I have always enjoyed most of Jack London’s literature. I was fascinated by the Call of the Wild as a youth. I read it over and over. However, most of his world view went sailing right over my head. I have since regretted that the life of such a great writer ended in destruction due to his existential foundation. Yet, today I write about the foundation of Jesus Christ and the fruit promised to those who trust in him as explained in the Book of Philippians.
But before we take a look at the book of Philippians let’s consider one work of London titled simply, The Pocket. This short story tells the tale of an old weathered gold prospector in search of the big one. The prospector enters a beautiful valley with a lazy stream cutting through the bottom and he begins his work. He pans at one end of the stream and discovers a bit of gold dust. He moves down a bit and finds even more. Oddly he marks the spot and moves several hundred yards down the stream and pans back toward the spot he marked. Along the way he again finds gold dust in increasing amounts as he moves toward where he first began. He then wipes his brow and smiles as he surveys the grassy slope adjacent to the stream. Oddly again he leaves the stream and digs several small holes on the slope and again further up the slope, now beginning to whistle and nod his head. If you had been on the crest of the opposite slope you would have seen that the prospector was calculating a triangle with the base at the stream and the apex at the source of the gold, The Pocket.
Similarly, knowledge and wisdom must be applied to mine the gold from God’s Word. We need a strategy to get to the apex, to The Pocket. We need prayer, discussion with other believers, and lots and lots of time reading his Word. We need to look at the whole of Scripture, upstream and downstream to be blessed with the whole picture of God’s promises. We would also benefit from an understanding of grammar, the elements of composition, and literary style. We ought to notice details like repeated words, usage of figures of speech, and the historical setting of the book. In this article I hope to expose a few nuggets of gold for you and also one of the biggest pockets of gold, Christ’s promise of guaranteed salvation.
The Word of Christ says, “being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 WEB). Discover that pocket of gold today!
In The Pocket, like many of London’s stories, the man’s life ends in meaninglessness. The prospector eventually unearths a huge pocket of gold on the slope. The old man digs and sweats finding the big one at the bottom of ten foot hole at the point of his calculations. As he prepares to carry his treasure out of the hole a shadow grows over his head. A thief watched all day while the prospector did the hard work and after the gold was found, he killed him and stole the gold. Such are the treasures of this world, but not the gold of God’s promises. They cannot be stolen or lost. They are eternally guaranteed and safely recorded in the Book of Life. So let’s apply the wisdom we have to look at the book of Philippians with great confidence and anticipation.
Major on the Majors
Paul begins this letter the same as most of his letters, with a greeting and an introductory prayer. You will note as you read the prayer that Paul builds a list of very specific praises and prayer requests for the Philippian Christians. Read through the prayer carefully and you will see the mention of various spiritual themes. Perhaps Paul is introducing the major themes of the remainder of the book in his prayer! Though the chapter and verse numbers and the extra subheadings added by the editors of our Bibles may be a help they are not nearly as helpful as the thought that the Holy Spirit himself might specifically list the main points of the book in the introductory prayer. We might be tempted to think of the Bible as a massive encyclopedia of verses, and many people use it that way. However, consider that the Holy Spirit is a writer par excellence and no doubt uses and even defines all the tools of the most excellent writers. In this case I propose that Philippians is a composition with Paul’s opening prayer serving as the introduction of the main points of the book to be followed by an expansion of each of these themes in the body of the book. The usefulness of this observation is that we have more definite guidance as to what the major points are so that we can major on them as we apply them to our lives and teach them to others. Of course there are also minor points in book that are equally true that we should be careful not to disregard.
Paul’s Introductory Prayer
I have underlined five major points in Paul’s prayer below that appear to be the outline for the remainder of the book. This seems clear because the very words and themes under discussion are expanded upon later in the body of the book. For example Paul prays in thankfulness for the partnership of the Philippians in verse 1:5. Then as we read the body of the letter Paul urges them to stand as "one man" for the gospel in 1:27 and commends them for going through the "same struggle" in 1:30. In fact it would appear that 1:12-30 is one paragraph that explains Paul’s struggle and the partnership evident with the Philippians because they shared the same struggle. The Greek word for partnership, koinōnia, is used again in 2:1 and 3:1 for partnership with the Spirit and with Christ.
