POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Thoughts on Philippians 4:10-23

The following are some additional notes which were given out along with the sermon "Contentment Secrets Without A Seminar" at the Inversion Fellowship on December 7th 2006. 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (Property?)

This week’s discussion of Philippians 4:10-23 brings to mind a few topics that you might call truly American. We know that our declaration of Independence has the following enshrined language:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.1

What many do not know is that these ideas, even the very language were heavily influenced by the writings of British political philosopher John Locke. In his Second Treatise on Government Locke penned (no doubt with an old school quill pen) the following:

Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom and an uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of Nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power not only to preserve his property- that is, his life, liberty, and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men.2

The ideas of pursuing happiness and property, contentment and money is deeply ingrained in the American conscience. Perhaps even happiness through the attainment of money is a deep part of the American story. Yet how should we think about contentment and money from the perspective of the Scriptures? Today we will look at both of these things as they arise in the closing of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. As I prefer contentment to money, I will touch this theme first.

The Pursuit of Happiness

We know just from being a human, that we all desire in some way to be happy or to find contentment in life. It is actually the life goal of many people who are participants on reality TV (some of the profiles on the web sites are fun to read). That we desire happiness is born out in the long history of the human race. Societies both ancient and present have fixated on finding peace of mind, contentment, and happiness during our sojourn on the earth. It is quite revealing that the human condition seeks something which we often find elusive. Even Mick Jagger, launched by a classic guitar riff, complained that he can’t get no satisfaction.3

But just defining what we mean by happiness is at times elusive. Aristotle sought a way around this in his theory of Eudaemonia, living the “good life” according to virtue, but he still believed this would lead us to contentment and peace of mind.4 The Buddha in his four noble truths attempts to lead people away from suffering into an enlightened happiness.5 And as one of the prophets of pop culture has playfully echoed to all, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!”6 Something is missing that we greatly need. How do we find contentment in the up and down, sideways and backwards world of circumstances which do not always go our way? Paul is deeply concerned with this issue for himself and his friends in Philippi.

In the beginning of the thank you segment to the Philippians Paul reminds them that he was not really in need. He had physical needs, but he was not losing his joy, his hope and his contentment due to the fact that he was under house arrest in Rome. He communicates powerfully that even in the midst of these circumstance he remained content.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Philippians 4:11 ESV

The word he chooses here translated content, is a word used in the ancient world by ancient philosophers to describe the state of self-sufficiency and independence from external pressures.7 Paul, does something very interesting with that concept. Instead of saying his goal was to be unmoved and unaffected by external pressures, something associated with the Stoic philosophy8 of that day, Paul teaches us that his contentment was in Christ-sufficiency rather than self-sufficiency.

I will close this little happy piece with some advice which is easy to give, but is only followed as a work of grace in our lives. Ultimately happiness is not found in money, things, even in the love of other people. Paul tells us that true contentment must be found beyond the circumstantial realities of life. In this world we experience the effects of sin: death, disease, betrayals, and boy bands. If our happiness is based upon our health, our financial conquests, our friends and family being perfect, contentment will not be our companion. Contentment, according to Paul, is found in relationship, not just any relationship, but one that is permanent, with one who loves us at all times. Jesus, our constant companion, our advocate before the Father, our great high priest, is our treasure. When he is our prize and joy, nothing, no jail cell or rejection by man, can steal our contentment. It is not a happy-clappy, fake it contentment, but a deep and abiding joy which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul in no way intends to communicate that we will never be sad, hurt, or have trouble in this world. In fact this passage teaches the opposite. As Jesus once said—In this world we will have trouble, but take heart, he has overcome the world.

This great truth enables us, even when all is going wrong, to have hope and not despair. We know that when the dark day comes upon us, we may see the light of his face and take comfort in him. This is a daily struggle which involves allowing all other “saviors” of our lives to perish. Day by day God weans us from finding joy in sex, money, things, health, friends, family, etc. And then the miracle can occur. By freeing us from making these things our gods, he gives such things to us for our enjoyment, but with a sure foundation of peace if they are not present. Remember, Paul is the man who once described Christians as “having nothing, but possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10). One can only say such things if he has found life in someone else. What is his secret to contentment? I can do all things through him who strengthens me. May we cling to him each day.

Money, Money, Money, Money! 

We have pursued happiness together, so let us now turn our attention to property, stuff, things...money. As we begin I want to lay out a few blunt truths from the pages of Scripture:

6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. — 1 Timothy 6:6-10 ESV
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. — Colossians 3:5-7 ESV
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. — Matthew 6:24 ESV

These passages should give us pause as people living in a land of plenty. The possession of money or things is not an evil in and of itself, but there is something we must not miss. Money and possessions can be a great danger to the soul because the human heart is so quick to make them into idols. Paul was right to warn us about the dangers of greed and covetousness, which is in essence idolatry. Jesus was right when he used the language of lordship to discuss money saying that you cannot have two masters. The trap of riches and the lust for material possessions is a great deceit in our day. We are promised happiness if we make it, possess it, master it, have the comfort, security, and peace of mind that comes with it. This my dear friends is a lie. If contentment were found in riches there would be no rich people in therapy; we know this is not the case.

Christians, Money, and Philippians 4:19

Philippians 4:19 is an often quoted passage by prosperity preachers who claim that if you “sow the seed” you will reap a financial blessing. The verse is positioned in this fashion: The Philippians gave to Paul the preacher, so God will give to the Philippians givers. It is a formula, so it is said, that God must honor. If you give to the preacher and the ministry, God will bless you with prosperity. The tragedy is that this a 1/2 truth and many times 1/2 truths are worse than a complete falsehood.

The True 1/2
  • That God is faithful to supply our needs; specifically in light of generosity to others (Read Psalm 37:25; Proverbs 11:24, 25; Luke 6:38, Luke 8:18)
  • God loves a joyful giver and will provide seed to the sower (Exodus 25:2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-14)
  • He meets the needs of the giver (Philippians 4:19)
The False 1/2
  • That we should give in order to get, true giving is a joyful response to God (Read both chapters 1 Corinthians 8,9)
  • That we should place our hope in riches (Read all of 1 Timothy 6)
  • That concern for provision (money in our cultural context) should be our focus and purpose in life (Read all of Matthew 6)
  • That preachers should be focused on money, even though their support coming from the gospel is no sin (Reference 2 Corinthians 8,9 and see 1 Timothy 5:17,18)
  • There is no promise that he meets all of our wants

It is a tragedy that many women and men fleece the poor today as if God were their great lottery ticket in the sky. Some live in extreme luxury off of the generosity of the sheep who have yet to “cash in” in the manner of the preacher. Christians ought to give lavishly and generously to the mission of God, out of joy in God. Not to buy the preacher a private jet.

Finally, it is clear that Paul intends to speak of material needs in Philippians 4:19, but he is speaking far beyond the material as well.9 The entire letter has focused on Paul’s desire for the Philippians in the gospel. If this only be a promise of material blessing, verses 11-13 are impossible to understand. This promise is both for material provision to the giver, but also all their deepest need to find true contentment in Christ and the mission he has for them. This too, is my prayer for you. We close with Paul’s own doxology for his letter of the Philippians:

To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.


