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Philippians, Epistle of Joy, part 2

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June 2024 - Philippians, Epistle of Joy, part 2

Issue #431
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Issue #431June 2024

Philippians, Epistle of Joy, part 2

Paul was joyful in spite of his imprisonment, knowing that he would win whether he lived or died. Likewise, when referring to those who opposed him and who had wrong motives, he was just glad that they were preaching the gospel (Phil. 1:18).

Paul’s optimism carried through into the second chapter of Philippians. So we read in Phil. 2:1, 2,

1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

Following Paul’s example, we today find that we have many critics, especially in our belief in the restoration of all things, the two Jerusalems, the coming destruction of the earthly Jerusalem, and our rejection of Zionism. Yet they preach the gospel of Christ as best they know how. Their prophets have many good insights on other issues. In listening to them, we ought to rejoice “if there is any encouragement in Christ… consolation of love, fellowship of the Spirit,” etc. whether this is reciprocated or not.

We do not find such language in Paul’s earlier writings. This goes beyond mere toleration. As he got older, Paul had learned a deeper meaning of a joy-filled life. He learned to appreciate those who differed with him, even those who maligned him. He learned how to look at the glass as being half full, rather than half empty.

We once had a conference speaker who did not agree with us about the restoration of all things. After spending a weekend fellowshipping with us, someone asked him what he thought. His answer was, “They are certainly non-judgmental.” He had been judged by the church and kicked out, so this was an important issue to him. We had invited him to speak because we wanted to draw upon his gifts, and he was able to see the good in us as well.

Checking Motives

Phil. 2:3-5 says,

3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in your-selves which also was in Christ Jesus.

In his great Love Chapter, Paul says that love “does not seek its own” (1 Cor. 13:5), but he does not explain this further. Phil. 2:3 and 4 enlarges are on this principle. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” Heb. 1:3 tells us that Christ “is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.” For this reason, we should strive to “have this attitude in yourselves.”

The Proof of Christ’s Love

Christ Himself did not seek His own comfort but was willing to set aside His advantages and come to earth to die on the cross. Phil. 2:6-8 says,

6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross.

Paul recognized the pre-existence of Jesus Christ and that He was equal in form to God Himself with all the advantages that this embodied. Yet He was willing to divest Himself of this and be incarnated as a man. As a man, He was “obedient to the point of death” to benefit mankind.

He died that we might live. He took our sentence of death (Gen. 3:19) so that the law might be satisfied. This is the foremost proof of the love of Christ.

Paul enlarges on this in Rom. 5:6-8,

6 For while we were yet helpless, at the right time [Passover] Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

This is the set-up for Paul’s teaching on the restoration of all things in the last half of the same chapter. Here Paul shares how the love of Christ secured the restoration of all creation.

The Exaltation of Christ

Phil. 2:9-11 says,

9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Christ’s exaltation is more than just being given the highest position of authority. What use is authority without people who recognize His authority? So we see that “every knee will bow” and “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Paul repeats this in Rom. 14:11,

11 For it is written [in Isaiah 45:23], “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Here Paul explains what it means for “every tongue will confess.” It is not a forced confession after which the majority of mankind will be cast into hell forever. All “shall give praise to God.” The quotation is from Isaiah 45:23-25,

23 I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. 24 They will say of Me, “Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.” Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him will be put to shame. 25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory.

We see here that God has sworn an oath to cause every tongue to swear allegiance to Christ. Those who were angry with God will be ashamed of themselves, but they will say, “Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.”

Whenever God swears an oath, it is based on the New Covenant and depends fully on God’s ability to keep His word (as in Deut. 29:10-15). Whenever man swears an oath, it is based on the Old Covenant (Exodus 19:8) and is based upon the will of man and his ability to keep his word.

Isaiah 45:23 is an oath of God, even as we see in Deut. 29:10-15. John 1:13 affirms this, saying,

13 which were born, not of blood [bloodline], nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

When God swears an oath, we can either believe it or not. If we do not believe it, we will be ashamed at the great White Throne judgment when all are summoned from the dead to give an account of themselves. These will not inherit immortality at that time, but in no way will this prevent God from fulfilling His oath. Yet they will experience judgment until the Creation Jubilee is declared at the end of time.

In other words, the love of Christ will prevail, because “love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8). It is the most powerful force in the universe, overcoming all obstacles. 1 Cor. 15:25-28 tells us,

25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet [Ps. 8:6]. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is evident that that He [God] is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him [Christ]. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

All of creation is Christ’s inheritance, secured by His love and His willingness to divest Himself of His glory and to die on the cross.

Working Out Your Salvation

Phil. 2:12, 13 says,

12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Our critics often say that if God were to promise to save all mankind, people would say, “Well, then, why am I trying to serve God? I may as well live as I please, knowing that God will save me anyway.” I have not personally met anyone who actually believes this, but perhaps there are a few such people. After all, I do not know everyone. But if they do indeed live as they please, they will face a time of judgment at the great White Throne and will be judged according to their works (Rev. 20:12).

Worse yet, they will miss the opportunity to receive immortality at that time and will have to wait a very long time to the Creation Jubilee. The Jubilee cancels all debts whether one deserves it or not. Sin is reckoned as a debt.

I cannot imagine anyone wanting to live as the world for a few short years and then be judged for such a long time. Anyone who continues to sin willfully cannot be classed as a genuine believer.

