Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4

Chapter 1

(1-2) As you know, Paul wrote many letters, and about half of them specifically mentioned Timothy’s presence with him. Paul wrote this letter to the church that met in Philippi, a Roman province north of Greece. Paul’s usual greeting was to refer to the members of the church as “saints.” Saint is not a title reserved for especially religious people nor church leaders. He offered them the grace and peace that comes from remembering how much I love you.

(3-5) Even though Paul wrote this letter from a Roman prison, his tone was exuberant. Allow his way of being to affect how you live in the world. Whether you are suffering or peaceful, remember that my kingdom is always advancing, which should fill you with joy as you share the gospel.

(6-11) Child, I finish what I start. I do not grow tired of people and abandon them. My Son guaranteed your salvation by his death and resurrection, but your sanctification is also proceeding, just as it should. When my Son returns, you will not be found lacking anything, because you are made complete in him. You are always welcome at my table, regardless of your circumstances. Notice that Paul was not merely sharing theological principles, he was thinking relationally. He longed to be with them. I have created you to love and relate with me and one another in the same way that my Son loves. Fertilize your love so that it continues growing as you grow. Maturity is ultimately a growth in your capacity to love, yet the love I created you for is not merely emotional, it is deeply moored upon knowledge of me and my kingdom. In love, desire what is best for others and continually point them toward me. When they get lost in self-centeredness, go after them and point them back to me. In order to do that, familiarize yourself with my word and pay attention to my Spirit, who is always with you. He reveals what is excellent. Strive for wholeness and purity, exuding the love of my Son who is always with me, cheering you on and glorifying the Spirit’s work in you.

(12-14) Do not be discouraged; I can and do work in all circumstances. Paul used his imprisonment to spread the gospel among the prison guard. Paul’s boldness also strengthened the resolve of others who were following me. When your identity is completely in my Son, there is nothing people can do to you. Criticism, prison, and even death cannot steal the joy and assurance of your salvation. You are eternally secure in my Son, so live boldly. Stop worrying about what other people think; what matters is what I think, and I am very fond of you.

(15-18) People have many different motivations for sharing the message about my kingdom. Some do so from envy or rivalry. Some preachers become more interested in building a bigger church or developing a broader platform, rather than from a desire to make my name known. Child, I know that desire for recognition smolders in you too. Resist it. Pride desires popularity and it is a malicious heart that not only desires success, but being more successful than your fellow saints. Instead, let love motivate you. Try to live moment by moment in the flow of my love and let me take care of the details. I know you will love imperfectly. Everyone does but regardless, rejoice that my Son’s name is proclaimed.

(19-26) Keep hoping and praying in difficult circumstances. My Spirit is always working for your freedom, but maybe not in ways that you expect. You desire to be set free from relational conflict, financial burden, physical pain, and things like these. Think bigger. My Son sets you free from the penalty of sin and with it, the burdens of shame and people pleasing. Let his completed work give you courage for your daily life, knowing that you can bring him honor in life or death. Your life is Christ in you. If you die, you get to be with me, which is victory. If you live, continue sharing the message of my kingdom, which is also victory. It is a win-win situation. Do not worry about the outcome; just live the life to which I have called you. I know your mixed desires—to be with my Son and to remain with those you love. I will take care of the details. Regardless of where you are, serve others from a heart of love, which brings me glory.

(27) Let your life reflect the beautiful truth of the gospel. Live in such a way that both Christians and non-Christians alike may witness your life and know that my Spirit has changed you. Pursue wholeness in your relationships. As you spend time with others, seek agreement about my Spirit’s work within and between you. He is always speaking; you only need to listen. Your faith in me grows best in community because I have created you for relationships.

(28-30) You will meet many who oppose the good news. Do not be afraid of them. None of their verbal or physical assaults can cause any eternal damage to you. When people are confronted by my holiness, they rage against the truth that goodness and evil cannot co-exist in my kingdom. At the same time, allow their opposition to be an encouragement to trust that both salvation and suffering are gifts. Until my kingdom comes in the fullness of its glory, suffering will continue to happen in big and small ways.