1. The Declaration of Independence, (1776, accessed December 4 2006 ); available from http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/.
2. John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, Chapter VII—On Political or Civil Society, (1690, accessed December 6, 2006); available online at:
http://libertyonline.hypermall.com/Locke/second/second-7.html. Emphasis added.
3. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. From the Album Out of Our Heads, 1965.
4. Aristotle's Nichomachian Ethics introduces Aristotle’s view of the good life or Eudemonia as a life lived according to virtue.
5. See my Buddhist Insight and Christian Truth for more on the Four Noble Truths,
6. Bobby McFerrin, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, 1988.
7. Moisés Silva, Philippians, 2nd ed., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 204.
8. For those interested, there is a brief wiki giving some background on Stoicism.  The Stoics also appear in Paul’s interactions in Athens in Acts 17. 
9. Silva, 208.


Thoughts on Philippians 2:12-30

The following are some additional notes which were given out along with the sermon "Making Something of Yourself" at the Inversion Fellowship on October 12th 2006.

Work out your Salvation? For it is God who works?

There is a beautiful tension found in the Bible which is highlighted in Philippians two. The tension I am speaking of is between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Many in history have fallen to one side of this great mountain; either by asserting man’s freedom and self generated moral ability (the error of Pelagius) or by emphasizing God’s sovereignty to the point of neglecting man’s duty to follow and obey Jesus (the error of Hyper-Calvinism). This debate is very ancient going back to the pay per view battle royals of Augustine vs. Pelagius, Erasmus vs. Luther, Beza vs. The Remonstrants, Whitfield vs. Wesley.1 This tendency remains in us and with us today when we are confronted by the Bible.

Before we begin, I want to firmly assert that what God has joined, we should not separate. For indeed in Philippians 2:12, 13 we see both our duty and God’s ultimate working lined up side by side flowing in the same line of thought. Paul did not hesitate to assert both truths in the Word of God; neither shall we. To examine this we will first look at each piece of the puzzle in turn, along with an associated error with holding one side of the coin while denying the other, and then move to a synthesis. I will say up front that my leanings are not towards the idea that man has ultimate self-determination over his life. My synthesis will be more in line with the reformed tradition, yet not in any way denying our responsibility to live life before God every day.

Verse 12—Work it Out

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Who is to work out their salvation? The Philippian church. In light of who Jesus is and what he has done, they are to live out that salvation in community in such a way that respects and honors the Lord. Paul makes it clear in the first part of verse 12 that we are to do this by obeying Jesus. Who is to obey him? We are. This is not controversial and it assumes that Christians can do this in their lives. But how do we do this? By what power is this accomplished in our lives? An ancient error in the church claims that human beings can simply do this of their own free will; by their own moral will power. We should not embrace this idea for it robs God of his glory and will only lead to us despairing in our failures. For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Rather, we should say “yes!” to following God and “yes!” to the way in which this actually occurs in our lives. For this Paul quickly appends verse 13 to his argument. Work it out! For it is God who wills and works in you according to his good pleasure.

Verse 13—It is God who wills and works

Paul makes it very clear that the working in us is the working of God. For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work according to his good pleasure. The point Paul makes is that both the will to/want to/desire to and the power/energy to follow through come ultimately from God. He gives us a desire to obey Jesus and then, in his grace, he also gives us the power to carry it out. John Calvin, in commenting on this verse, makes this clear:

There are, in any action, two principal departments — the inclination, and the power to carry it into effect. Both of these he ascribes wholly to God; what more remains to us as a ground of glorying? 2

Who gets the credit for the inclination and the power to carry it out? God does. God does. All glory and praise and wonder for the reality that our lives are transformed goes to God alone. We revel in the fact that our community might live in humility like the Lord Jesus. We are amazed that our desires have changed from sin and self to God and others. The error on this side lies with thinking God is sovereign therefore I do not have any responsibility. This is a fatalistic view which is absent from the Bible. If God is in control and giving us the desire and power to live out our faith, it does not translate into a call to inaction because “it is all up to God anyway.” Those who have taken this view have made an equally serious mistake. God has called us to act and live, acknowledging his enablement, not to be a couch potato for the Kingdom because “God is doing his thing” We have looked at both sides of the coin, now let us look at the synthesis.

A synthesis of verses 12 and 13 “Because God works, we work”

The 20th century Scottish Theologian John Murray provides a wonderful synthesis of this passage so I will go no further to improve on what he has already so aptly said.

God’s working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relation strictly one of cooperation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction or coordination of both produced the required result. God works and we also work. But the relation is that because God works we work. All working out of salvation on our part is the effect of God’s working in us...We have here not only the explanation of all acceptable activity on our part but we also have the incentive to our willing and working...The more persistently active we are in working, the more persuaded we may be that all the energizing grace and power is of God.3

One last point must be made. It is our tendency to read things as referring only to individual salvation. Does this passage have implications for this? Absolutely! But Paul is writing this to a church, in the context of an exhortation to them to live a certain type of life together. The working out of salvation in fear and trembling and realizing that God is at work is well paraphrased by Gordon Fee in his commentary on Philippians: In your relationships with one another live out the salvation Christ has brought you.4

Combining the above synthesis along with a communitarian understanding of the working of the gospel in our lives provides a deep understanding for the church. In this understanding Jesus is the one who is glorified and not our own self-willed efforts. Our lives and our community is thereby transformed by the power of God. The result? We marvel and worship the God of our salvation—together. Then our lives shine like lights in a crooked and twisted generation so that others may see and savor and bow the knee to Jesus the unique savior of the world.

Unlike The Exodus Generation

In the New Testament there are many, many direct allusions to themes and passages in the Old Testament. In fact, some are so shocking that they would jump up and bite anyone deeply familiar with the OT. In Philippians 2:14-17 we see just such a passage. Remember that the Philippian Christians were most likely Gentile converts, they were not Jewish. However, we observed in the planting of the church in Acts 16, that many of the first Philippian Christians were “God-fearers” before they heard the gospel. This meant they were believers in the God of the Jews and would have been very familiar with the Hebrew narratives of the Old Testament. Therefore, when the Philippians read verses 14-17 it would have registered powerfully with them as hopeful words in light of those stories. Let’s look at the verse and highlight a few of these allusions and then treat them in turn:

14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

Grumbling or questioning—This is the description used for the Israelites who, after the Exodus from Egypt, grumbled and complained against Moses and against God. In 1 Corinthians 10:6-10 , Paul addresses this issue in the strongest of terms.

6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

The Philippians would know this narrative and would think—yes brother Paul, grumbling and complaining are bad things, bad things man, very bad things. When God is saving your butt, it is not a good thing to whine like a baby because you would like it done another way. When Jesus has died for you—gratefulness is the response. Grumbling is not fitting for such a people.

Blameless—The person to which all Jews trace their lineage is “Father Abraham” - you church kids know the song. Students of the Old Testament would know God’s word to Him found in Genesis 17:1,2 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” The Philippians would have known—the way of the people of God is to “walk before him, and be blameless.” By their own willpower? No, it is God who is at work. We live in grace, not trying to manufacture blamelessness into our lives. We are sinners being transformed, predestined to walk before a God who has made us blameless (Ephesians 1:4, Colossians 1:21) in his sight. How has he done this? By the death of his beloved Son Jesus...who being in the very nature God humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Crooked and twisted generation—This is what Moses used to describe the stubborn disobedient generation of Israel who did not enter the promised land. Deuteronomy 32:5 reads, They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation. Whereas the first generation of Israel after the Exodus is called crooked and twisted, the church is said to be the children of God without blemish in the midst of such a generation. This should greatly encourage the church. We are not the disobedient generation, but the ones purchased by Jesus, heading into the promised lands of God. 

