Every person has a favorite pastor and every pastor a favorite church. Might not seem kosher, but it is true! Ask members; ask pastors. This letter Paul addressed to the church at Philippi was addressed to his favorite church. It is filled with numerous personal details and reflects a warmth and bond of friendship found in none of his other New Testament letters.
But the church was not without problems. In the scripture cited above, Paul deals with a couple of problems that threatened the church — disunity/infighting from within and pressure/persecution from without. Note the way he addresses each.
Many believe verses 6-11 of this second chapter of Philippians to be an early church hymn lauding the unselfishness of Jesus when he temporarily laid aside certain aspects of divinity (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.) and became human in order to save humanity. William Barclay reminds us that Jesus became human, but only for a time. His manhood was real, but it was temporary. His divinity is also real but abides forever. He was truly the (forever) God – man (temporarily).
Paul’s point is clear: if we have an unselfish attitude like Jesus, there won’t be room for bickering and infighting. A spirit of unity will pervade the church.
It was in Philippi that we find the first recorded persecution of Christians by Gentiles. (Acts 16) That this phenomenon first occurred in Philippi should come as no surprise. Philippi was a colony of ex-military who were fiercely loyal to Rome and the Emperor. When Christians asserted that Jesus, alone, was Lord, it flew in the face of a rising tide of emperor worship and belief that Caesar was lord. The Christian message was an affront to the very essence of Roman citizenship and patriotism. A modern equivalent would be that of an employee at Fort Jackson refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag on the fourth of July!
Despite the persecution it invited, Paul encouraged the Philippian Christians to not waver in their affirmation that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is Lord. Note the way this early hymn glorifying Jesus continued: “God highly exalted (Jesus), and bestowed on him the name which is above every name. At the name of Jesus every knee should bow ... and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (vv9-11, NASB)
Reminds me of a well-known chorus which I like to sing this way:
“You are Lord;
You are Lord;
You are risen from the dead
And you are Lord.
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess,
That you, oh Christ, are Lord.”
A 4-year-old girl was staying with her grandmother while her parents were away in New York. One night she knelt by her bed and prayed that they would want to return home and for them to have a safe trip home. Her grandmother interrupted the prayer insisting that her parents certainly would want to return home. The granddaughter emphatically retorted, “I was talking to God!”
Just as it was in 1st-century Philippi, there are plenty of people who would encourage us to fully embrace sinful society and live in a way displeasing to God. Like this four-year-old, we must kindly, yet firmly, insist that since Jesus is Lord and we are citizens of his kingdom we must live a life that is pleasing to him!