Christian Fellowship as a Reason for Joy
In Philippians 1:15-17, Paul admits to the Philippians that although “most of the brothers … are much more bold to speak the word without fear,” some of these Christians preach from impure motives. In v. 18, Paul closes the previous section of the letter and transitions into the next. Paul asks a rhetorical question, “What then?” in response to the fact that some Christians were preaching Christ out of “envy and rivalry” with Paul. Rather than rejecting these erring brothers, Paul resolves to rejoice that “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed.”
Philippians 1:12-18 reveals that Paul rejoices at gospel proclamation even when it is proclaimed at personal cost. However, those verses do not answer why Paul rejoices in the midst of his sufferings. Verses 19-26 do answer this question, and Paul’s answer is simple: the joy of Christian fellowship enables him to rejoice in Christ Jesus (and the gospel) even as he suffers both in prison and at the hands of envious evangelists.
Spiritual Fellowship: the Reason for Paul’s Joy
Though Paul is suffering, he writes that his suffering will actually “turn out for my deliverance” because of the Philippians’ “prayers and the help of the Spirit of Christ Jesus.” In Romans 15:30-32, Paul appeals to the Roman Christians “by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, … so that by God’s will I can come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.” These Philippian believers were already praying for Paul, and Paul expresses his belief that these prayers, with the prior and continuing “help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” will result in his “deliverance.”
“Deliverance” is an interesting word. In the original Greek, it has both temporal and eternal connotations. Paul is immediately looking to a deliverance from imprisonment (v. 25), but “deliverance” also refers to eternal salvation. Paul, though divinely inspired, does not know his own earthly future. As it is, then, although he later is “convinced” that he will remain on earth for a while longer, he cannot be certain of this. Even if Paul does die, Christ will still be honored in his body, and in that scenario, God would “deliver” Paul, not merely from Roman authorities and envious preachers, but from this as-yet unredeemed sin-plagued body, as well.
Here it is important that we have a proper understanding of salvation. Salvation does not simply include the moment of conversion, but all of time (indeed, even before time began). Consider the bulleted list below; it gives us God’s view of salvation.
- God chooses us in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
- God gives us the holy calling of salvation “before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
- The Old Testament’s Prelude to the Savior
- “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). Because of sin, we need a Savior, whom God first promises in Genesis 3:15.
- God later calls out Abraham, by whose Offspring the entire world will be blessed. See Genesis 22:18 and Romans 2:28-29, 4:11-12.
- God gives the law to show all people their utter sinfulness and need of a Savior (Romans 3:9-20, 7:7-12).
- Jesus Christ as the Awaited Savior
- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” John 1:1, 14
- Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7
- Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
- Jesus, in his death, “bore the sin of many” and gave his life as a “ransom for many.” Isaiah 53:12 and Mark 10:45
- On the cross, Jesus who knew no sin was made to be sin. 2 Corinthians 5:21
- On the cross, God in Christ “was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” 2 Corinthians 5:19
- Jesus’ death therefore purchased us and saves us from our sins.
- Three days later, Jesus “was raised for our justification.” Romans 4:25
- He then appeared to his disciples and other witnesses before ascending into heaven, where he now intercedes for us. Acts 1:9 and Romans 8:34
- God the Father reveals to us that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16-17
- The Holy Spirit births us into God’s kingdom. John 3:5
- We are justified by faith. That is, we receive the blessings of Christ’s sacrifice when God gives us faith and repentance. Ephesians 2:8-9 and 2 Timothy 2:25
- After being justified, we experience progressive sanctification, in which God conforms us to the image of Christ and causes us to grow in the Christian faith and gives us the strength to persevere. Romans 8:29, John 15:5, and Philippians 2:12-13, 4:13
- We still await the “redemption of our bodies,” even though we ourselves have been redeemed by Christ. Romans 8:23
- This will take place at Christ’s Second Coming. 1 John 3:2-3
- A perfect eternity with perfect communion with God begins. Revelation 21:5
In Philippians 1:18-26, Paul is specifically referring to sanctification, in the sense that “deliverance” means eternal deliverance into heaven. Paul writes that the Holy Sprit is the one who will help him be delivered (either from prison or from this sinful world altogether). Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the “guarantee of our inheritance [of eternal life] until we acquire possession of it” at the Second Coming. The Holy Spirit is the member of the Trinity who therefore ensures our progressive sanctification, but He uses means to do so. In Philippians 1:19, Paul writes that the Holy Spirit will progressively sanctify and ultimately save (“deliver”) him using the Philippians’ prayers.
As mentioned earlier, Paul does not know whether he will live or die. As v. 25 indicates, Paul obviously believes he will continue living, but in v. 20, he writes: “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Paul can say this because he has the attitude of joy: “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Because he has this attitude, Paul rejoices at the spiritual fellowship he holds with the Philippians through their prayers for him. Because he has this attitude, Paul rejoices at the gospel’s proclamation in all circumstances. Because he has this attitude, Paul joyfully knows that “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Physical Fellowship: the Reason for the Philippians’ Joy
In verses 22-24, the reader sees Paul struggling inwardly between dying and living; “to depart and be with Christ … is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Paul is “convinced of this” and therefore is confident that he “will remain and continue with” the Philippians.
Paul’s expectation of a coming physical deliverance from prison is important; on this basis, he would give the Philippians “ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus.” As the Philippians “glory in Christ Jesus,” they would “progress and [have] joy in the faith.” As Paul makes more clear in 3:1 and 3:3, to “rejoice in the Lord” is, in part, to “glory in Christ Jesus.” Since to “glory in Christ Jesus” is to have “progress and joy in the faith,” then physical fellowship with fellow believers is a reason for joy.
While imprisoned at Rome, Paul rejoices at the spiritual fellowship he has with the Philippians “through [their] prayers.” Paul acknowledges that God the Holy Spirit helps him persevere “through [believers’] prayers.” Therefore, let us pray for fellow believers’ growth in the faith.
The Philippians will rejoice at their (expected) reunion with Paul. Since physical fellowship with fellow believers is a cause of joy, we should meet with fellow believers regularly. The best way to do this is to commit to being a member of a local Bible-based Gospel-preaching church and to attending services often and to cultivating friendships with believers in that congregation. As the writer of Hebrews commands:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (10:23-25)