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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Invitation from John Piper | Main | Redemptve Blessings for the Elect Only? »

    A Thematic Analysis of Philippians

    Of all of Paul’s letters to the various churches of his day, there is perhaps none that is more intimately personal, while touching upon a greater variety of practical concerns, than his letter to the Philippians. For these reasons there is probably not a more comforting, and at the same time a more practically helpful, book to study. However, there are also few, if any, of Paul’s epistles that have a less obvious and systematically-laid out organization and theme than Philippians – which can make a thematic study, which explores the development and inter-relationship of the different emphasized principles, quite difficult. Most of Paul’s writings begin with fundamental truths and move to derived principles which have a direct causal relationship with the initial truths – and hence the whole work arises from bottom to top like a meticulously planned building, brick by brick. Philippians, on the other hand, is a composite collection of autobiography, exhortation, encouragement, general news and information, and so on. It does not move definitively from doctrine to practice, as so many of his other letters. It is more occasional, and develops themes somewhat more randomly, as specific occasions give rise to doctrinal and practical observations.

    This comparative looseness of structure can be seen even in the great disparity of opinion as to what constitutes the essential theme of the book. Is it predominantly about joy in the face of persecution? Christian unity and fellowship? The pursuit of Christ as the ultimate motivational force for all Christian acts? The pre-eminence of the gospel? Is it practical, or even possible, to develop a thematic basis for our reading of the book, or should we rather go about studying it piece by piece, without necessarily looking for explicit connections between the several pieces?

    In thinking through some of these issues, I have come to the conclusion that we do indeed stand much to gain by taking a thematic approach to our study of Philippians, which seeks to draw together all of the various threads into a closely connected and inter-related whole, with one overarching principle informing the place and precise content of every part. I would contend that Philippians is essentially an ortho-practical application of the gospel to Christian life. By this designation, I intend to emphasize, first, that the explication of the gospel is the one all-embracing purpose that governs what material was included in or excluded from the letter; and second, that this explication is not primarily doctrinal, but practical – it does not concentrate primarily on what the gospel objectively is, as does Romans, for instance; but rather upon how that objectively real gospel works itself out practically in all conceivable circumstances. As a twofold subdivision of this theme, I would suggest that Philippians seeks to display two foundational mindsets that derive from an accurate understanding of the fundamental gospel-realities: the first is joy in the fellowship of the gospel; and the second is confidence in the advance of the gospel. These two foundational mindsets are then brought to bear on a variety of real-life situations, and unpacked to the end that they may be similarly employed in any other situations which may arise.

    In this understanding of the internal structure of Philippians, chapter one, verses four through six, is not merely an introduction to the book, but a basic analysis of its essential content, which would then be unpacked by means of occasional commentary on the two elements mentioned therein. In other words, when Paul makes mention of his joy in the Philippians’ fellowship in the gospel, and as well his confidence that God would complete the gospel work in them (not merely the work of their sacrificial giving, contra some expositors), he is evidencing two foundational gospel mindsets, which the remainder of the letter is an attempt to expand and justify.

    In order to develop this train of thought, and try to trace the various interwoven themes of Philippians back to one of these two principles, I have constructed the following thematic outline, which I hope may be of some help in unpacking and collating the tremendously comforting gospel-principles which Philippians offers to us today.

    I. The Gospel Appropriated: Two foundational mindsets that derive from the nature of the gospel.
    Phi 1:4 always in every prayer of mine making my request for you all with joy
    Phi 1:5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;
    Phi 1:6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ,

    A. Joy in the fellowship of the gospel

    1. Fellowship with believers involves

    a. Emotional reciprocity
    Phi 1:7 even as it is righteous for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all partakers of my grace.
    Phi 2:17 Yea, and if I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all.
    Phi 2:18 And you also rejoice in the same, and rejoice with me.

    b. Evangelistic work
    Phi 1:7 even as it is righteous for me to think this of you all, because you have me in your heart, inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all partakers of my grace.

    (1. Shared prayers
    Phi 1:19 For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

    (2. Shared labor
    Phi 2:22 But you know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he has served with me in the gospel.
    Phi 2:30 because for the work of Christ he was near death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.
    Phi 4:3 And I also beg you, true yoke-fellow, help those women who labored in the gospel with me and with Clement, and others of my fellow-laborers, whose names are in the Book of Life.

