Philippians: The Gospel-Driven Life (Introduction to Philippians) Mike Riccardi

Philippians   |   Sunday, September 2, 2012   |   Code: 2012-09-02-MR


On more than one occasion already, I’ve made reference to the significance of a preacher’s first sermon series to his new congregation. I had said that you can gain great insight into a preacher’s heart to know what he wants to say first to his new congregation because that message lays a foundation—it sets the tone—for their relationship together as they minister alongside one another in the Gospel of Christ.

Well, in my opening months here in GraceLife, I haven’t launched into a sermon series right at the beginning. Instead, I’ve preached certain passages that the Lord has used in my life to really shape and mold my thinking—my affections. And while there are certainly more of those texts—dozens more, by God’s grace—I wanted to share with you the blessings that I myself had experienced from God’s Word as He dealt with me through them in significant ways. I wanted to bring you along with me on the paths of those blessings, in order to benefit you with what God has illumined to me, and in the process allowing you to get to know me a little bit. I believe there are few better ways of really getting to know someone than to hear of how the Lord has dealt with that person through His Word.

But rather than just continuing to preach my favorite texts of Scripture, the time has come for me to begin a sermon series here in GraceLife, and so this morning we will be begin a study of the Book of Philippians. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And the reason that I thought that it would be fitting to study Philippians is because it speaks very appositely to our own situation here in GraceLife. We’ll introduce the main arguments and themes of Philippians in greater detail just a bit later, but if I had to summarize Paul’s letter to the Philippians I would say that it is a letter about the Gospel.

But it’s not so much a letter about the content, or doctrine, of the Gospel, like Romans is. And though there’s a little bit of polemical instruction, it’s not a full-blown defense of the Gospel in the face of heresy, like Galatians is. Philippians is more about the implications of the Gospel. Paul assumes that the Philippians understand the true, orthodox Gospel of Jesus Christ, and he even celebrates the fellowship that he has with them in that Gospel. Much of this letter overflows with the sincere love and deep affection that Paul has for the Philippians as a result of their love and affection for him as evidenced by their consistent support of his ministry. These are people who are believers in the truth, and who have even consistently acted in response to that truth throughout the course of their lives.

And yet at the same time, Paul’s letter to them is not without exhortation. It’s not without warning. It’s not without commands and instructions. Even this doctrinally sound, ministry-minded, loving and affectionate congregation has room for improvement. The thesis statement for the entire book comes in chapter 1 verse 27: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And even though it’s unfortunately become almost trite these days in Evangelicalism to use the word “Gospel” in relation to the Christian life—with book titles like The Explicit Gospel, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Gospel-Powered Parenting, Gospel Wakefulness, The Gospel Commission, The Transforming Power of the Gospel, The Gospel Made Visible, Gospel Coach, and yes, even simply, Gospel—based on Philippians 1:27, Paul’s letter to the Philippians really is about “the Gospel-driven life.: In fact, if I had to give a subtitle to the book of Philippians, that’s what I would call it: The Gospel-Driven Life. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul is calling his dear brothers and sisters to live their lives in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel of Christ. All of their lives are to be driven by the Gospel. And so, not unlike the Thessalonian church, which Paul’s letters portray as a model church, the Philippians were faithful. But they weren’t above Paul’s exhortation to “excel still more” (1 Thess 4:1, 10).

And as I thought about it, that situation is very relevant to our own situation here in GraceLife. Praise the Lord that you have been taught so faithfully. Those of you who have been in GraceLife for any length of time have not only enjoyed the blessing of sitting under Pastor John’s faithful exposition of the Scriptures, but also the faithful teaching of men like Phil Johnson, Don Green, Lance Quinn, and those before them. By God’s grace you know the true Gospel. And we also thank God that He has been gracious to grow you all in the grace and knowledge of Christ—that many of you are pressing further and further into spiritual maturity. And you, along with the rest of Grace Community Church, know what it means to minister alongside one another in the Gospel—to serve one another, to comfort one another, to challenge one another, and to support one another.

