Why I am preaching through Philippians

In the morning I will begin a new series of sermons through Philippians. Some months ago I wrestled through what to preach next. I had decided to preach Genesis. It’s an amazing book with much to teach us about God, ourselves, sin, and salvation. Then for various reasons I decided I would preach through the Gospel of Mark first. But finally, just over a month ago, while taking a few days away to plan and pray, I decided to preach through Philippians.

There are at least 6 reasons why I believe that Philippians is the right book for Church of the Saviour in these days.
1. Philippians is Christ-saturated.
This letter drips Jesus. Specifically, it focuses on Christ’s redemptive work on the cross – the message we call “the gospel.” As always, Paul’s overarching concern in this letter is the gospel of Jesus. In fact, Paul uses the word gospel more times in Philippians than in any other letter. Paul never thought it appropriate to “move on” from the gospel. He never saw the gospel as something we “get” and then may assume from that point on. Even to this congregation of faithful, maturing believers who brought Paul deep joy, he deems it necessary to refer repeatedly to the gospel of Jesus Christ; to ground everything in the Gospel.

2. Philippians is filled with expressions of love.
There is a high concentration of loving, friendship language in this letter. The Philippian church was Paul beloved friends. He loved all the congregations he minister to but there is a kind of joy in his relationship with the Philippian church that seems to be unique. We know there were times when Paul, as a faithful pastor, had to rebuke those he loved. Read 1 and 2 Corinthians. Read Galatians. Read Romans. Paul loved them but he had to rebuke them for sin and doctrinal error. But not so with the Philippian church. They were faithful to Christ and the gospel. And they were faithful friends to Paul. They were his partners in the gospel. And they made him very joyful.

3. Philippians is a model of and call to joy in the midst of great difficulty.
What a model Paul is! He is writing from prison and yet he radiates joy. And he calls his readers to the same kind of joy in the midst of suffering. Philippians is a letter to Christians in the midst of a hostile community under a threatening regime and yet Paul is not shy about calling these brothers and sisters to be full of joy. Paul uses the word joy or one of its derivatives more in Philippians than any other letter and he is in prison writing to Christians under the fist of pagan Rome. Surely we have much to learn from this.

4. Philippians is the overflow of a man for whom the world had lost all fascination.
The world had lost its grip on Paul. Everything he had accomplished (and he had accomplished much) was rubbish to him. He saw his worldly achievements as a net loss. He no longer loved the world and its offers of status. He was not impressed with anything he had done. He was not impressed with the world’s power and wealth. And this was no doubt important to model for the church in Philippi.

The city of Philippi had a proud heritage. It was captured in 360 BC by Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Later it was where the forces of Mark Antony defeated the forces of Brutus and Cassius who had murdered Julius Caesar. To mark the significance of that battle, Rome adopted Philippi as a colony, which was a high honor. It was like being “Rome in miniature.” To be in Philippi was to be on Roman soil. It’s citizens were now given the full rights and privileges of Roman citizens. So it would have been no small thing to live in this city, this extension of Rome.

The closest thing I can compare it to is what it is like to be from Texas. Of course, many of you have not had the privilege. Just take it from me. Or, perhaps it like being in “a Mainline church.” A citizen of Philippi would have had reason for boasting in their day. They were an expression of Rome in Northern Macedonia. And so when Paul reviews his achievements in the flesh and then classifies them as so much rubbish he is reminding these potentially proud Philippians to invest no confidence in such things.

Alec Motyer writes, “Thus a city with a famous past and a privileged and proud present was about to hear the good news of a status conferred not by man but by God, proclaimed by a man who had come to see all human and inherited dignities as so much rubbish in contrast with the surpassing worth of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ” (TBST, 15).

What mattered to Paul more than anything else was Christ. “If I live then I live for the sake of God’s people. If I die then I go home to Jesus which is better by far.” The world has no power to charm a man with that attitude. And Philippians is the overflow of a heart that believed it!

5. Philippians is a call for gospel-centered unity.
Philippians is a call for brothers and sisters in Christ to agree; to avoid quarrelling. Repeatedly Paul grounds us in Christ’s work on the cross to not only assure of us of our salvation but to give us a pattern to follow of humility and service to one another. We are united Christ and therefore to one another. It is the cross which has accomplished this. This is not sentiment. It is a call for robust, Christ-purchased, Gospel-centered unity.

So, Paul does not just say, “Get along. Agree. Be nice. Have unity!” He says, “Remember what Jesus did? Remember how he humbled himself even to the point of death on a cross? Now, you humble yourselves. You serve each other. Don’t lift yourself up. Get low. Down further…”
This is how the message of Christ’s death creates unity between brothers and sisters – not by enforcing unity but by creating servants.

6. Philippians is a call to remain undiluted from outward threats and doctrinal confusion.
Paul warns the Philippians, not about errors currently happening within their church, but about threats and doctrinal confusion that were sure to come. They would be threatened by Roman authorities. They would be threatened by Pagan religionists. And they would be threatened by doctrinal error from within. So Paul urges them to be on guard.

Specifically it seems from what Paul writes that he was concerned about the almost certain influence of Judaizers. Judaizers is a term attached to Jewish and Gentile Christians who had come to believe that Christians must submit to the Old Testament ceremonial laws (circumcision, dietary laws, and observing Old Covenant feasts and celebrations). Paul was scandalized by these attempts to keep the Old Covenant ceremonial laws alive. He knew those ceremonies and dietary laws, just like the entire sacrificial system, were fulfilled in Christ. This is precisely why he took the Galatians to the woodshed.

It seems Paul may also have been concerned about anti-nomians. An anti-nomian is sort of the exact opposite of the Judaizer. The anti-nomian (lit. “against the law”) believed that Christians were no longer constrained by the moral law of God spelled out in the 10 Commandments. They believed that since grace abounded where sin abounded, why not increase sin? In the Corinthian church they repeated the anti-nomian motto: “All things are lawful for me.”

So it seems, as we will come to find, that Paul was warning the Philippian church about both of these errors – Judaizing and anti-nomianism. In both case it is the gospel which is attacked. The Judaizer denies the gospel by adding to it – Jesus + the regulations & ceremonies. The anti-nomian denies the gospel by rejecting its life-changing implications – why not keep sinning? So Paul is telling them, as he told all the churches, to be watchful, to be on guard against distortions of sound doctrine, distortions of the gospel.