Read the prayer yourself and see for yourself what words and themes are introduced there and expanded upon in the body of the letter.
1) Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ; To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and servants: 2) Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3) I thank my God whenever I remember you, 4) always in every request of mine on behalf of you all, making my requests with joy, 5) for your partnership in furtherance of the Good News from the first day until now; 6) being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. 7) It is even right for me to think this way on behalf of all of you, because I have you in my heart, because both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the Good News, you all are partakers with me of grace. 8) For God is my witness, how I long after all of you in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus. 9) This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10) so that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense to the day of Christ, 11) being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.Philippians 1:1-11 (WEB)
With these observations we can then propose an outline for the contents of the book of Philippians. I am probably just weird that this stuff gets me excited because I really didn’t like English in high school. In fact my 9th grade teacher Mrs. M. rebuked me for my distastes of literary study and failure to appreciate the elements of composition. If she could only see me now! Of course the value of these observations is not to be mere literary students of the Scripture but to learn from the Holy Spirit’s literary genius, to more fully understand his message, and to apply it too our lives. It sure would be a shame to be a student of the Word who never graduated to obedience or as Paul warned Timothy of men who are always learning, but never acknowledging the truth.
Jeff’s Proposed Outline
1. Introduction, 1:1-11
a. Greeting, 1:1-2
b. Thesis - I thank God every time I remember you, 1:3-11
1. Partners, 1:3-6
2. Longing, 1:7-8
3. Love, 1:9
4. Sincere and without offense, 1:10
5. Fruits of righteousness through Christ, 1:11
2. Body of the letter, 1:12-4:20
a. Partners in suffering, 1:12-30
b. Have the same love, 2:1-11
c. Become blameless and pure, 2:12-30
1. Blameless and pure, 2:12-18
2. Timothy’s example, 2:19-24
3. Epaphroditus’ example, 2:25-30
d. Righteousness from God, 3:1-21
e. You whom I love and long for, 4:1-20
3. Conclusion, 4:21-23
Partners in Suffering
Paul prayed, "4) always in every request of mine on behalf of you all, making my requests with joy, 5) for your partnership in furtherance of the Good News from the first day until now; 6) being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:4-6 WEB).
Paul was called by Christ to a challenge beyond his own ability. He was appointed an apostle by Christ and charged to abandon every previous goal he had to herald the gospel. The Lord warned him, “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:16 WEB). No doubt even the great Apostle Paul felt lonely at times, though never alone from Christ. So we understand Paul’s thankfulness that the Philippians were partners with him in the work. He had few partners. Paul highlights in Chapter 4 that the Philippians gladly associated with him and helped him financially. Paul says, “However you did well that you shared in my affliction” (Philippians 4:14 WEB).
In Philippians 1:12-30 Paul discusses his own suffering, the suffering that Christ called him to endure. Paul concludes urging the Philippians to stand firm with him and each other through opposition. "27) Only let your way of life be worthy of the Good News of Christ, that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your state, that you stand firm in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the Good News; 28) and in nothing frightened by the adversaries, which is for them a proof of destruction, but to you of salvation, and that from God. 29) Because it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer on his behalf, 30) having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me." (Philippians 1:27-30 WEB).
While the Galatian and Corinthian churches were the cause of suffering for Paul because of their waywardness, just as you and I have also caused others pain, the Philippians were a great encouragement because they suffered by Paul’s side in the battle. While we Americans shop and hop churches Paul found koinōnia with those willing to suffer with him for Christ. The Lord himself said not one word about reward for finding the best church, but instead the promise of reward to those simply willing to suffer for his name, Matthew 10:32-33.
Have the Same Love
Paul prayed, “This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9 WEB).
We are not surprised to see love on the list of major themes of any New Testament book and love is found here in the book of Philippians. Love is highlighted in Philippians 2:1-11, the second major paragraph of the body of the book in my suggested outline. Paul says, “1) If therefore there is any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassion, 2) make my joy full by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2 WEB). In this passage Paul points to the love we have received from Christ and urges us to have the same love for others. The paragraph is sometimes called the kenosis passage. Kenosis is the Greek word used in verse 2:7 and it means "emptied" or "made himself nothing." Christ emptied himself to lovingly serve us. Are we emptying ourselves, that is pouring ourselves out, to lovingly serve others?
