Copyright © 2011, John.W. (Jack) Carter
All rights reserved. Scripture quotes from KJV
All people search for fulfillment in their lives. True and complete fulfillment can only be found in the comfort of the saving grace of God, and then only by submitting one’s self to Him as LORD. A healthy church is characterized by a community of people, fully submitted to the LORD, united together for His common purpose.
What is it that people of the world are searching for? Some say “peace,” some “riches,” some “fame,” some “good health,” etc. Most of people’s long-term desires engage some combination of these benefits. But there is still an underlying need that encompasses all of these. People are searching for meaning and fulfillment in their lives. Both of these go hand-in-hand. What are some of the things people do to find fulfillment? Many find fulfillment in their jobs, often working very hard at the expense of their relationships with friends, family, and God. Many find fulfillment in leisure activities, again possibly at the expense of their relationships with friends, family, work, and God. Some find fulfillment in their dedication to family relationships. Few people find the source of true and abiding fulfillment in their lives, and these are a subset of those who refer to themselves as Christians. This fulfillment is available to all who claim faith in Christ. It is a gift that is simply waiting to be accepted.
When one considers the extensive efforts that are made by the world’s peoples as they strive to find fulfillment, there is a common thread of error that frustrates this search. That thread is the overwhelming power of unbridled self-will. When one attempts fulfillment by serving only self, an irreconcilable conflict sets in. God has a purpose for every human individual, and we will never find fulfillment when we choose desires that are outside of that purpose. Furthermore, true fulfillment will come only in a life that is given to God so that His plan may be worked out through the faithful individual. Only then will true fulfillment be found.
Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians as a note of encouragement to support those faithful Christians who were, indeed, finding fulfillment by exercising their faith in God through Jesus Christ. Furthermore, it is a letter that reminds them of the source of that fulfillment.
Philippians 1:1-2. Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul writes this letter while he is imprisoned in Rome, probably around 62 A.D. He is accompanied by Timothy, a faithful young Christian man who, after spending this time under Paul’s influence, would later be the recipient of at least two letters following his own calling into a pastoral setting.
The theme of this epistle is the adequacy of Jesus Christ to meet all of the needs of life. Jesus is presented as the one and true source of true and complete joy. Paul writes to the entire congregation at Philippi, including the pastor and other leaders, though this letter would also be copied and distributed throughout the region of western Asia. This letter was written to be read, not by the pastor, but by all as Paul seeks to encourage them in their ministry. It may be useful to recall that the structure of the church was quite different from that today. Instead of one large congregation, the church was more like an association of small house-churches with an overseer (pastor) and an individual leader in each small group (bishops).
Small groups tend to do a better job of meeting the needs of their members, and the church at Philippi had gained a reputation of expressing love for one another and for their community through personal ministry. This reputation brought joy and confidence to Paul as he sought to minister to this community of churches.
Philippians 1:3-6. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
How does Paul express his feelings towards the church in Philippi? He thanks God every time he remembers them. Unlike several of the churches that Paul chastises for their internal conflict, it appears that the Philippian church is at peace. I recently returned from a visit to an area of the country where I found each of three churches with which I was once closely associated to be dealing with terrible internal conflict. Core members were leaving one church in disgust, another church was experiencing infighting over changes taking place, and another church had forcibly removed a group of antagonistic members from their rolls. While listening to the testimonies of members of these three churches, I could not help but continually thank God as I considered the church that we attended, one that had doubled in size in each of the previous six years during a time of tremendous growth in discipleship and missions. It is a church at peace, a church with a leadership that is united in their desire to bring spiritual fulfillment to church members as they seek also to fulfill their own God-ordained purpose.
It is easy to thank God for such a congregation, and the work that they are doing for the Kingdom is encouraging. The Philippian church appears to be much like this home church. Consider Paul’s other statements concerning this church: Paul always prays with joy as he sees a body of believers that have been partners with him in the sharing of the Gospel from their first day. Paul is then confident that God will be able to complete a great work through them. This is a church that is allowing Christ to work through them. Often churches that are in conflict are doing this in words only, as they actually perform an agenda that is driven by the self-centered desires of its leadership. When a church truly seeks God’s purpose in their fellowship, its people can put their own personal agenda away, and seek that of God. It is then that God uses the fellowship to advance His kingdom work.
Likewise, in our own lives the same principle is true. God has called each of us to be a partner with Him in the gospel; to be missionaries in this sinful world. If we put away our own agenda and let Christ work in us, we will find a fulfillment that cannot be attained through any other source. We will find that the good work of obedience will be used of God for the remainder of our days. As Paul remembers this church with joy, the church is encouraged by that remembrance. As we live a life that is committed to Christ, the joy we receive is the same, and it is God who provides the encouragement, as he promises to complete the work in us that He has started.
Philippians 1:7-8. Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. 8For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.
When we spend time thinking of those whom we love, those with whom we have worked together to accomplish God-sized tasks, we find that time to be comforting and blessed. This is how Paul feels when he thinks of his friends in the church in Philippi. Even though he is keenly aware of the limitations of his current imprisonment, his spirit is set free as he is aware of his own spirit working among this faithful Christian community. Paul shares with these folks a common experience of salvation, a common experience of ministry, and a common experience of grace, a resource of encouragement that serves to sustain him during this difficult time in his ministry.
The word, ‘bowels,’ as used in the KJV should not be misunderstood. The culture of the ancient Near East considered the bowels, or the “gut” to be the seat of emotion. Today, we tend to use the metaphor of the “heart” as the seat of emotions. Obviously, no organ serves such a purpose, so the use of the word itself is rather irrelevant. The point is that Paul’s desire to be with those of the Philippian fellowship is sincere and deep, a desire that is motivated by his genuine love for them.
