It’s difficult to exaggerate the value of affirming the Spirit’s work in a person through the gospel. This kind of biblical encouragement goes a long way toward moving fellow believers forward as they grow in Christlikeness. If done right, biblical exposition should accomplish this both for the hearers and the preacher himself.
That’s what happened as I preached through Philippians; the task spurred on my growth as much as it did our congregation’s (Ezra 7:10). Let me encourage you to preach through Philippians for five reasons.
1. Philippians will help your congregation to appreciate the power of biblical encouragement.
As Christians, we tend to be light on commendation and heavy on criticism. We sometimes get the strange idea that if we praise a person too much they’ll become proud. Perhaps. But the apostle Paul didn’t think that way. Instead, he sought out the praiseworthy. To be sure, he wasn’t afraid to rebuke when it was necessary (4:2–3), but he habitually looked for evidence of grace in others.
In this brief letter, the apostle commends the recipients no less than seven times. Paul praised them for:
- their partnership in the gospel (1:5).
- God’s sanctifying work in them (1:6).
- being partakers of grace in his imprisonment, in contrast to those who worked against him or forsook him (1:7, 17; 2 Tim. 4:16).
- their love and prayers (1:18).
- their progress and joy in the faith (1:25).
- and their kindness in meeting his financial needs and supporting the work of the gospel (4:15–20).
Pastor, are you and your church more critical than encouraging? If so, then you will all be helped by going through Philippians.
2. Philippians will help you, as a pastor, to appreciate other gospel preachers and value gospel partnerships.
Partnership in the gospel is one of the dominant reasons Paul wrote Philippians. It’s a “thank you” letter. He knew the Spirit was using his imprisonment and persecution to advance the name of Christ (1:12–14). Therefore, he valued other believers for their mutual love for Christ and their own commitment to gospel advance.
However, not all who preached Jesus did so with godly intentions (1:15–18). Regardless, Paul’s confidence in God to use the gospel—even when preached by faulty messengers—tells us something about his faith in God to accomplish his sovereign work.
Philippians doesn’t contradict Paul’s strong condemnation against those who preach a false gospel (Gal. 1:6–9), but when it comes to brothers whose motives and methods are not all that they should be, Paul gives some grace by making a conscious choice to rejoice that at least Christ is being proclaimed. This reminds us of the priority of gospel preaching, and ministry partnerships which are based on biblical unity, not uniformity.
3. Philippians will help your congregation look to Christ as the ultimate model of servanthood, which begins as an attitude, but bears fruit in relational unity.
Not accidentally, the apostle opens the letter by describing Timothy and himself as servants (1:1). Paul’s ministry wasn’t under attack, so he had no reason to assert his apostolic position or authority like he was forced to do in other letters (E.g. 2 Corinthians). Instead, he addresses them as fellow servants and partners in gospel work. He learned this attitude from Christ.
In Philippians 2, Paul lifts up the humility of the Lord Jesus for all to behold. This humility caused the Son of God to consider our need of redemption to be more important than his desire to clutch his rightful glory at all times, even to the point of subjecting himself to the most humiliating form of public execution—crucifixion (2:5–8). By applying this to the believer, Paul sets forth how humility leads us to esteem others (2:1–4) and to resolve conflicts speedily (4:2–3), thus preserving unity in the church. As the depth of the Savior’s humility will one day be rewarded by the magnification of his glory (2:9–10), so every believer can rest assured that God is in charge of exalting those who humble themselves.
4. Philippians will help your congregation to understand that knowing Christ and pursuing the Christ-centered life will produce a fountain of sturdy joy.
Joy flows from knowing Christ. Repeatedly, Paul makes this point (1:18; 2:17; 3:1; 4:4, 10). Knowing Christ, however, is not merely a positional change that takes place at conversion (3:8–9). It’s dynamic, a progressive movement toward a goal that won’t be attained until we see Christ in all of his glory (3:10–11). This compels us to work out our own salvation, while knowing it is ultimately God who sanctifies us (2:12–13); this compels us to fill our minds with truth and to discipline ourselves in prayer (4:4–9).
In Philippians 3, the apostle strikes the biblical balance between legalism and antinomianism, which is much needed today. He warns believers to beware of the Judaizers and gives testimony to his own inability to gain righteousness through the Law (3:1–16). But he also warns them about the ditch on the other side of the road: lawlessness (3:17–4:1). He calls them to live not for the flesh, but instead like a citizen of heaven. This pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” fuels our joy, a joy that is durable enough to withstand suffering.
5. Philippians will help your congregation to grow in their desire to participate in the gracious privilege of sacrificial giving.
Another reason to preach through Philippians is to help your church see financial giving as an act of grace and a privilege, not a mere duty. The Philippians set themselves apart by their testimony as the only church that “entered into partnership” with Paul at the beginning of his ministry (4:15).
To Paul, their gifts were a “fragrant offering, and an acceptable sacrifice to God” (4:18). However, what thrilled his heart most of all was the spiritual fruit that increased to their account because of their generosity. This expression of gospel-generated grace led to the exclamation of one of the best-known promises in Scripture: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).
In Philippians, the apostle demonstrates how the fullness of the believer’s joy is rooted in his relationship to Christ—in the event of justification and in the progress of sanctification. This Christ-centered joy fuels the believer with strength in the inner man to persevere through whatever suffering the Lord ordains for life and ministry.
Carson, D. A. Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Baker Books, 1996).
Fee, Gordon D. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Philippians (Inter-Varsity Press, 1999.)
Hendriksen, William. New Testament Commentary: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (Baker Academic, 1962).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Joyful (SP Publications, 1974).