    (3. Shared financial giving
    Phi 4:15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as regards giving and receiving, except you alone.

    c. Common reception of grace
    Phi 1:7 even as it is righteous for me to think this of you all, because you have me in your heart, inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all partakers of my grace.
    Phi 4:3 And I also beg you, true yoke-fellow, help those women who labored in the gospel with me and with Clement, and others of my fellow-laborers, whose names are in the Book of Life.

    2. Fellowship with Christ involves

    a. Partaking of his sufferings
    Phi 1:29 For to you it is given on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
    Phi 3:10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death;

    b. Partaking of his life
    Phi 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
    Phi 3:10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death;

    c. Partaking of his righteousness
    Phi 3:9 and be found in Him; not having my own righteousness, which is of the Law, but through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith,

    d. Partaking of his kingdom
    Phi 3:20 For our citizenship is in Heaven, from which also we are looking for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

    e. Partaking of his glory
    Phi 3:21 who shall change our body of humiliation so that it may be fashioned like His glorious body, according to the working of His power, even to subdue all things to Himself.

    f. Partaking of his power
    Phi 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

    3. Fellowship is consistently the basis for joy
    (see 1:4,18; 2:2,17,18,28; 3:1; 4:1,4,10)

    B. Confidence in the advance of the gospel

    1. Confidence that the gospel will advance

    a. In Paul
    Phi 1:19 For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
    Phi 3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I am pressing on, if I may lay hold of that for which I also was taken hold of by Christ Jesus.
    Phi 3:13 My brothers, I do not count myself to have taken possession, but one thing I do, forgetting the things behind and reaching forward to the things before,
    Phi 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

    b. In other believers
    Phi 1:6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ,
    Phi 1:28 and terrified in nothing by your adversaries. For this is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.
    Phi 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, cultivate your own salvation with fear and trembling.
    Phi 2:13 For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
    Phi 3:15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be of this mind. And if in anything you are otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this to you.

    c. In the world
    Phi 1:12 But I desire that you should understand, brothers, that the things which happened to me have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel;
    Phi 1:13 so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places.
    Phi 1:14 And most of the brothers in the Lord, becoming confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the Word without fear.
    Phi 2:15 so that you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. Among these you shine as lights in the world,
    Phi 2:16 holding forth the Word of Life, so that I may rejoice with you in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain nor labored in vain.

    d. To the destruction of unbelievers
    Phi 1:28 and terrified in nothing by your adversaries. For this is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.
    Phi 3:19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, those who mind earthly things.)

    e. To the glory of Christ
    Phi 1:20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that I shall be ashamed in nothing, but as always now Christ shall be magnified in my body with all boldness, whether it is by life or by death.
    Phi 2:9 Therefore God has highly exalted Him, and has given Him a name which is above every name,
    Phi 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly ones, and of earthly ones, and of ones under the earth;
    Phi 2:11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    2. Confidence in spite of

    a. Opposition from unbelievers
    Phi 1:12 But I desire that you should understand, brothers, that the things which happened to me have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel;
    Phi 1:13 so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places.
    Phi 1:28 and terrified in nothing by your adversaries. For this is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.

    b. Jealousy of believers
    Phi 1:15 Some indeed even preach Christ because of envy and strife, and some also of good will.
    Phi 1:16 Those, indeed, preach Christ out of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds.
    Phi 1:17 But these others preach in love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel.
    Phi 1:18 What then? Nevertheless, in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached. And I rejoice in this. Yet, also I will rejoice.

    c. Death of the physical body
    Phi 1:20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that I shall be ashamed in nothing, but as always now Christ shall be magnified in my body with all boldness, whether it is by life or by death.

    d. Past failures/achievements
    Phi 3:13 My brothers, I do not count myself to have taken possession, but one thing I do, forgetting the things behind and reaching forward to the things before,
    Phi 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

    e. All conceivable circumstances
    Phi 4:12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. In everything and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
    Phi 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

    II. The Gospel Employed: Three contemporary problems refuted by the nature of the gospel.

    A. Discouragement in unfavorable circumstances (Chapter 1)

    B. Disunity within the church (1:27-2:11;4:2,3)

    C. False Doctrine from without (Chapter 3)

    Posted by Nathan on July 28, 2006 12:11 PM

    Comments

    I don't think that Paul's confidence in the advancement of the gospel is as impotant as Paul's encouragement to the Philippians to stand firm in their faith in order to advance the gospel.

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