Truth, Love, Discernment: My Thoughts on Philippians 1:1-11

If you love people then you will want them to know the truth because it’s the truth that sets us free according to John 8:32.

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Image Credit: Georgie Dee

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. – [Philippians 1:1-11 NRSV]

At my church, I am preparing to preach through the book of Philippians on Wednesday nights. Studying for this has been a daunting task filled with prayer, Scripture reading, and a good soak in dead commentators of days gone by.

As I contemplate on this epistle as a whole and particularly on these opening 11 verses, I can’t help but see Paul sitting in his home under house arrest and letting the thought of this congregation’s progress in their corporate walk with God fill him with joy.

What we see here is a pastor resting in the work that Christ has accomplished through His death, burial, and resurrection, is accomplishing through the Holy Spirit that’s dwelling in them, and will accomplish at the last day. I believe all of this is captured in Philippians 1:6, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

In verses 9-11, we see this deep, heartfelt, pastoral prayer. And what is it that Paul is praying for? He’s praying, first of all, for them to have love and discernment. I would like to point out that I believe that real discernment comes from love – both a love for God and a love for people. First of all, if you love God then you will love the truth because you understand that He is the ultimate source of truth, and you understand that God desires “truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6, KJV). If you love people then you will want them to know the truth because it’s the truth that sets us free according to John 8:32. I think Penn Jillette, a famous magician and confessed atheist, illustrates this well in the following statement:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

Basically, I think he’s saying that if you know there to be such a thing as absolute truth in this relativistic culture, and you’re refraining from speaking that truth to someone, then you cannot claim to love them. So, in the context of love and discernment, what this means is that if you love God and love you neighbor, then you will discern the truth and defend the truth from those that would try to distort to their own advantage.

In conclusion, I think we need to take this text to heart and understand that Jesus is working in by the Holy Spirit to cultivate our love for the Father, and out of that love for the Father, we have desire to display, discern, and defend the truth.

 

Paul’s Thanksgiving, My Frustration, And God’s Work of Salvation

Paul is communicating that those who partake in grace have hope that God will continue His work in them by His grace and His lovingkindness toward His elect.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  -Philippians 1:3-11 ESV

 Can I just say something? I never really liked reading Philippians all that much. The reason is this, in Philippians, Paul doesn’t tell the Church at Philippi anything that they’re doing wrong. He just expresses his thanks for them, gives them a huge pat on the back and tells them that God will provide all their needs for them.

In a way, this is foreign to me. Very few people have ever talked to me just to tell me that they were proud of me and that they were thankful for me. I was always getting chewed out for something I did or said. I was always messing up something so I almost avoided the whole book altogether. That’s part of the reason I couldn’t finish my devotional series over Philippians 3.

I mean, really, let’s look at this. Philippians 1:6 gives us hope for our salvation, but then he follows it up with verse 7, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all…”

Wow! They’re doing something to make Paul confident about the completion of their salvation. I’ve never had say that about me. In fact, in some cases, I’ve had the exact opposite experiences. People have told me that this “Christian thing is just a phase and I’ll grow out of it.”

So, for a long time, I read Philippians 1:7 like a child who was being told my parents to be more like my harder-working,better-behaving brother. It was so frustrating. I didn’t want to be told to be more like my brother every time I read the Bible so I almost avoided the book of Philippians.

But then, I learned John Piper’s arcing method which I’ll include a link to at the bottom of the page. I began looking at Philippians with a different perspective when I got to 1:7. Let’s look at it.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” -Philippians 1:7 ESV

 So, let’s break this down.

  1. It is right for me to feel this way about you all
  2. Because I hold you in my heart
  3. For you are all partakers with me of grace.

If we just take the first two clauses, then we could easily read it the same way that I’d been reading it for a long time. We would fall in the trap of thinking that the Philippians are just super Christians and we’ll never match up, but look at the third clause.

“…for you are all partakers of grace with me.”

So, let’s look at verse 7 backwards just to see how this flow of logic plays out.

“You are partakers of grace with, and as a result of that grace partaking, I hold you in my heart and because of that I’m sure that God who began a good work in you will continue it and complete it at the day of Christ Jesus.”

Paul is communicating that those who partake in grace have hope that God will continue His work in them by His grace and His lovingkindness toward His elect.

Resources:

http://www.biblearc.com/

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-arcing-and-why-is-it-important

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/do-you-use-arcing-when-you-study-the-narrative-passages-of-the-bible