“I WANT TO KNOW CHRIST” – Phil. 3:10
THE CHURCH AT PHILIPPI
In 42 B.C. Antony and Octavia defeated Brutus and Cassius near Philippi. In honour of his victory, Antony made Philippi a Roman colony. This provided the Philippians with special rights and privileges as Roman citizens, and they responded with a great deal of pride and loyalty. Women enjoyed a high status in Philippi—taking an active part in both public and business life. Because of this, women also had important responsibilities in the Philippian church. Philippi was an important city because it straddled the great east-west highway known as the Egnatian Way. The population of this city was cosmopolitan, being made up of Greeks, Romans and a few Jews. In the centre of the city was a large forum surrounded by temples, a library, fountains, monuments and public baths.
Paul founded this church sometime around the year A.D. 50, during his second missionary journey. In Acts 16:12-40 we read of how a diligent woman textile merchant, a fortune telling evil spirit-filled slave girl and an enthusiastic Roman prison warden became believers in Jesus Christ when the Apostle Paul met them in Philippi. They became the founder members of the Church at Philippi. The Apostle Paul was directed by the Holy Spirit to proceed to Macedonia through a special call from a “man from Macedonia”. His response resulted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ entering into modern day Europe. Lydia, the purple cloth merchant, met Paul at a riverside ladies prayer meeting where Paul and his team attended. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the message of Paul”. The result was salvation for her household members and they all went through waters of baptism. She even opened her house to accommodate Paul and his team. The slave girl with the evil spirit met Paul and proclaimed: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved”. Just imagine that – an evil spirit making such a declaration to the crowds in the marketplace. What a testimony! The prison warden was a victim of circumstances. He arranged for the whipping of the arrested Paul and Silas and “put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks”. He almost killed himself when he thought the prisoners had escaped resultant from an earthquake and the prison doors being opened. However, Paul prevented him and the result: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The episode ended with his whole family becoming believers in Jesus Christ and being baptised. For Paul’s persistent efforts in preaching the Gospel wherever he went, he ended in the lowest dungeon of the Philippian prison. Even here “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
Paul had several reasons for writing this letter. He wanted to explain why he was sending a man named Epaphroditus back to Philippi. He also wanted to thank the Philippians for the gift of money they had sent and to reassure his friends of his condition. Also, the news Paul had received concerning the Philippians made him long to encourage and advise a church he loved. From the letter to the Philippians, we learn that this church was taking its share of suffering (1:29), it was in some danger of division (1:27; 2:2; 4:2), it may have been leaning toward a doctrine of perfectionism (3:12-13), and it was threatened by the teaching of Judaizers—a group which insisted that all Christians continue to adhere to Jewish laws and customs. But despite these problems, Paul’s love for this church was obvious. He sincerely rejoiced at the progress they were making.
KNOW THE JOY OF CHRIST
Many in Philippi were talking about it. The two prisoners, Paul and Silas, were just released from the prison. They had been beaten and placed in the deepest section of the prison. Yet word had gone out that a miraculous happening took place in the prison. The two special prisoners were singing and praising God at midnight when an earthquake caused the prison gates to be opened. The prisoners had not tried to escape but something special had happened to the jailor – he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and was saved. The buzzword was out – there was great joy all around. They know the Joy of Christ!
This element of joy filled the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians. Paul was in prison probably in Rome and yet, like when he was at Philippi, he continued having this contentment in Jesus Christ. The word “joy” in its verbal and noun form is found 16 times in the Philippian letter. Paul was the example of a man whose life was filled with joy and his encouragement to his readers was to: “Rejoice in the Lord – Always!” He was a man waiting for news that will spell his death and yet he was able to be an encourager to the Philippians to always see the silver lining behind the dark clouds.