Timothy—Young and Faithful Church Leadership

Timothy was one of the key leaders in the early church planting movement led by Paul the apostle. One thing I want you (y’all) to get is that he was a very young man. Commentators have varied in their understanding of Timothy’s age. But one thing is sure, when he begin in ministry with Paul he was very young. At the end of Paul’s life when his letters to Timothy were penned, he was still green enough to be called “neotēs” or young.5 This should encourage us to see our lives as significant and useful to the Kingdom of God in this season of our lives. Listen, Inversion, to a wonderful encouragement found in 1 Timothy 4:12.
  • Let no one despise you for your youth (ESV)
  • Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young (NIV)
  • Let no man despise thy youth (KJV)
  • And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. (The Message)

Who do we need to become to fulfill the second part of this verse which reads: Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Lead the church—lead the body of Christ, set an example of passion for Jesus and holiness of life, now, while you are young. No need to wait. Serve and lead my friends.

Thoughts on Philippians 2:1-11

The following are some additional notes which were given out along with the sermon "Making Nothing of Yourself" given at the Inversion Fellowship on October 5th 2006.

Life in Christian Community 

In the early part of Philippians chapter 2, we hear of a certain kind of community we should be. Paul uses an introduction which is in the form of a conditional question. He says, if there be—encouragement from Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, affection and sympathy—if this is who you are, then you ought to live a certain way. The conditional “If” is used here as a rhetorical device by Paul. He is not “doubting” that these things are experienced by the Philippian church. John Chrysostom, a man who was fluent in ancient Greek perceives this in Paul’s choice of language:

See how earnestly, how vehemently, with how much sympathy he speaks, “If there be therefore any comfort in Christ, that is, if ye have any comfort in Christ, as if he had said, If thou makest any account of me, if thou hast any care of me, if thou hast ever received good at my hands, do this. 1

Knowing Paul’s already stated affections for the Philippians we know that this is an appeal to people he is in relationship with and is not meant to cast doubt on their standing with God, but rather to intensify his plea to them. The construction of the first verse also displays the Trinitarian nature of the Christian community. All the persons of the Godhead are involved in our lives, and our love in community reflects his care for us. Gordon Fee summarizes what is going on here for us:

Thus the basis of the appeal is first of all the Philippians’ own relationship to the triune God, which he and they share together, and second, his and their relationship to each other, brought about by their common relationship to the Trinity. 2

There are many exhortations in the Bible to live together in humble community. Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), Paul’s exhortation to the Christians in ancient Ephesus (Ephesians 4-6), and Jesus’ servanthood and exhortation to love in the upper room discourse (John 13) come quickly to mind. We should simmer our souls in these passages and ask God for the grace to live in like manner.

Finally, German author Dietrich Bonheoffer, a man who lived under Nazi oppression in the early 20th century wrote a little gem of a book about living in Christian community. The book is titled, Life Together,3 and I highly recommend it. In the latter part of the book he lists several things which are of much value to us today and reflect well the Biblical ideal of community. The following summary comes from Frank Thielman who recounts these principles as ways of eradicating selfish ambition from Christian community. I have added some scriptural references for your study. Christians should:

  1. Hold their tongues; refusing to speak uncharitably about a Christian brother [James 3, Ephesians 4:29]
  2. Cultivate the humility that comes from understanding that they, like Paul, are the greatest of sinners and can only live in God’s sight by his grace. [1 Timothy 1:15]
  3. Listen “long and patiently” so that they will understand their fellow Christian’s need; [James 1:19, 20]
  4. Refuse to consider their time and calling so valuable that they cannot be interrupted to help with unexpected needs, no matter how small or menial.
  5. Bear the burden of their brothers and sisters in the Lord, both by preserving their freedom and by forgiving their sinful abuse of that freedom [1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14, Galatians 6:1-10]
  6. Declare God’s word to their fellow believers when they need to hear it [Colossians 3:1-17, 1 Timothy 4:11-13]
  7. Understand that Christian authority is characterized by service and does not call attention to the person who performs the service. [Mark 10:45; Matthew 23:11, 12]4

Bonheoffer summarizes well the functioning of Christian Community:

Each member of the community is given his particular place, but this Is no longer the place in which he can most successfully assert himself, but the place we he can best perform his service.5

Each plays his part and desires the best for the other, this is the exhortation of our Lord. We will fail one another on this path, but with confession, repentance and faith, God can transform us into a community which reflects his humility, grace and love to a dying world. And Jesus is our model and means...to him we turn.

Making Himself Nothing and the Glory of the Incarnation

Much has been written regarding Philippians 2:6,7—that Jesus who in the very form of God did not count equality a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing (or emptied himself) taking the form of a man. Over the years debates have raged over the precise nature of Jesus’ incarnation, the Son of God becoming flesh. Much of the debate has centered upon the words heautou (ἑαυτοῦ, himself) and keno (κενόω, to empty or make void, make nothing). Scholars have wrestled with what it means for Jesus to empty himself or make himself nothing in regards to his divinity. Let me explain.

Jesus is clearly shown in the gospels to be the pre-existent divine Son of God, the third person of the Trinity. Many biblical passages bear this out (See John 1:1-3, 14; Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:3, John 8:58, John 10:30, John 14:8-11, Mark 2:1-7). Jesus is indeed God. Yet Paul tells us here in Philippians 2 in relation to Jesus’ divinity that he emptied himself to become a human being. Many questions have been asked and many explanations have been put forth to understand the deep mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God. In theological circles these theories usually run under the title of “Theories of the Kenosis” or “Kenotic Theories.” We will first look at one incorrect view and then present an understanding which is faithful to the Scripture and the historic teaching of Christian doctrine

View #1—Jesus laid aside, or emptied, his divine nature and attributes in order to become man

This theory takes the position that in order to become a human being Jesus had tom in some way, take off his “God suit”. He had to empty out his divine attributes to really become man. Using a mathematical analogy, we might call this theory addition by subtraction - that is, to add humanity to the Son, the deity had to be taken away. The following equation helps to illustrate:

Equation 1: Eternal Son of God — Deity = The Incarnate “man” Jesus

This is very problematic for several reasons. First, it denies the clear teaching that Jesus was, is and remained God while incarnate. He is the eternal Son of God—and God cannot become “not God.” This is a principle known as the law of identity...as I am teaching my little girls: “Something is what something is.” Now normal things can undergo change and become other things. Trees become lumber, newspapers, and toilet paper. Yet God can in no way “become” anything. He is a different sort of being, by his very nature he does not change. Wayne Grudem, in following Louis Berkhof, summarizes this well: God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.6 So Jesus could no more become “not God” than a Mormon could become a god. The Scriptures bear a robust witness to this truth about God—For I the Lord do not change, Malachi 3:6.

Additionally, from the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, the church has univocally held that Christ was one person with two natures; humanity and divinity united in one person. To have Jesus empty his “God-ness” would be contrary to orthodox doctrine. Is there another way to understand this?

View #2—A more biblical understanding—Jesus took on human nature in addition to his divine nature

Other theologians, in keeping with the Scriptures, have described an emptying which happens by taking on human nature in addition to Jesus’ divine nature. Perhaps revisiting another mathematical analogy will help with the distinction. Whereas View #1 could be seen as addition by subtraction, the Biblical view we might call subtraction by addition. In other words, because of the addition of human nature to Jesus the Son, the deity of Jesus was veiled or covered or concealed in a way in which it was not in eternity past. Another equation will again be helpful:

Equation 2: Eternal Son of God + Human Nature = The Incarnate “god-man” Jesus

Theologian Bruce Ware provides a good example of subtraction by addition. Say you go to test drive a brand new car, a Hummer 2. It is pristine, shiny and tricked out. It has all the attributes of “Hummer2-ness”. Yet if you took it for a spin in the mud then brought it back, it would have a different appearance. Would it still have all the attributes of “Hummer2-ness?” Yes, it is only veiled – this is subtraction by addition but nothing has changed essentially to the car. All the luster and beauty are there and not removed, the mud simply hides what would otherwise “be displayed.”

