STUDY THROUGH PHILIPPIANS
“What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought since Jesus came into my heart.”
Jesus Christ changes lives. For those who trust in Him for salvation, He works a dramatic change. Not only are they forgiven, He works to change them in an amazing way. He alone has the power to do that.
We’ve seen some of this in Acts chapter 16 as we considered what happened when the gospel first came to Philippi.
Philippi was located in Macedonia (modern day Greece). It was a Roman colony. It lay on a main highway leading from east to west. The people of that day were pagan worshippers. They worshipped false gods of nature and believed the gods could do to them either good or bad depending on how they worked to appease them. They were also worshippers of Caesar. They were people in darkness without God and without hope in the world.
Paul was on his 2nd missionary journey. He and his team would travel hundreds of miles sharing the gospel. He was joined by Silas, Timothy and Luke. Their original intent was to go to Asia, but the Holy Spirit said no to Asia. They intended them to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them. Then Paul had a vision. A “Man of Macedonia” was pleading for their help. So they headed for Macedonia. They visited a place of prayer. A God-fearing Gentile by the name of Lydia was there. The Lord opened her heart to respond to the gospel. She and her household were saved. They went on preaching the gospel. A demon-possessed slave-girl fortune-teller was working to distract Paul in his preaching. So the Lord delivered that girl of her demon and she was saved. That caused quite a stir as her masters were then upset that they lost their source of profit in her fortune-telling. They drug Paul and Silas to the magistrates. Paul and Silas were arrested and beaten and imprisoned. But then God caused and earthquake that worked to set everyone free. The jailer, facing the penalty of execution for losing his prisoners, was about to kill himself. But Paul intervened. The jailer asked “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved.” And he and his household all believed.
And this was the group with which God began the work in Philippi—a businesswoman and her household; a former slave-girl, fortune-teller, and a jailer and his household. We read in Acts 16:40 of how they all met in Lydia’s house. We can’t know for sure, but it’s likely that the church was founded there.
Fast-forward a decade or so. Paul had subsequently finished that 2nd missionary journey and made another. Along the way he had visited the church in Philippi a couple of times. At the time of the writing of this epistle he was in prison. Just like on that first visit. Only this time he’s in Rome. And his imprisonment is for 2 years. Read Acts 28:30-31.
And he writes to the church in Philippi. And in the first two verses we have his greeting to the church. A number of persons or groups are mentioned in the greeting. Paul. Timothy. The saints in Philippi. The overseers. The deacons. But the most important person mentioned is Jesus Christ. He is referred to three times in these two verses. In fact, Jesus Christ is referred to by name (in various ways) 51 times in the 104 verses of this epistle. We have in this short little epistle one of the most Christ-centered of all of the books of the Bible. The entire Bible is, of course, about Jesus. But here it’s as if Paul can’t say or write anything without referring to His Lord and Savior. And he does so in a very personal way. Philippians 1:21 and 3:7 are examples of this.
- AN ENEMY MADE TO BE A SERVANT
“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus.”
Paul is the author of the epistle. Timothy is included in the greeting also, not because he was a co-author, but because of his relationship both to Paul and to the church in Philippi (Cf. 2:22).
Note that Paul doesn’t refer to himself as an apostle here in this greeting. That’s what we typically find in his epistles. And it might very well be the case because of what he has to share with them. Servanthood is a main theme in this epistle. And that theme is apparent from the very first verse.
Servant translates the Greek “doulos.”
Vine’s, “doulos, an adjective…frequently indicating subjection without bondage.”
So a bond-servant is one who gladly puts himself in the position of being a servant. We have an example in Exodus 21:1-6 of the idea. According to the OT law a slave would serve for six years and go free on the seventh. But that slave could decide, if he loved his master, to voluntariy submit himself to serve his master permanently. The master would bring him to God, then to a door. Then he would pierce his ear with an awl.
