Study On The Book Of Philippians
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Few of Paul’s books end abruptly, and none of them ends without thought. In this book, as in others, Paul’s thoughts ran back over the work he had written, and his final remarks were added to impress his most important themes upon his readers. These last verses (Phil. 4:20-23) contain a twofold doxology interspersed with a few brief words of greeting. The doxology has the glory of God and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as its theme.
What is the glory of God mentioned in these last verses of Philippians? It is not exactly the same thing as the glory mentioned in verse 19, although the words are identical. In verse 19 Paul is talking of glory in the sense that God’s glory expresses God’s character. God’s glory is the outward expression of what God is internally. Hence, Paul is really saying that God shall continue to supply the need of the Christian out of His inexhaustible might, wisdom, love, holiness, truth, and other perfections. However, when Paul prays in verse 20 that glory might be given to God, he is thinking of glory in another sense. Here glory is praise. He is really looking forward to the day when God shall be praised and honored as He should and must be forever. There is a picture in the fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation of how this will happen. When Paul closed his letter to the Philippians he was looking forward to the day when God should be praised in this way and when all honor should be given to the Lord Jesus Christ, before whom every knee should bow. In this desire the first part of this doxology sums up much of the teaching of Philippians.
Paul had been speaking of the glory of God, which is certainly an exalted theological concept, but he no sooner speaks of this than his mind immediately turns to those who would actually give God glory. Of whom did he think? In these two short verses Paul’s thoughts run to four distinct bodies of believers. First, there are the Christians at Philippi. Second, there are the Christian leaders who are in Paul’s immediate company. Third, there is the larger company of believers in Rome. Finally, there is the special body of Christians who were employed in various services related to the imperial court. Paul knew that it was these very human brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom had been sharply critical of him, who would one day join in the great heavenly chorus to sing God’s praises. He rejoiced that they would give God glory.
The final verse of the letter to the Philippians says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” God’s grace! There is nothing more significant that Paul could have used to end his epistle. If we have understood anything at all about this letter, we have understood that the message of Christianity from beginning to end is grace, God’s unmerited favor to human beings. Do we deserve anything from God? Not at all! We deserve nothing. We have run from God, and still, even after we are born again, we run from Him. Yet, when we were far from Him, God came to us dying for our sin, rising for our justification, and now living to enter the life of those who believe in Him and to guide them in holiness. God loves us and will love us forever. That is grace. It lies at the heart of the gospel.
Finally, Paul does not only mention the word grace, he also mentions the Lord Jesus Christ. This is significant, too, for it is only through the Lord Jesus Christ that we know God’s grace and indeed continue to experience it. In fact, it is only through Jesus Christ that we experience any spiritual blessing. Think how many times the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned in this letter. The letter begins with the name of Jesus; it ends with His name. He is mentioned in every conceivable relationship.
As I reflect on our journey together through this study my heart is warmed, thinking of the preeminence, honor, and great glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our life; He is the hope, prayer, song, and joy of Christians in all ages – of Paul and his friends at Philippi, of the Roman Christians, and now of our congregations today. May this great theme – the Lord Jesus Christ and His grace – bless your heart today, and may it continually do so until that day when we shall know Him perfectly even as we are known. Amen!
Philippians 4:20-23 Reflection Questions:
Do you think about and pray for the Christians you associate with, even if they are objectionable and may be extremely critical of you?
What is one thing God has shown you through this study?
Are you depressed or discouraged? Has life gotten you down? If so, somewhere in the Bible there is a promise of God to cover it. I am convinced there is no need, no anxiety, no worry, and no dismay for which God has not made dozens of encouraging and uplifting promises.