Chapter 2

(1) Beloved, life with my gives you a glimpse of shalom. His tender love embraces you, even when you do not feel it. His Spirit moves within you, encouraging and enlivening you. He is your ever-present companion, whether in joy and sorrow.

(2-3) Let the reality of my Trinitarian presence be reflected in your communities of love. Actively pursue love and unity with one another, seeking to understand the true message of love. You will have disagreements about what is true but stay humble and patient as you seek understanding. In order to accomplish unity, you need to set aside your self-centeredness. Do not approach others from a position of competition or comparison,[1] but put on an attitude of other-centeredness. Do not minimize the inherent value of people who oppose you. Instead highlight their uniqueness as my image bearers.

(4-7) Actively resist your sinful self-centeredness. I did not give you life so that you could prioritize your own needs and wants, but in order that you would share with others. In the process of growing in oneness, understand that others’ needs are no less valuable than your own. Consider Jesus’s life. He is God, yet he did not come to earth to assert his dominance and control, but to love and serve. He sought downward mobility. The message of my Son runs 180 degrees away from the cultural messages you hear every day, but the world’s ways are not my ways.

(8-11) In becoming human, Jesus became a humble servant. He cared for others in love and he submitted himself to the divine plan, which ultimately led to his death on the cross. In his humility, I exalted him above every person. He is magnified, not only because he is God, but because of his perfect human life. Look at his life and honor him as I honor him. Jesus is sovereign over all creation and one day, every part of my creation will bow before and gloriously proclaim that he is the Lord of lords.

(12-13) Continue pursuing my Son’s way of living, not because of what a book or a preacher said, but because you have come to see that the kingdom life is the only way to wholeness. If you only practice righteousness before other Christians, you have not been gripped by my Son’s message. Keep pressing into becoming loving and whole. Do not be nonchalant about your walk with me, there is nothing more important in your life. Remember that as you seek me by how you live, I am always at work in you. The desire to be like my Son is not something that you thought up; I stirred your soul. It is not about your performance; my Spirit will keep doing his sanctifying work in you until it is finished.

(14) Child, do not be a grumbler who questions the purpose of everything. C.S. Lewis was right when he wrote, “Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others…but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and you wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. There will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God ‘sending us’ to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will be hell unless it is nipped in the bud.”[2] You damage yourself if you are continually grumbling and complaining. 

(15-18) Instead, live toward the purity you see in the innocence of a young child. The world is so broken and damaged by sin, but because of my Son’s work, that brokenness is not who you are. You are a shining light. Let the beams of goodness burst forth from your life. Do not be pulled down into the darkness; invite those who are living in the darkness to come into the light. Keep remembering the gospel message, which is true life. When my Son returns, let him find you as hope’s beacon. If you die waving a banner of hope, rejoice, because it is my pleasure to welcome my saints into my presence.

(19) Paul’s affection for Timothy was palpable. He wrote this letter to the Philippians from a Roman prison cell, so Timothy was often his lifeline to the growing church. It is good for you to know what is happening with your brothers and sisters outside of your local community of faith. It helps you to know what I am doing in the world.

(20-24) Timothy’s love was true other-centeredness. He was not helping Paul to boost his own ministry; he genuinely cared for Paul’s well-being. I know your temptation to look out for your own comfort first, but my kingdom is fueled by other-centered love. As you live with others, serve them as though you were serving my Son. Your mutual submission to one another brings glory to me. Seek to love and serve those especially who cannot take care of themselves.

(25-28) Paul also mentioned Epaphroditus by name. He was a resident of Philippi who had befriended Paul. He became extremely sick, on the edge of death before I restored his physical health. He was not upset because he was ill, but because his illness caused distress to his beloved friends. This, beloved, is another example of other-centered love. True comfort is found in union among friends and concerns for one another’s welfare.

(29-30) As I have told you before, your life will not be without suffering and pain, which are a condition of the fall. Pain may come by in many ways. Everyone dies, but not everyone really lives in the light of my kingdom. Keep pressing toward me, whether in comfort or pain, remembering the goodness that awaits you.

