Let us look at some of the phrases in the very first verse of Philippians --encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, affection and sympathy--wow, this stuff is dynamite! Here is Paul writing from imprisonment and showing the people of Philippi how faith is an empowering dynamic in their life. Paul reminds the people that his joy is perfected by their display of unity in the Spirit. What would the Christian faith look like IF we displayed such unity in the church of direction and purpose? What IF the unity of Spirit was lived out in the world? Would we be as judgmental? Would we be as arrogant and selfish with each other? Would we be more apt to listen than speak with each other? Would the Gospel of Jesus the Christ grow in strength and power in the world as the witness was lived out in a more unified way?
You know you are reading a great Bible scholar when he points out that in the antient world that the ways and means of comforting others included "being there" (presence) for others, visits, expression of sympathy, letters (texts?). There is a hope for the type of preaching that urges persistence in the faith. (John Reumann, Philippians. Yale University Press. 2008)
William Barclay said, "Christ encourages us by that which gives a human the ability to triumphantly face a difficult, dangerous, or distressing situation".
That word for sharing/participation in the Spirt is Koinonia--fellowship. Its an attitude of good will that manifests itself in generosity and altruism.
How badly do we need all of this right now in our life? It's not that we don't always need it, but in times of fear and great anxiety that can bring out the worst in us and others, how important is all of this type of community needed right now? How do we need this as individuals, the church, our community, and the nation?
Let each look to the interests of others. The Greek word for "look" is not some emotional word, driven by emotions, but a word for carefully considering something such as an intellectual process of regarding the needs of others. How easy is it for us to be swayed and influenced by emotions rather than a sober intellectual analysis of what we are feeling?
The next section then compares this deliberation to the road Christ Jesus went down in faith and obedience to the cross. This is one of my favorite sections of scripture. It's very powerful. It is only as Christ takes a "downward" descent that he is "lifted up" (quite literally on the cross) and thus exalted for the glory of God the Father. It is God that exalts him. I think this in itself is very important for us to remember. We should never exalt ourselves but only look to how God is going "lift us up" for the sake of the Gospel! What do we have to boast in? Paul has said so much in other letters. In fact, Paul mentions this action of "boasting" x47 in his letters! Boasting is an outward expression of an inward pride. Paul when he was a Pharisee boasted in his faith. In the world of Romans and Greeks, boasting was a way of lifting you status in those worlds. Status was key in those cultures? Is it any different for us in our world? How about social media? Do we ever boast there to raise our worth? To signal to others we are just a little better, superior, or "right" compared to others? It would be interesting to do a word study and see the context of those X47 times Paul uses the word boast, to see what we can learn about our lives and boasting.
in the next section entitled, "Lights in the World" in my ESV study Bible, there is further exhortation by Paul to "work out your own salvation" because it is God who works IN you both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do ALL things without grumbling, without blemish (think of lambs for slaughter that weren't accepted in the Jewish sacrificial system because they had a blemish). *Shine as lights in the world* See, Matthew 5 and the Sermon on the Mount ( Matthew 5: 14-16) that Jesus preached to not only his disciples, but the crowds. And as you shine as his light in the world *hold fast to the word of life* Jesus is the living word. See John 1: 1-14. Jesus is life and the life is light of men (John 1:4 ESV) combines these two spiritual realities, Paul lays bare in Philippians 2:15-16.
In the last section --Timothy and Epaphroditus--Philippians 2:19-30, Paul expresses hope to send Timothy to them. Timothy will seek out their welfare because he is rooted in Christ Jesus. They know Timothy's worth this way because they have experienced it. Paul also hopes to send Epaphroditus, who had been ill onto death but now recovered, to see them again. Paul exhorts them to receive him with joy and honor.
This will get your appetite a bit wetted for a more complete coverage of these verses on Monday, May 11.