The Apostle Paul had planted the church at Philippi on his second missionary journey — the first church on the European continent. His very affectionate language in this letter to them reveals that they held a special place in his heart. The pastors and deacons of the church (v.1), along with members like Lydia (see Acts 16:14-15) and Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), had ministered to Paul when he was in prison and invested generously in his work. No wonder he “yearned” for them “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (v.8) as he sat in prison in Rome.
Paul’s prayer for the Philippian believers in verses 9-11 provides a prayer list that every church member ought to pray for their church. I pray it for mine this morning:
Lord, may my church be unified in love — love that grows stronger and deeper and wider as we grow closer and closer to You. Teach us to “approve what is excellent” (v.10) so that we can tell the difference between good and best, vital and trivial. Help us to be what You want us to be (pure, blameless, filled with the righteousness of Christ) so that we can do what You want us to do. When Christ returns (on “the day of Christ”, v.10), may He find us loving one another and busy in the work of the gospel.
Paul serves as an example of how to make the most of every situation the will of God allows into our lives. Paul was a doer, a man of action, a visionary leader pursuing a missionary mandate — but he sat in a prison, unable to travel and preach. But instead of complaining or sinking into depression he was filled with joy! In fact, this prison letter mentions joy or rejoicing sixteen times. And Paul did not see his imprisonment as a setback, but as a part of God’s plan to “advance the gospel” (v.12). The prison became his mission field and before long, every soldier in the imperial guard had heard about Jesus — probably several times over (v.13). No doubt many of them were saved as Paul, their strangely joyful prisoner, told them how to be free in Christ!
While Paul made the best of his imprisonment, he asked his friends in Philippi to pray that he be released (v.19). For all he knew, his upcoming trial would result in his exoneration or his execution. Either way, Paul was determined to honor the Lord — by dying a martyr’s death or by continuing his missionary work. To choose between those two options would be difficult (v.23): to die would mean departing the troubles of the world and being with Jesus in heaven (by far the best option for Paul), but to live on would mean continuing his important work with the Philippians and others.
Whatever the outcome for him personally, Paul encouraged his friends to live in a way that would prove the gospel and demonstrate its transforming power (v.27). How sad that many times our behavior discredits the gospel we preach. Paul wanted the church to be united and to fight together to push back the darkness of sin with the light of the gospel. How sad when we are found fighting against each other in the church instead of fighting against the darkness.