Chapter 3

(1) Keep rejoicing, continually reminding yourself of what lies ahead. Celebrate hope in what is yet to come with others.

(2-6) Beware of legalists who add rules to rules, which is evil. It is my grace that saves you, not any outward action. My Holy Spirit’s signature covers your heart, marking you “beloved.” Your assurance is not based on your behavior, but upon my Son and his holiness.

Paul’s religious pedigree was impeccable. He was born into the “right” family and he was raised with the “right” traditions. He had the best teachers and he was their best student. He knew the law forward and backward and he followed the rules carefully. From the overflow of his knowledge and zeal, he persecuted the early church like no one else. By Pharisaic standards, he was as good as they come, but Paul knew that he was nothing apart from my grace toward him.

Beloved, legalism still infiltrates my church. Every time you witness someone adding regulations to faith, you are seeing evidence of legalism. When you judge other Christians on social media or in real life, you are practicing this evil.

(7-8) You might as well take all your religious credentials and toss them out the window. The things that have puffed up your spiritual pride are shackles for true growth. Anything that keeps you from knowing my Son is a blockade to faith. In his book, Love Big, Be Well, my servant Winn Collier wrote, “When we have so much to lose, then the fear of losing any of it terrifies. So let’s go ahead and lose, lose it all. Let it burn. Then let’s move on to the joy.”[3] Letting go of counterfeit righteousness for the sake of my Son is where you will find true joy.

(9) Your own righteousness does nothing to save you. Keeping the law perfectly cannot save you. It is my Son who saves you. Put your faith in him, believing that his righteousness—which is the only true righteousness—is yours for the asking. 

(10-11) This is what I want you to keep in the forefront of your mind every day: Know my Son and everything he has accomplished. Meditate on the power of his resurrection. He defeated sin and death, and his life will one day restore everything to wholeness. In the meantime, count it an honor to share in his suffering. Restoring the kingdom to its former beauty means tilling the soil and pulling up thorns, which is toilsome, and sometimes painful work. Like my Son, lay down your life for my kingdom, and like him, you will be raised to true life, unbroken and whole.

(12-14) I do not expect perfection from you. I know your heart and I know the realities of life in a broken creation. When you try to be perfect, you get discouraged by your own sinfulness and give up. Instead, keep pressing on toward true life in my Son. You already belong to him. You cannot fail. When you veer off the narrow road, he will bring you back. When you get lost, he is eager to steer you in the right direction. You did not make it this far by yourself. You cannot finish the journey on your own. Here is how I want you to live: Keep walking. When you fall, get up.[4] When you lose sight of the path, come back. Do not keep looking back at where you have been, getting discouraged by how much sin litters the road. Jesus has already taken care of that. Instead, keep your eyes focused upon my kingdom. Keep ascending Zion’s hill, remembering the reward that awaits you, life with me.

(15-16) When you think about your own maturity, you will realize that you remain imperfect. Recovered childlikeness is a sign of growth. Allow my Spirit to guide you into innocence and trust, grateful for what my Son has accomplished.

(17-18) Seek to imitate Paul and other saints who have gained the wisdom of trusting in my Son’s finished work through many trials. When you feel discouraged, look at them. They were not perfect, but what they had in common was faith. There are people who claim to be Christian, but they add requirements to faith. You cannot require both faith and works. Those who insist that your value depends on how well you keep the rules are enemies of the cross.

(19-20) Living by rule following and ascetic practices leads to destruction because they are self-focused, rather than focused upon me. Legalists think that religious activity is righteous, but it is often self-righteousness. It is shameful to take pride in your morality or righteousness. Remember that faith is not about what you do. You are already a citizen of heaven. My Son is getting things ready for his return when he will set all things right. Watch for him.

(21) When he arrives, he will transform you. You will no longer occupy a body that is a mix of good and bad, truth and falsehood. In that day, you will be whole and true, radiant with Trinitarian glory. You will be completely one with all of creation, restored to holiness in my Son.