Think of the breadth and scope of God’s promises. There is John 3:16, a promise of everlasting salvation, Romans 8:28, John 10:9, John 10:27-28. Some promises concern prayer: Philippians 4:6-7, 1John 5:14-15. Then we come to what is perhaps the greatest promise in the entire Bible. It is great because it includes all other promises. It is Philippians 4:19. Do you stand in need of salvation? God will supply salvation. Do you need strength for life’s trials? God will supply strength. If you are lonely, God can meet you and comfort you in your loneliness. If you are discouraged, He can lift you up. No need is left out, for the verse says that “God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
A verse like this needs to be savored in each of its phrases, and the place to begin is with the two most important words in the sentence, the subject. The words are “my God.” Who is the one who Paul knew was able to supply the needs of the Philippian Christians? It was not any God, for he did not say “a god” or merely “the god in whom you may happen to believe.” Paul was not referring to the gods of the Greeks, Egyptians, Assyrians, or Romans. When Paul said, “my God,” he was being specific and personal. Paul’s God was Jehovah, the God of Israel was had revealed himself to human beings personally in Jesus Christ. This is a great God. He is a gracious and effective God. In fact, to the biblical writers all other gods were “no gods” (idols); they were nothing. The God of whom Paul speaks is a God who will support His people and who will not let down the one who believes in Him. Is He your God? If He is not your God, if you have never come to Him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the promises of God’s care in the Bible are not for you. On the other hand, if you do believe in Him and wish to obey Him, you will find Him strong in you need. You will find Him entirely and consistently faithful.
The emphasis of the first part of the verse is on God, but the second part speaks of human needs. We must think of this also. What are our needs? First, there is our need for forgiveness. God provides that abundantly, for He offers forgiveness of sins that are past, present, and future. Forgiveness is made possible for us through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we receive it personally by acknowledging our sin before God ad accepting Christ’s sacrifice. Forgiveness is not our only need, however. Our second greatest need is for fellowship with God. Without God we are spiritually hungry, empty, and miserable. God longs to be known by us, to fill the spiritual vacuum of our hearts, to commune with us personally, and to meet us in our deep longings. Moreover, He is able to do so abundantly “according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. We also need God’s defense against enemies, and God is able to supply that too. There is one other need that must be added, for it is sometimes true that in God’s sight we have a need for that which in not so pleasant. We need to be disciplined, taught, or tested. If that is the case, then it is also true that Philippians 4:19 is a promise of God to supply the unpleasant discipline and testing.
The final phrase of our text speaks of the measure of the supply of God for our need. The measure is this: “according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” God has promised to fill the need of the believer in Jesus Christ out of His infinite wealth and resources. He will expand us as time goes on, and we shall come to hold more. We shall become more and more like Jesus Christ. But even at the greatest extent of our enlarged capacity we shall only touch His resources slightly. There will always be infinite resources beyond the ones we experience. In this life, as in the next, God shall supply all our needs, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus, and still there will be inexhaustible resources beyond.
Philippians 4:19 Reflection Questions:
What are some of your “go to” Scripture verses when in a time of need?
Do you think that you can exhaust the riches of God by your needs, however great they may be?
What is your current need? Pray and ask God to supply for it now!
Throughout the history of Christianity individual churches have been remembered for different things, some good and some bad. In Philippi we have a picture of a church that is remembered because it remembered. It remembered the apostle Paul in his moments of great financial necessity. We remember it for its example of true Christian compassion and stewardship.
When Paul first came to the city of Philippi in Macedonia there were no Christians, for he was the first missionary. It was only as Paul began to preach and teach the Old Testament that a small group of believers gathered around him. These Christians were attached to Paul, because through him God had called them to faith in Jesus Christ and through him God brought great blessing. These Christians loved Paul and wished to help him, and they continued their interest in him even after he had moved on to other cities. For a short time after he had left Philippi, Paul worked in Thessalonica. Since this was near Philippi the Philippians sent a messenger to find out how Paul was doing. Word came back that Paul was in financial need. They took a collection and sent it to him. Later when they had heard that the need continued they did the same thing again (Phil 4:16). In Paul’s mind the gift from the Philippians was a shrub that had flowered, as it were, in spring after a long winter. It was a sacrifice to God for which Paul was thankful.
Paul’s pleasure at the gift that the Philippian Christians had sent was not merely for his own sake, however. He was pleased for their sake also. For he knew, as we should all know, that a gift actually benefits the giver more than it benefits the one who receives it. This is true on the human level, but it is even more true spiritually, for Paul writes that in God’s sight the gift would appear as fruit credited to their personal account (v. 17). We often think of the fruit of Christianity only in terms of character, primarily as the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. But other things are said to be fruit of the Christian life also. Converts are the fruit of our labors for the Lord Jesus Christ. Money given to help another Christian is called fruit. According to this text we may say that our gifts to others are encouraged by God, noticed by God, and much desired by Him.