And at the same time, you know that there is room for improvement. We do not yet do all those things as well as we should. We can grow in our love and affection for each other. We can serve one another more sacrificially. We can be more committed to true, biblical fellowship, meeting one another’s needs, being faithful to pray for one another, responding righteously to suffering, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace—and a thousand other things.

And so I want to study the Book of Philippians with you for the same purposes Paul wrote it: (1) to express my love and affection for you as fellow partakers of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and as fellow-laborers in the ministry of His Gospel; and (2) to exhort you to excel still more—in everything you do, to conduct yourselves in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel of Christ—to more faithfully bring everything in your life into submission to the Lordship of Jesus.


The Importance of Historical Context

My goal for this morning is to introduce the book to you. Part of what I want to do is to just give you a bird’s eye overview of the entire epistle. What is the flow of Paul’s thought? What are the major themes that he addresses with the Philippians? What is his purpose in writing?

It’s also important, before we dive right into the opening text, to familiarize ourselves with the historical context of and occasion for the letter. It’s a shame that many professing Christians today look to the Bible as if it was a collection of quaint sayings from Hallmark cards or fortune cookies. They open the Bible, and skipping the foundational steps of observation (What does the text say?), and interpretation (What does the text mean?), they seek to go straight to application: What personal significance does this have for me? And that can be pretty easy to do—especially with Philippians, because Philippians contains some of our favorite verses—verses we quote all the time:

  • Chapter 4 verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
  • Or, just two verses later, chapter 4 verses 6 and 7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  • Or, just a few verses after that, chapter 4 verse 13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
  • “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).
  • Moving back to chapter 2, verses 12 and 13: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
  • And who could forget chapter 1 verse 21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”


All of these wonderful passages of Scripture make it easy to simply abstract them from their context and turn them into proverb-like maxims. But we must not forget that these great texts weren’t intended to be a bunch of divine one-liners. Rather, we need to remember that God ordained that His Word be recorded by real people in the context of daily life. Each biblical author wrote to a specific audience, in a real city, in a particular context of life, often going through real-life struggles, and in response to specific needs.

And so when we study Scripture, we need to read it in its context. We need to engage in grammatical-historical interpretation. “Grammatical” means that we pay very close attention to the text itself. “Historical” means that we consider the historical and cultural context in which the relevant events took place and when the text was written. You could say it like this: We can never know what Scripture means until we first understand what it meant. And we understand what it meant by considering the historical context in which it was written.


The Historical Context of Philippians

And what’s wonderful is: we don’t have to go outside of Scripture itself to discover that historical context. Though we don’t often realize it, Scripture records a lot of history. Between the Book of Acts, the personal details Paul includes in his letters, and the content of the letters themselves, we can piece together a picture of the historical context of Philippians from Scripture itself—context that adds color and definition to the content of the letter.

Let’s begin by turning briefly to Acts chapter 16, as we observe Paul’s relationship with the Philippian church from the beginning. Having been forbidden by the Spirit to enter Asia Minor, Paul received a vision—verse 9—of a Macedonian man entreating him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” And, coming to Philippi and not finding a synagogue there, they came to a place of prayer near the riverside and preached to a group of women who had assembled there (Ac 16:13). And as Paul was preaching, God was gracious to fabric-seller from Thyatira, a convert to Judaism named Lydia. Verse 14 says that “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul,” and she became the first convert to Christianity in Europe.

But it’s not long before Paul and Silas find themselves in jail. They cast a demon out of a fortune-telling slave girl and as a result came under the ire of the men who were making a profit off of her. But the Lord sent an earthquake in the middle of the night that shook the foundations of the prison. Verse 26 tells us that “immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.” And the jailer, knowing that the Romans would brutally execute him for failing to guard his prisoners, drew his sword to kill himself, when Paul stopped him. And the jailer, fearing for his life, and having heard the Gospel Paul and Silas were singing about in the middle of the night, repented of his sins and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, with Lydia and her household and the jailer and his household, the Philippian church began there in around AD 49 or 50.

