Greetings To A Loved Church

Philippians 1:1-2

by
Glen Tattersall

If God were to send us a letter, of all the letters written to the churches, which one would we rather receive? The letter to the Corinthians; with all their problems and divisions? The letter to the Galatians; with all the false teachers that were leading them astray? Or perhaps the letter to the Thessalonians; with brethren who were lazy and disorderly?

In all likelihood the letter that we would most like to receive would be the one written to the church at Philippi. A church that was commended for its love and faithfulness. A church that was basically exhorted to maintain Godly unity. As we consider Paul’s greeting to the Philippians we need to learn what made it such a dearly loved church and how we can apply those lessons to ourselves.

In around AD 50 the apostle Paul began his second missionary journey. Responding to a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading for him to come and help, Paul and his company departed for that region. The first city in which he preached was the city of Philippi, a Roman colony. In Acts 16: 11-15 we read: “Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.  And when she was baptised, and her household, she besought us, saying, if ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.”

As Paul did not go into a synagogue to first begin to preach, as was his custom, we infer that there were not many Jews in this city, for at least ten Jewish men were required to form a synagogue. Rather he went down to the riverside where the Jews met to pray.

The first converts in Philippi were Lydia and her household. The second lot of converts were the Philippian gaoler and his household, which we read of later in the same chapter. Apparently after Paul left, Luke remained for a while by the change from the first person in Chapter 16, to the third person in chapter 17. Until we read the letter to the Philippians this is all we know of the church.

Some twelve years later, when Paul writes to them, the church had grown from its small beginnings. This is indicated by the way the church was now organised and by the works it was engaged in.

Their growth is an example for us today. Although our congregations may be small in number our goal of growth should be the same. A growing church is doing the Lord’s will. Even though growth at times may be slow, we need to remember to do the best we can and allow the Lord to give the increase. As Paul writes in I Corinthians 3: 5-7: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”

A mighty oak is from a very small acorn, and great congregations grow from small faithful ones. Had the Philippian church taken the attitude of just keeping the saved, saved, then we would have never read this epistle. However it did grow, and grew to the point where it was scripturally organised.

In Philippians 1:1 Paul greets this beloved church with these words: “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phil 1:1 KJV).   We note that the letter was addressed to the ‘saints’ – the general membership of those who had been sanctified; the bishops – the overseers, pastors, elders; and the deacons – the special servants within the church.

This is God’s pattern for the church. The early churches were organised as soon as possible into this arrangement. We see this clearly in what was done and commanded: “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” And “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” Acts 14: 23 & Titus 1: 5.

Elders are men of high spiritual qualification (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9) who guide, guard, and care for the church. They work to protect the church from false teachers and doctrines; they help the church overcome problems; they provide leadership; and they are accountable for the spiritual well being of every soul (Hebrews 13:7). Deacons are also men of high spiritual qualification (I Timothy 3:8-13). They take care of the more physical, though necessary works in the church, thereby freeing up the elders to be about their work. Two of the reasons why the Philippian church was strong were firstly; its elders and deacons were scripturally qualified and working well. Secondly, the congregation respected, obeyed and worked as one with their elders.

This growth and maturity is what we need to aim for. We do not sin in being scripturally unorganised, in the absence of qualified men, but we do sin by not working towards God’s arrangement for church organisation.

A second major reason why the church at Philippi was so loved was that it was faithful. The church was doctrinally sound and stable. We know this by what the apostle Paul did not have to say to them.

Consider the problems that were plaguing some of the other churches. In Corinth there was division (I Cor. 1:10-12; 3:14). Whilst Paul urges his brethren at Philippi to be unified, it is small in comparison to what he had to say to the Corinthians. Also the Corinthian church was tolerating sin (I Cor. 6:1,2); they had problems with litigation between brethren (I Cor. 6:1); they also were abusing the use and purpose of the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:20-22).

To the Galatian churches Paul needed to warn them about doctrinal stability as they were giving heed to the Judaising teachers (Galatians 1:6; 4:19,20; 5:2). To the Colossians he had to warn them about leaving the simplicity of Christ to follow the religious practices of man (Colossians 2:18-23). Whilst to the Thessalonians he had to admonish them to discipline the lazy and the disorderly (II Thessalonians 3:6-11).

In contrast to these kinds of letters, it was a joy for Paul to write to his Philippian brethren. There were no great concerns for him to address (the elders had done a great job). His thoughts as he wrote were filled with warmth, joy, and fellowship as expressed in Philippians 1: 3; 2: 12a; 4: 1-2: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you . . . Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, . . . Therefore, my brethren, dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved . . . Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”

This church is a wonderful example for us. Today the church is under pressure for we are in a very sinful world; liberalism and false teaching abound; and there is the ever present tendency toward complacency. Church leaders need to deal with problems lovingly, firmly and without unnecessary delay. Some churches have paid a very high price for hoping that false teaching would just ‘go away’, before finally dealing with it, whilst others have succumbed completely. We too need to walk faithfully. If an inspired writer were to write to our congregation, would it be a letter of admonition and correction, or one of rejoicing and fellowship.

The third major reason why this was such a loved church was that it was loving. A faithful church needs more than just doctrinal correctness, something the church at Ephesus needed reminding of (Revelation 2:1-5). Without love, our scriptural knowledge and works are vain (I Corinthians 13:1-3).

True love is manifested by actions. If a man says he loves his wife but mistreats her or is selfish and uncaring, then his ‘love’ is all words with no substance. Similarly true love for the Lord and our brethren is demonstrable: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14: 15) and “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (I John 3: 17-18).

The church at Philippi demonstrated its love in a variety of areas. Towards Paul they sent Epaphroditus to minister to his needs (Philippians 2: 25; 4: 18). Towards their brethren who were in need in Judea, this Macedonian church though physically poor, they gave what they could to help (II Corinthians 8:1-8). And towards the lost they were missionary minded, helping to provide for the needs of Paul as he went and taught the Gospel (Philippians 4:15,16). By their actions they demonstrated their love for the Lord, not only in holding to sound doctrine, but also in their attitude and works. They are a wonderful example for us. Let us also hold fast to correct teaching, but also understand that knowing and defending the truth is only part of being faithful.

We need to show our love for one another; in our own local congregations, and also to our brethren in other areas. It is a trap to become insular and shrug off the needs of others with a “charity begins at home” attitude. Such is selfish. We need to help our brethren wherever they may be with physical assistance (including financial), prayers, encouragement, admonition, and counsel. We need to also help and support those who are taking the Gospel to the lost in other areas.

A church that demonstrates love and care towards others will be a church that is greatly blessed (cf Philippians 4:17-19). When we show true love, we abide in the Lord’s love. As Paul writes to his Philippian brethren from a Roman prison, the very thought of them encourages and buoys his soul.

Here is a church he began many years ago which has grown to stand on its own two feet. A church, which is walking faithfully according to the same Gospel, he so dearly loves. A church whose love and care has reached out and touched the lives of many. It was fitting that Paul should conclude his salutation with “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here is a church that we must be like.

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