Perhaps someone is going to ask at this point, “Well, what about tithing? Doesn’t the Bible say that we are only required to give a tenth of all earned income”? The answer to that question is that the Bible does speak about tithing, but that was for Jews under the Old Testament laws. “Well then,” you say, “doesn’t that mean that we are released entirely from the requirement to give”? Yes, is a sense we are, for we are not under law; we are under grace. But if you understand what it means to be under grace the standard does not go down – it goes up! For instance, the Sermon on the Mount is not law as the Ten Commandments are law; it is an ethic to be lived out by God’s grace in the lives of regenerate people. But because it is by grace, the standard goes up. We are not under law as regard to percentages, but we do have a high level of responsibility for the support of other Christians and Christian work. We are responsible for determining God’s will where our own individual stewardship is concerned.
Finally, let me call your attention to another phrase in this section that also deserves to be noticed. It should encourage us in a special form of stewardship. It occurs in verse 15; the last three words say “…except you only.” You only! Not only were the Philippians distinguished by the fact that they had remembered Paul in his need – that was significant – they had also been the only ones to remember him.
Do you want real joy in this world, real fruit in your Christian ministry? If so, let me suggest this; seek for ways in which you can help someone, particularly in those areas in which only you know the problem. God will show you how. The other person will think that no one understands their need or no one is aware of their problem. Then your gift or your word of encouragement will come. Then they will be overjoyed; and if they are a Christian, they will see it as another way which God uses people as channels of His faithful provision and blessing.
I cannot tell you who the person is whom you could help. I cannot tell you what the circumstances will be of even what you can do. That will vary. You will have to find it out for yourself. It might be a person in your own family with a unique need, perhaps one of your children who desperately need someone to do something special for him or her, or your wife or husband who needs understanding. It might be someone at work who thinks that no one cares about him. It might be someone at church. It might be a stranger. It might be a financial need. It might be a word of encouragement. Whatever it is, God will help you to find it if you ask Him. And He will give you great joy in being the one, like the Philippians, who did not forget, but remembered.
Philippians 4:10-18 Reflection Questions:
Are you always asking and looking for ways God can use you to bless someone else?
Are you a good steward of your money?
What does the word stewardship mean to you?
Who is God putting on your heart now to bless?
These verses are a statement of one of God’s rule for doubtful things. They introduce us to the problems of regulating our conduct in areas of life where the Bible is not entirely explicit. Should a Christian drink alcohol or not? Can he/she enter politics? Can he/she work for a company that manufactures war materials? To what extent can a believer adopt the standards of his times and society? The answers to such questions must be given in their broadest possible scope; accordingly, we shall range through Scripture, returning at last to these verses in Philippians. We need to recognize first that although many of the issues that trouble Christians are silly and do not deserve much attention, not all of them are. Consequently, we must not make the mistake of avoiding all serious thought about such matters.
There are three principles that will help any Christian in 99 percent of his or her difficulties. All these are found throughout Scripture, but they are summarized in three important verses: Rom. 6:14; 1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23; and Phil. 4:8. They tell us that we are to live (as we have been saved) by grace; that we are to think first, last and always of others; and that we are to pursue the highest things.
The first principle, then, is that we are not under law; we are under grace (Rom. 6:14). This verse teaches that whatever the answer may be to the problem of doubtful practices, it is not legalism. That is, the way will never be found by organizing any body of Christians to declare whether or not movies, cigarettes, alcohol, war, or whatever it may be, is proper. In the early church the battle against legalism was won for pure grace. It is also true; however, that the same verse speaks against legalism also speaks against another error that is likewise a wrong approach to the problem. This error is the error of license, the teaching that because we are not under law but under grace Christians can therefore go on doing as they please (see Rom. 6:15).
The second principle for determining God’s will in doubtful matters is that although all things are lawful for Christians – because he is not under law but under grace – all things are not expedient. That is true for two reasons: first, because the thing itself may gain a harmful control over him or have a harmful effect on him physically. Second, because through him it may hurt other Christians. The first reason is given in 1 Corinthians 6:12. Paul knew that God had not set him free from sin and the law in order for him to become captive to mere things. Later on in 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul gives the second reason why something may not be expedient. The verses that follow show that he is thinking of the edification and growth of fellow Christians.
Moreover, we are to be consistent in our abstinence, for we must not appear double-faced or hypocritical. We must sometimes be consistent over a long period of time. Paul wrote, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Cor. 8:13). Never again! And this from the same apostle who had defended the cause of Christian liberty successfully before the Jerusalem apostles! We must remember that it will be costly if we are to be careful of the effect of our conduct upon others.
