Right Living for the Coming Day: On the Epistle to the Philippians - Part II

October 6, 2022 at 10:46 PM

     Last week, we took time to consider the theme of Philippians. We said that the theme of living rightly in light of the end unifies the very practical epistle, and we particularly noted this theme in Philippians 1:1-11 (the call to live in light of the day of Christ) and Philippians 1:18b-30 (the call to live in light of the Gospel).

     In this article, we will finish walking through key texts of the letter in chapters 2, 3, and 4 and see how Paul ties everything up regarding living in light of the day of Christ.


Philippians 2:1-11: Live in Light of the Incarnation

     Philippians 2 is exceptionally famous, as it offers some theology regarding Christ’s incarnation. That said, Philippians 2 is not a theological treatise. In line with the practical nature of the rest of the epistle, Philippians 2 is a practical exhortation to unity and humility. Paul is employing theology he assumes the Philippians already know in order to urge them to a particular behaviour. This theology develops the idea of Christlikeness mentioned last article. When thinking of humility, which leads to unity, the Christian must emulate his Lord, who exhibited perfect humility and obedience to the Father. Paul’s logic goes something like this: Be united in your stand for the Gospel (1:27), and in order to be united (2:2), you must be humble (2:3), and in order to be humble, you must be selfless (2:4) as Christ was (2:5) in perfect obedience to the Father (2:6-8). What is the result of such unity and humility? As with living in light of the day of Christ, the result of living in light of the incarnation is simple: God is glorified (2:11). Is not God’s glory our aim and end?


Philippians 3:12-21: Live in Light of the Resurrection        

     Paul’s end-times focus throughout the epistle really comes to a head in Philippians 3. Here, Paul argues, simply, that we must have an eternal mindset. Our thoughts ought to always be mindful of the fact that this is not all there is. And such thoughts must lead to action – are we spending our time in a way that is eternally profitable? Are we storing up treasures in heaven? Paul exhorts the Philippians to this mindset (Phil. 3:13-16). Indeed, we are to forget what lies behind (3:13). We are even to count fleshly achievements or earthly things as rubbish (3:8; the vivid word is, originally, “dung”). Paul’s language is rightfully intense! The things of this world mean nothing apart from Christ and doing His business. One could be as qualified as Paul by earthly standards (3:4-6), and yet it is all loss. Christ must be all in all.

     Paul’s exhortation to live with an eternal mindset is not devoid of theology. This is the practical command which springs out of the resurrection. Paul notes the theological reality of the resurrection in 3:20-21, and this undergirds how the Christian ought to set his mind in this life. Because we await resurrection like Christ was raised, we must live anticipating such hope and making God-honouring use of our time and talents. This is the mature way of thinking as a Christian (3:15) – in fact, it is such the Christian way to think that even Christians with earthly mindsets will eventually think with eternal mindsets (3:16)! The Christian ought to truly believe the resurrection, so much so that his life will necessarily reflect his theology in this area. We are not residents of earth, but sojourners with a residence in heaven after all.

     Paul includes another immensely practical exhortation regarding how we have an eternal mindset – and exhortation upon which it is necessary to comment before moving on. Paul commands the Philippians to join in imitating him (3:17) and not to walk with earthly minded people (3:18-19). Christian, there is no room for light to fellowship with darkness. You must not allow yourself to be influenced by unbelievers, those with an earthly mindset and bellies for gods. Never let it be said of you that unbelievers are your close friends or your companions. Do not let it be said of yourself that you are influenced by those with an earthly mindset – rather, you must do the influencing. You must be faithful to walk in holiness and proclaim the Gospel. Often, this means limiting your quality time with unbelievers unless there are clear Gospel opportunities. In contrast, identify believers who clearly walk in light of the resurrection, those with a mature hope fixed upon Christ and eternity. Imitate them; walk like them; learn from them. Christian, to live with an eternal mindset is to imitate those who await citizenship in heaven and avoid close association with those who glory in their shame.


Philippians 4:4-20: Live in Light of the Peace of God    

     Paul brings this epistle to a close with a series of fairly rapid-fire commands. It is similar in this regard to 1 Thessalonians 5. In sum, these commands are: Rejoice (4:4), let your reasonableness be known to everyone (4:5) do not be anxious (4:6), let your requests be made known to God (4:6), think on right things (4:8), and practice the things seen (4:9). Early on, Paul frames his discussion in light of the fact that the Lord is at hand (4:5), which is what we would expect given the other end-times phrases throughout the book. After these rapid-fire commands, Paul exhorts the Philippians to contentment (4:10-13), giving (4:14-19), and doxology (4:20).

     I want to highlight a few practical points from these exhortations. First, we are commanded not to be anxious. Anxiety is a sin and it necessitates confession and repentance.[1] Paul also offers the “anecdote” to anxiety, or more precisely, the action which, if done, anxiety will not come about in the first place. That is prayer. Prayer, and other means of grace (i.e., reading Scripture, fellowshipping with God’s people, etc.), are oft-cited remedies for sin. Perhaps they sound rather “old hat” and boring. Yet, they are what our Lord prescribes for us, and thus they never get old and never lose their efficacy. We are similarly commanded to let our requests be made known to God. We are commanded to pray, depending upon our Lord in submission and humility. And as a result of this faithfulness to prayer, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. We will be protected from anxiety by God Himself! The Lord is faithful and will not tempt us or bring us into sin. He will guard us from sinful anxiety and give us peace. So let us not neglect His commandment; as the hymn says,

O, what peace we often forfeit! O, what needless pain we bear!