Now Paul is not a reluctant servant. He is a willing servant. He is glad to be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Paul himself who wrote, “You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
There is an old Bob Dylan song which had this line, “You’ve got to serve somebody.” The lost person, whether he recognizes it or not, serves the prince of the power of the air. He dwells in the domain of darkness and does the bidding of the devil. He may think himself to be his own man, but he is not.
Now what was true of Paul then wasn’t true of Paul before. About 25 years previously the Lord Jesus intervened in his life.
Before that day he was a ruthless persecutor of the church of Christ.
In this respect it is amazing to consider who Paul (Saul) was before he was saved. Every lost person is radically depraved and undeserving with respect to salvation, but that is not always as obvious as it was in Paul’s case (Cf. Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:21). He was “breathing threats and murders against the disciples” (Acts 9:1-2). When they were being “put to death (he) cast (his vote against them” (Acts 26:10). In “raging fury against them (he) persecuted them” (Acts 26:11). “(He) persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). He was “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Timothy 1:13).
What brought about this change in Paul? The short answer—Jesus did. Read 1 Timothy 1:11-17.
He saved him and transformed him and made that persecutor of Christ to be a servant of Christ instead.
And here he is writing to the church in Philippi from a prison cell. And is not so much concerned with his own personal welfare. His concern is in serving Christ. From that prison cells he shares the gospel with others. From that prison cell he is encouraged that others are emboldened by his example to share the gospel without fear. From that prison cell he speaks about how much better it would be to go and be with Christ, but how, at the same time, if he stays it will mean fruitful labor for him in serving the Philippians. From that prison cell he speaks of how his life is being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of their faith. He’s a servant of Christ Jesus.
Timothy is too. Paul testifies to Timothy’s example. Philippians 2:19-22.
Now, you might say I don’t care much for serving. I don’t even like the concept. But the fact is that if you are a believer you’ve been called to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is not something to shy away from, it is something to embrace.
Jesus is our example. The church in Philippi was born on that day when the Lord opened the heart of a woman named Lydia to the gospel. She was saved. And you know what she did once she was saved. She served. She was saved to serve. We all are. And the book of Philippians will have much to say about that. Note in particular what it says in Philippians 2:3-5 about having the mind of Christ.
But go with me to Mark 10:43-45. The world has its own way of looking at things—sin and selfishness reign. And people aspire to greatness in their possessions, sinful pleasures, and power. But God deems servanthood to equal greatness. And Christ is our example. He came to serve. His entire life was a life of service. And when He had given up everything but His own life, He gave that to. He said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve.”
Now, believer in Christ let me ask you. Are you living your life to be served, or to serve? Are you in your marriage to be served, or to serve? Are you here at church today to be served, or to serve? Do you relate to others to be served, or to serve? God would have you to serve. Christlikeness looks like servanthood—and it’s a beautiful thing.
Most would not have envied Paul in his position. He was writing from a prison cell. He had devoted his life to preaching the gospel of grace and it was because of that he was where he was. But that’s looking at things from man’s perspective. He was looking instead to the day when He would be brought into God’s presence. He was longing to hear those words from His master, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
And we need to realize this about our lives. Only one day, ‘Twil soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” If you want to live a life without regrets, endeavor to live your life to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. SINNERS MADE SAINTS
Paul addresess his epistle to the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi.
The word saints means literally “holy ones.” That’s a term we are familiar with. God is a holy God. We have a Holy Bible. There are holy angels. But how is it that any person—born sinners as we are—could be called a holy one.
The short answer to that question is “in Christ Jesus.” But let me explain.
How men make saints (according to the Catholic Church):
- Normally a person is recommended for sainthood by a bishop.
2. This usually takes place no sooner than five years following their death.
3. A thorough investigation is made of the person’s writings, speeches and sermons.
4. A detailed biography, based on eyewitness accounts, is prepared.
5. A certification is made that no superstitious or heretical worship has grown up around the person or his tomb.
6. A recommendation is made to the pope that the person be proclaimed “heroic in virtue.”
7. Prayer cards and other materials are printed to encourage the faithful to pray for a miracle to be wrought by the person.