With Christ, he remains fully God, but the fullness of God cannot be completely manifested in finite human nature. He cannot be fully displayed – it is a limitation “taken on” by Jesus in addition to his divine nature. So in taking on human nature it necessarily restricts the manifestation, use, or showing forth of many of the divine qualities (omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.) He cannot experience them in his personhood due to the taking on of real human nature. The attributes are not limited, but their use is limited. He laid aside his right to use the divine attributes that remained fully his, in order to live life on earth as a real human being. John Calvin says this well in his commentary on Philippians:

Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.7

The incarnation of the Son of God—God becoming a human, is a marvelous, wonderful truth which provides great hope. He indeed understands what we experience as people. He can sympathize with our weakness, and in his body, he took the beating for our sins. In his incarnation, God the Son took the wrath of God the Father, so that we might be fully free to receive the Fathers love and mercy. In the incarnation and in the cross, we see the love of God triumph over the wrath of God for all that believe...and we are set free from guilt and condemnation. Romans 8:1 reminds us, there is NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Why? The wrath of God is satisfied by the self giving, obedient, death of the Son on a cross for us. Have you worshipped Jesus today? Do not skip this—bow a knee now, thank him, love him, wonder at his amazing love. This is why we pray in the name of Jesus, for it is by him, and through him alone are we brought to the Father. I will close with the words of a song: I’m forgiven, because you were forsaken, I’m accepted, you were condemned, I’m alive and well you Spirit lives within me, because you died and rose again...Amazing Love, How Can it be? That you my KING should die for ME?

Worship, Worship, Worship!

Soli Deo Gloria and Blessings in Jesus,


  1. Philip Schaff, Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon accessed October 4 2006; Available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf113.html.
  2. Gordon D Fee, Philippians The Ivp New Testament Commentary Series ; 11. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999, 86.
  3. Dietrich Bonheoffer, Life Together. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1954.
  4. Frank Thielman, Philippians The Niv Application Commentary, ed. Terry Muck. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995,107. Scripture References added.
  5.  Bonheoffer, 93, 94.
  6. We highly recommend Dr. Grudem’s treatment of immutability, God’s unchangeableness, in Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 163.
  7. John Calvin, Commentary on Commentary on Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 1509-1564. Commentary on this passage available online—http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol42/htm/iv.ii.iv.htm. Accessed 10/4/2006.

Thoughts on Philippians 1:18b-30

The following are some additional notes which given out along with the sermon "Life: Overrated" given at the Inversion Fellowship on September 14th 2006.


In verse 19 there is a very powerful word Paul uses to describe the outcome of his upcoming trial in Rome. He tells the church that through their prayers and the Spirit’s help his ordeal in Rome will turn our for his deliverance. The word he uses for deliverance is a big word in the New Testament. It is the word soteria and it is most often translated as salvation. Now you can see why it is such a “big word.”

There is some debate among students of the Scripture as to how Paul uses the term. In his referring only to his deliverance and vindication in his coming trial or if he is using it to refer to “ultimate” salvation/deliverance despite whether he is set free or is executed.

One interesting factoid is that the phrase “turn our for my deliverance/vindication” is an example of what literary critics call intertextulality—the direct use of one text in the composition of another1. This phrase is directly from Job 13:16, this will turn out for my deliverance/salvation. This quotation of Job, who is defending his case against friends blaming his suffering on “secret sins”, gives us a clue that the deliverance spoken of here. Indeed, it appears that it is perhaps beyond simply being let out of prison. Rather it refers to the ultimate vindication and salvation of Paul in a higher court of appeals. Even if an earthly court in Rome (much like Jobs “friends”) condemns him, he will still ultimately be delivered. It is in his standing before God, and the righteous judge, where Paul will be finally vindicated.

This ultimate salvation, justification before God, is clearly the use of the soteria in verse 29 of the same passage so there is good reason it holds the same meaning in verse 19 due to the context. Certainly, Paul’s deliverance from jail could be also be in view, but it seems his deliverance is also much more than release from his house arrest in Rome.2 John Calvin said it this way: For it is evident from what follows, that he is not [merely] speaking of the safety of the body.3

What Does Paul Mean by "Depart" and Be with the Lord?

What happens when I die? There is no greater issue of more importance to human beings who all some day arrive at this fate. There are many interesting questions which arise around this issue in the New Testament. Do believers in Jesus go directly to heaven upon their death or does this happen at the resurrection of our bodies? Do dogs go to heaven? Oops, we’ll save that for another discussion.

Here in Philippians Paul makes something clear for us; upon death we depart this world to “be with the Lord.” Thanks, Now what the heck does this mean? Do we become ghosts until our bodies are resurrected at the last day? (See 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 concerning the resurrection) How are we with him? In what sort of place do we exist? One thing is clear in verse 23, when our body dies, we depart. It seems clear then that the New Testament declares that “YOU” cannot be reduced to “your body.” Certainly, all people are a unity of soul and body and we never exist here on the earth as a disembodied ghost or spirit. Theologians call human beings a psychosomatic unity (psyche—meaning soul and soma meaning body) and you never see your friends walking around without their body; that would be weird.

Yet the language here speaks of us departing or setting sail. Additionally, Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 compares our bodies to tents in which we take up our earthy residence. He even goes on to say “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” Yet it would be a mistake to say that we need to leave our bodies behind in order to be with God. The Christian faith has always held that the body is holy and that in the Kingdom of Heaven we will have new and glorified bodies. So how do we understand this teaching. Let me summarize before we go on:

  • You are a unity of body/soul
  • Upon your death, the soul of those who know Jesus go to be with him
  • At the last day all people will be resurrected and have new bodies. Some will continue on the new earth, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Others who persisted in rebellion against God, will be consigned to hell.

So in wrestling with these truths, many have discussed the idea of an intermediate state where we exist with the Lord awaiting the resurrection of the body at the end of time. Some have conjectured that we will have bodies in this state, others describe it as a conscious relational reality while held in being by God. This stuff is really fascinating, and can make your head explode, but the thing that is certain is that we will be with Jesus, we will know it, and it will be far better than life now.

For some deeper reading on Body/Soul stuff see my paper at entitled Are Human Beings Constituted of One, Two, or Three Substances? available at TheResurgence.com.4 For a treatment of the many issues surrounding our understanding of Heaven, see Randy Alcorn, Heaven, (Grand Rapids: Tyndale, 2004). We can ask our questions about our dogs from that book.

"Joy" and "Glory In" In the NIV

The NIV is a great translation of the Bible. I trust it, memorized it for years and studied it as my primary Bible for the first ten years of my Christian life. So please don’ t here me hating on the NIV here. But, I want us to look at verse 25 and 26 in the NIV and then see that there is actually a bit more happening there:

25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.
In this case the word “joy” appears two times in this particular English translation. A quick read of this and we actually miss something as the words translated “joy” are actually different words in the original. In verse 25 the word is a recurring New Testament word for Joy - χαρά chara; which means: joy or delight. In verse 26 the word is καύχημα kauchēma; which means a boast or reason to be proud, reason to glory, something to boast about.5 So in this case the rendering in the ESV is more helpful.
25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

In other words, Paul's coming to the Philippians at some point in the future would provide an occasion to glory in Jesus—to worship him and to rejoice in him and to boast about what God has done in their midst. This fits Paul’s view of boasting throughout the New Testament, that we should boast only in the cross, only in Jesus. Oh yeah, there are places where I like the NIV much better than the ESV (1 Thessalonians 2:8 for example). My recommendation is to use a translation (NASB, ESV, NKJV) for study and read paraphrases devotionally (NLT, NIV, The Message) to help your understanding. But do not let a person's paraphrase keep you from your own study of the Scriptures.


