The Road Love Travels

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Philippians (1)

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Philippi was a Roman colony that had been planted in Macedonia, which is now northern Greece. It was settled as a place where Roman soldiers could retire. A great battle had been fought there, and it was suitably distant from Rome. You always wanted to keep an eye on retired soldiers. But it was more of a Roman city than a Greek one. Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned somewhere, and various places have been suggested as possible locations. The mostly likely scenario is that he wrote this letter while imprisoned at Rome (around 62 A.D.). The references Caesar’s household, not to mention the praetorium, are consistent with this (Phil. 1:13; Phil. 4:22).

The Text

“Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:1–11).

Summary of the Text

Some of Paul’s letters had a co-author, like this one with Timothy, and others, like Romans or Ephesians, had Paul as the sole author (v. 1). Paul and Timothy wrote this epistle as slaves of Christ, and they wrote to the saints at Philippi, together with the bishops and deacons (v. 1). Notice that we have slaves writing to saints.

This is followed by the standard salutation of grace and peace from the Father and Son. I believe the Spirit is not mentioned because He is that grace and peace (v. 2). Every time Paul thinks of the Philippians, he thanks God for them (v. 3). He rejoices before God in all his prayers for them (v. 4), rejoicing in their partaking (koinonia) in the gospel from the start down to the present (v. 5). Paul is confident that God is the kind of God who finishes whatever He starts (v. 6), and will do so down to the day of Christ. It is fitting for him to think this way because the Philippians were co-partakers (that word again) of his chains, and of his defense and confirmation of the gospel. God Himself can testify how much Paul loves the Philippians in the deep affection of Jesus Christ (v. 8). But however deep it all is, that is not enough for Paul . . . he wants their love to abound “more and more” in knowledge and all discernment (v. 9). This will enable them to approve what is excellent, and it will render them sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (v. 10). They will do this filled with the fruits of righteousness, brought into being by Jesus Christ, with the result that God receives great glory and praise (v. 11).

Where the Action Is

Notice how Paul and Timothy address the congregation of saints directly. The letter is written to “all the saints at Philippi”—that is where the action is. Paul does address the rulers in the church, but does so in an afterthought. He speaks to the congregation, and then adds the phrase “the bishops and deacons.” The word for bishop (episcopos) is being used here synonymously with presbyteros, or elder. Note the plural—this is not the solitary monarchical bishop of the second century. At the same time, the office of a solitary bishop did begin very early. The point is that this is not a uniform scriptural usage. This church was governed by a session of men who were elders or bishops, and the church was also served by a band of deacons. Nevertheless, Paul speaks directly to them all—from which we see their rulers were not their mediators. 

Deep Affection

The AV refers to the love of Christ here with the phrase the “bowels of Jesus Christ.” This is more reflective of the original than the word affection does by itself (NKJV, ESV, NASB). Paul loves the Philippians with an intense love that Jesus Christ Himself churns up in his gut.

God does not love us because He is divine and that is technically His job. Too many Christians think of the love of God as something that is rarefied and disinterested and “objective” and theological, and totally, completely pure and detached. We tend to think that the love of God is so pure that it is scarcely even interested in us.

This is not even close to being biblical. God so loved the world that He gave . . . gave what? His only begotten Son (John 3:16). And when that love of God is ministered to us through our fellow saints, it flows through those personal channels in personally turbulent ways.  

The Road Love Travels

With this said, it would be a grave mistake to think that the essence of love is sentimental turbulence. The thing that is turbulent about it is the opposition that genuine love always provokes. Love is a kayak in a stretch of white water—and in a fallen world the white water is a given.

Biblical love has a brain. It is intelligent. Notice the progression that we see in this passage. Paul has a profound love for the Philippians, and he is asking God that their love would abound. Abound in what? He wants their love to abound more and more in knowledge. And in discernment (v. 9). He is not looking for an emotional vat of sentimental goo. This knowledge and discernment will lead them to approve what is excellent (v. 10). Love has standards. This in turn will keep them sincere and without offense until the day of Christ. It will fill them up with the fruits of righteousness, and in a way that will glorify God (v. 11).

So notice love > knowledge/discernment > approval of excellence > sincerity/blamelessness > fruits of righteousness. This is not some emotional warp spasm. Love is disciplined, and doesn’t just go blarg. There is a direction to it because growth in love is a growing up into love. And this is only possible because growth into love is to grow up into our Lord Jesus Christ. Love yearns to put on the new man.

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Andrew Lohr
1 year ago

Probably I missed the announcement years? ago, but is there some reason your sermons are no longer followed by communion homilies? I’d welcome them back. It has occurred to me recently that some churches which would deny that communion works ex opere operato (?) come very close to practicing it. There’s a good service, a good sermon that has nothing to do with communion, words of institution, a prayer or two (Jesus used two)…and none of those words tell us much about how to take the sacrament. Then the elements are passed around to do whatever they do all by… Read more »