Christianity provides believers with: (1) the certainty of eternal life in heaven; (2) the calling and the power to live a holy life; and (3) the challenge of suffering persecution at the hands of those who oppose the Gospel. The apostle Paul was in the grip of all three of these compelling dynamics when he wrote his epistle to the Philippians while imprisoned for his faith.
The Christians at Philippi were especially close to Paul's heart, as is evident in this personal letter. It is truly an inspired manual for living a vibrant Christian life, and it continues to deliver holy power and divine insight to Catholics, Protestants, and every Christian who meditates upon it.
Philippians was addressed "to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons." (1:1) A "saint" is a believer in Jesus whose "citizenship is in heaven." (3:20) Citizens of heaven live on earth for awhile before spending eternity in paradise. No wonder Paul wrote, "We eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." (3:20,21)
Before becoming a Christian, Paul assumed that his religious deeds were the basis of his righteousness before God. But he was sorely mistaken, in spite of his impressive Jewish pedigree. Paul was "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless." (3:5,6)
Everything changed for Paul once he met Christ, and he immediately stopped relying upon the law for salvation. "Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." (3:7-9)
And it was the certainty of his own salvation that led Paul to write, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (1:21) There was no question in Paul's mind that heaven was his eternal home. And he instructed the saints at Philippi to "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling." (2:12) Some have mistakenly thought this verse teaches that the salvation of believers is never fully secure. In fact, it teaches just the opposite.
You see, a person cannot "work out his salvation" unless he is already saved. Just as you cannot "work out" and exercise physically unless you are alive, you cannot work out your salvation unless you are forgiven, redeemed, born again, justified and saved. Conversion happens on the front end of a person's relationship with God. Only Christians can work out their salvation, and Christians have already been granted citizenship in heaven through their faith in Christ alone. Believers do not rely upon the law for salvation because "all who rely on observing the law are under a curse." (Galatians 3:10)
Paul reminded the saints at Philippi that once they arrive in heaven, Jesus "will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." (3:21) Notice that Paul said Jesus "will" bring about this transformation for every believer; not, He "might" do it. Eternity in paradise is a certainty for everyone who knows Christ as Savior. A few verses later Paul referred to those "whose names are in the book of life." (4:3) And if your name is in the book of life, you are guaranteed to receive an eternal inheritance in heaven. All believers have their name in the book of life, and are therefore saved, redeemed, born again, justified and forgiven of their sins. (See this article I wrote 6 years ago: "Is Your Name in Heaven's Reservation Book?")
Now that we have seen how this epistle stresses the certainty of eternal life in heaven for believers, let's examine how Philippians presents a second element of Christianity; namely, the calling and the power to live a holy life.
As Paul reminded the saints at Philippi, this new life was the result of their "partnership in the Gospel." (1:5) Paul knew that the Gospel produces good fruit in the lives of those who accept the message of God's grace into their heart by faith. Paul was also intimately aware of "the obedience that comes from faith." (Romans 1:5) And this is why Catholics, Protestants and every Christian should be taught what Scripture has to say about salvation and about obedience to Christ.
Paul wrote, "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 fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God." (Phil. 1:9-11)
While conversion is instantaneous, discipleship is a process. Paul wrote to believers at Philippi to encourage "your progress and joy in the faith." (1:25) Pure doctrine promotes pure living. And Jesus is the author of purity and truth. Therefore, Paul presented this simple instruction to the saints: "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ." (1:27)
This mission includes being "one in spirit and purpose." (2:2) And "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." (2:3-5)
Talk about a high calling! And yet this is exactly what God expects from all of His children, whether a believer identifies as Catholic, Protestant, or with some other moniker. Such labels can actually be very misleading, especially if the person choosing to wear a religious label is not "clothed with Christ" through faith in the Messiah. (Gal. 3:27) Labels don't forgive sins. Only the blood of Jesus has that kind of power. (Eph. 1:7; 1 John 1:7)
And when it comes to obedience, Paul wanted every Christian at Philippi to realize that "it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose." (2:13) You see, Jesus is not only the "author and perfecter of our faith," (Heb. 12:2) but He is also the vine who produces good fruit on every branch that is connected to Him. (see John 15:1-8)
This is why Christians are to "do everything without complaining or arguing." (Phil 2:14) Just as children in the home need to grow in maturity as they approach their teen years, so also Paul instructed Christians in the church to become "mature" (3:15) in their faith and in their life of discipleship. The unwise alternative for a believer is to remain an "infant in Christ" (1 Cor. 3:1) by persisting in "jealousy and quarreling," (1 Cor. 3:3) as well as other behavior that "grieves the Holy Spirit" (Eph. 4:30) and prevents a child of God from becoming mature in Christ.
Instead of engaging in "rage and anger, brawling and slander," (Eph. 4:31) Paul instructed the saints at Philippi to "rejoice in the Lord always" (4:4) and to "let your gentleness be evident to all." (4:5) It's not always easy to choose rejoicing over brawling and gentleness over anger, especially in the heat of the moment. While the Old Testament battles were fought against other people, the frontline for every Christian today is our thought life. And so Paul often addressed the critical need to think straight. After all, straight thinking leads to straight living.
Therefore, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." (Phil. 4:8) It makes all the difference in the world whenever Christians put this profound precept into practice. A pure thought life replaces anxiety with peace. Paul wrote, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (4:6,7)
Disciplined believers must not assume, however, that a strong prayer life will remove the possibility of persecution. The third element of Christianity Paul presents in Philippians is the reality that many faithful Christians suffer for their faith. Our Lord was crucified for telling people the truth, and His followers are often treated with similar hatred. Paul was "in chains for Christ" (1:13) when he wrote Philippians, and yet his imprisonment only "served to advance the Gospel." (1:12) As a result of his chains, "most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the Word of God more courageously and fearlessly." (1:14)
Paul understood that God's power is often the greatest in our lives as believers when our natural resources are at their lowest ebb. The Lord told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) And this spiritual dynamic led Paul to write: "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings." (Phil. 3:10) The goal for Paul was always to have Christ exalted in his life, and severe hardships had the surprising effect of only lifting Christ higher.
Paul reminded those at Philippi: "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him." (1:29) Suffering is part and parcel of what it means to follow Christ in many parts of the world today. Paul informed the young pastor, Timothy: "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12) Why? Well, a big reason is because "many live as enemies of the cross of Christ." (Phil. 3:18) And some enemies of Christ aggressively seek to harm and oppress Christians.
In the midst of intense opposition and much personal suffering throughout his ministry, Paul modeled perseverance for the saints at Philippi. And the apostle ended up penning one of the most popular verses in the entire Bible: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil. 4:13) This powerful reality in his own life led Paul to proclaim, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." (4:12)
So now that the secret is out of the bag, what will you and I do in response to God's Word? Will we, like Paul, stand firm in Christ, or will we throw in the towel in the midst of trials and adversities?
If you are a Christian, then the book of Philippians is for you. So drink up from the deep well of God's living water as you "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:14) And always remember: "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6) "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen." (4:23)
Other articles in this series: