Starting into the book of Philippians, Paul includes Timothy as a co-author even though it is most likely he wrote the book from prison alone. His effort is to encourage and foster a respectful regard in the church for his student in the faith. Certainly Timothy would have known and understood the themes about which Paul wrote here and was doubtless taught all of these things directly by Paul. Paul is passing the torch, so to speak, that Timothy might be heard and honored in the church as a reputable leader.
Paul begins with a benediction of peace and grace. He knew Christians could not have one without the other. He enters with great thanksgiving. For a man who was mistreated, beaten, scourged in this city, and currently imprisoned, thanksgiving is an amazing starting point.
Paul’s concern, being the exemplary leader that he was, was always for the good of others. He did not want the Christians in Philippi to feel as though they were second class or somehow responsible for his suffering there. Instead, he reassures them of his gratitude for them, their partnership, and their fellowship. Based on the way Paul lifts these people up and honors them, one can make no mistake about about their importance to him or his love for them.
Therefore Paul prays. He prays for them. He tells them how much he misses them and longs to be with them. He prays that they would love more and more and that their increasing love would lead to knowledge and discernment in their church. Knowledge and discernment, in turn, leading to purity and righteousness in their lives. Wait, what?
Love leads to knowledge.
Love leads to discernment.
Love leads to purity.
Love leads to righteousness.
We tend to put the cart before the horse don’t we? But knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to love. Knowledge can lead to pride. Discernment doesn’t always lead to love. Sometimes it leads to criticism. Purity and righteous deeds, in themselves, may fail and lead to self-righteousness rather than love. Love comes first, always. R. C. Sproul said it this way, “The absence of love shows that supposed knowledge is worthless, and love is, itself knowledge of the deepest kind.”
Two things strike me in this opening scene of Philippians. 1. Paul’s thanksgiving is rooted in the fellowship he shared with these Christians.
Fellowship – noun – friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests. Synonyms: companionship, companionability, sociability, comradeship, camaraderie, friendship, mutual support, togetherness, solidarity; informal chumminess.
A church without genuine fellowship is no more no more than a social club for those who like to put carts before horses. Paul’s example seeks to show us the importance of personal investment in one another within the church.
2. Prayer is the best gift we have to offer when we are in true fellowship and have the best interests of our beloved brothers and sisters in mind.
Love prays when we’d rather sleep. Love fasts when we’d rather eat. Love honors others when we’d rather take the credit. Love builds up others even when we are in low and unfavorable circumstances. These are the things Paul did for the Philippians. These are the things Christ did for us. Therefore, these are the things we are called to do for one another. Why? Because these are the things that bring glory to God. Let love lead.