Chapter 4

(1-3) Stand firm in me, beloved, upheld and encouraged by your brothers and sisters in the faith. When conflict arises, look to me. Arguments usually proceed from self-righteous attitudes. When you disagree, check your own heart for pride and inflexibility. Let your relationships glorify me. When fights persist, seek counsel from those who know you and are willing to speak the truth. When you live and work with others, even in ministry, disagreements will happen. Keep returning to me and when you need help, ask others. Your names are already written in my book of life. Eternity together is a long time, so seek unity now.

(4) Rejoice continually. You will encounter good days and bad, happiness and sorrow, but you will spend eternity with me, which is always a cause for joy.

(5) Act reasonably, regardless of what happens. Your sinfulness leads to toward irrationality and self-centered demands. C.S. Lewis captured this problem of unreasonableness in several characters from his story, The Great Divorce.[5] But I did not create you for self-centeredness. Let my Spirit, who dwells in you, continually remind you of my ultimate plan. When you listen, he will help you to remain reasonable and kind.

(6) When it seems like you are getting the short end of the stick, you feel a strong sense of injustice. When you lose sight of my presence, you feel anxious. Anxiety often arises when the future seems uncertain and you believe, consciously or unconsciously, that I have forgotten you. Beloved, I have not forgotten you; I cannot forget you. I have not left you, nor forsaken you. You do not need to be anxious about anything because I have everything in hand. When you feel afraid, which I know you will from time to time come talk with me. Tell me what makes you anxious. Give thanks for all that you have. Even your anxiety can be a gift because it reminds you of your desire for the peace that is found only in me.

(7) I invite you to step into my peace. When it seems like everything around you is crumbling and you feel overwhelmed, come and rest with me. Take a deep breath and lean into me. Listen to me tell you how much I love you and that no earthly problem can ever snatch you away from me. When everything seems to be falling apart, my steadfast love seems incomprehensible, but I will never fail you. When it feels like your thoughts and emotions are getting the best of you, look to the cross.

(8-9) You have the choice to think about many things, but here is what is best. Think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, beautiful, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy. All these traits describe my Son, but they also characterize a life lived in my Spirit. When you keep focusing on all the evil and brokenness in the world, it will drag you down. Do not neglect the reality of sin, but rather to use it as an opportunity to turn to what is true, good, and beautiful. Put these things into practice. My peace will be with you.

(10-12) It is good for you to have compassion for the many people around the world who suffer because of their faith. Help those you can and pray for those you cannot. Paul wrote about being content in all situations despite both successes and trials. Over time, he learned how to remain settled in me. Whether starving or full, well rested or exhausted, free or captive, my peace filled him, because he knew that my plan will be completed.

(13) It is important to spend a few moments on verse 13. In the ESV, the translators rendered it, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”[6] This popular verse is often taken out of its context. Well-meaning believers have corrupted this verse as a motivator for their own self-salvation projects. They read it as biblical proof that belief gives them the extra boost to move them from good to awesome, but that is a self-centered attitude. Paul’s point was not that he could do great things, but that because of my Spirit, he was able to peacefully endure both good and bad.

(14-18) It honors me when you help those in need, including the ministers of my word. Many preachers proclaim my word because of the fire I have kindled within them, yet they sometimes lack the resources to provide for themselves. Your generosity helps them, but it also helps you grow in Christlikeness. Hoarding my gifts strengthens greed, but when you give things away, it is your charity that grows.

(19-20) I am more generous than you can imagine. Let my generosity mark your own charity. Sharing your time, money, and abilities with others for the good of the kingdom brings me glory.

(21-23) As always, it is good to greet others in the faith. Believers are everywhere, even in places you cannot imagine. My grace is given to all of you.

[1] Richard Rohr, “True Self, False Self,” Franciscan Media, May 2003, compact disc.

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, (New York: Touchstone, 1946), 74.

[3] Winn Collier, Love Big, Be Well (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017), 74.

[4] Proverbs 24:16.

[5] CS Lewis, The Great Divorce.

[6] Philippians 4:13, ESV.