Joy In Gospel Unity

Introduction: The founding of this church is described in Acts 16. The direction of the apostolic ministry to the west was pivotal in the history of the development of Christianity in its God-ordained mission to go to all nations. This letter exudes a deep love and familiarity with the people of Philippi. They knew Paul and his associates, and he knew them and much about their personal traits. In this letter, Paul shared the theological undergirdings to one of the most intensely autobiographical passages in his writing (Chapter 3). The reciprocity of love between Paul and this church is one of the most moving aspects of the correspondence (4:10-23). In addition, it contains a deeply theological passage on Christology (2:5-11) and another on justification (3:3-11). Other beautiful passages show how inextricably connected are doctrine and life and how intensely joyful and attractive is the truth about God and his gospel.


I. Salutation and Thanksgiving 1:1-5

A. Paul includes Timothy as a writer for he has much to commend in him later. We are not told precisely what sentences or ideas Timothy might have contributed, but that his concern for the Philippians was consistent with that of Paul’s is seen in passages like 2-19-24. In light of the work of the Spirit in the apostolic community, Timothy’s part in this affectionate discourse would be perfectly in line with the revelatory operations of the Holy Spirit even as were Paul’s.

B. The church is young but fully gifted. Those qualified to be bishops and deacons had been set apart and were functioning in their designated roles. This was a goal that Paul had for all the churches (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-10).

C. Notice the pervasive nature of his prayer. “All my remembrance, . . . always in every prayer of mine for you all.” God owns our lives and there are no moments, words, or thoughts that have a God-free zone. There is no part of our lives or persons who are in Christ with us that can be exempted from a sense of our personal stewardship before God. Our remembrance, our prayers, is for all. So Christ prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those, who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20).

D. Thanksgiving finds its source specifically in their participation in the gospel. As we view God’s sovereignty over all things, and the great gifts he has given us throughout creation, and the multitude of edifying relations that he has given us through his grace, we must see partnership in the gospel as a transcendent blessing that evokes deep gratitude. There is no more lasting and excellent partnership than that of the gospel.


II. Confidence in the Work of God

A. God’s activity is prevenient and thorough.

  1. He “began” the good work in the call To Macedonia (Acts 16:9, 10). The first convert was Lydia. The Lord “opened her heart” to pay attention to what Paul said (Acts 16:14). The conversion of the Jailer had obvious intervention of supernatural events with the “great earthquake” that loosed the prisoners and then brought the jailer prostrate before Paul and Silas. He brought them out of the jail and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” 30-34. Paul and Silas were brought to his house, explained the gospel to the family, all were converted and baptized. With just such certainty, God effects salvation in the heart of all his elect. The beginning of the “good work” did not take place in any particular dependent historical event but in the wisdom of eternity when we were chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4; Titus 1:2).
  2. He will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Having begun in eternity past, the work will proceed until the present world comes to an end at the appearing of Jesus Christ. Paul gives an exposition of the theological reality in the form of personal confidence in 3:10-16 that he expands to the entire redeemed community in 3:20, 21.

B. His confidence in their perseverance is based on the evidence of their continued labors for the gospel in spite of opposition and persecution cf. (1:28-30). They have valued the gospel a greater thing than their own safety. He gives several points of evidence for his confidence.

  1. His confidence in their perseverance arises from the deep heart for them. His knowledge of their help to him in the situation of persecution and opposition at Philippi convinced him that they were one in heart in their love for the gospel. As a result of this common suffering and sameness of commitment he held them in his heart. (7).
  2. It has objective verification by their sharing his gospel work. He mentioned two distinct elements of his ministry there: his imprisonment and his efforts at proclaiming and demonstrating the truth of the gospel. In both of these, Paul observed that they had shared with him, or in light of the purpose of God in both these he said, “You are all partakers of grace with me.”
  • The defense of the gospel would include at least the demonstration that the life and work of Christ were consistent with and the precise fulfillment of the prophetic material (Acts 9:22; 28:23). Jesus is the Christ, and the eternal covenant of redemption found its complete verification and fulfillment in him (Romans 16:25-27; Titus 1:1-3; 2:11-13).
  • The confirmation of the gospel would include Paul’s presentation of the historical evidence that all the claims involved in the gospel are true. Jesus was “born of a woman, born, under the Law, to redeem those who were under [the condemnation of] the law” (Galatians 4:4). His death made it possible for God to be just and yet justify those who trust in the redemptive work of Christ (Romans 3:21-26). All of this is bound up in the verification of Christ’s work in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-28).
  1. His deep longing for them he considers a witness of shared grace (8). His desire seems two-fold: he wants to see them and he wants to see their increasing conformity to Christ—“the affection of Christ.” He uses a construction that can be interpreted either as their common affection for Christ or Christ’s eternal love for them.


