Highlights of Philippians
In this third and last part of the presentation, I will cover the highlights of the Philippians. These are:
1 Christology & its meaning on Servant-King
2 Living the Christian life:
* For an individual
* Among Christians
3. Unique or “controversial” verses
What is Christology?
- It comes from two Greek words meaning “Christ” and “word” – which combine to mean “the study of Christ.”
- Christology deals with that amazing part of theology concerning Jesus Christ as the God-man.
We know that in all his letters, Paul always preached Christ. We can find Christological passages in the Pauline Epistles. Let’s look at some examples:
“But now in Christ Jesus you ………..
have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
Here we are reminded that we are
- reconciled to God thru Christ who died on the cross for us.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth…….”
In Colossians 1:15-16a, we know that
- Jesus is supreme over everything
- His death is all we need to save us from our sins and through Him we are free from man-made rules.
2 Corinthians 8:9
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
In 2 Corinthians 8:9, we are told that
- Christ’s incarnation & atoning death represent the ultimate self-sacrifice and generosity.
The Christological Passage in Philippians
This is found in Philippians 2:6-11. The epistle is not a letter of formal doctrine, but it contains a rich Christological passage.
The six verses provide profound insights into the person and power of Christ. It covers:
- Christ’s pre-existence,
- humiliation and
Let’s study the verses:
In Phil 2:6-7 we know that as God, Christ emptied Himself
“Who, in the very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped
But made Himself nothing, Taking the very nature of a servant.”
In Philippians, Paul chronicles the descent of Christ, coming down from heaven to earth. First, Jesus always existed in the form of God.
Here it is important to distinguish between personal and positional equality with God. As to His Personal equality, Christ is God.
But positional equality is different. Christ did not consider this position something that He had to grasp; to hold on to at all costs.
Our Lord relinquished His divine rights and Emptied Himself of His equal rights with God, taking the very nature of a servant
- Let’s reflect on our Lord’s sacrifice. This is truly a stark contrast when we consider Adam’s self pride of wanting to be like God, accounted for us in the Book of Genesis; and
- Christ’s readiness to sacrifice His divine nature for all mankind.
In Phil 2:8 we know that as man, Christ humbled Himself and obeyed, even death on a cross
In Phil 2:8
“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – Even death on a cross!”
- Christ took the form of a servant by becoming a man; a poor man. Christ said in Luke 9:58 ”Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head”.
- Christ humbled and obeyed to death
Death by crucifixion was the most shameful form of execution – reserved only for the worst criminals. Christ died the shameful death on the cross and paid the penalty for our sins.
There has never been such a clear demonstration of the character of humility as there is in the Son of God relinquishing His Divine rights, and coming to this earth as a man to die a most shameful death, for our sakes.
God Exalted Him
Phil 2:9 – 11
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
And gave Him the name that is above every name.”
- In Acts 1: 9, it was recorded that Jesus ascended to heaven right before the eyes of the apostles.
- And we know that when Christ comes again, every knee will bow before Christ
These 6 verses were written in a beautiful rhetorical structure and have been widely known as the “Christological Hymn of Philippians” or “Hymn to Christ”.
It is an important contribution to our understanding of Christ. This Christological passage is also a significant element of Paul’s teachings.
I will move on to the practical aspects in the book.
Philippians is one of the most studied biblical books. One reason could be that it contains the applications of imitating the attitude of Christ to live the Christian life.
Paul appeals to the church to follow his example in having Christ’s attitude instead of depending on our own self-righteousness.
This explains how Paul can experience joy even during great difficulties.
Each of the four chapters in the Book shows the fruits of having Christ’s attitude:
- Joy in adversity (Chapter 1)
- Humility leading to unity in the church (Chapter 2)
- Protection from false teachings (Chapter 3)
- Peace with God and man in all circumstances (Chapter 4)
Paul’s advice is:
“Our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
How do we exhibit Christ’s attitude in our lives?
This is manifested at two levels:
- The individual level
- The Christian community level
First we will look at “Living the Christian life at the individual level”
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God”.
Paul urges the Philippians to grow in knowledge of the gospel and be pure and blameless. We should not just possess head knowledge of the gospel, we should also practise it in our daily life.
What are our goals in life: is it earthly pursuits or heavenly goals? For Paul, he is very clear how he leads his life. His personal goal is “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).
What is your daily conduct like? Paul said that “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27).
The apostle Paul cited us many examples on Christian practices, let’s look at them:
- Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you shine out in a crooked and depraved generation (Phil 2:14 -15).
- Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (Phil 2:3a)
- Be humble, consider others better than yourselves, and look after the interests of others as well. (Phil 2:3b – 4)
- Philippians are encouraged to stand firm without being frightened by opponents. This is a sure sign that we are saved by God and non-believers will be destroyed (Phil 1:28). Their destiny is destruction as their minds are on earthly things.