The final principle of the three that best helps to direct our conduct in doubtful areas is Philippians 4:8. According to this verse the Christian is to decide between doubtful things by choosing the best. This does not exclude the best things in our society, whether explicitly Christian or not. Paul is saying that although the pursuit of the best things by Christians will necessarily mean the pursuit of fellowship with God, the will of God, all means to advance the claims of the gospel, and other spiritual things also, it will not mean the exclusion of the best values the world has to offer. The things that are acknowledged to be honorable by the best people everywhere are also worthy to be cultivated by Christians. Consequently, Christians can love all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, wherever they find it. When we pursue the highest things in life, both spiritually and secularly, then the God of peace will be with us. And we shall have the confidence that He will bless and guide us as we seek to please Him.
Philippians 4:8-9 Reflection Questions:
Do you find yourself more legalistic or graceful?
What is God speaking to you about with this study?
These two verses are an exceptionally fine statement of the Christian doctrine of prayer. What is prayer? Prayer is talking with God, and the place to begin in any definition of prayer is with the fact that prayer is for believers only. Paul did not write his words about prayer to the pagan world at Philippi or to the world at large. He wrote them “to the saints in Christ Jesus” at Philippi. This means that prayer is exclusively for Christians. It is the means by which an empty soul that has been touched by Jesus Christ can be thrust beneath the life-giving fountain of God’s grace, can bask in God’s goodness, and can be supernaturally refreshed for life’s tasks. Prayer is the Christian’s antidote for anxiety.
I know something called prayer is offered a billion times daily by millions of people who are not Christians, but this is not prayer in any real sense. Scores of non-Christian people in the East spend the better part of a day spinning prayer wheels. Savages chant prayers in many jungle clearings. New Agers finger prayer beads. Many poor souls cry out a prayer in the midst of some calamity. Many non-Christians give themselves to a life of meditation. But this is not true prayer, if the person involved is not a Christian. Prayer is talking to God, and the only prayer that God hears and answers is one that is made through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone provides access to His presence.
This truth was taught by Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus did not say that He was one of several ways to come to God, that He was a prophet who pointed out the ways to God; He said that He was the way to come to God, and He added, lest anyone misunderstand Him, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” This means that no prayer offered to God apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has ever reached God his heavenly Father. There are more passages in the Bible that tell when God will not answer prayer than there are passages in which He promises to do it, and God definitely says He will not answer the prayer of anyone who does not come through faith in His Son.
Have you ever tried to pray and found God distant and unreal? Have you gone away without any real hope that God has heard you? It may be that you have never done the first thing God requires. Your sin divides you like a wall from God’s presence. It will only be removed by Jesus Christ. You need to come to Him. You need to say, “Lord Jesus Christ, I recognize that I am separated from you by my sin; but I believe you died for me to remove that sin forever. Remove it now, and accept me as your child. Amen.” If you do that, God will remove your sin, and He will accept you as His child forever. Now we must also add that although it is true that God does not hear the prayer of non-Christians, it is also true that He does not hear prayers offered by many Christians. In fact, the Bible says that God will never hear a Christian’s prayer so long as the Christian is clinging to some sin in his heart. If this describes you, you must confess your sin openly and frankly, knowing that God “is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We can only pray if our lives are open books before Him.
Everything that has been noted up to this point has ourselves as the center; but if you know what prayer is, you know also that prayer necessarily involves other people. The Bible calls such prayer “intercession” (1 Tim 2:1). As we meet with God in prayer – at the beginning of a day, at its end, or in any moment throughout it – these concerns should also be a part of our conversation with Him. We should have great boldness as we present the concerns of others.
There is one other point about prayer that comes directly from this passage. Prayer is not only talking with God, nor is it only intercession for others. Prayer is also an opportunity to present our requests to Him. Paul calls them petitions. God invites us to place our earnest requests before Him. This is God’s cure for anxiety. Christians are troubled about many things. You may be troubled about your work, your family, the future, money, sex, or happiness. God invites you to place your request about these things before Him. The promise of the verse is that the peace of God will keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 Reflection Questions:
Are you clinging to some sin in your heart? Repent now!
What type of relationship with God would you say you have?
What is your definition of “praying without ceasing?”
How did God answer Paul’s prayer while in chains in Rome? Did he get peace?
