"The only way to survive in prison is to abandon all
expectations in this world and live for the next."
Philippi was a Roman colony in the province of Macedonia in what is now the northern part of modern Greece, near the coast of the Aegean Sea. It was a fairly large gold-mining town and had many pagan religious influences.
During a visit to Philippi on his second missionary journey, Lydia and her family and the Philippian jailer and his family trusted in Christ as their Savior (Acts 16:14-34). Soon after, a church was established there. The church had sent a financial gift to Paul through Epaphroditus while Paul was in prison in Rome in A.D. 61 or 62. Paul wrote this letter to thank them for that gift. He also addressed some of the problems in the church: rivalry and personal ambition (2:3-4; 4:2) and the bad influence of Judaizers (3:1-3) and Antinomians (3:18-19). Through all of this, he encouraged them to find true joy in Christ alone. The concept of rejoicing or joy occurs sixteen times in the book!
The key verse is "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4).
Paul was with Timothy and mentions him in the opening of the letter even though he was the only author. We will have more background on Timothy when we get to the letter addressed to him. It is personally addressed to all saints in Philippi. This letter was personally addressed to the Philippians and was not intended for general circulation like the letter to the Ephesians. He also addressed the overseers (elders) and deacons of the church. We will talk more about elders and deacons when we study 1 Timothy and Titus.
In this first part of Philippians 1, Paul praised the saints at Philippi. They were a source of joy to him because God was working in their lives! He was confident that God would complete the "good work" of salvation He had already begun in them. They were also a source of joy because the gospel was spreading because of their partnership with him and concern for him.
Paul loved the Philippians, and he prayed regularly that their love would overflow like a river for other believers. He wanted that love to result in a deeper knowledge of Christ and deeper moral discernment and insight so that they would be in right relationship with God when Jesus returns.
In spite of his difficult circumstances as a prisoner in Rome, Paul is rejoicing. The secret of his joy is the single mind; he lives for Christ and the Gospel. (Christ is named eighteen times in Philippians 1, and the Gospel is mentioned six times.) “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). But what really is “the single mind”? It is the attitude that says, “It makes no difference what happens to me, just as long as Christ is glorified and the Gospel shared with others.” Paul rejoiced in spite of his circumstances, because his circumstances strengthened the fellowship of the Gospel (Phil. 1:1–11), promoted the furtherance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12–26), and guarded the faith of the Gospel (Phil. 1:27–30).
The word fellowship simply means “to have in common.” But true Christian fellowship is really much deeper than sharing coffee and pie, or even enjoying a golf game together. Too often what we think is “fellowship” is really only acquaintanceship or friendship. You cannot have fellowship with someone unless you have something in common; and for Christian fellowship, this means the possessing of eternal life within the heart. Unless a person has trusted Christ as his Saviour, he knows nothing of “the fellowship of the Gospel.” In Philippians 2:1, Paul writes about “the fellowship of the Spirit,” because when a person is born again he receives the gift of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9). There is also “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). When we share what we have with others, this is also fellowship (Phil. 4:15, translated “communicate” in kjv).
So, true Christian fellowship is much more than having a name on a church roll or being present at a meeting. It is possible to be close to people physically and miles away from them spiritually. One of the sources of Christian joy is this fellowship that believers have in Jesus Christ. Paul was in Rome, his friends were miles away in Philippi, but their spiritual fellowship was real and satisfying. When you have the single mind, you will not complain about circumstances because you know that difficult circumstances will result in the strengthening of the fellowship of the Gospel.
(The Bible Exposition Commentary: Volume 2, Phil 1:1-11, p. 64)APPLICATION
I am inadequate to help people grow, but God can. Often people come to me with their problems and emotional hurts from the past. The best thing I can do for them is pray, with them and for them. Why not pray Philippians 1:9-11 today for someone you love?
In a few minutes, we are going to go hear a couple we are mentoring speak to a group of high school students about spreading the gospel through the whole world. You can bet I will be praying this passage as they speak!
So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11, The Message)