What we are witnessing is an example of how God’s grace serves to bring one a true and lasting fulfillment. One might be safe to say that most people who share Paul’s experience of Roman imprisonment might not be quite as positive as Paul. Paul has found complete fulfillment in His life as he has trusted God through all of his experiences. Those experiences of faith have opened doors of relationship with others that are genuine and bathed in the gift of unconditional agape love that only God gives.
We see in Paul a genuine love for the fellowship in Philippi. This is a love that flows from his own heart, and a love that he desires all who profess the name of Christ would also experience.
Philippians 1:9. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
Paul then describes a collection of resources that, together, serve as a foundation for a life of fulfillment, a life he desires for this faithful community. It is probably not surprising that the first stone in this foundation is agape love. The expression of agape love is fundamental to fulfillment. Paul notes that the Christians to whom he writes are already characterized by this type of unconditional, godly love for one another and for others. Paul’s prayer is that this love will grow in them, becoming for them the very context of their knowledge and judgment.
What would happen to us if we applied all of our knowledge in God’s unconditional agape love for others. We would never find ourselves using the things we know for our own self-centered gain, but would rather find ourselves overwhelmingly blessed by the consequences of using that knowledge to encourage, strengthen, and minister to others.
What would happen to us if we submitted all of our judgment of others to God’s agape love? The entire context of what we consider judgment would probably change. Rather than using our skills of judgment to condemn and criticize, a sin of pride, we would find ourselves valuing others so highly as to recognize their true value, and minister to them in the areas of their greatest need.
Philippians 1:10. That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
Paul continues laying down this foundation of a fulfilled life by stating three encouraging imperatives:
“Approve things that are excellent.” What are the things in your life that you hold in high regard? What is important to you? Paul encourages his readers to look at their lives and choose to consider of value those things that are godly, rather than those things that are worldly. People of faith today tend to surround themselves with the same godless endeavors that the lost world does. The things that the world considers important, usually things that serve to satiate one’s own selfish desires, or serve to compromise one’s spiritual integrity, are all things that a person of faith should hold in very low regard.
“That you may be sincere.” Paul uses an important metaphor here that is absent in the English translation. The Greek word that is translated “sincere,” is ensincera. The literal Greek translation would be “without wax.” Cheap pottery could be made to look like expensive pottery by simply applying a coat of wax. The wax would fill the scratches and cracks, making the pottery look new and shiny, and causing it to hold its contents as desired. However, the wax eventually dries, the surface of the pottery becomes dull, the original scratches begin to show, and the pottery begins to leak. The pottery lacks the integrity that the original seller implied. High quality pottery would have a note on its bottom, a note that states, “en sincera,” “without wax.” Such a statement would tell the buyer that this pottery is the real thing. This pottery has the integrity that the buyer expects. Paul is noting that a life that is submitted to Christ, a life that finds true fulfillment, is not a life of hypocrisy. Paul believes that a life that is submitted to Christ is a life that is characterized by integrity: what you see is the true representation of the individual, and that representation is that of a spirit-filled, godly individual.
“Without offense.” Paul understands that all people of faith “miss the mark.” We might consider the offense that Paul refers to as missing the mark by choice. We may choose to exercise attitudes and actions that are clearly not characterized by God’s unconditional agape love. We may choose to do things to hurt others. We may choose to do things to bring ourselves some sort of gain at the expense of others. These are all offenses that Paul encourages us to leave in the past. Paul is simply referring to a life that chooses obedience to Christ, an obedience that becomes one’s nature, sustaining one’s integrity until they meet Christ either in their death or in His coming. Integrity is one of the most important components of a fulfilled life.
Philippians 1:11. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God..
When one chooses to life a life that is submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, a life that is submitted to God and His Word, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is allowed to find expression. When one’s life is characterized by agape love, one chooses a righteous life. Righteousness is not found by doing a list of good works under the law. Righteousness is found only by one’s expression of true faith in God, a true faith that will always serve to allow the expression of spiritual fruit, the greatest of these being agape love.
People of the world try to find fulfillment in things that bring gain to themselves. Paul closes this short paragraph with a profound statement, one that separates worldly fulfillment from true fulfillment. Something happens when one lives a life that is submitted to God: fulfillment is found in those things that bring glory and praise to God rather than to one’s self. Fulfillment is found in serving others rather than in finding ways for others to serve us. Fulfillment is found when we find ourselves engaged in God’s work, sharing our life and our experience with the Ancient of Days as He walks with us through all of life’s journeys.
These few verses serve to introduce us to the context of Paul’s writing to the church in Philippi. It reveals much about the nature of this church and the reasons why this fellowship brings encouragement to Paul. As Paul describes the details of their nature and encourages them to continue to grow in their walk with the LORD, we are also given encouragement and instruction on Christian living. In these verses we find that true and abiding fulfillment is available to people of faith, to people who replace the priorities of this world with the priorities of the kingdom, finding true fulfillment in the expression of lasting things – things that are eternal. Things that edify and build up others, and bring glory and praise to God.
Let each of us examine our lives and identify our true priorities. Are we truly ‘without wax’? Or, is there a seed of hypocrisy that serves to hide our true nature, a hypocrisy that serves to make us look holy when we know that we truly are note. As Paul encourages the church in Philippi to grow in their spiritual integrity, we are encouraged to do the same by turning from our focus on the things of this world, and turn it towards the Excellency of Christ, and His purpose for our lives, a purpose that is found in His Word, led of the Holy Spirit in a life that is characterized by continual personal prayer, and ministry to others. It is through such a life of true spiritual integrity that fulfillment can be found.