Have you ever tried to tell someone something but have found it difficult either because you feared it might be offensive or because you knew the person might not understand? If so, you can understand Paul’s position as we consider the fourth chapter of Philippians, verses 2-5. Paul was trying to say something to the Philippians that was difficult for him to say because he was afraid that the persons involved might resent it.
Apparently there had been trouble at Philippi. Two of the Christian women had been at odds with one another and the disagreement had grown to the point where it could hinder the unity and effectiveness of the church. Paul wished to warn them of the danger and wanted to urge a more cooperative spirit. But these women were his friends, and every time he approached the subject of unity in the letter he seemed to come short of a direct application. With our verses we are studying today Paul has finally pointed directly to the lack of harmony within the church. Notice he does not elaborate on the problem; he does not even reprove or command those involved. Instead he quietly points to the means by which unity may be restored among us and other Christians.
We must recognize at the outset, however, that the unity referred to here is a Christian unity, and this means a unity only among those in God’s family. Paul says that Euodia and Syntyche are “to agree with each other in the Lord.” Who are those “in the Lord”? Only those, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ; Christian unity is only possible for them. There are some practical ways in which the harmony that exists initially among God’s children is to be expressed and maintained. Paul tactfully lists them in his brief remarks to Euodia and Syntyche.
First, Paul says that Christians are to agree with each other in the Lord. This means they are to have the mind of Christ. It is the same thing that Paul had in mind earlier in 2:5. He is speaking of the attitude that Jesus had in relation to others. For the mind of Christ is the humble mind, the lowly mind. It is the mind of One who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but who emptied Himself to die for the salvation and well-being of others. This will never occur apart from a personal and intimate walk with God, for in ourselves we do not like humility, and we cannot achieve it without Him.
Second, we must work with other Christians. Paul calls attention to this aspect of unity by referring to his fellow workers at Philippi. Paul is saying that it is not enough for Christians merely to be thinking in a spirit of unity, they must be working in a spirit of unity also. Paul was looking back to the glorious days he had spent in Philippi among the Christians. He was thinking of the great joy he had as he worked with them for spiritual ends. Now that unity is threatened, he says to them, “Keep on. Do not let your unity be ruined by friction between your members. Work together. Make sure your unity can be seen in your actions.
The third thing that the Philippians must do is to rejoice in the Lord (v. 4). Paul knew that if Christians are rejoicing in God’s mercy and goodness they are not so likely to be nitpicking with their fellow Christians. The word “rejoice” is interesting, for it is only a variant form of the word “joy,” which is one of the great Christian virtues and the fruit of God’s spirit. Consequently rejoicing, like joy, is supernatural. Joy is the Christian virtue; happiness is the virtue of the world. There is all the difference in the world between them. Happiness is entirely external and circumstantial. Joy issues from the nature of God, and it is intended to well up within those in whom God’s Spirit dwells. It is not external; it is internal. It does not hinge upon circumstances. Things may happen to the Christian that no one, including the Christian, would be happy about. But there can still be joy. The Christian who is filled with this supernatural, abounding joy will not be finding grounds for disagreement with fellow Christians.
Finally, Paul says that Christians are to let their “gentleness be evident to all” (v. 5). Literally, Paul means they should be “reasonable.” The sentence is a warning not to be unduly rigorous about unimportant matters. This does not mean that Christians are to be compromising in their doctrinal beliefs. Actually, he is merely saying that those who profess the name of Christ should be a bit bending in their attitudes, especially where other Christians are concerned.
None of these high standards of conduct is easy. The difficulty of doing them and living them is where the problem of unity lies. It is one thing read these Scriptures, but it’s quite another thing putting the words into practice. Fortunately, Paul knew the difficulty also, and he has given us the solution to the problem. Have you ever noticed how many times he speaks of being “in the Lord” in the first four verses of this chapter? Three times! And once he reminds the Philippians that “the Lord is near.” The solution is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who will do in the lives of yielded Christians what we might judge impossible. Christian unity will occur only as we surrender ourselves to Him and seek His will, as his Holy Spirit enters our lives and begins to make us into the kind of men, women, children, and young people that He would have us be.
Philippians 4:2-5 Reflection Questions:
Do you have an ongoing personal and intimate relationship with God?
What does “being in the Lord” mean to you? And how does that help you have Christian unity?