III. On the basis of their deeply spiritual and Christ-centered affection for each other, Paul inscribed a prayer for the Saints (9-11).

A. He prayed that they would experience abounding love.

  1. Love, though genuinely implanted deeply in the affections and could legitimately be called an emotion, involves traits that can be identified with some high degree of objectivity. First, love will abound with increased knowledge. Increasing knowledge of God’s infinite perfection, the infinite condescension of the mercy of Christ, and a deeper impression of the joy of eternity will lead to increased love.
  2. Love also increases, even abounds, when discernment based on gospel principles informs one’s life. Paul gives examples of such gospel-centered discernment throughout this letter. For example, he viewed his imprisonment, not as a hindrance, but as an increase, of gospel proclamation. He could see that even some who were envious of Paul were, nevertheless, increasingly zealous for making and impact by preaching the gospel. How did Paul respond? “Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (18).

B. One aspect of developing a discerning spirit is “approving the things that are excellent.”

  1. In 1:27 Paul says let your manner of life be “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” What could be more excellent when seen in all of its dimensions (Ephesians 1:14-19)? In chapter 2, Paul reminds his readers of the example of Christ’s incomprehensible act of humiliation for the good of others and points to the as the most excellent of all things: It is excellent to look to the interests of others even as Christ himself did: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (2:4, 5) Again, the example of this eternal disposition in the Son of God to give himself even for rebels and enemies is an immutable standard of excellence that cannot be transcended.
  2. This has to do with moral beauty, not aesthetic beauty. Throughout the letter Paul gives prominence to excellent things. He refers to the centrality of the excellence of gospel preaching (1:18), the example of Christ’s incarnation (2:5-8), and the final glory of Christ himself and his transforming power in his people (2:9-11; 3:10, 11, 20, 21), In chapter 4:8, 9, Paul summarized this portion of his prayer by instructing them to place their minds on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, in summary, whatever is “excellent and worthy of praise” (4:8, 9). What the mind discerns and values will transform the life.
  3. This is the means by which Christians are “perfected” until the day of Christ. The idea of perfection is progressive in this life and consummated in the dual realities of death in which the spirit joins the “spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23), and resurrection in which our corruptible body is made like “his glorious body” (3:21). This is the means by which God brings to completion the work he has done (cf 1:6).

C. The result of testing and proving excellent things is a life that is not characterized by sham and mere show.

  1. They will be found sincere in the day of Christ. The image of this word is that of sunlight beaming on an object so that it true colors and contours are clearly seen. A sincere person, examined under the light of God’s word will be shown to have a true faith propositionally—that is, believing the right things as revealed in Scripture—and a true character as formed by unfeigned faith in Christ the righteous One.
  2. They will be blameless. If others closely examine their lives, they will not find their faith to be an occasion for stumbling. The fall of others into doctrinal error or moral error cannot be attributed to an impure witness or example of those who “approve the things that are excellent.”

D. The fruit of such abounding love through the means mentioned is “righteousness.” Righteousness is the external manifestation of motives, attitudes, and actions that arise from perfect holiness. Righteousness characterizes all of God’s actions toward the world and its people and what this implies about those made in his image is revealed in the ten commandments and all of their applications.

  1. This righteousness comes “through” Jesus Christ” who accomplished a perfect righteousness. His righteousness imputed to us qualifies believers for eternity in the presence of God and, by the consistent working of the Spirit through truth, gives us a personal condition of righteousness in the “day of Christ.”
  2. This completion of God’s purpose for his people results a manifestation of “the glory and praise of God.” Glorified, bodies, perfected minds and hearts, fullness of unalloyed praise to the triune God will bring to consummation the temporal purpose of God and then saturate eternity with ever-increasing display of such praise and glory.
  3. Later, Paul instructs the Philippians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). That is, a salvation has been granted to each of them by the grace of God. The implications of this salvation of regeneration, forgiveness, justification, sanctification, and the promise of eternal life must be “worked out.” The package of gifts of grace holds promise not only for the future but for godliness and joy before the Lord even now. As we follow Paul’s description of evermore-abounding love, we will find an increased spiritual strength to desire such fruits of righteousness in the day of Christ.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts