Paul’s heartfelt love for the church at Philippi is evident in this part of the study (Philippians 1:3-11) as he recounts their partnership with him in the gospel and God’s ongoing work in them. Because this is primarily a letter of encouragement, Paul is effusive in his exhortations as he prepares these believers for what he will go into in depth further into the letter.
Part 2 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Following his greeting of grace and peace, Paul then thanks God, the source of all favor and blessing. The Philippian body of believers were used as instruments of God’s favor to Paul in the fellowship of his sufferings and in meeting his life/financial needs.
Joy in Prayer
It is a joyful thing for Paul to pray for them. We get the idea here that he does it frequently. They are close to his heart so his prayer pours out naturally and sincerely. We see from this that praying for someone is a way to express our love for them. To go before God and lift their needs up and to ask God to work in their lives is not a small thing.
I’ve noticed that when I pray for people, especially regularly, I feel God growing me in my depth of concern for them.
“There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as praying for him.” (William Law)
I sense Him helping me think through the really significant things that I can be praying for them, things that are higher than simple earthly needs. So God shows me what they need and teaches me what I need, too. This also keeps me humble. When I pray for someone to have correction and wisdom from God, I pray the same thing for myself — because I need it!
I marvel at the fact that this part of the letter simply overflows with Paul’s joy. Consider his circumstances: a prisoner, awaiting trial, potentially at the end of his life. All these factors would be massively stressful and potentially produce fear, anxiety, and worry. He points to two reasons for his joy here in these verses.
How They Work in the Gospel
The first reason for Paul’s joy is that the believers in Philippi partner with him in the gospel. There is a slightly more clear translation possible here that helps us understand this first reason for Paul’s joy: “I thank my God every time I remember you, yes, always in my every prayer for all of you. I pray with joy because of your participation in the gospel…” [see M. Silva, Philippians; G. Fee, Philippians; boldface mine].
Every time Paul thinks of the Philippi believers, he remembers how they made a commitment to the gospel and to supporting Paul’s efforts in it from day one and have followed through on that commitment. You can imagine how tempting it may have been to give up sometimes, how it would have been easier just to stop trying. After all, Paul looked like he was defeated so often. He was opposed to his face by religious rulers. He was a prisoner for what was going on two years. But in prayer, love, and financial support, the church at Philippi came alongside him and stayed alongside him. They didn’t give up when it got tough. The need for our partnership in the gospel remains.
We are partners in the gospel with others:
- through sharing the truth and apologetics
- through supporting by donation, prayer, and encouragement
- even with others we may not know until heaven
- in planting of gospel seeds: you never know what part you play on the person’s way to Christ
We are partners in the gospel with God:
- through being faithful to share and send people out (local and international missions)
- through our prayer for the unsaved
- by showing the world we are different and we are set apart in and for Christ
- by enduring hardship with joy (not putting a fake smile on), and displaying an example of Christ and His power.
We are not partners with God in the sense of equality because it is God’s Spirit who draws people and saves them. That power is greater than any we could have. But we still are encouraged by scripture that we play an important role:
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” [Rom. 10:14-15 ESV]
God chose to save people not through some single, hidden act all by Himself (although He certainly could have done so), but by this mystery: He chose to use people to save people (again conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit) by words spoken (in-person witnessing) and written (online and other witnessing). It is a joy and a privilege to partner with our Lord in this way!
How God Works in Them
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
The second reason for Paul’s joy is his certain confidence of God’s continued work of sanctification in them. Verse 6 gives the sense “since I am sure of this very thing,” meaning, Paul might say, God brought you into His kingdom, He has been working in and through you, and He will finish that work in you, even though that work will not be complete until the day of Jesus Christ.
These believers are being shaped and refined in their faith, both by their own struggles and by witnessing Paul’s own endurance in faith. This is such an encouragement to us as well that we can trust God and His work even when we cannot see immediate results!