What are some examples of happiness verses being jofuly?
Because of what Jesus Christ has done for us – because of His life, death, and resurrection, and the resulting victory over sin and the devil – we are now to stand fast in Him, united as God’s soldiers against a spiritually hostile environment.
It’s a remarkable fact that at several crucial junctures in Paul’s letters the practical outcome of the Christian’s warfare against the world and Satan is defined as a matter of “standing,” and this is even more remarkable because it is part of a military metaphor. If we were writing the passage and were using Paul’s image, we should most likely speak of invasion, marching, or conquest. But Paul does not do that; instead, he speaks of standing. God does not tell us to march into battle or to conquer, God tells us to stand, and the implication of that command is that God has already done or is doing the conquering. We are only to hold the ground He conquers.
The difference between marching and standing is the difference between offense and defensive warfare. It’s like a football game; the defense has the ground (goal) and the offense is fighting in order to get the ground (goal). And that is precisely the difference between the warfare waged by the Lord Jesus and the warfare waged by us. Jesus was offensive; our is defensive. Jesus warred against Satan in order to gain the victory. Through the cross He carried that warfare to the threshold of Hell itself, to lead forth thence his captivity captive (4:8-9). Today we war against Satan only to maintain and consolidate the victory which He has already gained. By the resurrection God proclaimed His Son victor over the whole realm of darkness, and the ground Christ won He has given to us. We do not need to fight to obtain it. We only need to hold it against all challengers.
Standing on the work of the Lord Jesus Christ and on His promises does not mean there will not be work for us to do. There will always be testing. There will often be much strenuous activity. It does not mean escape. But it does mean that even in the activity and even in the testing there can be and overriding confidence in God and in His promises. We shall know we are merely standing on ground that He has already won and given to us. By His grace we shall expect at the end of the battle still to be standing with Him victorious and in triumphant possession of the field.
Philippians 4:1 Reflection Questions:
What are the conquests that Jesus has made for those who trust Him?
How are you doing your part in standing with Jesus?
What is He calling you to do for Him
In the early days of the Christian church the doctrine of the last things had three great points of focus: the return of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the final judgment. Of the three the most significant was Jesus Christ’s return. This was the blessed hope of Christians; it was for this they prayed. With this thought they comforted one another in the face of sorrow, persecutions, death, and martyrdom. We can imagine that as they lay in prison, suffering and tormented, often near death, they looked for His coming and thought that perhaps in an instant and without warning Jesus would appear and call them home. Unfortunately, in our day belief in the second coming of Jesus Christ has faded into a remote and sometimes irrelevant doctrine in many large segments of the Christian church. It is entirely possible that our present lack of courage and lack of joy flows from this attitude.
It’s hard to see how any professing Christian can dismiss the return of Jesus Christ, but some today do. The return of Jesus Christ is mentioned in every one of the New Testament books except Galatians and the very short books such as 2 and 3 John and Philemon. Jesus quite often spoke of His return. John wrote, “Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him” (Rev. 1:7). It’s the same in the verse that is our text in Philippians 3:20-21. In these verses and in many others the early Christians expressed their belief in a personal return that was to be closely associated with the resurrection and transformation of their own bodies and a final judgment of individuals and nations. They acknowledged that their lives should be lived on a higher plane because of it.
The personal return of Jesus Christ should have a profound bearing on our own life and conduct. The greatest consequence of belief in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ should be a purification of our conduct. Another consequence of a firm belief in the return of Jesus Christ should be a transformed understanding of suffering. For suffering strengthens our hope and makes our present fellowship with Jesus more wonderful. All of God’s children learn sooner or later that tribulations will come. But the Christian can have a hope in the midst of tribulation that transforms suffering and is strengthened by it.
Up to this point it has been encouraging and it has been intended for Christians. But there is a somber side, for those who do not know Christ and who therefore do not expect Him; Christ is coming, it will be a joy for Christians. But it will also mean the beginning of Christ’s judgments. These will be terrible for those who do not know Him. People react in one of two ways to Christ’s judgment. Some simply disbelieve it, for they think that judgment is incompatible with the character of God. For the unbeliever, who has heard the offer of salvation by grace through the gospel but refers to deal with God’s justice. Pity the man who wants nothing from God but God’s justice! Justice will condemn a person to hell. The only hope for anyone lies in God’s mercy. Humans are condemned by God’s justice. If you seek nothing from God but justice, you will be condemned at Jesus Christ’s return. Fortunately there is no need to meet Him as Judge. For the One is coming in judgment is also the One who once came as the Savior, to die for your sin, to bear your judgment, and to meet you thereafter as your Lord, your friend, and your bridegroom. You must decide how you will meet Him. The decisions of this life affect the issues of eternity.