  1. Gordon D. Fee, Philippians, The Ivp New Testament Commentary Series ; 11 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 67.
  2. For a very thorough discussion of this see Silva, Moisés. Philippians. 2nd ed. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005. 69, 70.
  3. John Calvin, Commentary on Commentary on Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 1509-1564. Commentary on this passage available online—http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol42/htm/iv.ii.iv.htm. Accessed 9/14/2006.
  4. Reid Monaghan. Are Human Beings Constituted of One, Two, or Three Substances? The Resurgence, 2005, accessed September 8 2006; Available from http://theresurgence.com/reid_monaghan_2005_are_human_beings_constituted_of_one_two_or_three_substances. Just do a search on the title to find the paper. That URL is too long.
  5. Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries, Updated ed. (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998, 1981). Chara—5479 and Kauchema—2745.

Thoughts on Philippians 1:1-18b

The following are some additional notes which given out along with the sermon "The Mission Continues" given at the Inversion Fellowship on September 7th 2006.

A Simple Greeting?

In the first two verses of Philippians Paul tells us some significant things about our life together in the gospel. A few thoughts I thought would be helpful:

  • Paul writes first of all to the saints at Philippi. The word “saints” (hagios) literally means holy ones, set apart ones, ones that are different because of God’s action in their lives.All believers in Christ are therefore identified as saints in the New Testament. Even when we don’t feel so saintly, we need to remember that God in his grace has set you apart as his own.
  • With/Including/Along With the Overseers (episkopoi) and Deacons(diakonos)

EpiskopoiWho are these Overseers? The term we are most familiar with in our current culture is “Pastor.” We use the term “Pastor” a lot, in fact if you have THE MESSAGE, a useful paraphrase of the Bible, Eugene Peterson’s version of this passage translates the terms “pastors” and “ministers. ” This can be misleading because “Pastor” this is not a common New Testament title for church leaders. Pastoring/Shepherding (the word poimnen) is used mostly as a verb, the action of shepherding. This calling is usually given to men who are called “Elders/Overseers.” In fact, we know that the same people are called elders and overseers in the same context in both Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5. The New Bible commentary on Philippians has an insightful summary of who elders/overseers were and their function:

Eldership was their place in the community, oversight their responsibility.1
Note – A man named Polycarp wrote a letter to this same church about 50 years later which was addressed to a group of leaders he called “elders.”2

Deacons – Many are confused today as to what “deacons” are and what they are to do in the church. To put very simply, deacons are those who have been called upon by the pastor/elders to serve all sorts of needs which arise in the church. The word simply means “servant” or “minister” - Both men and women are called deacons in the New Testament. A church can call out deacons to serve in many areas of need. There can be deacons of administration, serving needs within the congregation, serving the poor. There can be deacons who assist in worship, deacons of technology, communication, design and just about anything that serves a need for the people of God. Deacons are ordained and function at the discretion of the elders of the church. In our church many team leaders and community group leaders effectively function as deacons. But we don’t use the word “Deacon” - it could freak some people out and bring misunderstanding.

One key thing to notice about those in the church called to be leaders. They are servants and they are to be alongside and with the people. The are not to be lording power trips in the church. The one person who is called a senior pastor in the New Testament is Jesus. Church leaders must see themselves as part of the congregation with specific, God-ordained, responsibilities. The Issue is Responsibility not lofty positioning or power trips.

I think there is nothing as offensive as arrogant, prideful, self-serving pastors, flying around the country in their own private jets. Pray for your Pastors that they would be servants and slaves of Jesus, neither serving money or the glory of our own names.

The Day of Christ Jesus 

There is a theme throughout the Bible which reoccurs in both Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament it is called the Day of the Lord and in the New Testament simply called the Day of Jesus Christ. We must never forget the great promise and warning of the Old Testament that the Day of Yahweh was seen as a day of dread for the enemies of God and consummation and rejoicing for God’s people. It is spoken of by almost all the OT Prophets (See Joel 2:1, Amos 5:20) as a coming day of complete ruin and judgment for those who oppose the reign of God in the earth and the time when the salvation of believers – already inaugurated, already started, will be complete.3

There remains a theme throughout the New Testament that we must find refuge in God’s provision for salvation. That we must escape the wrath coming upon us for our sin by trusting, finding grace, mercy, forgiveness in the good news of Jesus’ death for our sins. In the New Testament the “Day of the Lord” is reflected as The Day of Christ Jesus and fills out the meaning of the phrase further. God’s good work in his people will be complete and we will be perfected. We will no longer be weak, lazy, prideful, selfish, broken, dying people. We will be changed – we will be like Jesus, forever with him in his Kingdom, serving, working, creating culture, living in an undying, unbroken world forever. And that my friends is cool.

The Day of Christ should be a joy we look forward to and a sober reminder of our friends’ all around us and the need for the forgiveness of Jesus. There will be a day where it will all be finished. While it is still called today, follow Jesus, trust him, and share his gospel with your friends.

The Defense of the Gospel 

There is a word found two times in Philippians chapter 1 which is translated as “defense” - in both verse 7 and 16 we see that Paul’s imprisonment is for the “defense” of the gospel. What does he mean? The word translated defense is the Greek term apologia—and it means to make a speech or case or a defense for a person or idea. Paul uses it here to mean that part of his ministry was to provide a reason for belief in the good news to the unbelieving world.

The word is where we get the term Apologetics—the discipline of theology which provides a case for the truth of the Christian faith. Unfortunately, Apologetics gets ripped from its context in mission and becomes simply an intellectual mind game between really smart Christian guys and really smart Non Christian guys who write books against each other. In Paul’s life, he used a defense of the faith in his proclamation of the good news. He would share it and defend his position when God called him to do so.

In our world which is increasingly both spiritualized and secularized, we need to be good apologists for the faith. We need to understand what we believe and why so we can understand people with whom we desire to share Jesus. A good start in preparing yourself is reading some of the really smart guys and gals’ books. But more importantly to talk to people you know who need Christ. What are their Questions? What are their struggles with believing in God and Jesus work on the cross for them? Once you have questions, then you can lovingly walk with a friend towards satisfying answers.

Paul was put in jail for his apologetic, will you love and engage those around you who need to understand the grace and love of God in Christ? For a little more reading on the topic, check out my entry Aplogetics in Contemporary Culture.

How Much Do You Love Them Paul?

It is fun to play a game with my daughters where we use fun analogies to tell how much we love each other. I love you all the way to the moon and back!!! Or Kayla’s final trump card—I love you all the way to the end of the Universe, to the heart of God, and back. OK, you win!

In Philippians 1:7,8 Paul uses some interesting language to describe his love for the Philippian Christians. In verse 8 he tells them he yearns for them with all the affections of Christ Jesus. This last part of the verse is quite interesting. The language actually reads I yearn for you with all the bowels of Christ Jesus. Bowels? Innards? It really means I love you with the guts of Christ Jesus. What a great picture to have for us. Paul is telling them that he loves them with a deep, deep, inward affection. To the depths of the bowels of Jesus.