- Our citizenship is in heaven. So we should “rejoice in the Lord always”(Phil 4:4). And as Dr Chua reminded us last week “Do not worry” so we should “Not be anxious about anything,” take it all to the Lord in prayer
- Our earthly life is a journey, so each of us should continue to press on towards our heavenly goals. (Phil 3:14)
- Follow good examples – apart from Christ, the book has other good examples like Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus. (Phil 4:9)
- Think about things that lead to spiritual excellence like whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable (Phil 4:8)
“Living the Christian Life – among Christians or Christian Fellowship”
Paul wrote that we should also exhibit Christ attitude at the community level.
This produces peace with God and man in all circumstances.
In Philippians, Paul pleads for peace between two women who quarreled (Phil 4:2-3). On the dispute between these two fellow workers, Euodia and Syntyche, Paul pleads with them to be of the same mind in the Lord. He reminds the Philippians that they are ‘loyal yokefellow’, partners in the gospel; and we are in God’s family as our names are in the book of life.
To have God pleasing fellowship, we must be grounded in God’s own character, have “humbleness of mind”, which is “putting the interests of others before one’s own.
Produces grumbling ( Phil 2.14)
Produces joy (Phil 2:2a)
Leads to division (Phil 4:2)
Leads to unity (Phil 2:2b)
Proud (Phil 2:3a)
Humble (Phil 2:3b)
Considers self better than others (Phil 2:3a)
Considers others better than self (Phil 2:3b)
Looks out for self (Phil 2:4a)
Looks out for others (Phil 2:4b)
We summarise in the table two ways that we can relate to others. One is the self-centred way and the other is the selfless way when we adopt Christ attitude in our fellowship with others.
Look at the outcomes, and decide which way you want to follow!
The results of having a self-centred attitude is a downhill outcome where we are not good witnesses for the Lord and our co-workers will be disappointed
On the other hand, when we have a Christ-like attitude, we are God’s children, shining like stars in the universe. And our co-workers will rejoice with us.
Unique or “Controversial” Verses or Passages
In this last segment, we would like to dwell on some unique or “controversial” verses that would require some discussion in your Sunday school class so that we know Paul’s intended meaning:
Phil 1:15 – 18
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
We know Paul’s stand on false teachers masquerading as apostles of In 2 Cor 11:13-15, Paul said “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, Christ….. “
They will not inherit the kingdom of God.
- In Phil 3:2,
Paul had called these false teachers “dogs, men who do evil, mutilators of the flesh.
- Paul would never compromise with false teachers but rejoice with the end result that Christ is preached and the Gospel has spread, even if the preacher did it out of wrong motives.
3) Can a preacher with wrong motives preach the true gospel? Please discuss this in your own Sunday school class
“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.
Why does Paul consider death again?
Here in a nutshell is Paul’s philosophy of life.
- Paul did not live for money, fame or pleasure. The object of his life was to love, worship and serve the Lord Jesus. He wanted his life to be like the life of Christ.
- To die is to be with Christ . It is to serve Him forever.
- Sad to say, the outlook today seems to be that “to live is earthly gain and to die would be the end of gain.” Your class can discuss on your own philosophy of life?
Phil 2: 12b
“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.
We know that salvation is by the grace of God. We cannot work to get it. So what does Paul mean in this verse?
The verse does not say, “Work for your salvation” or “Work towards your salvation” or “Work at your salvation”. It says “Work out your salvation”. Your own salvation is a possession to be explored and enjoyed ever more fully.
The phrase “with fear and trembling” refers to the fear of a true child before the most loving of all fathers, not a fear of what He might do to us, but of the hurt we might do to Him. We do not want to hurt our Almighty and Holy Heavenly Father.
So the passage is saying that
- because you are already saved, and
- have the Holy Spirit in you,
- you are to strive to express this salvation in your conduct to please our Heavenly Father.
“For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh”.
Why does Paul talk about the circumcision when he is addressing a Gentile church where the people are not physically circumcised?
What is true circumcision?
“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart……….”
So in Phil 3:3, Paul is not referring to outward circumcision, but to inward circumcision.
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
What does Paul mean to become like Christ in his death?
We know that Paul loves Christ and his zealous goal is to be like Christ in every aspect of his life, even Christ’s sufferings and resurrection. He was not concerned about the sufferings that lie before him. This is the same emotion as expressed by Ignatius of Antioch who spoke of his joy at the prospect of martyrdom. Suffering for Christ, to Ignatius, is no cause for fear, but rather a gift for which one should be thankful. Ignatius became one of the church’s most famous martyrs, and for centuries his letters proved a great encouragement to others faced with persecution.
- Paul knows that he is not perfect like Christ.
- But he did not give up and was determined to strain towards this goal of being like Christ.
- And this should also be the life goal of every Christian who is spiritually matured – becoming like Christ in every aspect of our life.
- We have enjoyed studying the Book of Philippians.
- It is a passionate letter where Paul invites us to the advance of the gospel.
- It points us to Christ, both for now and forever.
- Christ is the gospel, Saviour and Lord; thus Christ is our way of life, our future, our joy.