Imprisonment Does Not Cage the Gospel
Paul begins his letter with a regular greeting and prayer. Ancient letters were opposite to modern letters; the ancients named the sender first, then the recipient. Paul was the apostle's Greek name and Saul the apostle's Hebrew name.
The letter begins with a greeting from both Paul and Timothy but is not co-authored, as Timothy is mentioned later in the third person (2:19-24). Paul claimed both he and Timothy were slaves of Christ and "set apart" to God as those who belonged to Christ Jesus.
Not only to the whole church did Paul direct his letter, but also to the elders (leaders) and deacons.
Philippians begins with the common Greek greeting, “grace" (charis), and the common Hebrew greeting, “peace." In the Hebrew, peace was shalom; in the Greek, ierene.
Paul was declaring grace: an all-in Christ experience, a gift of unimagined joy, brightness, and beauty. This grace produces peace, meaning our relationship is like a woven fabric of entangled harmony and bliss.
Our surrendered response to Christ's grace always produces (Romans 5:1) peace (1-2).
The Prayer (3-18)
In Paul's opening prayer, as was Paul's habit, he briefly mentioned subjects he would develop more thoroughly throughout the letter.
Paul and the Philippians might have been separated by some 800 miles and 10 years, but the Philippians had not left his affection nor had their memory produced anything less than joy (3-4).
Paul was thankful first because the Philippians were Paul's partners—the word in Greek is koinonia or fellowship. Fellowship in the Greek meant they shared in the finances and the labor of a common mission. Paul was clearly stating they shared in a common vocation or profession together, the spreading of the Good News.
The Good News they were spreading was really good, for they were declaring God had become King, and His Kingdom had arrived (5).
Paul then introduced his key confidence: God is a "Finisher" and He will finish the Gospel work He began on the very day of King Jesus' visible return (6).
Paul then launched into the deep affection he had for them because of what he had just mentioned: they were vocational partners (fellowship) with him in the Gospel trade.
When Rome's government imprisoned a person, they did not support him, so friends and family had to supply food and clothing. The Philippians had become a fully invested partner with Paul in his imprisonment. While the whole world sought to silence the Gospel, Paul was devoted to defending it, and the Philippians were all-in partners of the trade. Paul, with the Philippians, was at every level withstanding accusations against the Gospel from all sides (7-8).
Paul's Intercession (9-11)
Paul prayed passionately for the Philippians' love to overrun its river banks as they filled their minds with God-inspired insights concerning others. All these insights caused the Philippians to see the potential excellence in everything.
This kind of love would enable them to stand in full light of God, true and free from stumbling into bad attitudes. The end result would be a life “fruiting” into actions that came from being fully devoted to Christ. Their lives so lived would cause others to praise God (9-11).
Paul's Circumstances (12-18)
Paul wanted the Philippians not to be discouraged or distracted about his chains so he explained to them the great good coming from his imprisonment.
Paul was ever concerned the church would not fall into discouragement and become disheartened as they witnessed their leaders suffer (Paul and Epaphroditus).
Paul assured the Philippians the Gospel was never hindered by chains, but chains freed the Gospel to be preached even to the entire Roman militia.
Paul was kept a prisoner in his own rented facility but was kept under guard by soldiers. Paul was letting the Philippians know some of those soldiers were giving their lives to Christ.
The other benefit of Paul's chains was boldness in other preachers who were given great heart to preach with courage, as they watched the Holy Spirit strengthen Paul in his difficulties (12-13).
He went on to mention there were two kinds of preachers being emboldened (14).
First were those who preached from the pretense of being envious of the attention Paul was getting. These became rivals, seeking to be ranked above Paul (15).
Others were doing it out of love, seeking to be supportive collaborators of Paul's Gospel ministry as he defended its truth (16).
The former were full of selfish ambition; they were seeking to use ministry as a stepping stone for their own advancement and notoriety (17).
From Paul's vantage point, it could all be viewed in a positive light because Christ was still being preached.
In everything, Paul was seeking to show the Philippians how Christ was in the middle of all the seemingly bad news (imprisonment and pretentious preaching).
In all circumstances, God was actually creating Good News even out of bad news, and that should stir the church to joy (18).
Paul's Faith (19-26)
Paul was absolutely confident in only one possible outcome from all their praying: he would be helped by the Spirit of Jesus, and the help from Jesus would turn out to be pure deliverance (19).
Paul would not be ashamed—as a result of their prayers, he was filling with courage. The outcome was certain: Christ would be honored.
The honor of Christ was the primary aim of Paul's life. Paul was looking to the future here in these verses, pondering one of two outcomes of his trial—execution or release. In a culture where the prospect of death was a deep concern, Paul reduced the issue to a simple goal—that Christ would be honored in his body (20).
Paul pondered in writing: was living in the body or being separated from it best? Either state possessed Christ-honoring possibilities (22). He was afflicted between which he desired more (23). In the text, one can read as he wrestles with the pros and cons. He yearned to be with Christ, and then again he desired to be a part of the church's growth in joy and faith. Paul was anxiously pondering which he preferred when he erupted into his decision: he would remain living in his flesh (24). Paul chose life in his body for the sake of the church he loved (25-26).
Paul's Encouragement (27-30)
In the last few verses, Paul was providing an example of faithfulness in suffering for the Philippians. In what follows, Paul was calling the Philippians to possess the same spirit of faithfulness as they proclaimed the Gospel.
He encouraged them to serve in unbreakable unity, standing side by side, resolute and fearless, with one goal burning in their hearts—the proclamation of the Good News.
The Good News: God is now King in the Person of Jesus Christ, invisible but present, and anyone can come fully into His Kingdom through complete faith-surrender (27-28).
Paul then braced them to be ready to suffer for the sake of Christ. It was impossible for Paul to imagine the Gospel's going forward apart from suffering, for the Gospel was an announcement of a coming destruction of the opposing kingdom, upon which the whole world is built (29).
Believers would not only place their full hearts in Christ's hands, but they would also suffer, as the Gospel would expose the selfish power-grabbing and the ambitious greed of the dark other-world kingdom. Part of the Good News was that this present world had come under the judgment of the new King, Jesus. There would be suffering as the Gospel was preached (30).