After returning to Philippi to strengthen the church about 5 years later, and then once more a year after that (Acts 20:3), Paul found himself imprisoned at Caesarea for two years, where he stood trial before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. And after appealing to Caesar, Paul is brought to Rome as a prisoner to stand trial before Nero.

And as we turn back to Philippians, we find that this is the setting from which Paul writes his letter. He mentions his imprisonment throughout the first chapter of Philippians: verse 7, verses 13 and 14, verse 17. In verse 13, he says, “my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard.” The mention of the praetorian guard, which was stationed in Rome, along with the mention of “Caesar’s household” in chapter 4 verse 22, give evidence that Paul is writing Philippians during his first Roman imprisonment. It was during this time that he also wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. In chapter 2 verse 24, he says that he expects to be released shortly, and so we date Philippians toward the end of his first Roman imprisonment, around AD 62.

And, as you might expect, we discover that Paul is facing very unpleasant and difficult circumstances. He faces physical limitation, as does any prisoner whose freedom is in the hands of others. He faces a sort of ministerial limitation, because he can no longer to travel from city to city to preach the Gospel. He faces a social limitation in that he is prohibited from seeing those brothers and sisters in the Lord whom he loves (though apparently Timothy is with him, as is noted in the opening verse of the letter). And on top of all of that, there seem to be a group of professing Christians in Rome who are unfavorably disposed to Paul, saying something to the effect that Paul’s imprisonment is the Lord’s punishment—evidence of some sort of ministerial or moral failure on his part. In chapter 1 verse 15 he says they preach Christ from envy and strife. Verse 17: they “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” Imagine that! Preaching the Gospel, not to serve people and see them saved, but to enhance their own reputation and seek to discredit Paul’s.

In any case, the news of Paul’s imprisonment and trying circumstances had reached Philippi, and out of their love for him and support for the Gospel he preaches, the Philippians send Epaphroditus to Rome to visit Paul—to minister to his needs and provide fellowship for him. In chapter 2 verse 25, Paul calls Epaphroditus, “My brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need.” Along with Epaphroditus, they send a financial gift that Paul calls in chapter 4 verse 18, “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” Such a monetary offering would provide means for Paul to continue to rent his quarters and meals—something that was the responsibility of the prisoner in the Roman world. If a prisoner couldn’t afford to pay for his living space, the Romans would leave him to the elements while shackled outdoors.

Anyway, whether on the way to Rome or some time after he arrived, Epaphroditus fell ill. The Philippians heard that he was sick and, because of their love for him, they became distressed and were anxious to learn about how he was doing. Take a look at chapter 2 verse 26: “because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.” This is an affectionate group! The Philippians were worried when they heard Epaphroditus was sick. Epaphroditus was worried that the Philippians were worried. And Paul was worried that both of them were worried. And so he purposes to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians, and he writes a letter to them that Epaphroditus can take back on his return trip.

Aside from ministering to Paul in fellowship and bringing a love-gift of financial support, it’s certain that Epaphroditus also brought news of the Philippian church—how things were going there. After celebrating their fellowship together in the ministry of the Gospel, Paul would also take the opportunity in his letter to address some of the more troubling news that Epaphroditus brought. Among such troubling news was (a) the Philippians’ undergoing opposition and persecution, (b) the seeds of disunity being sown in the congregation, and (c) the threat of false teachers seeking to propagate false doctrine. And so Paul writes to address these issues as well.

