Philippians 1:1-12 Fruitfulness in Isolation


Bible Study Series: The Book of Philippians

Bible Study Philippians 1.1-13: Fruitfulness in Isolation


By Fraser Gordon

 

Bible Study lesson Philippians 1.1-13: Fruitfulness in IsolationAfter finishing our studies in the Book of Jude we're now going to look at the book of Philippians. So what do we know about it? Well, it was the first Gentile church established in Europe, the first in the area of Macedonia, which was the gateway between Asia and Europe. It was named Macedonia after the father of Alexander the Great, Philip II of Macedon and became a Roman colony. Paul is the writer of this letter to the church at Philippi, which is predominantly gentile. It is one of four prison epistles he wrote while waiting to be sentenced in Rome.

The context of the letter is to thank the church in Philippi for the gifts Paul had received from them. It seems that when he first went to Rome he was alone and forgotten. The believers originally met him, but about two years later when Onesiphorus came to visit no one knew where to find him (2 Timothy 1.16-17). They eventually did find Paul under house arrest facing the prospect of execution. So the context of this letter is that Paul had pretty much been abandoned by all. It's in this context that he writes these 4 prison epistles that have given much comfort to the saints down through the ages.

Everyone thinks the book of Philippians is about joy and rejoicing. It is true Paul speaks continually about them both even though he is in prison, and it is one of the themes in this book. But really, Paul has his mind filled with Jesus Christ. He mentions Jesus seventeen times in the first chapter and I think it's 40 times throughout the whole letter. Yes, joy and rejoicing are themes, but that comes from Paul being preoccupied with the person of Christ. When someone is taken up with the person of Christ, joy and rejoicing is a by-product. This letter is all about Christ and the great work that He has done.

The call to Macedonia

Php 1:1 Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

You can tell that the church in Philippi was well established. I think this letter was written 11 years after the church was first founded.

Php 1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,

Paul remembered back 11 years to the establishment of the church on his second missionary journey which is recorded in Acts 16. He really wanted to go north or east, but the Holy Spirit forbade him. Then in Acts 16.9 he has a vision of a man calling to him from Macedonia, saying “come over to Macedonia and help us”. You would think that after travelling to Macedonia and finally arriving in the city of Philippi, that Paul would meet a man. Yet when he arrives there isn’t anyone. He stays in the city for two days then goes down to the river where he meets a woman called Lydia. God opens her heart and she and her household are the first to be saved. I find it interesting that he's given a vision of a man calling to him, but when he gets there, he finds Lydia down at the river and it's her heart that is opened.

Next, you have a fortune teller that is delivered of a demon in Acts 16.16. This caused a great uproar in the city and Paul and Silas were thrown in prison. They were singing and praising God in the middle of the night when suddenly there was a great earthquake. The prison doors were flung open and their chains were loosed. The jailer was about to kill himself because of the events that happened but Paul called out to him and said “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” Acts 16.28. Next, the jailer and his whole household are saved. So Paul remembers the founding of the Church of Philippi, how God was active, and Paul thanks Him for all the good work He has started in this place.

Php 1:4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,

There's one thing that all saints should be in agreement on and that is that the gospel goes forth. Paul is thanking them for their active part in sharing the gospel. Our denominations differ in many ways, but on one thing we should always unite, and that is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The finished product

Php 1:6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

I love this scripture because we can really hang on to it. God started the church in Philippi and Paul is telling the saints to be confident, God will finish it. It is a good work He has started. Many of us need to hang on to this scripture for our own lives. God has started a good work in us, and it's His job and His responsibility to finish what He started. He will complete it. 

A famous painter came out with his canvas but he only had a few dabs of paint on it. He said to an onlooker, “this is an absolute masterpiece”. The person looked at it and said, “there's only a few dabs on that canvas”. The painter said, “oh, you're just looking at what's there. I'm looking at the finished product”. An artist can look ahead and see the finished product, whereas someone that doesn't know what they're doing can only see a few dabs of paint on a canvas.

It's a little bit like that with God. He has started a good work in you and He had started a good work in the Philippian Church. It's His responsibility to complete it. You see God works on a person before they are saved then He works in you to conform you into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. One of the greatest examples of this in scripture is the life and character of Jacob. God took someone who was a cheat, a swindler, and a conniver who had incredible human strength in his own abilities. Jacob had many weaknesses but he loved and needed God. He is a great picture of the scripture ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion’. Jacob went through much suffering and trial. Yes God was with him, God blessed him, He looked after him but God also worked on him. At the end of his life after he had faced many things we see that he is a worshipper of God. His reliance on self is diminished and he's in a position where he fully trusts God and worships upon the staff blessing all his children. There's so much you could say about Jacob's life, he's a wonderful character study of this concept.

There was once a sculptor whom people praised for his wonderful statue of a horse. They said, "How did you form a beautiful statue out of an ugly piece of rock?" He responded to them, “well, all I did was chip away all that wasn’t a horse out of the block of stone. And that's a little bit like what God does with us. He just chips away, forming us into the image of His Son. Ephesians 2.10 says For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. We are His workmanship. It's His responsibility. He has started a good work and He will carry it on to completion. We all start projects and if you went to most houses I know, certainly in my garage, there's things I've started that I haven't finished. But it's not so with God. This is a good work that He has started. Just as in the beginning of Genesis. Everything He created was good. So is the birthing of Christ into your life. It is a good work that God has started. And He will complete it. He started the work in the Philippian Church and He will complete what he started. So it's all about God. It’s His responsibility and He is the one who will complete it.

Discernment

Php 1:7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. 8 For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,

Paul prays for the saints he remembers so dearly in Philippi. He writes, I pray that your love may abound still more and more. Or deepen is actually the term. An example would be a married couple on their wedding day, they're all gaga. If you were to ask them what their love was like at that point they would say it was strong. If you then asked them 20-30 years later, ‘has your love deepened?’, they would say, ‘yes I have a deeper love for that person than on our wedding day’. This is what Paul prays, that their love may abound more and more and deepen in knowledge and all discernment. Discernment is one of those wonderful little gifts that God has for all His saints. Unfortunately it's a gift that is lacking among the church body today. Most people want the big showy gifts. They want to see God move greatly and see Jesus Christ moving among His people. The gift of discernment is vital for every fellowship. I've just finished the book of Jude and he writes that that is exactly what we need. We need people in our fellowships that can smell a rat from 1000 paces. People who can discern those who come into our churches to wreck it, who will blow the trumpet and call the warning. Discernment is such a beautiful gift and it's needed amongst our body.

Without wax

Php 1:10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ,

This word sincere in Latin means without wax and in Greek it means sun tested or brought into the light. In Paul’s day people liked pottery and marble statues. If there was a flaw in either the pottery or a marble sculpture the seller would sometimes fill that flaw with wax. You might buy a beautiful marble statue, take it home and put it where everybody could see it when they came to your house and they would commend you on what a lovely statue it was. However, as the heat of the day came something would happen. The wax would melt and the nose might drip or the ear would slide down the side of the head, or there'd be a big crack in the statue's arm. So genuine sellers would put ‘sin-cere’ on the bottom of the statues from which we get the word sincere, meaning without wax. The Greek word means sun tested meaning that the item had been brought into the light. It was only on exposure to heat or light that you could prove whether you had a genuine article or not. People liked to get these statues out of the rubbish bins and fill them with wax and then sell them as genuine. You wouldn’t know what you were getting until the heat came. Paul encourages believers to be sincere, without wax. He means don't be a hypocrite in your Christian life. Don't try to be someone that you're not, stop putting on an act and stop trying to cover up your cracks and blemishes. I find that beautiful because many Christians try to behave as though they're perfect people but we're not, we have cracks and blemishes. We're not to fill those with wax as they did to the statues. The light will expose you. In other words, don't be a wax job. Be sincere, sincerely without wax, sun tested and brought into the light.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

The vessel is marred because of sin, there are cracks, insecurities, fears, and blemishes. Paul encourages us to live and act with those things exposed. We have the Lord Jesus Christ in this earthen vessel, rely on Him as your life. If you can picture 2 cups, the Lord Jesus Christ is like a pure crystal glass with no blemishes in it. He was born without sin and one day we will be created in that image. When we meet Him we will be transformed into His likeness, without sin. At the moment though, we're like a plain white paper cup. If you stamped on it that's probably more like what we are with all the cracks and blemishes. But the great thing about it is the Spirit of God will still fill the cup. We have this treasure, the Lord Jesus Christ, in earthen vessels so that the power may be of God and not of us. So don't be a wax job, don't be a hypocrite, someone that you're not. Be sincere in who you are. Live with your cracks and your blemishes and don’t try to cover them up. Rely on the Lord Jesus Christ despite those things.

Php 1:11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

There's only one way we can produce fruit and it's by being connected to and abiding in the vine. All fruit comes from and is produced by the life of Jesus Christ dwelling in the believer. It is His life and His fruit to the glory of God.

