrate (1:12-14; 2:14); confident, not dejected (2:17-18); prayerful, not prayerless (4:6)?
Shortly after the prison release of Paul and Silas, Luke notes in Acts 16:40, "...when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them..."
It is the conviction of this writer that Phil. 1:6-7 serves as a "bridge" between vv. 3-5 and vv. 8-11. These verses both conclude Paul's thanksgiving for three "precious things" and begin the mention of his assurance of God's work in the Philippians.
Although "bowels" is occasionally used in its literal sense (cf. 2 Sam. 20:10; 2 Chron. 21:15,19; Acts 1:18), it is more often used figuratively, as a symbol of tender feeling. (cf. Gen. 43:30; 1 Kgs. 3:26; Song of Sol. 5:4; Jer. 4:19; 31:20; Lam. 2:11) Paul always uses the word in this way. (cf. Phil. 2:1; 2 Cor. 6:12; Col. 3:12; Phile. 7,12,20) Conversely, in ancient Grecian society, "bowels" symbolized-not tenderness--but the "seat of the more violent passions, such as anger and love" (cf. J. H. Thayer). On this point, it is interesting to note that modern American vernacular more closely follows the Greek image rather than the Hebrew. Consider the slang term "guts." Although it never represents love, it does express intense, and at times, even violent feelings, e.g. COURAGE ("He had the guts to rebuke his boss, even though it cost him his job.") or RAGE ("I hate his guts.")
On the relationship between love and truth, it would be very difficult to
improve on these words: "Love makes truth palatable, while truth makes love
practical. Truth without love could destroy a person by its brutality, while
love without truth could destroy a person by its insincerity. Love without truth
is sentimentality, feeling without responsibility. Truth without love is
powerless to change lives, while love without truth could change them in the
wrong direction." (The Elements of Preaching, by Warren Wiersbe & David Wiersbe,
p. 61; Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Wheaton, Illinois: 1986)
Philippians, by F. F. Bruce, pp. 12-13. (A Good News Commentary) Harper & Row, Publishers; San Francisco: 1983
William Hendriksen correctly observes, "...Paul is his own best interpreter. Phil. 1:10 finds its best commentary in Phil. 4:8,9..." (New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Philippians, p. 61; Baker Book House; Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1962)
Greek scholars are divided regarding the precise derivation of eilikrines. Some believe it is based upon eile (sunshine) + kinein (to judge), thus able to withstand close observation, even under the direct rays of the sun. Other Greek students think it is based upon eilein (to whirl), i.e., to spin around in a sieve with the intent of removing impurities. (See The Book of Philippians: A Grammatical and Practical Study, by Wayne Jackson, p. 26; Quality Publications; Abilene, Texas: 1987). Whether Paul prayed that the Philippians would 1) be able to withstand the awesome test of God's scrutiny (cf. Heb. 4:13; 2 Cor. 13:5) or 2) be without moral taint (cf. 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Jn. 3:3) is academic. Either view conforms to sound doctrine.
By Craig Meyer
From Expository Files 4.4; April 1997