BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES/Greetings from Paul
Thursday, September 4, 2014 4:00 AM
Having finished our series on Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament, we will now turn to the New Testament book of Philippians. The Apostle Paul covers many great themes in his letter to the Philippians. Today, we will be looking at the reason we need this letter, a brief overview of the letter, and the introduction of the letter from chapter 1, verses 1 and 2.
A Letter For Us
There are four particular reasons why I think we need Philippians. First, Philippians shows us a vibrant Christian in difficult circumstances who is radiating a contagious joy. Some of us are in circumstances that are hard, discouraging, and debilitating. And where is Paul? He's in the slammer! He's trapped. If ever there was a place for that man to be depressed, it would be where he couldn't get out and tell somebody about Jesus Christ. And yet the whole letter radiates with joy. This man understood the secret of joy in every circumstance. So I want to tell you this letter beckons us to join with him in the fight for joy.
Second, Philippians displays to us a saint on whom the world has lost its grip. The world no longer had anything to offer Paul;there's nothing that it could give him. It didn't have anything that he wanted. His old righteousness, his old pedigrees, and his old traditions had nothing to offer Paul. He had found something better. We see Paul ablaze with thoughts of Christ; ablaze with delight in Christ. He's singing, 'Let goods and kindred go; this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God's truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever!' He's singing, 'Fading is the worldling's pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show...' but 'Solid joys and lasting treasures, none but Zion's children know.' For him, Christ is all, He's above all, He's best of all, and everything else is lost on Paul because of that. We've been given so much by God that we are tempted to delight in the gifts rather than, or more than, the Giver. We're tempted to think that deep delight and full joy and true satisfaction can be found somewhere in the temporal, terrestrial gifts that are given to us. We need, like Paul, to have true joy so that we will accept no substitutes. The Christian life is a fight for joy. It is not the rejection of joy; it is the rejection of cheap joy. It is not the rejection of satisfaction; it's the rejection of superficial satisfaction. It's not the rejection of delight; it's the rejection of shallow and cheap delight. The Apostle Paul has tasted of the everlasting bottomless fountain of delight in Jesus Christ, and the world is lost on him! And this letter is calling us to long to know Christ.
Third, this letter is commending to us a sovereign Savior's holy humility displayed in an unparalleled humiliation, as He comes from heaven's high throne, as He dwells with us in low estate, and goes down the steps of humiliation and dereliction on the cross, to burial and to the tomb. And He does that, not only as the means of our redemption, but as an example for our walking. You want to go the way of glory? It's the way of the cross. And the Lord Jesus is showing you that way. And so in this great letter we see the Apostle Paul urging us on in the fight for joy and calling us to grow in humility so that we are joyful in our humility and we're humble in our joy. And we're longing to know Christ.
There's a fourth reason why this book is for us, and that's because Philippians tells us that believers, under the crushing load of life in the darkest moments of your experience, even in the valley of the shadow of death, can comprehend an incomprehensible peace. He wants you to understand a peace that is beyond understanding. May we be steadfast and immovable in that peace! This book is about a fight for joy. It's about growing in humility. It's about knowing Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It's about a peace that only He can give, and nothing else in this world can take away.
A Letter To Us
I want us to see three things in the first two verses of chapter one. First, the senders are Paul and Timothy, and notice that they call themselves permanent servants, bond-slaves of the Messiah, Jesus. The highest title a believer can hold is that of 'servant of Jesus Christ.' Have you been a servant of sin? Have you been a servant of self? To be liberated, to be able to serve the Savior, and to bear the title. 'I'm a servant of Jesus Christ'; there is no greater honor than that. The Apostle Paul is saying 'That's what I am.' And it puts him in his proper place, doesn't it? Because the emphasis is 'I'm a servant of Jesus Christ! He is telling us who he wants us to be thinking about when we think of Paul. 'Jesus must increase; I must decrease', is Paul's cry here. And the very acknowledgment that he is a servant of Jesus Christ is a reminder that, though he may look like a prisoner of Caesar, a victim of Caesar, and a servant of Caesar, he's not! He's the servant of the Messiah, and if he's in prison, that's where the Messiah wants him. And if the Messiah doesn't want him there, even Caesar can't hold him there! He'll be wherever Messiah wants him to be, and Caesar has nothing to say about it! So the fact that he's in Caesar's custody is only the reflection of the fact that the Lord God of the universe, the real one who is Lord, has decided that that's where he's supposed to be.
This thinking can change your life. A changed life prays, 'Lord, I've never been in a more miserable place in my experience, but You're Lord. This must be Your plan for me. This must be Your plan to exalt Yourself before my eyes and in my heart, and in my life. You're going to be glorified in this. You're going to protect me in this. You are going to magnify Your grace in this, because I am not a victim of this world. I'm a servant of the Messiah, Jesus.'
Secondly, notice the recipients: 'To all the saints in Christ Jesus, who are in Philippi....' He is not writing to the uniquely, extraordinarily, holy people within the congregation. He's writing to the whole congregation. What's the point? If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, God has called you to Himself to be set apart to Him, to be holy to Him, to be His uniquely treasured people, His saints, His holy ones. All of you! That's what He chose you for! That's the purpose for which He saved you: for Himself; for a relationship with Him! You are to glorify and enjoy Him forever. That's what you're for. If you're enjoying something else more than Him, then you have not yet understood what He made you for: He made you for delight in Him!
Thirdly, the greeting, 'Grace and peace' is a packed little phrase. 'Grace' is God's unmerited, undeserved favor even despite your sin, through Jesus Christ. 'Peace' is total well-being which flows from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for you. May we abound in the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we fight for joy and true delight, to be found only in Him.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.