Regarding Paul’s reference to the day of Jesus Christ, Roy Zuck and Darrell Bock, in their examination of these verses, point out that “‘the day’ is a variation of the reference to ‘the day of the Lord in the Old Testament, a time of judgment, but Paul was confident that for the Philippians ‘the day of Jesus Christ’ would be a positive experience. [Zuck & Bock, A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, 324]
Partakers of Grace
7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Paul carries forward in verses 7 and 8 the idea from verse 6 that since God is working to completion in these believers, he is justified in being thankful and feeling joy and affection for them (related: 1 Cor. 1:4-9). There is a special bond between believers who support each other during struggles and who sojourn together in the gospel for the glory of God. An inexplicable love and affection forms as you both hold together to the center that is Christ, and as you see one another growing in the grace of God.
In the pairing defense and confirmation, we see both the apologetic aspect as well as the positive advancement and teaching aspect of God’s gospel. Paul calls them partakers of grace and this is an interesting phrase with a rich depth of meaning for us.
Grace to Paul. Paul viewed his apostleship as an act of favor bestowed upon him by God:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…. [Eph. 3:8-9 ESV]
Grace to the Philippian Believers. In meeting Paul’s financial needs, in sharing in the spread of the good news of Christ, and in their shared sufferings and the courage to face the opposition, the church at Philippi tasted some of what God’s grace meant — and were enriched in their understanding of Christ’s sufferings and sacrifice for them.
Grace to You and I. By His special, unmerited, undeserved favor, we live a life in Christ. In turn, we have the joy and privilege of sharing a measure of Christ’s spiritual riches with others.
Journey and Destination
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Paul has another, very specific prayer for his beloved Philippian believers here (I often pray this for myself as well). He starts by asking for the love that they have for God and for one another to abound (literally, overflow, to have an exceeding abundance of) (related: 1 Thess. 3:12).
When I looked at the Greek for the little hinge word “with” here (en in Gr.), I noted that most of the bible translations are rendering it “in” rather than “with.” The reason this is important is because “in” conveys more of the definition of love that Paul talks about here. It is not simply love with a little knowledge and discernment thrown in, but love that abounds more and more in and is defined by its dual character of knowledge and discernment.
This is real love. You are not loving someone if you are not telling them the truth (knowledge of God and His word) or protecting yourself or others from error (discernment via the Holy Spirit and the bible).
So what Paul is praying for these believers here is that the love they have will increase first of all, as Thayer’s describes the fullness of the word epignósis, “in precise and correct knowledge; used in the N. T. of the knowledge of things ethical and divine.” Secondly, he prays their love will increase in discernment (aisthésis): “the brand of sense-discernment which “cuts through” hazy ethical (moral) matters to really “size things up.”
Biblical knowledge and the ability to see things clearly and in the light of God’s truth is the compass by which we as believers navigate. It is the way in which we are able to test and examine things so as to know with certainty what is excellent and what is nonsense. This is what Paul links to in verse 10.
Results of Sanctification
10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
The blend of love that is rooted in and established by knowledge and covers itself with the shield of discernment leads to an ability to determine what is truly right and good. It also helps, with the Spirit’s power and guidance, to conform us as believers more and more to the image of Christ.
What does that look like and what do we look to?
- Pure. The Greek eilikrinés describes “something proven because [it is] well-examined (totally scrutinized) – therefore, certified as sincere (inwardly pure). Eilikrinḗs naturally refers to something completely clear, free from hypocrisy (deceit, wickedness) which stands in the full light of God’s approval.”
- Blameless. Gives the sense of being without offense and not being a cause of stumbling (related: 1 Thess. 3:13; 5:23)
- Day of Christ. As noted earlier in this study, this refers to the day when Christ will return from heaven, raise the dead, hold the final judgment, and perfect his kingdom. We can look to this day with joy!
Real Righteous Evidences
11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Many people outside of Christ do good things and there’s nothing wrong with doing good things in and of itself. Except that in the sight of God, those good things are as filthy rags. They have nothing to do with being saved. They do not get you into God’s heavenly presence for eternity.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. [Isa. 64:6 NIV]
On the other hand, true followers of Christ live out a life reflective of the righteousness in which we stand — the tree produces evidences of what kind of tree it is. Fruit is the result and the benefit of that righteousness that flows only from Christ.
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” [Matt. 5:16 NAS]