Thursday, January 20, 2011
We looked Tuesday at two reasons why the Church needs this particular book in these particular times, the first is Paul’s example to us of a Christian in trying circumstances, but who still is radiating with the joy of Christ. The second is Paul’s example of a Christian on whom the world has lost its grip. This week we’ll look at two of the other reasons the church needs this book today and then explore the first two verses.
The third reason we need this book is its commending to us a sovereign Savior’s holy humility displayed in an unparalleled humiliation. Christ comes from heaven’s high throne, dwells with us in low estate, and goes down the steps of humiliation and dereliction on the cross, and to burial and to the tomb. He does that not only as the means of our redemption, but also as an example for our walking. You want to go the way of glory? It’s the way of the cross. In Philippians, we see Paul urging us on in the fight for joy, and calling us to grow in humility so that we are joyful in our humility and we’re humble in our joy, and we're longing to know Christ.
And forth, Philippians tells us that believers, under the crushing load of life in the darkest moments of experience, even in the valley of the shadow of death, can comprehend an incomprehensible peace. Wherever it is that you are right now, be steadfast and immovable in this peace! Say in your trial, “What can you do to me? I have a joy that can’t be taken away and a peace that you can’t even understand! What are you going to do to me?” This book is about a fight for joy, growing in humility, knowing Jesus Christ and Him crucified, a peace that only He can give.
I just want to say three more things about this letter.
This is a letter full of love and joy and truth. You see Paul’s heart of love to this congregation. Philippi is predominantly Gentile, and Paul loves this congregation, and you can tell it from the way he writes to them.
It’s a letter full of joy. Bengel, one of the great German critical scholars on this book got at least this right about Philippians: he says you can sum up the letter of Philippians in two Latin words: gaudeo, gaudete, I rejoice, so you rejoice, too! You can sum the whole letter up that way.
Here’s Paul. He’s tired, he’s beaten up, he’s old, he’s in prison, yet twenty times he uses words like joy and rejoice and peace and content and thanksgiving. Do you ever think you can’t rejoice where you are today? May I respectfully—only on the authority of God—beg to differ. Paul could rejoice where he was; you can rejoice where you are.
Third, this is a letter of truth: truth about God…theology. It’s truth about God, about the Lover of your soul, about the One who made you, and gave His Son for you!
It’s absolutely stunning, it’s one of the great paradoxes that in this, one of Paul’s simplest letters, he gives the profoundest exposition of the humiliation and exaltation, the meaning and the accomplishment and the purposes of the death of Christ that he ever gave! This is his final word on the substance of the meaning of the death of Christ. The greatest theologians in the history of the church for 2000 years have meditated on this work and opened up its truth, and we still haven’t seen the bottom of it!
Let’s look at three things in this passage: the senders; the recipients; and, the greeting.
The senders are Paul and Timothy, and they call themselves: permanent servants, bond-slaves, douloi of the Messiah, who is Jesus. Does that little description—servants of the Messiah, who is Jesus—does that not tell us a boatload?
The highest title a believer can hold is “servant of Jesus Christ.” Have you been a servant of sin? Have you been a servant of self? To be liberated, to be able to serve the Savior, there’s no greater honor than to bear that title: I’m a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul says, ‘that’s who I want you to be thinking about. I’m not important; He must increase; I must decrease.’ The very acknowledgment that he is a servant of Jesus Christ is a reminder that though he may look like a prisoner of Caesar, he’s not! He’s the servant of the Messiah, and if he’s in prison, that’s where the Messiah wants him. And if the Messiah doesn’t want him there, even Caesar can’t hold him there! He’ll be wherever the Messiah wants him to be, and Caesar has nothing to say about it!
You understand that that kind of thinking is dangerous. It can change your life. You start thinking about your life that way, things are going to change.
Secondly, notice the recipients: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus, who are in Philippi….” Paul is not writing to the super-spiritual ones who do Bible studies four times a week, or the extraordinarily holy people within the congregation, but to the whole congregation. What’s the point? If you believe in Christ, God has called you to Himself to be set apart to Him, to be holy to Him, to be His uniquely treasured people, His saints, His holy ones. That’s what He saved you for! For relationship with Him, fellowship with Him, communion with Him! That’s what you’re for. If you’re enjoying something else more than Him, then you have not yet understood what He made you for. He made you for delight in Him! He did not make you so that anything else could delight you like Him.
And the greeting, “Grace” ...God’s unmerited, undeserved favor even despite your sin, through Jesus Christ; and, “and peace”…total well-being which flows from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for you.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 2:33 PM