8. To be canonized as a saint at least two miracles must have been performed by the deceased person.
9. The canonized saint is assigned a feast day, parish churches may be built in his honor, and the faithful may freely honor him.
How does God make saints?
By a sovereign work of grace. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. They are made saints through the saving work of Jesus Christ. They are identified as saints from the moment they place their trust in Him unto salvation.
So Paul writes to the church. These were not perfect people. But he writes to them as saints because that is what they are. They are holy ones. They are holy in their position.
Now he writes to them because God wants these holy ones to be holy in their practice. Philippians 2:14-15.
And he writes to them because their destiny is a holy place. Philippians 3:20-21.
But, again, these sinners were made saints by the work of Christ. Jesus Christ changes lives.’
3. AN INFANT CHURCH GROWS UP
A decade or so earlier the church in Philippi was born. It was small. It had no leadership. What would happen to that small work that had begun?
Now as Paul writes to them, that little church has grown. It has matured. We should note this about the epistle. The closest thing we can find to a rebuke is Paul’s admonition for two sisters in Christ to get along with each other and a warning regarding the need to beware of false teachers. The church had demonstrated maturity in providing for Paul in his physical needs. And the church had an established leadership.
Its interesting to note that Paul addressed the church and the leaders. He didn’t want to speak to the people apart from the leaders. He probably might have done that if the leaders had been in error in some teaching. But that wasn’t the case.
So he addresses the leaders. And note the language. Overseers and Deacons.
The word “overseers” translates a Greek term “episkopos” from which we get the English term Episcopalian. It means to watch over. The same term is used of Jesus in 1 Peter 2:25 as he is the One who is the “Guardian” (literally “overseer”) of our souls. Two other terms are used synonymously to describe these men, “elders” (presbuteros) and “shepherds” (“poimen”). All three terms are used in reference to the elders in Ephesus in Acts chapter 20 (verses 17 and 28). This is the way that God has designed things. That the church should be governed by a plurality of overseers who are called by God to serve in that role.
The other group spoken of is the deacons. That particular word means literally “servants.” The Greek “diakonos.” These are men who attend to the physical needs of the congregation. Men with an aptitude to serve.
So we have a church grown up from its infancy. And if we ask the question, how did that happen? The answer is Christ did it. The same One who said “I will build My church,” grew up His church in Philippi.
Note in the close of Paul’s greeting—Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace is unmerited favor. God is rich in grace and He bestows His grace not only in salvation, but ongoingly unto His children from His throne of grace. We are always in need of His strengthening and sustaining grace. And Paul prayed for that for these believers.
And peace. The term needs to be understood in three dimensions—peace with God, peace with others, and peace in our hearts. The believer has been reconciled to God through Christ’s she blood. We are exhorted to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in the fellowship of believers. And God is able to impart His peace to our hearts in even the most troublesome of circumstances.
So, what do we find in this greeting. Jesus Christ changes lives.
He took a Christian persecution (a servant of the Devil) and turned him around and made a servant of him. And Oh My, what a servant. It is doubtful that anyone has ever had a greater influence for good in this world, besides Christ Himself, that that man. How did it happen? Christ did it.
He took a group of sinners and made saints, holy ones, out of them. He set them on a heavenly course to a place where there will be no more sin. How did it happen? Christ did that.
He took an infant church, populated by a business woman, a former slave-girl fortuneteller, and a jailer and his household, and grew that church up so that it possessed a Biblical leadership and some degree of maturity. How did it happen? Jesus Christ did that.
Jesus Christ changes lives. Do you know Him? Have you trusted in Him for salvation? Acts 16:30.
If Paul were still around. If he wrote an epistle to our church. And we were to read the greeting. It would sound no different than the one that he wrote to that church in Philippi a couple of thousand years ago. A servant to the saints and the leaders. Grace and peace to you. Praise God for the work He does is saving and transforming lives.