All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

     Second, we are to think rightly. Indeed, the command is to think. We may infer from this that thoughtlessness, as propagated by the pseudo meditation of the contemporary world, is sinful. Similarly, thinking wrongly is sinful. We are to think rightly. Philippians 4:8 outlines the characteristics of a right thought, and while this grid is applied to thinking in Philippians, it can serve as a helpful standard by which we judge all sorts of things in life. Often, experiencing or observing something entails thinking about it. Thus, as we make decisions, we can filter such decisions through this grid so that our thoughts remain pure and blameless for Christ. Now, one may raise questions with such a grid. For example, Scripture often meditates on sinfulness. There is no doubt that sin is not honourable, lovely, excellent, or praiseworthy. Is Scripture inconsistent? No – Scripture is perfectly consistent. Indeed, sinfulness is a necessary thought. We must confess our sins, and also it can be helpful to remind ourselves of sin so that we are not tempted to commit sin again. Yet, as we observe the remembrance of sin in Scripture, it is always in the context of salvation from God. For example, the meditation on Israel’s wickedness in Psalm 106:6-7 is followed up by the meditation on God’s salvation (106:8-12). Romans 3:9-20 is followed by the glories of Romans 3:21-26. Sin in and of itself is a horrible and sad thought; sin in the context of that from which God saves us becomes part of the most glorious thought. Right thinking is honest thinking – honest about sin and honest about salvation.[2]

     As we come to the conclusion of the Philippian letter, we find Paul thanking the congregation for how they helped him in his trouble. Indeed, living in light of the peace of God is to live so contentedly that one freely gives of himself for his brothers and sisters in Christ. In Philippians 4, this is certainly a giving of materials – resources, money, food, etc. Yet, Paul also notes how the Philippians shared his trouble. This is something immaterial and intangible. Christian giving entails more than dropping money into the offering box. Christian giving is a giving of oneself, a giving like Christ’s example in Philippians 2. We must give of our time and our talents to serve the Body of Christ. Your priorities should be aligned to the local church; the most of your time should be given to fellow believers. Your giftings and talents ought to be used to serve the church and edify the saints. You are now part of the Body of Christ, and you are now subject to Christ as Lord. No longer are your time and talents your own. Now, you are in the service of the King! Let us willingly give to one another, knowing our God will supply our every need in Christ (4:19). We have nothing to fear, and with an eternal mindset, there is nothing onto which we ought to hold so closely that we would not give it up for Christ’s sake.

     There is one thing which ought to be given back to God, and everything we have been discussing is a way in which we can give back to God. Giving, imitating godly believers, thinking rightly, praying, not being anxious, rejoicing, maintaining an eternal mindset, not associating with the earthly minded, anticipating the resurrection, living out the incarnation, humility, unity, selfless love, a preparedness to suffer for our Lord, an eagerness to edify the saints, a willingness to die for Christ, and a pure and blameless life in light of Christ’s return… living in this way that Paul presents in Philippians is ultimately for this purpose: “To our God and Father be glory forever. Amen,” (Phil. 4:20). The Christian’s life is a life of doxology. It is a life which gives glory to the Father. Just as Christ’s humiliation and exaltation bring God glory (2:11), so must our Christ-like lives bring the Father the glory He is due (4:20). And this is where we conclude our study through the epistle to the Philippians. As we seek to live rightly, walking purely and blamelessly in light of the coming day of Christ, let us remember that this brings glory to our Father – and that is the best, most profitable thing we could possibly be doing! To Him be the glory both now and forever; amen.

     [1] Here, we do note that there is a “godly” anxiety. In 2 Cor. 11:28, Paul notes his anxiety for the churches. To be anxious for God’s people, to have a concern for them, their well-bring, and their edification, is a good thing. Yet, this is different to the self-centered anxiety which, sadly, more often plagues us. When Jesus commands His followers not to be anxious in Matt. 6:25, He notes anxiety regarding oneself: What will I wear? What will I eat? This anxiety is always wrong and needs repentance.

     [2] Perhaps one may also question the nature of fiction entertainment. I.e., reading books about stories which did not really happen. How can we think about events which are not true? Well, Christ is our example. He told parables which were stories about events that, in history, were not true. They were “fictitious” – yet, every parable contained real truth. The themes and theology of the parables were true, and often the parables modeled real historical happenings as well (such as the Son of God coming to His people and being rejected). Similarly, as we read or watch untrue stories, let us see whether the themes and ideas they communicate are true. If a story is promoting largely untrue ideas, this is an indicator it may be wrong to think about it. Conversely, if a story is promoting right ideas, then it may be an edifying thing indeed to take it in and think about it.