The resurrection of Jesus is the great historical fact upon which all the Christian doctrines are suspended and before which all honest disbelief must waver. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the unshakeable evidence for our own resurrection. Because He lives we shall live also. That is why Paul says what he says in the verse we have now come to in our study of Philippians 3:21. This verse teaches three things: 1) Jesus is living, 2) because He lives we shall live, and 3) because He was transformed we shall be transformed. Moreover, we know all of these things through the fact of His own resurrection.
Apart from the resurrection of Jesus himself there are only three resurrections recorded in the four Gospels. Each began in mourning and sorrow; each ended in exuberant joy. What made the difference? Nothing but the coming of Jesus! Jesus said of himself, “I am the life,” and where life meets death, death is vanquished. Death was vanquished, and it will be abolished forever for us when Jesus Christ returns. Perhaps you are saying, “Can I really believe that is possible? Is Jesus really able to do the things claimed? Of course, He is! Think of the things for which the Bible tells us He is able in 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 2:18; Jude 24; Eph. 3:20; and Heb. 7:25. Can He do these things? Of course, He can. In the same way He is able to raise up our bodies, transform them by “the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control” (Phil. 3:21).
Philippians 3:20-21 Reflection Questions:
Are you looking for Jesus’ return? If so, how is that affecting your personal conduct and concern on social issues as well as other things?
Does your suffering (whatever that currently may be) bring you closer to fellowship with Jesus Christ?
Do you know Jesus Christ personally?
Do you believe that Jesus is able to rise up our bodies and transform them? If so, how does that affect your living on this side of heaven?
Have you ever noticed that the way a person walks quite often reveals his character? A coward will often slink away or perhaps walk along with a smug, blustery air. The way people walk reveals something of their ambition, state of mind, and values. It’s for this reason, perhaps, that Christians are called to an exemplary walk in the Bible. They are told to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1). They are to walk “wisely” (Eph. 5:15, “with respect” (1 Thess. 4:12), and “in the light” (1 John 1:7). In Philippians 3:16-19 Paul speaks twice of the Christian’s walk and once of the unbeliever’s walk, teaching that the walk of the believer in Jesus Christ is to reveal the true nature of his calling.
The first thing that we must understand about the walk of the Christian is that it is to be different from the walk he had before becoming Christ’s follower. In other words, the standards you had before you became a Christian are to be replaced by new standards now. Why is it that Paul speaks here of those who are enemies of the cross of Christ? It’s because Paul knew that this is the way we all were before we became followers of Jesus Christ, and he wished to stress it. He wanted his readers to know that their new calling was to be entirely different. This is the true meaning of conversion, to turn around. Before you believed, you were going down a path that led away from God. Then God saved you. He reached down and in grace turned you around, reversing your values to His values, and setting you on a path of His choosing. Because of this reorientation “the old has gone the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17); if you are to walk as a Christian, you must begin with this primary reversal of your standards.
A second important thought about the proper walk of a Christian occurs in verse 17.Here the apostle says clearly as he can that the walk of the believer must always be a walk with, and therefore in harmony with, other Christians. The successful walk of the Christian depends not only on his own goals or on his own doctrine; it also depends upon the success of his walk with other Christians. This doesn’t mean that the Christian ceases to be an individual before God, of course. But it does mean that he must be conscious of the other individuals. He must be concerned for them and cooperate with them in common objectives.
Then we must also walk with the Lord, for we take our orders from him and not from one another. The ship sailing in formation does not take its directions from the ship beside it but from the admiral on the deck of the flagship. Similarly, Christians must take their orders from the Lord Jesus Christ. This will not come through a mystical experience. It will come only through knowledge of God’s Word. Think of the blessings that are promised to an individual as the result of a personal and prayerful study of God’s Word. First we become Christians by exposure to the truths in the Bible. Peter said that we are “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). The second is our sanctification, for it’s by a study of the Bible and fellowship with God that we are made increasingly as He would have us to be. John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them by truth; your Word is truth.” Third, the Word of God is the primary means by which God reveals His will to us. God’s Word contains unshakable facts and great principles, and through these God teaches us that certain things are His will for us and other things are not. You must spend time reading the Bible daily. If you are a Christian, God has a path marked out for you. You will find it only as you discover His will for you through Scripture.