And so there we have the historical context and occasion for Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In the short time we have left together this morning, I want to provide an overview of the two main points of the Book of Philippians. That will be our outline for the rest of the sermon: the two main points of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And as we consider these main points, we’ll get a thirty-thousand-foot view of the major themes of the book. And getting our arms wrapped around the whole epistle in that way will, with the Lord’s help, equip us for studying this marvelous, marvelous portion of the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God in the months to come.

I. Paul Expresses Thankfulness and Joy for the Philippians’ Participation in the Gospel (You’ve Done Well, and I Love You)

The first main point we’ve already briefly mentioned. Number one: Paul expresses thankfulness and joy for the Philippians’ participation in the Gospel. Take a look at chapter 1 verse 3: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” Skip to verse 7: “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Now, given all the history we have just gone over, doesn’t the context of Paul’s relationship with the Philippians just make that opening greeting sing? When Paul remembers the Philippians—which is often—and when he prays for them like a good spiritual father remembers to do, his memories are laced with fondness and affection and his prayers are accompanied with joy.

And this kind of warm, loving affection permeates the entire letter. As I read the commentaries on Philippians in preparing for this sermon, something that they all mention right off the bat is how remarkably personal this letter is. And, Paul was affectionate in almost all his letters, but Philippians is just over the top! For one thing, Paul refers to himself more often in Philippians than in any other of his epistles. The first person singular pronoun—whether expressed explicitly or assumed in a first person singular verb—appears over 120 times in the letter. He also uses the endearing term “brethren,” or “brothers,” six times in these four short chapters to underscore his familial bond with them. Chapter 1 verse 12: “Now I want you to know, brethren…” Chapter 3 verse 1: “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” Chapter 3 verse 13, again in verse 17, again in chapter 4 verse 1, and finally in chapter 4 verse 8. 

Not only this, but he also uses the term beloved—those whom I love. Look at chapter 4 verse 1 and take this in; feel how full his heart is: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” He repeats “beloved” twice, calls them his brethren, expresses his great desire to see them face-to-face, and even calls them his joy and crown! Commentator D. Edmond Hiebert summarizes it well. He says: “Paul’s letter to the Philippians is like an open window into the Apostle’s very heart. In it we have the [unedited] outpouring of his unrestrained love for and his unalloyed joy in his devoted and loyal Philippian friends” (282).

Where does such a love come from? What is the ground of such rich affection? Notice what Paul says in chapter 1 verse 5. He thanks God in every remembrance of the Philippians and prays for them with joy, “in view of—or because of—your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” Again, in verse 7: “…I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.” What drives Paul and the Philippians to have such an affectionate love, care, and unity for one another is the unity that they share objectively with one another in the Gospel. They are fellow-partakers of the grace that comes through Christ alone.

And as I mentioned, the Gospel of Christ is central to all of Paul’s thought in Philippians. The Greek word euaggelion occurs nine times in this letter, which is the greatest frequency in all of Paul’s letters. It occurs five times in chapter 1 alone. We’ve seen it in verses 5 and 7 already, but skip down to verse 12: he’s speaking about the progress of the gospel. Verse 16: “I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.” Verse 27 twice: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And I want to hear “that you are standing firm…striving for the faith of the gospel.” It is the Gospel that is the basis of the mutual endearment and joy between Paul and the Philippians. Their fellowship is Gospel-driven.

And briefly, the emphasis on the Gospel is underscored by the overwhelmingly frequent reference to Jesus. Paul makes a reference to Jesus 68 times in the 104 short verses of Philippians. 21 times in chapter 1, 16 in chapter 2, 21 in chapter 3, and 10 in chapter 4. That’s a reference to Christ in an average of two out of every three verses! And what’s so amazing about that is: Philippians is not a treatise on Christology! There is some great Christological truth in this letter, but it’s not like Paul is sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi and thinking, “Hmm. Those Philippians need to understand the hypostatic union better.” The overwhelming emphasis on Jesus is not because Paul’s writing a Christological treatise, but because the reality of being united to Christ has so permeated and so pervaded Paul’s life and mind, that he experiences all of life as being colored by his union with Christ. It’s not just that Christ is first; it’s that He’s all in all. It’s not just that He’s Lord over everything; it’s that He’s Lord in everything.