Kayla, my girl born in September of 2001, told me once that she loved me so much she could explode from her insides. I think this what Paul is getting at. He loves them with the deep love from the depths of Christ.

How much do you them Paul? To the depths of the guts of God. Got it...you really do love those Philippian folks. This is the love we can have for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t try to muster this kind of love up on your own. Allow the Spirit to put it in your heart. After all, it is his affection which helps us to love others. Especially the difficult people like ourselves!


1. D. A. Carson, ed., New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, Rev. Ed. of: The New Bible Commentary. 3rd Ed. / Edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970., 4th ed. ed. (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).
2. FF Bruce, New International Biblical Commentary on Philippians, page 28.
3. Bruce, 32.

Philippians Commentary

Over the next few weeks I will be rolling out some commentary notes on the book of Philippians that I have been writing for my friends at the Inversion Fellowship.  I pray that they may be useful for your study of this great letter in the New Testament...

These notes are not my verse by verse commentary and teaching (that can be found in the message audio) but rather extra material which arose in study which I thought would be beneficial for others to see.

Chrysostom on Philippians and the New CCEL


Tonight I was looking online to read some Chrysostom's ancient homilies on Philippians and I was treated to a great surprise. As I went over to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library I found quite a web re-design treat. A brand new version of the CCEL has been developed. It is a nice new site design which has drupal as its content management system.

If you are new to CCEL or have never read Chrysostom's straight forward exposition, it may be time for a venture into some of the old classics of the faith.  Read old dead guys - they have quite a bit to say to us in our times. 

If you are not sure what to read, their short list is a fantastic starter. I always find the beginning of St. Anselm's Proslogion to be a delight...


Prison Break - Mission and Contentment Under Arrest - The Book of Philippians

A Brief Introduction to the Book of Philippians

Complete PDF of this paper
Introductory Audio Message (MP3)

Jean Jacques Rousseau once wrote that “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.”1 We would suggest that we are born in chains but have yet to truly understand how to live free. The book of Philippians was written by a person whose freedom had been stripped from him by the government of his day. Yet while under house arrest in the city of Rome, Paul, an early Christian leader, writes rejoicing as a free man. How do mission, contentment and joy flow out from someone living in chains? We will be focusing on this question by traveling together into the ancient letter of Philippians, a book which oozes wisdom for living together in the mission of God.

We are going to take a walk through the book and it would be helpful to get the proverbial lay of the land before launching out. This short, well maybe it is not so short, paper will serve as a broader introduction to the book for those geeks who are interested. With any letter of the New Testament some really important background information can really help us understand what is going on. So let’s look at this letter, known to us as the Letter to the Philippians, by investigating a few of the major issues surrounding the book.

Where is Philippi and Who Lived There?

I remember when I first became a follower of Jesus I was a bit weirded out by some of the books in the Bible. The names of these books seemed really strange and I wasn’t sure if I just missed out on the proper Christian decoder ring to figure out what these titles meant. Then a friend helped me out with the titles of some of the New Testament books whose names I just didn’t get. He told me that many of the New Testament books were letters to new Christians who lived in certain cities. First Corinthians would be much like titling a letter to believers in Nashville, First Nashvillians. That turned on the light for me. Philippians therefore is a letter written to a people in the ancient city of Philippi, so as we begin it is probably going to help us out to know a bit about that place and its cultural history. 

Ancient Philippi was located in an area which was known as Macedonia, in what is now modern day Greece. The name of the city derives from Phillip II, King of Macedonia, who established the city in 356 B.C.2 Many of us may be unfamiliar with Phillip II, but most will easily recognize the name of his son Alexander the Great. The city of Philippi was strategically located near Mount Pangaeus and its gold mines3 along an ancient trade route known as the Egnatian Way. This trade route connected ancient Rome with its provinces in the east. It was a city on a fertile plane about ten miles inland from the influential port of Neapolis4. In the book of Acts the city is described as a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony (Acts 16:12) so its renown and influence were well known in the New Testament era. Its description as a Roman colony is of some importance, so we’ll briefly touch on what that means.

Philippi became a place of dispute during several Roman civil wars. First, it was the site of the battle between two coalitions in 42 BC. One led by Octavian and Marc Antony the other led by Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar. Upon the victory by Octavian/Antony, Philippi was founded as a Roman military colony.5 Octavian, later to become Caesar Augustus, populated the city with his own victorious military leaders and ex-soldiers establishing it as a city with strong Roman allegiances. A colony of Rome was much different than an area simply ruled and administered by the empire. A colony’s inhabitants were official citizens of the empire and their government was modeled after that of the Rome itself. The important thing we need to know is that Philippi was very Roman in culture and identity, it would be seen by its people as an extension of Rome. She and her people shared Roman laws, customs, and religion and were extremely proud of this reality. They were a people who were culturally entrenched and culturally satisfied. We see this quite prominently in Acts 16:20,21:

And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.”

These were a people with long established cultural norms who saw the faith of Christ’s followers as antagonistic to their very way of life. This is the soil in which the church at Philippi was birthed. It was a good place for church planting; a good place to start some sanctified trouble for the sake of the gospel. And there was a man on the scene that was intent on doing just that.

Who Wrote This Letter and Why? 

There is broad consensus that the author of the letter to the Philippians is a man know as Paul, an early leader of the Christian movement. In the greeting of the letter we see the authors self-identified as Paul and Timothy (Philippians 1:1) who speak of themselves as being doulos, servants or slaves of Jesus. Additionally, Philippians contains some of the most descriptive autobiographical information about Paul in the entire New Testament. So there is little drama among scholars that the author of this letter is none other than the one self described in Philippians 3:5-7. Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus (see Acts 8:1, and Acts 9), circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless. But whatever gain he had, he counted as loss for the sake of Christ. One author describes well the apostle and the transformation Jesus had brought to his life.

In addition to revealing the life of Paul, the epistle contains a fresh presentation of Jesus Christ. In a lofty hymn about Jesus Christ, Paul called his readers to an examination and interpretation of the mind of Christ. Paul clearly believed his life had been transformed radically because of following Christ, and thus every portion of the epistle reveals the Lord through his servant.6

The letter was written with purpose of thanking the Philippians for a gift they provided to Paul, as well as to encourage them to continue faithfully in the mission of the gospel. Paul wrote to them while he was incarcerated in Rome with most placing this imprisonment during the persecution under the Emperor Nero around 62 AD. Most scholars point to Rome as the place where the letter was written although there are a few who put forth Ephesus and Caesarea as possibilities. The consensus remains with the traditional view of a Roman origin of the letter as it fits what we see in the New Testament. Additionally, the Roman origin has been the resounding opinion of the church for close to 2000 years. I see no reason to question this tradition, as the arguments for a Roman origin are many. Paul spent time towards the end of his life under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16, 30). He did not have GPS anklet which could track his every move, but he would have had a member of the imperial guard (the Praetorium mentioned in Philippians 1:12-14) in his back pocket around the house. Yet even while under house arrest, with his personal freedom hindered, Paul made the most of it as an opportunity to express his soul which is soaked with freedom in Christ.

Rather than writing as one bound by his personal prison, Paul rejoices that his imprisonment has been for the sake of the gospel. His suffering was for the defense and confirmation of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:16) and even the members of the imperial guard had taken notice of this reality. Strangely enough, he seemed happy to be in jail, as his own hardship was resulting in believers being bold for the kingdom and Christ was being preached widely. For this he rejoiced – he found mission and contentment even while under arrest. The prison was broken by the power of the Spirit at work in the life of a man who could not be bound; because for Paul, to live is Christ, to die is gain (Phil 1:21). Such people are destined by God to transform the world.