A final function of God’s Word, as we fellowship with Him in it, is to keep us from the counterfeits of truth. Whenever the truth of the gospel is preached, the devil will immediately set about to erect a counterfeit beside it, an idol that looks like the real thing but that is dead because it omits the life-giving heart of the gospel. There is much we need to know, but we do have the Bible. Shall we neglect it or not? Christian friends, let us fill up our souls with the Bible. For only then shall we see clearly the way we should walk.
Philippians 3:16-19 Reflection Questions:
Is your walk as a Christian harmonious with other Christians regardless of denominational and doctrinal differences?
Do you know how relevant the Bible can be to your life and how God can use it to reveal His will to you? If so, How.
Do you read and meditate on the Bible daily?
How can you know God’s will? How is it possible for a person to know the mind of God? If God has a plan for your life, how does He reveal it to you? How does a sinful, finite human being come to know what a holy and infinite God desires? Our starting point for finding the biblical answers to these questions is the text we have now come to in our study of the Book of Philippians.
In the verses immediately preceding verse 15 Paul has written of the aspirations that should characterize our Christian conduct. At this point however, he turns directly to his readers and admonishes them to likeminded. He adds, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you” (v. 15). In this verse Paul says that in spiritual things the Philippians could be totally certain of God’s guidance. I believe that this verse can be rightly applied to every aspect of our lives, for all of life bears on God’s calling. Our text does not mean that we shall always be able to see more than one step ahead in our Christian lives. It does not mean that we shall even always be able to see ahead at all. But it does mean that God has a plan for our lives and that He promises to reveal the steps of that plan to us.
The basis for this assurance lies in the nature of God. For it is God’s nature to reveal Himself and His purposes to us. This statement brings us to the first of the biblical principles by which a Christian may unquestionably come to know God’s will. If you really want to know God’s will, you must be willing to do His will even before you know what it is. This is clearly taught in John 7:17. In this verse, although Jesus was speaking literally of the rejection of His doctrine by the Jewish leaders, He was actually teaching the greater principle that knowing the will of God consists largely in being willing to do it.
The second principle for knowing the will of God is that nothing can be the will of God that is contrary to the Word of God. The God who is leading you now is the God who inspired the Bible then, and He is not contradictory in His commandments. Consequently, nothing can be the will of God for you that is not in accordance with His Word. God’s will is expressed in great principles like: John 6:40; Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 6:5-6, are some examples. Perhaps you are saying, “Well, these are good, but they do not touch some of the small things I’m wrestling with. You want to know whether you should go to certain movies as a Christian, make friends with the people at work, join in social drinking, or some other thing. Let me give a final principle that covers some of these, Philippians 4:8. God says you are to pursue the best things in life. If these things are the best things for you, then do them. If not, you are to go another way. Just be sure that you take your guidelines from Scripture.
The third principle is also important. It’s the principle of daily and even hourly fellowship with the Lord. Psalm 32:8 states it this way: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” The King James Version says, “I will guide you with my eye.” Clearly, if God is to guide us with His eye, He must first catch our eye. This means that we must look to Him regularly throughout the day. The Lord knows we shall go astray because it’s our nature. We will always do things that displease Him, but we must get into the habit of looking to Him often – in church, in our quiet time, in the various periods of our day – to catch His eye, to notice His sign. If we do, we shall find Him watching and He will direct us and guide us with His eye.
There is only one more point that I need to make, and it’s not difficult at all. If you are serious about knowing the Lord’s will and honestly seeking it, then you must be prepared for the Lord to guide you into new ways. If there is one thing that I have most learned about the Lord’s guidance it is that He does not often lead us in old ways. God is creative; He is creative in His plans for His children.
If you will seek God’s will, determining to do it even before you know what it is, if you will look to Him while responding to His voice in the Bible, then God will reveal His way and direct you in ever widening and ever more interesting paths. He will be close to you, and He will lead you in the way that you should go.
Philippians 3:15 Reflection Questions:
It what new ways is God leading you? Are you open to new ways?
Do you really want to know God’s will for you or do you fear what He might ask you to do?
How often do you look to Him?