But it wasn’t just that the Philippians were fellow heirs of the grace of the Gospel. The Corinthians and the Galatians shared in Christ in that same way. And yet his expression of love and affection for the Philippians is unique. Why? Because the Philippians ministered that Gospel alongside Paul in a unique away. God has so knit their hearts together because the Philippians have participated in Paul’s ministry. They have stood with him in the defense and proclamation of the gospel. They have continued to support him even while he is in prison—they are not ashamed of his chains.

Remember the occasion for the letter. The church has sent one of their dear brothers and trusted friends on a 40 days’ journey from the east side of Greece to central Italy. And they sent him with financial support. This was characteristic of the Philippians. Take a look at chapter 4 verses 15 and 16. He begins the letter with this thought, and he ends the letter with this thought: “You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.” Their commitment to Paul was unique even among the churches. And it’s interesting that he says “even in Thessalonica” they sent a gift, because Thessalonica was Paul’s next stop after Philippi. They supported him immediately.

And it wasn’t always easy. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians chapter 8. It’s heart-warming to learn that Paul even bragged about the Philippians’ generosity toward him. 2 Corinthians 8:1: “Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia [of which Philippi was a major part], that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints.” Do you hear that? This is the effect of the Gospel on the purse strings! The Philippians, along with the other Macedonian churches, had so treasured Jesus Christ that the abundant joy they had in Him led them to cheerfully give beyond their ability to the cause of the advancement of the Gospel! No wonder Paul loved these people so much! I read this and I love them! Because they show me how valuable my Savior is!

And friends, this is the way that we need to think about supporting our missionaries. God has so blessed Grace Church to have been able to send out over seventy missionary families to minister the Gospel across the nations. And we participate in their ministry of the Gospel—in China, and the Ukraine, and Russia, and Mexico, and South America, and the UK, and throughout Africa and Europe. We participate in their ministry of the Gospel by allowing the abundance of our joy, sometimes even when we feel like we can’t spare a dime—to overflow in the wealth of our liberality!

Listen, I know that you read these passages about the love and affection shared between Paul and the Philippians, and I know you want that! I know you long for that kind of fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Well, one thing that we can learn from these texts is that nothing has the ability to uniquely knit hearts of Christians together than participating and supporting one another in the ministry of the Gospel! So let your desire for that kind of Christ-focused, God-exalting joy in other believers, compel you to be a cheerful giver!

And that doesn’t have to be limited to financial participation—though in the case of our missionaries it should certainly include that. But even among your brothers and sisters here at Grace Church, here at GraceLife—the men and women sitting next you this morning—you can cultivate this deep joy, warm affection, and solid fellowship by ministering the Gospel alongside one another. Let me ask you this: When you read the opening verses of Philippians 1 about longing for one another with the affection of Christ Jesus, are there people that come to your mind? I know there are for me. And the men and women that come to mind are those whom I’ve suffered with for the cause of the Gospel—those whom I’ve labored alongside until Christ was fully formed in those we were ministering to—those whom I’ve been in the trenches with. There is nothing like the fellowship that comes from standing alongside one another in the ministry of the Gospel.

So in the coming months, as we dig into the exposition of this great letter, cultivate this joy and affection for one another. Thank God often for your fellow-laborers. Remember them and hold them up in prayer. And recognize that there is no better way for that fellowship to be nurtured than to labor in ministry with each other. Think about how you might better involve yourself in the ministry of the Gospel of Christ—both to unbelievers, in evangelism; and to the body of Christ, as you seek to live out the one-anothers while bearing the fruit of the Spirit.