What Did Paul Think of the Philippians?

It is evident from both the style and greeting of the letter to the Philippians that Paul felt a deep love and friendship with his readers. In the greeting segment of the epistle, he only calls himself a slave or servant of Jesus; he does not use the title apostle like he does in other letters. For instance, in his letters to the Corinthians, a church with which Paul had more strained relationships, his greeting is stated “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:1) and “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (2 Cor 1:1). With the Corinthians Paul establishes his credentials, his calling as an apostle, his authority, his back stage pass to speak into their lives. This is very different from the way he addresses the Philippians. With this church we feel that Paul is talking to his closest companions, his dearest of friends. One commentator, William Barclay, describes this endearment well. Feel the love:

In the other letters he begins with a statement of his official position, why he has the right to write, and why the recipients have the duty to listen; but not when he writes to the Philippians. There is no need; he knows that they will listen, and listen lovingly. Of all his Churches, the Church at Philippi was the one to which Paul was closest; and he writes, not as an apostle to members of his Church, but as a friend to his friends.7

Many scholars have described this letter as a hortatory letter of friendship8; here is the big word of the day. I first read this and thought “what the heck does hortatory mean?” A little dictionary work shows it to mean the letter was written to his friends to advise them, spur them on, to exhort them to encourage them forward in the gospel. So if you are prone to giving advice and exhorting your friends, you could be called hortative. Your scrabble game just took flight…you’re welcome.

The Philippians and the apostle were tight and the letter is much like an e-mail you would write a dear friend who knew your heart and shared common struggles. The nature of Christian friendship is the overarching tone and it is present throughout the book. Yet these friendships were formed not on a whim, but centered in and on Jesus and his gospel. We might call the friendship Paul experienced with the Philippians a deep missional friendship. They were all called to Jesus, to know him, love him, follow him, and serve his mission in their generation. This brought their hearts together; it was not some random civic association or club. Gordon Fee describes the nature of this friendship as a three-way relationship between Paul, the Philippians and Jesus himself:

Most significant, friendship in particular is radically transformed from a two-way to a three-way bond between him, the Philippians, and Christ. And obviously it is Christ who is the center and focus of everything. Paul’s and their friendship is predicated on their mutual participation/partnership in the gospel.9

A friendship centered in the gospel is what we are calling missional, it is friendship in and around the person and purposes of Jesus. Such friendships are a great gift from God; indeed it is almost shocking that the incarnate God, Jesus himself, chose to call his disciples his friends.

No longer do I call you servants,for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. John 15:15-17 ESV

From just a quick reading of Philippians we can see that Paul and his friends at Philippi heeded these words of Jesus. They did love one another and their friendship was missional, it was centered in their Father’s business. Their business was to exalt the name of Jesus together, to bring honor and fame to God by bearing fruit in their lives. Fruit of seeing people become followers of Jesus, fruit of seeing a new community form, fruit of seeing others mature in the faith and give their lives away in Kingdom service. The teaching and exhortation which Paul gives in the letter are therefore centered in deep gospel reflections about the nature of Jesus10 and the nature of the mission together with him. There is also much practical insight for living for Jesus day to day in the mission. We will turn over much of this ground together in our walk through this book.

How Was the Church at Philippi Started?

The Christian way has always been one of planting gospel-centered, gospel-preaching communities of faith. From the disciple’s day until our own, followers of Jesus have planted churches—New Covenant communities which are called out to live and proclaim good news to those around them. According to the book of Acts, Paul began one of these churches in the city of Philippi during his second missionary journey, right after his arrival to Europe around AD 50.11 The story of the Philippian Church is an intriguing one indeed, a great example of the wacky, fun, and wild ways in which people on mission plant churches to the glory of God. We find the story in the sixteenth chapter of the books of Acts.

In Luke’s record12 of the story we find some really interesting things going on. Historically, the church was planted when a group of men arrived in Macedonia in order to preach the gospel there. These events took place less than twenty years after the death of Jesus13. The actual details of the “church plant” are really intriguing. First, Paul and Silas had been joined by Timothy and Luke in the missionary effort. The band had arrived in the area of Macedonia as the result of some spooky weird circumstances. Basically, the Holy Spirit forbade them from going to speak the Word in Asia and then the Spirit of Jesus told them they could not take the gospel to an area known as Bithynia14. How this forbidding and preventing actually took place, whether by audible voice or spiritual impression I have no idea–but it sounds like these guys were dialed into the Lord. Think about how strange this is. The same Jesus who commanded his disciples to preach the gospel to all of creation was now telling them to sit tight for a minute. He had other plans for them and a direct assignment was soon to come. And come it did in the form of a vision. In the vision a man from Macedonia appears and asks Paul to come and help them and Paul rightly concludes that God indeed wants them to preach the gospel in Macedonia. With this clarity, the missionary quartet pointed their boots towards the region of Macedonia by way of the port city of Neapolis (see Acts 16:6-10).

As Philippi was one of the influential centers in the region on a prominent trade route, they traveled there first. Paul’s usual pattern was to share about Jesus in the synagogues, the center of Jewish religious life in the major cities along his journey. I don’t want us to miss Paul’s continued focus in the New Testament on urban centers as places of influence and impact; Philippi was no exception. Remember that Philippi was steeped in Roman Culture and although there were some Jewish people there, no synagogue existed in the city. Apparently the Jewish community was not substantial enough to form and sustain a synagogue at this time.15 Yet there was a small group of Jews and God-fearers16 who met on the Sabbath outside of the city by a river for prayer. Paul and Silas went out to this place of prayer and spoke with a group of devout women who had gathered there. It is at this riverside service that the first convert in Europe, a woman named Lydia, came to believe in Jesus Christ. From her description in Acts 16 she was obviously a businesswoman of influence and wealth17. Her companions and other members of her household formed the launch team or core group of the new Philippian church plant. Macedonian women had a reputation for influence18 and these women were obviously no exception. So here is a lesson for you—if you are a successful, influential woman, God may want you to be a part of launching and planting new churches among those who need to know Jesus. It is something to pray about.

From there a crazy little slave girl with a future-predicting demon (you used to see this sort of stuff on the Sci-Fi channel’s “Crossing Over with John Edward”) keeps running her mouth about Paul and Silas. After saying “These men are servants of the most high God” about four hundred times, Paul gets sick of it and casts the demon out of her. Big Problem. Her owners were making bank off of her demon’s fortune telling skills and they were pretty upset that Paul had ruined their capability to turn a profit. So Paul and Silas get a beating, get thrown in Jail, God performs a real and serious “Prison Break,” the jailer gets saved, his household gets saved, they all join the church at Lydia’s house and the mission continues. You can read it all in Acts 16.Being on mission with Jesus sounds a bit wild, crazy, fun, painful, and glorious; much better than the dead religion many travel in today. The bottom line is this: The same God who led these men and women is the same God who leads us in mission today. The same Jesus which saved Lydia, cast out the Sci-Fi channel demon, and caused a jailer and his family to believe, is the same Jesus which walks with us today. Get going to your place of prayer and see how Jesus moves when you are actually on mission with him.

