“What’s Up, Bro?”
There are lots of different ways to say it, but the meaning is all the same. They are all opening lines of one friend greeting another. In Philippians 1:1-2, Paul says it this way:
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Okay, Paul could tend to be a little formal.)
But formal or not, this was Paul’s way of opening a letter to a church that he loved. Hidden inside of this greeting are a few facts that help you identify the key players in the book of Philippians.
First, Paul identifies himself as the author of the letter, but he also sends greetings from Timothy. (Remember I told you last month to keep an eye out for Timothy. We talked about how Timothy was with Paul when the Philippian church was planted. Well, here he is again in Paul’s letter.)
By mentioning Timothy, Paul’s doing two things. First, he’s conveying the message, “Timothy says to say ‘Hello, too”, but even more importantly, he’s saying that Timothy is in agreement with him about all the teaching that is to come in the letter. That’s important because the people trusted Timothy as well as Paul.
Next, it’s important to see how Paul lists his credentials. He says that he and Timothy are “servants of Christ Jesus”.
Why is this important? Because it plays right into the flow of the entire letter he’s about to send. Think about it, Paul could have said:
“Paul and Timothy, the founders of your church”
“Paul and Timothy, the mega-missionaries planting churches all over the Roman Empire”.
Realistically, Paul would have been accurate if he’d have said, “Paul and
Timothy, the most prominent and powerful evangelistic team in Gentile territory.”
But those weren’t the credentials by which Paul chose to identify himself. Instead, he chose to identify himself as “a servant of Christ Jesus”.
What tremendous humility! Right off the bat, Paul makes a point to set the example of how to daily live the humble life he’s going to talk about throughout the rest of the letter. From the very beginning of the letter, Paul’s demonstrating one of the keys to being happy, happy, happy: live a life of humility. He emphasizes submission and dependence on Jesus, and being willing to do whatever He asks for the sake of His kingdom without worrying about how it affects you personally. (Spoiler Alert: Paul makes this point again later on in the letter.)
Next, Paul identifies that the letter of Philippians is addressed to the entire Philippian church. The letter was to everybody---all the followers of Jesus in Philippi---congregation, pastors and ministers included. This is important because it shows that no one is exempt from the teachings in this letter. Whether you’re a new Christian, a mature Christian, a minister or layperson, young or old, male or female, you’re included in “All”. So listen up, this letter’s for you!
After closing his greeting with a blessing of “grace and peace”, Paul then moves on to a few personal words of greeting.
“I thank My God every time I remember you” (verse 3)
Last month we talked about the fact that Paul had a very personal relationship with this church. After all, he planted it! Given their warm relationship, you can almost hear Paul’s voice say, “Every time I have a memory of being in Philippi, I just thank God for this church and all the people in it.”
In the next verse, we read that Paul is praying for the church.
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (Verse 4)
I like this verse because it shows that Paul wasn’t just praying for the church at Philippi because they were on his prayer list. No, he was praying for his friends. He had fond memories of strong relationships at the church and when he prayed for them, these memories filled him with joy.
In the next few verses, we see that one of the reason Paul is filled with joy when he prays for this church is because he considers them his “partners” in the Gospel.
I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Verses 3-8)
It’s important as we read the book of Philippians to understand the depth of the relationship between Paul and the Philippian church. It began 10 years before this letter was written, when Paul first started the Philippian church, but it didn’t end when he left. Instead, we read that he later received gifts from this church when he was at Thessalonica (Phil 4:6) and at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:9). Even more recently, this church sent him a gift when he was in prison.
Truly, this was a letter written to people that Paul knew and loved. He had a big part in founding their church, and they played a major role in supporting his ministry. They’d been together in good times, and now that Paul was in prison, they were standing by him through the bad. Paul loved this church and they loved him. This relationship was one of the things that sustained Paul and gave him joy even while he was in prison. Ultimately, the love and continued support of the Philippian church made Paul, “Happy, Happy, Happy.”