II. Paul Exhorts the Philippians to Live Lives that are Worthy of the Gospel (Excel Still More)

And so, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul expresses thankfulness and joy for their participation in the Gospel. That’s main point number one. You could summarize it by saying, “You’ve done well, and I love you for it.” The second main point, number two: Paul exhorts the Philippians to live lives that are worthy of the Gospel. Number one: He is thankful for their participation in the Gospel. Number two: He exhorts them to live worthy of the Gospel.

We see this in multiple places throughout the letter. In chapter 1 verses 3 to 8, Paul expresses thankfulness and joy for them in light of their participation with him in the Gospel. But then in verses 9 to 11, he makes known his prayer for them: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory of God.”

He tells the Philippians, “You’ve done well. The love we share for one another is unique in view of your support of my ministry. You have shared my struggle in the cause of the Gospel (4:3). But I pray that your love may abound still more and more. I pray that you would be filled with the fruit of righteousness.” Or, in the language of chapter 2 verse 12: I want you to “work out your salvation. It’s beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re saved. No question about your commitment to the Gospel. But now, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” A present imperative: “Go on continuously working out your salvation.” Or, in the language of chapter 1 verse 27, as we said before, the thesis of the entire book—the first imperative in the entire epistle: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Live your lives in such a way that they match the glorious calling with which you’ve been called. You know this Gospel. You share in this Gospel. You participate in its ministry. But don’t let up! Keep on conducting yourselves in such a way that, more and more, brings your practice in line with your position.

In the language of 1 Thessalonians, which we heard last week, Paul tells the Philippians to excel still more. In view of all the good you’ve done: continue. Abound. Excel still more. And as I mentioned earlier, Paul exhorts them in particular areas in response to Epaphroditus’s report about them. And I’ll highlight four areas in which Paul exhorts the Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel.


  1. Steadfastness

First, in steadfastness. Paul exhorts the Philippians to stand firm. That is the first phrase that comes after the command to walk worthy of the Gospel. Look at chapter 1 verse 27: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents.”

You see, as we mentioned, the Philippians were enduring opposition—both the threat of persecution and the threat of false teaching. And Paul has much to say about enduring such opposition. He invites the Philippians to consider his own example of steadfastness in suffering, as in chapter 1 verse 19 to 26 he rejoices amidst his trials, because his hope is not in his circumstances but in the magnification of Christ’s glory. And as God is sovereign, Christ is sure to be magnified and glorified, whether by life or by death (1:20). To live is Christ, and to die is gain (1:21).

And then, Paul devotes the entirety of chapter 3 to addressing the false doctrines that were pressing their way into the church from outside. In verses 2 to 11 Paul warns them of the legalists, and assures them that it is the followers of Christ who are the true circumcision and who put no confidence in the flesh (3:3). In verses 12 to 16 he cautions them against the error of the perfectionists, who wrongly suppose we might shed our sinfulness entirely this side of Heaven. And then in verses 17 to 21 he calls them to beware of the antinomians, the libertines who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness (cf. Jude 1:4). He closes that section in chapter 4 verse 1 by repeating his call to “stand firm in the Lord.”


  1. Unity

Not only does Paul exhort the Philippians to steadfastness, he exhorts them to unity. As sound as the Philippians were, they were also beginning to experience the seeds of disunity within their congregation. There was even a well-publicized disagreement between two of the leading women of the congregation, whom Paul entreats by name to be of the same mind. Chapter 4 verse 2: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women, who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel.” He goes on at the end of verse three to say that their names are written in the book of life. So this doesn’t bring their salvation into question. But the cancer of disunity within the church is so serious that it must not be allowed to fester. If it does, it has the potential to metastasize and infect the rest of the congregation.

That kind of division does not aid in a church’s fight to withstand persecution, opposition, and false teaching. If unchecked, this disunity could severely impair the Philippians’ witness of the Gospel. The integrity of the Gospel is contradicted by disunity in the church. If they went along “grumbling and disputing,” as it says in chapter 2 verse 14, they would not able to “prove [them]selves blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [they should] appear as lights in the world.” It is to this end that Paul exhorts them to make his joy complete, chapter 2 verse 2, “by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Unity is experienced subjectively when it is properly grounded in the objective work of the Gospel.


