Commentary on Philippians 1: 1-11

The Word of God is bristling with power. This “power” is not perceived by worldly measurements; it is of divine origin. It is such a pity that many Christians flock to the weekly meetings on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) to be revitalised (in their mind), forgetting that we have the best fuel for our soul and body in this book (see 2 Peter 1:2-3). The natural tendency for the Christian believer is to take the Word for granted – to treat it like any other book. They insist that different books within the Bible must be held down by their own made-up pillars – often by their theological leanings and experience. When Scripture is caged and locked up to only mean what we believe it MUST only mean, we have effectively created our own religion much like the Pharisees of old. That is why we must always come and approach Scripture with reverence and openness of mind. Laziness and busyness are our constant enemies in this; we must guard ourselves against it, regardless of our theological leanings.

This is why it is refreshing to re-read the letter of Paul to Philippians. It is a letter written while Paul was suffering in both body and mind – he was waiting for the verdict of his trial in Rome. On top of that, he faced opposition from certain church leaders who saw him as a competitor rather than a brother. Uncertainty of the future is never a nice situation to be in, but Paul shows us a Christ-honouring example through it… something we all need in the challenging phases of our life.

Notice Paul’s humility in the very start of the letter (v.1) – he declares Timothy and himself bondservants of Jesus Christ. He does not boast on his contribution or gifts to the cause of Christ – he plainly and simply paints himself as to how he has always seen himself – a willing, happy slave for his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is something that I have appreciated when meeting with church leaders – the willingness and honest humility of the servant of Christ to be what he truly is: a servant of Christ and to those whom He died for! Be wary of those who are quick to shift the focus to their “history” and “achievements”. Be wary of ourselves – for such pride do not immediately show itself; it hides itself in our need for encouragement and in coping with uncertainty in the ministry. Many ministers “need” to prove to themselves that they are worth the effort, the money and the time given by the supporting church – and thus, they build up a ready-list of achievements and ‘wins’. Capping it with ‘praise the Lord’ does not immediately ‘purify’ the true intentions.

It is worth noting as well that the greeting is given first to the “saints” in Philippi, before it is given to the elders and deacons of the church. Again, this is how Paul sees ministers – not as reverends with titles and positions, but as those who truly “come last” as the Lord Jesus constantly reminded His disciples: the greatest is the one who serves, just as He came to die for sinners.

This thought holds true as we see Paul confessing his heart’s desire in verse 3 to 6 – his desire is for the brethren, Christian believers, to be built up and complete as the Day approaches when we see Him face-to-face. The command to love our neighbour is not a theoretical lesson but a practical action. It begins with the desire of our heart. Do we rejoice in seeing brethren? Far away brethren that we hardly meet? Paul does. It ought to cause us to be ashamed of our self-focus and our narrow view of what Christianity is about. Paul did not identify these as Gentile believers who were converted out of paganism – nor did he identify these as Jewish believers – they were merely “saints” and “believers” who are all “partakers with me of grace”. What a magnificent and challenging thought for modern Christians who are so quick to identify and preach their own “affiliations” and “groupings”, whether it is through theological leanings or by their practices.

Whatever circumstance we may find ourselves in – whether in much or in lack – we MUST check our desires: is it for those whom Christ died for? Is it in serving the Lord with all humility, knowing how unworthy we are and how we are the least of all believers? Perhaps this week, this day, we need to pray for others and to pray that we can happily call ourselves “bondservants” of Christ – not one who is free to do as our hearts would want, but one who is moved and freed by the gracious love and act of the Holy One who gave Himself for unworthy us. Amen.

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