Become Blameless and Pure
Paul prayed, "so that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense to the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:10 WEB).
Good theology leads to holiness. It is great if an engineer theorizes a better way, but is the theory actually applied to put something in motion? Good theology moves Christians to holiness. Paul says, “12) So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13) For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. 14) Do all things without complaining and arguing, 15) that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without defect in the middle of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:12-15 WEB). Very practically, as a result of Christ’s love we are urged to obey, work out our salvation, do not complain, do not argue, and become blameless and pure. And the reward promised for pursuing these things is not Hollywood stardom, but to shine like a star in the universe!
Righteousness from God
Paul prayed, "being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:11 WEB).
Good theology leads to Christ. The Lord appointed Paul to be the champion of grace theology. Paul’s prayer highlights that righteousness, or right standing before God, comes through the work of Jesus Christ. A sinner cannot ever merit right standing before God. Instead Jesus Christ has freely given his merits to the account of mankind. Paul emphasizes, “8) Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be a loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ 9) and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:8-9 WEB).
And good theology leads to fruit. The beginning point of the Christian life is realizing we are empty of any fruit to merit heaven, and thus we turn to the free gift of Christ’s righteousness applied to our account. The life of one believing will then become filled with fruit because of our gratitude also from God’s grace. Paul shared, “14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15) Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. If in anything you think otherwise, God will also reveal that to you. 16) Nevertheless, to the extent that we have already attained, let's walk by the same rule. Let's be of the same mind. 17) Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example” (Philippians 3:14-17 WEB).
Philippians 3:11 also is a challenging verse to translate and understand. The sentence in begins with Philippians 3:8-10 (WEB), “8) Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be a loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ 9) and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith, 10) that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death,” Followed by verse 11…
KJV “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
NIV “And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
NASB “In order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
NAB “Thus do I hope that I may arrive at resurrection from the dead.”
Some translations could be wrongly interpreted to mean that Paul strove to merit the privilege of his resurrection by dying like Christ. Yet we know that neither salvation nor resurrection can be earned, even by a martyrs’ death. So what is meant? Greek study reveals that the condition to attain or arrive at the resurrection in verse 11 is the same condition used in verse 8 to gain Christ. We know that Paul’s gaining Christ as Savior in verse 8 is not conditioned upon considering everything else rubbish. That would be works! Rather Paul IS found righteous through faith in Christ without condition, yet to fully experience this reality the condition is to consider everything else rubbish. Likewise Paul’s resurrection IS also certain without condition. Yet to fully experience that reality the condition is to die a Christ-like death.
Now this is not necessarily a call to martyrdom, though the godly are promised persecution, nor does one need to be crucified to die like Christ, but instead to face the suffering and death appointed for us with Christ-like confidence. My mother died of cancer holding on to Christian hope. She had Christ-like courage in death and so her resurrection will be that of a champion! The NAB suggests that Paul hoped to arrive at the resurrection with the condition of being like Christ in his death. The NASB suggests that Paul strove to meet the condition of a Christ-like death to fully experience the reality of resurrection power. In either case our resurrection is not merited, but a gracious gift. Paul knew his weakness and so humbly states that he "hopes" to arrive at the resurrection having died like Christ.
Sadly even Christians leave this world in fear or shame. And Paul’s hope was not the vain boast of Peter who said “even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you,” while picking up a sword of steel. Paul knew his strength was insufficient for the challenges laid before him, but he hoped for God’s strength to wield the sword of the Spirit and face whatever suffering and death Christ called him to with Christ-likeness.
You Whom I Love and Long For
Paul prayed, “It is even right for me to think this way on behalf of all of you, because I have you in my heart, because both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the Good News, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how I long after all of you in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:7-8 WEB).
Paul had many enemies, few Christian friends, and even fewer partners in suffering. Paul threatened the stubborn Corinthians with the whip of rebuke, but he pours out his heart in longing for the Philippians. God’s grace empowered Paul to serve all the churches, but no doubt the Philippians were a joy. Paul concludes saying, “Therefore, my brothers, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1 WEB).
May God help each of us to count the cost of living and dying in Christ-likeness and may God help our church families to be a blessing to others like the church of Philippi was to Paul.