The Mega Themes in Philippians for Our Day

There is so much going on in this short letter from Paul to this new church in Macedonia. We won’t unpack it all here, but I did want to highlight a few of the big themes that jump out from the pages of Scripture (Or computer screens; I love my tricked out Bible software). I’ll quickly highlight seven themes for our day:

Friendship (Missional Friendships)

What a great joy and privilege to be on mission with your friends. We are going to see this in the writings of Paul to the Philippians. Paul wrote to his friends: I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I think it is great to have these kinds of relationships, to live, to serve, to proclaim the gospel, with your friends. We’ll see this in Philippians.


Peter tells us quite frankly, that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). For me, I don’t want “opposition from God.” I have enough problems with my own sin and struggles to add God as an opponent. Yet how does one become humble? Philippians will give us the best example of the path to humility. We will have a two part series where we talk about this. The first part is entitled How to Make Nothing of Yourself. Doesn’t sound like the American way; but God wants us to go there. The second part will be called How to Make Something of Yourself where we look at some true greatness. Humble people seeking true greatness; God would have it no other way for us.

Suffering and Counting the Cost

God has a plan for each of our lives. Oh how I wish I could tell you that his plan only included happy days, sunshine, no pain. If I told you that I would just be a liar and would not be too faithful to the Bible. To be honest in our country where health/wealth prosperity preachers abound on the TV, we have lost the biblical reality that God uses suffering for our good and for the proclamation of the gospel. The mission moves forward founded upon Jesus’ sufferings on a bloody cross. The gospel is displayed in the world as God’s people live, yes even suffer, in a way that is hopeful, a stark contrast to the despair we see around us. There is no greater joy than following Jesus, delighting in God, and communing with the Holy Spirit. Yet, it is a way that includes a cross. I invite you to walk with me as we know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible we may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10,11).


Becoming like Jesus includes growing in holiness. Not growing in self-empowered legalistic piety, but Holy Spirit empowered holiness. The H-word is not a four lettered word; it is a word that means “like Jesus.” We indeed seek to be like him, we desire that we be able to see him more clearly. We must remind one another again and again that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). In Philippians chapters 3 and 4 we will be challenged to focus our hearts on what is good, right and true. We will be challenged to pray continually (however that works) and maintain close fellowship with God so our lives represent the beauty and holiness of our Lord.


In a world of unrest, pain, disappointment, temporary highs, materialism, busyness, betrayals, death, chasing worldly power, position, and possessions…How does one find contentment? Where is peace of mind and freedom for the soul to be found in the prisons we see all around us in this world? Paul found a secret; a secret he shares with us in Philippians 4. It is what we need more than anything, to have a soul satisfied while moving forward in mission. Life and satisfaction in the goodness and greatness of God – this is the hope of Inversion.

Joy and Rejoicing

Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! The words rejoice and joy are found in twelve verses in the book of Philippians (ESV). It was Paul’s deep concern that the Christian life would be one of joy and continual rejoicing. Rejoice literally means to give joy to…again and again and again. Oh how we need an inexhaustible fountain of joy from which to drink. We do not need a happy-clappy, fake, superficial, put on a smiley face life. But true, deep, abiding, God centered, joy which does not burn away like the fog in the face of suffering. GK Chesterton once observed something very profound about the Christian way:

The following propositions have been urged: First, that some faith in our life is required even to improve it; second, that some dissatisfaction with things as they are is necessary even in order to be satisfied; third, that to have this necessary content and necessary discontent it is not sufficient to have the obvious equilibrium of the Stoic. For mere resignation has neither the gigantic levity of pleasure nor the superb intolerance of pain. There is a vital objection to the advice merely to grin and bear it. The objection is that if you merely bear it, you do not grin. Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do—because they are Christian.19

We are not looking to fake it in life. We want to be able to grin in the face of kind or difficult providence. When things are good and when things really suck, we want a joy that can remain. In other words, we need a true joy that can bear all the burdens of real life in this fallen world. We must fight for our joy to be found in Jesus – no other person can sustain it. To him we now turn.

The Person of Jesus

It is clear over and over again that the book of Philippians is a Jesus-centered book. It is a gospel saturated book which tells us that the source of joy, life, mission and friendship is the person of Jesus. He is our example of humility, he counted the cost and suffered for us, he is holy and calls us to the same, he went to the cross for his joy and ours, and he is our great hope, our high priest who brings us to God. Jesus is more than enough to satisfy the longings of our souls. The other satisfactions being pimped around in our culture are sorry substitutions which leave us empty and dying on the inside. So more than anything, as we begin our Prison Break, as we continue on mission and seek contentment while under the arrest of a fallen world; let us remember this Jesus, the author and pefecter of our faith. He lived the greatest life ever lived, he took a brutal beating and died a heinous death for our sins, he showed us love and true joy, he calls us into mission every day, and he calls us his friends. To him this study is dedicated, and to him we look for our life, our hope, and our marching orders in this fractured world.

To the Glory of God and the Joy of His People
Reid S. Monaghan


1.Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (Chicago,: H. Regnery Co., 1954).
2.F. F. Bruce, Philippians, New International Biblical Commentary ; 11 (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989), 1.
4.Frank Thielman, Philippians, ed. Terry Muck, The Niv Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 15.
5.Gordon D. Fee, Philippians, The Ivp New Testament Commentary Series ; 11 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 25.
6.Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Electronic ed., Logos Library System ed., The New American Commentary, vol. 32 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001, c1991), 22.
7.William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians,, Revised ed., The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975), 9.
8.Fee, 20-21.
9.Ibid., 21. Emphasis in original.
10.The section in Chapter 2, which is written in the form on an ancient Hymn, has some of the richest theological reflections on the incarnation, God becoming a man, in the entire Bible.
11.Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988; 2002), 3:836.
12.Luke is the author of the two part narrative in the New Testament often referred to as Luke-Acts. Luke, a physician who was Paul’s traveling companion drew up his account of the gospel and then told the continuing story of the early church in the book of Acts. For more on the gospels and their authorship see the paper - Reid Monaghan, Dating the Gospel Tradition [Adobe Acrobat File] (Power of Change Blog, 2001, accessed August 8 2006); available from http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/docs/apologetics/gospeltradition.pdf.
13.Bruce, 3.
14. Bithynia, was a Roman province in the northwestern part of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bithynia for more on this region in the first century.
15.Bruce, 4, 5.
16.God-fearers or (sebómenos) were Gentiles who devout people who revered the God of the Jews. The following from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is helpful: The participle sebómenos (from verb sébomai, “worship”) and the cognate adjective euseb?s are generally used in Acts to refer to a class of Gentiles who attended the synagogue and observed the Jewish laws but were not full proselytes, inasmuch as they were not circumcized. (The usage in Acts13:43 appears to be an exception, as sebómenos is used with proselýtos.) This class of sebómenoi was the most receptive to Paul’s preaching, since circumcision was not a condition for salvation. Bromiley, 1:941.
17.Thielman, 17.
18.Bruce, 5.
19.G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Image Books ed. (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 104. Emphasis added.


Barclay, William. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians,. Revised ed. The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975.

Bromiley, Geoffrey W. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Revised ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988; 2002.

Bruce, F. F. Philippians New International Biblical Commentary ; 11. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989.

Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. Image Books ed. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Fee, Gordon D. Philippians The Ivp New Testament Commentary Series ; 11. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Melick, Richard R. Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Vol. 32. Electronic ed., Logos Library System ed. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001, c1991.

Monaghan, Reid. Dating the Gospel Tradition [Adobe Acrobat File]. Power of Change Blog, 2001, accessed August 8 2006; Available from http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/docs/apologetics/gospeltradition.pdf.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Chicago,: H. Regnery Co., 1954.

Thielman, Frank. Philippians The Niv Application Commentary, ed. Terry Muck. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.