Yet those who charge us with such things ought to examine their own lives as well, for they expose their own hearts as well. Would they indeed continue in sin and refuse to follow Christ unless they were threatened with a burning hell? Do they follow Christ out of love or out of fear?

Paul rejoices that the Philippian believers are obedient to Christ even in his absence. They did not need Paul’s personal presence to remain devoted to Christ.

How does one work out his/her salvation with fear and trembling? “Fear and trembling” was a peculiar expression that was not to be taken literally. It was adopted in the language of the day, based on their relationship to human governments, which was indeed fear-based. But in a Christian application, it means being diligent and taking one’s beliefs and conduct seriously.

Verse 13 above enlarges on this, showing that to work out one’s salvation does not mean that one is saved by works. It has to do with following the leading of the Spirit and allowing Christ to work His will within us. “It is God who is at work in you.” That is the purpose of the Holy Spirit, who changes our hearts incrementally each time we hear and obey His voice.

Further, God works “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” In other words, it is the will of God and the work of God operating within us. Just as we were born (or begotten) not by the will of the flesh or of the will of man (John 1:13), so also God works out this salvation by the power of His own will. We can change our behavior, but only He can change our nature.

Grumbling and Disputing

Phil. 2:14, 15 says,

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom you appear as lights in the world.

No doubt Paul was referring to the Israelites under Moses, who grumbled many times in the wilderness. We read, for instance, in Exodus 16:2,

2 The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.

A good servant does his master’s will. A son wants to do it.

When men disagree with God, they tend to grumble and dispute with Him. As God’s servants, they may obey Him, but they make it known that they do not want to do so. Servants are those who must overcome their disagreement. Sons are those who agree with God and are happy to obey, because they say in their hearts, “That is a great idea! Let’s do it!”

Paul was referring to the Song of Moses in Deut. 32:5,

5 They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation.

Paul cites the Israelites in the wilderness as a prime example to avoid following. Instead, they should shine as lights in the darkness, for the light of Christ was in them. So we read in 2 Cor. 4:6,

6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

We know that prior to the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles, this light in our hearts remains hidden, for the next verse tells us, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” This alludes to the battle of Gideon, where his 300-man army was instructed to take earthen jars, put coals of fire in them, and when the trumpet sounded, they were to break the jars and allow the light to shine forth (Judg. 7:19).

The battle of Gideon shows that the enemies of Christ will be overcome finally by the resurrection of the dead at the feast of Trumpets, by the breaking of the veil of flesh at the Day of Atonement, and the light of Christ shining forth in the overcomers at the feast of Tabernacles.

It also has immediate personal applications for each of us today. Paul says that this Light “has shone in our hearts” even now, and that we are to allow that Light to shine by teaching and demonstrating “the knowledge of the glory of God” that was seen “in the face of Christ” on the Mount.

Paul’s Glory

Phil. 2:16 says,

16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

This concern ought to be shared by all believers as they manifest the light that is in them—but especially ministers of the gospel, such as Paul. There are many reasons to glory, including every good work that we do by faith, but Paul focuses specifically on the Philippian believers themselves. In so doing, he encourages them by his confidence and joy that the seed of the word which he implanted in their hearts has taken firm root in fertile soil. These saints will endure to the end, that they may receive the promise of God at the time of the first resurrection.

What Paul wrote also expresses my own sentiments toward you. I am encouraged by many testimonies of how your lives have been changed by the power of the word as a result of my own labor. I too am confident that “in the day of Christ” I will be able to say that “I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”

Paul, the Drink Offering and Sacrifice

Phil. 2:17, 18 says,

17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.

Paul used the same metaphor in 2 Tim. 4:6,

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.

Drink offerings were of wine, a blood substitute. We see this most clearly in the sacrament of communion, where we remember Christ’s sacrifice and shed blood by drinking wine. To be poured out as a drink offering, then, identifies with Christ’s death on the cross. So Paul speaks of a drink offering when alluding to his “departure.”

Wine also speaks of joy in Deut. 14:26,

26 You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.

When we put these two passages together, we see that being poured out as wine is a cause for rejoicing, as Paul tells us. So also his beloved friends in Philippi ought to rejoice and to share their rejoicing with him in their response to his letter. Paul would have been distressed if they mourned his death.

Paul’s Messengers

Phil. 2:19-23 says,

19 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. 23 Therefore I hope to send him immedi-ately, as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.

Timothy was Paul’s faithful companion and successor in the next generation that would carry on his gospel. He was the one who hand-delivered Paul’s letter to the Philippians. As we will see shortly, Epaphroditus accompanied Timothy because he too wanted to see his good friends in Philippi.

Paul had many friends who did not “seek after their own interests,” but only these two were genuinely concerned for the welfare of the Philippians. Epaphroditus was a close friend, but the father-son relationship was reserved only for Timothy.

Did Paul have anyone in mind when he wrote about those who seek their own interests? Do we detect a trace of bitterness from some betrayals in the past? We cannot say for sure, because Paul does not often speak ill of those who may have abandoned him.

Besides this, Paul, no doubt, wanted to remain positive and to convey the spirit of joy in keeping with his letter.

Paul expressed some uncertainty about the outcome of his trial, saying, “as soon as I see how things go with me.” He was much more optimistic of being released when he was taken to Rome the first time. But after telling them that he was “being poured out as a drink offering,” it seems that Paul still had hope of being released again.

This suggests that although things looked bleak, he still had no solid revelation of the outcome of the coming trial.