For the gospel 

Php 1:12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,

It had been about four years since the church had seen Paul. What had happened to him? He had gone missing and many of the church might have thought he'd gone for good. He’d shone his light for a time like a light that sped across the sky and faded into nothing. So what did happen to him? We find out in Acts 21-28. He was warned by the Holy Spirit that if he went to Jerusalem he would be put in prison. Yet he insisted on going. In Jerusalem they wanted to murder him, but he escaped. Later he suffered a storm at sea and a shipwreck. Then when he reached Rome he was placed under house arrest, awaiting execution. Paul wrote that all these things had turned out for the furtherance of the gospel. Here he is in prison, chained to a Roman guard and yet he is able to say that all that had happened to him had turned out for good.

Paul is suffering. Now there's different types of suffering. One is corrective where the Lord disciplines those He loves. Paul isn't suffering corrective discipline here. There's also instructive discipline, to conform us into the image of Christ. The suffering Paul is under is so the gospel may spread to others. Now I don't know anything about that type of suffering. I've never been in prison for the gospel's sake. But Paul was and many Christians around the world are. I've read stories about Chinese pastors in prison where their families pray for their quick return home to them. The pastors don’t want that though because they realise prison is a mission field. They want prayer for more souls. Paul is also suffering in prison but the gospel is going forth. He hasn't been forgotten. He might have wondered if God had finished with him. But no, instead he writes, being confident of this very thing that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it”. Paul understood that despite being in prison the gospel was going out. The stories of the persecuted church are amazing. I know nothing of that kind of suffering.

Php 1:13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ;

Paul was under house arrest and chained to a guard. The guards would probably have changed every 4- 6 hours. Paul talked to the guard chained to him about the Lord Jesus Christ - a captive audience. Then six hours later, a new guard would come and he would talk to him about the Lord. Imagine being chained to the apostle Paul. What an amazing experience it would have been to be chained to him and have life come to you. Did Paul view this negatively? Of course not he knew it was a prime opportunity for the gospel to be preached which also became evident to the whole palace guard. This had a great conclusion because at the end of Philippians in Chapter 4.22 Paul writes ‘All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household’. He makes special mention that the gospel had gone right into Caesar's Palace and it started with the palace guards.

Paul suffered all sorts of things, but it all turned out for the furtherance of the gospel. God had been in it all. There was no pity party from Paul; he looked at it positively because he saw what God was doing. Can we say the same thing? That what has happened to us has turned out for the furtherance of the gospel? Paul was chained to a guard, but many of us have our own chains. It may be ill health, has that sickness led you into contact with people that you previously wouldn't have had? Your chain may be that you are in hospital. Can you look at that positively? Your chain may be your workplace. Has that turned out for the furtherance of the gospel? Your chain might be your kitchen and you might see yourself as insignificant. But that will lead you into contact with a different group of people by which the gospel can go out. You might be chained to a desk, but it will still bring about circumstances by which God is able to move and work. We all have chains, we may not be in prison, chained to a guard, but we might be chained to something else. Paul could say, ‘you wouldn't believe what's happened. God has been working and the whole palace guard has heard the gospel. All these things that have happened to me have turned out for the furtherance of the good news’.

It is interesting that back in Macedonia, when Paul first founded this church in Philippi, he was put in prison with Silas. There was a great earthquake, the foundations of the prison were shaken, the doors were opened and the shackles were released. They were free to go if they wanted (Acts 16.25-26). But in Rome the prison doors were not opened. In one instance God opened the doors but in this instance He doesn't. God knows what He's doing. In Paul's isolation he is still fruitful. Paul was so busy and I don't think he realised that being in prison would take him out of the way, which meant he had time to write 4 beautiful prison epistles that have blessed millions of saints down through the centuries. It's because he was in isolation that he wrote them and in the meantime the gospel is going forth because he's chained to the guards.

Conclusion

So Paul viewed prison in a positive way. Yes, he was suffering but he saw it positively not negatively. That is a real encouragement to us that no matter where we find ourselves - we may be isolated like Paul, we might feel like we've been put out to pasture, or put to the side. Remember Philippians 1.6 He who has begun a good work in you will complete it. Even in our isolation we can still be fruitful, still be a blessing, and can be used by God for His purposes just as Paul was. If we find ourselves isolated God is still able and active to work through us and bring about His purpose. 

Father, we thank you for your goodness. We thank you for this great little letter to the saints in Philippi. We thank you that Paul, even though he was isolated, was able to be a blessing and be fruitful. Thank you that you have begun a good work in our lives as you did with Paul and the Philippian church and you will complete it in us until the day of Jesus Christ. May all praise, glory and majesty be to You. Even though we are earthen vessels we thank you for the life of the Lord Jesus Christ that dwells in us.

God bless saints.