Partnership in the Progress of the Gospel
Philippe R. Sterling
To further the work of the gospel believers must walk worthy of the gospel by standing together in the faith of the gospel and striving together for the faith of the gospel.
Philippi was founded by Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the great. It was settled at the base of a cut through the mountains in Macedonia that divided the East from the West and became the center of the trade route known as the Egnatian Way between Europe and the Middle East. It was a hub of industry and commerce.
Two centuries after the founding of Philippi, Rome conquered Macedonia. In 42 BC two battles took place between Brutus and Cassius, defenders of the Roman Republic, and Antony and Octavian, avengers of Caesar’s death. Anthony and Octavian were victorious and Brutus and Cassius dead. After the battles Antony settled Roman soldiers there. In 30 BC Octavian settled some people from Italy.
These Philippian residents received special privileges. They were considered Roman citizens with all its rights including the right to appeal to the emperor, freedom from taxation, freedom to regulate their own civic affairs. They spoke Latin and dressed in the Roman style. They took pride in being Romans. Paul refers to a believer’s citizenship in 3:20, “Our citizenship in in heaven.”
It was in Philippi that Paul penetrated the continent of Europe with the gospel. The first person to believe in Philippi was a woman named Lydia. She was a seller of purple garments. Such garments were expensive. The dye came from a shellfish in the waters of Thyatira. Each shellfish produced only one drop of the dye. Since Philippi was a Roman colony it was a great market for purple garments. Roman loved the color and with it trimmed togas and tunic. Lydia must have been a wealthy woman to handle such an expensive product. Lydia was a worshiper of God who met with some other women at a riverside for prayer. There she met Paul, believed in Christ, and invited him and his party to stay at her home.
The next believer was a prison warden. The witness of Paul and Silas singing praises to God after being beaten and jailed and the demonstration of God’s power in an earthquake that opened the prison doors prompted him to ask “What must I do to be saved?” The business woman and the jailer became the first believers of the church at Philippi.
Paul only remained a short time in Philippi. He visited briefly five years later. Five more years elapsed until he wrote this letter. Paul and the church at Philippi developed a close bond. Paul had no mission board behind him when he set out to bring the gospel to Europe. After his departure from Philippi to Thessalonica, the Philippians had more than once sent financial support (Ph. 4:15-16). Their support of his ministry was a bond that united them. In Phil 1:7 we find another bond. Paul was a prisoner in Rome when he wrote this letter. The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to minister to his needs while under arrest (see 2:25 and 4:18).
Paul writes to thank the Philippians for their financial gift, to set their minds at ease concerning his present circumstances, and to exhort them to perfect even further their partnership in the proclamation of the gospel by standing together in unity and striving together for the faith. That last purpose provides the main message of the letter (1:27).
Literary Structure and Content
I. Invocation: Paul greets the believers and spiritual leaders in Philippi and invokes God’s grace and peace to
II. Prayer: Paul joyfully prays for the Philippians because of their partnership in the progress of the gospel (1:3-11).
III. Personal Circumstances: Paul rejoices in his imprisonment in Rome because it has resulted in the greater
progress of the gospel even among the Praetorian Guard (1:12-26).
IV. Exhortation: Paul exhorts the Philippians to perfect their partnership in the progress of the gospel by walking
in unity and steadfastness (1:27–4:9).
A. Summary Exhortation: We must walk worthy of the gospel by standing together and striving together for the
faith of the gospel (1:27-30).
B. Extended Exhortation: We must walk in unity and steadfastness (2:1–4:1).
1. We must stand together in the faith of the gospel (2:1-30).
a. We must perfect our unity through humility (2:1-4).
b. We must pattern our relationships after our self-emptying and self-sacrificing Savior (2:5-11).
c. We must perfect our unity through much effort and reliance upon God (2:12-18).
d. We must pattern our relationships after the sacrificial and selfless service of Timothy and
2. We must strive together for the faith of the gospel (3:1–4:1).
a. We must beware of those who supplement the gospel with human works (3:1-7).
b. We must receive the superior righteousness of Christ and pursue conformation to Christ (3:8-16).
c. We must imitate Paul and stand firm in the Lord (3:17–4:1).
C. Concluding Exhortation: We must restore unity and live in tranquility (4:2-9).
V. Thank You Note: Paul joyfully thanks the Philippians for their partnership in the progress of the gospel
through their generous financial gifts (4:10-19).
VI. Benediction: Paul ascribes glory to God, sends greetings from the saints in Rome including those of
Caesar’s household, and blesses the Philippians with the grace of the Lord Jesus (4:20-23).
Theological Reflection and Application
The following are a few doctrinal and practical applications from Philippians:
- Our fellowship must not only be social and spiritual but also financial for the progress of the gospel.
- We can be confident that God will use our circumstances and our critics for the progress of the gospel.
- Our identity as citizens of heaven imposes upon us the responsibility to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of that citizenship.
- We preserve oneness by practicing lowliness. We maintain unity by showing humility.
- If we clothe ourselves with humility at the present time, God will crown us with dignity at the proper time. The way up is down.
- We are to be Christ-like stars shining upon a dark world.
- We are to be faithful, available and teachable.
- Stand firm against those who would mutilate the gospel.
- Our one objective is to press on to spiritual maturity.
- We are to be heavenly minded so that we can be earthly good.
- When we put our problems in God’s hands, He puts his peace in our hearts.
- Jesus provides the strength for contentment in all circumstances.
- When we give out of our poverty, God will give according to His plenty.