  1. Humility

The goal of unity is achieved along the path of humility, which is the third area of Paul’s exhortation. Number one: steadfastness. Number two: unity. And number three: humility. Immediately after the exhortation of chapter 2 verse 2, Paul says, verse 3: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” He then turns to the preeminent example of humility: the incarnation and ignominious death of the Son of God, who, though He humbled Himself under the mighty hand of God, was exalted to the very right hand of God in due time (cf. 1 Pet 5:6). Paul urges Christians to follow Christ’s example.


  1. Joy

And, as humility is the path to unity, so is joy the path to humility. That’s the fourth area of Paul’s exhortation: joy. The language of joy permeates the epistle to the Philippians, occurring 16 times in these four chapters.

  • Chapter 1 verse 4: Paul thanks God for the Philippians and prays for them with joy.
  • 1:18 – He rejoices in the proclamation of the Gospel, even if from impure motives.
  • 1:25 – If he remains on in the flesh to minister among the Philippians it will be for their progress and joy in the faith.
  • 2:2 – His joy is complete when the Philippians are unified.
  • 2:17-18 – He calls them to follow his example of rejoicing in suffering for the cause of the Gospel.
  • 2:28-29 – He sends Epaphroditus back so that they will rejoice and receive him with all joy.
  • Chapter 3:1 – Finally, rejoice in the Lord!
  • Chapter 4 verse 4 – Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!

Commentator Walter Hansen captures it well when he says, “Like a mighty river surging through solid rock, joy flows from this letter through the suffering community of believers, giving them love for one another and the peace of God” (35).

What an exciting prospect, as we look forward to growing—through Paul’s instruction to the Philippians—in steadfastness, in unity, in humility, and in joy.



As I said earlier, Paul’s letter to the Philippians everywhere assumes the reality of their participation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But in a group as large as ours—a group in which I don’t yet know every one of you personally—it is likely that there is always someone among us who does not know the Lord Jesus Christ—or better, who is not known by Him. And so the first application for you to make of this sermon is to become a sharer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Maybe you’re visiting with us for Labor Day weekend, a guest of a friend or a family member: we’re so glad you’re here and we welcome you. Or maybe you’ve been at Grace Community Church for twenty years, and yet you’ve deceived yourself and have never truly bowed the knee to Christ. You’ve learned how to blend in. You’ve learned the right things to say at the right times to say them. But you’ve never truly repented of your sin and submitted all of your life to the Lordship of Christ. You are a stranger to the Savior even after all this time.

For both the visitor and the veteran: the most important thing you can hear this holiday weekend is that there is still time to become a partaker of the grace of this Good News. Confess that your sin separates you from a holy God—that you have no claim to righteousness or acceptance with God on the basis of your own goodness or merit. Turn from your sin, and trust in the righteousness of Christ alone. Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, crucified on behalf of sinners, dead and buried, raised from the dead in power on the third day, exalted to the right hand of the Father in majesty, and alive today, ready to forgive all those who trust in Him.

And for those of you who are my brothers and sisters—those of you who are partakers of grace with me, fellow-laborers and fellow-soldiers in the cause of the Gospel—do know that you’ve done well, and I love you for it. And though I haven’t yet had the opportunity to have such a relationship with all of you like Paul had with the Philippians, it is my prayer and anticipation that God will grant that such relationships grow—a deep, warm, loving affection as we strive together to proclaim the Gospel.

And at the same time, we want to excel still more. We want to all-the-more conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. We want to be even better tomorrow than we are today—even better next year than we are this year. Pray along with me in the coming months, that God would accomplish that in our midst, as He guides us through the Apostle Paul from the letter to the Philippians.