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The human emotion of joy is based on the sure foundation of the knowledge of the Joy of Christ. Paul was never the victim of despair and depression in spite of his outward situation. He knew from bitter experience what it meant to be abased but he was never utterly in hopeless despair. He delighted to share his secret of the “Joy of Christ” to the believers in Philippi. Anxiety was out and prayer, supplication and knowing the peace of God in his heart were in. This resulted in the “Joy of Christ” being his perpetual strength in whatever situation he finds himself in. We can learn from the teaching and example of the Apostle Paul and practice daily the “Joy of Christ” in our lives. Present circumstances may seem to overwhelm us but once we realise that we can have what the Holy Spirit offers us – JOY – we can live lives of joy and contentment to the glory of God.
KNOW THE MIND OF CHRIST
The Apostle Paul was responsible for the formation of the Church at Philippi. The Church was a growing and loving one and Paul received a financial love gift from them through Epaphroditus. The message had also come to him that cracks of rivalry are appearing in the Church e.g. between Euodia and Syntyche (4:2). This rivalry had to be nipped in the bud before it blossomed into Church disunity as is evident in present day Churches. When Paul dealt with the problem of rivalry leading to disunity in the Church, he writes of encouragement, comfort from love, fellowship, tenderness and compassion and the joy of being like-minded. He then draws the believer’s attention to the mind (attitude) of Jesus Christ. Jesus was described as a person who existed in the form of God but did not regard his equality with God as something to be held on to or exploited (2:5–8).
The example Paul used for ensuring unity in the Church of God is to know the Mind of Christ. Jesus Christ was focussed on the major issue – the big picture. The world needed to be saved. He came to be the Saviour of the world. He had to die for the sins of the world. He had to go to the cross to die. His mind was always focussed and He never allowed other issues, important though they might seem to be, to distract Him. He “set His face like flint” towards Jerusalem. For Him it was clearly: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Paul told the Philippians to know the mind of Christ: be focussed in your living the Christian life. This way they will not be distracted in the matters of the world and get entangled in rivalry and disunity. If the church members are clear about what Christ wants them to do – grow in Christ and let others know about Him – they will have no time to fight each other. They will always work for Christ and serve each other to the end that they will “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
The challenge comes to us today to: “KNOW CHRIST AND TO MAKE HIM KNOWN”. If this is our singular focus we will avoid rivalry and disunity in our service for Christ and to the people. Our church will be a growing and loving Church for we will definitely “Know the Mind of Christ.”
KNOW THE FELLOWSHIP OF CHRIST
The Apostle Paul was called by God to found the Church at Philippi. This was a community of people who: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household” (Acts 16:31). He wanted them to “Know the Fellowship of Christ”. When he wrote them the letter, he reminded them of three different aspects of how to “Know the Fellowship of Christ”.
Fellowship (partnership) in the gospel (Phil. 1:5): Paul was thankful and prayerful for their contribution that “Christ was preached” so that many Philippians can turn from paganism to the one true God. We need this fellowship (partnership) in the gospel as we serve God where He has placed us. God wants us to let the people we are in contact with know who we believe and what we believe so that they can have the opportunity to come to faith in the one true God.
Fellowship in the Spirit (Phil. 2:1): Paul reminded the Philippians that their Christian life was fellowship in the Holy Spirit. When they became believers they received the Holy Spirit and lived in His presence, company, help and close guidance. He is the Spirit of truth and they depend on Him to lead them in the truth which was very needful since there were always false teachers around. Today, we too need the fellowship in the Spirit to lead us and teach us from His Word the way we should go so that we avoid trouble and live for the glory of God. God has placed the Holy Spirit in us and He desires to have close fellowship with us.
Fellowship of sharing in His (Christ) suffering (Phil. 3:10): The Philippians paid the price for their faith in Jesus Christ. They were persecuted for their faith in the society they came from. For Paul and Silas, they received a raw deal when they ended being whipped and sent to the Philippi prison. Paul reminded them that they need to “know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering, become like Him in His death”. When we are called on to suffer for our faith we have the assurance, amidst the pain, of the joy of knowing that we are suffering things with Christ. Do we “Know the Fellowship of Christ” in this suffering aspect of our Christian faith?