Finally, Paul closes his greeting by sharing with the people exactly what he has been praying for them:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Verses 9-11)
Paul’s genuine thanks for the fellowship of the Philippian saints caused him to pray for their continued spiritual progress. He prays that they will grow in love, which brings knowledge, and discernment, and, of course, the fruit of righteousness.
Specifically, what does Paul pray for them to develop?
First, he prays that they would be unified in love.
What’s “love” got to do with it? Well, without love, no other spiritual gift has any value. 1 Corinthians 13 says: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing…. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Love is an aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit enabling all the other spiritual virtues to be exercised properly. The greatest prayer that can be prayed for any group of believers is that they would grow in love. For, spiritual maturity based on true love, God’s love, that will eliminate so many of the things that steal a Christian’s joy and replace it with stress, heartache and pain. Truly, praying that his friends would grow in love, was praying that they be “Happy, Happy, Happy”.
The next thing we see Paul praying is that out of this “love” they would be able to “discern what is best”---in other words, that they would be able to decipher right from wrong, good and bad, and the vital from the trivial.
Again, what an amazing prayer! Can you imagine how much happier you would be in life if you could discern the difference between right and wrong and choose the right way all the time? Think of all the poor consequences you’d avoid!
What if you could discern the vital from the trivial? How often do we waste our time, energy and emotions on things that have really no importance? Yet, if we had the discernment that Paul is talking about here, we’d eliminate all of that stress from our lives. Once again, Paul was praying that his beloved church would develop a character trait that would fill them with joy and squash the “joy killers”.
Finally, Paul prays that the Philippians would develop the fruit of righteousness. What is that? Check out Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Do you want to live a happier life? Then these qualities need to be a part of who you are. These character traits annihilate the joy killers in our lives and help us avoid the negative consequences that come our way when they are not a part of our lives.
That’s why Paul prayed the prayers he did for the church at Philippians—he loved them and he wanted them to experience life in God to the fullest. They were his partners and he wanted them to choose joy and be happy. From his own experience, he knew that the only way for them to really be happy was if they had the character traits of LOVE, DISCERNMENT, and the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT growing in their lives.
You see, Paul didn’t make the mistake that so many of us often make when we’re praying for ourselves or those we love. He didn’t pray that they would be healthy, wealthy, and worry free, because he knew that wasn’t realistic. That’s not real life, and we’ll never be happy as long as we base our happiness on our circumstances and situations. Instead, Paul prayed that no matter what the people he loved faced in life, they would have the spiritual maturity and character traits necessary to endure, overcome, and choose to be filled with joy. That way, no matter what their circumstances, they would be happy knowing that God was in control.
Have no doubt; this was the kind of happiness that Paul was modeling to them in this greeting. You see, when we’re studying the book of Philippians we can never forget that Paul wrote it from prison. As we’ll see when we dive later into this study, his life was no bed of roses, but even in jail, he was suffering attacks on every side. Yet, because he had Love, Discernment, and the Fruit of the Spirit, he could honestly write from prison that he was filled with joy when he prayed for their church.
From the very first words of his greeting, Paul was teaching and demonstrating how to be “Happy, Happy, Happy.”
In a very loosely translated paraphrase, Paul was opening with the message,
“Hey Everyone, here’s a letter from Paul and Timothy, two guys who are trying to do their best to serve Jesus and do whatever He wants.
You have no idea how much we miss you. Every time we think about you we’re filled with joy and so thankful to God that you all are in our lives. We’re honored to have you as our partners in spreading the Gospel. We’re in this together---good and bad, and we’re praying for you.
What are we praying for you? We’re praying that you’ll grow spiritually---that you’ll develop the character traits of Love, Discernment, and the Fruit of the Spirit. Why are we praying that? Because we love you and we want what’s best for you. With these character traits working in your life, we know you’ll be joyful no matter life or the enemy throws at you.”
From the very first word to the very last, Paul’s giving his reader’s the keys to the kingdom and a road map for how to be “Happy, Happy, Happy.”