After getting set up and giving the background, last week we finally started in the text of Philippians itself. When we think of slavery, we think of it in terms of what was experienced at the hands of wicked, greedy men in this country for many years. But we saw last week that Paul used the word “slave” to describe his attitude concerning his relationship with Christ. See, everybody has a relationship with Christ. Every single person has a relationship with Christ. Whether they acknowledge the fact or not, that Christ is LORD—but that the difference between the saved and the lost is whether that person acknowledges the fact that Christ is LORD in this lifetime—which is the only chance we have to do so.
Also, every single person that ever lives is a slave—to something. We are either slaves of sin. Or we are slaves of Christ. And when we are slaves of Christ, we give up any rights we think we may have had, we forget about what we think we deserve, and we realize that we didn’t deserve anything but to be cast into Hell because of our rebellion against God. But there’s also something else that happens. When a person has been bought by Christ, that person is His slave for life. I mentioned last week that was the case in Rome. But listen to this passage from Deuteronomy 23:15—“You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him.” Those were the words of Almighty God that He wrote in His law. When we become His slave He will never send us back to our old master.
We don’t like to hear that we are slaves. It’s not a pleasant thought. Doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. There are so many people that go through years of therapy because they don’t feel good about themselves. They have self-esteem problems. But see, that’s a problem that has grown out of the society that we live in. We’re taught that we’re the center of everything, and that the world exists to meet our needs. If you study early childhood development, or take a psych course, you will learn about something called “Maslow’s Hierarchy of…Needs.” I found this in a Wikipedia article about this hierarchy of “Needs”—
“All humans have a need to be respected, to have self-esteem, self-respect, and to respect others. People need to engage themselves to gain recognition and have an activity or activities that give the person a sense of contribution, to feel accepted and self-valued, be it in a profession or hobby. Imbalances at this level can result in low self-esteem or inferiority complexes. People with low self-esteem need respect from others. They may seek fame or glory, which again depends on others. It may be noted, however, that many people with low self-esteem will not be able to improve their view of themselves simply by receiving fame, respect, and glory externally, but must first accept themselves internally.”
Sounds good. Sounds good. Until you start to think more about what they're saying, which is this: “It’s all about…” Who? ME. It's all about...self. If you ever see a diagram of this hierarchy the one thing you will notice is it is shaped like a pyramid. And guess who is at the top of the pyramid? It’s all about my needs and my accepting of myself. And others accepting me. How did the apostle Paul think of himself? Did he consider himself to be a great man of stature in the community? Philippians 1:1, what word does Paul use to describe himself? Slave! He had given up any “rights” he may have thought he had. Because he had been bought for a price by his Master Christ Jesus. In fact, he says a little later on, at the beginning of chapter 3, For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more (Philippians 3:3-4 ESV). “If anybody could brag about their accomplishments, it would be me! I was at the top of my game, I had all the respect and admiration from my peers, I was IT! And it didn’t mean squat!”
If someone is not feeling good about themselves, if they are having self-esteem issues—the best thing they can do is say, “Thank you Lord!” Because if we are in Christ Jesus, we will understand who we are and who God is. And it is only after we see ourselves for who we are that we can see God for who He is, and just how much He has done for us. And when we get that relationship right, and when we understand that God loved us enough to purchase us with His own blood (Acts 20:28)—then we will take the focus off of ourselves and put it on the One we should have been putting the focus on in the first place—the Lord Jesus Christ! That’s why I think, it’s so important that we not water down that word doulos to mean simply a servant, but rather a slave—one who serves another with no regard to one’s own “rights.” Just like the word agape. Yes, it means love—but it’s the highest form of love, and it’s a word that gets watered down by the world.
well, at the end of verse 1, we see that this letter was written To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons. We have been studying the beginnings of the church at Philippi, how it began with a handful of women and one scared Roman soldier. This letter was written about 10 years after Paul and Silas met Lydia and after they were thrown in jail. And he wrote this letter to encourage the church at Philippi.
It is believed that Paul wrote this letter from prison in about 62 AD, (along with the books of Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians, together known as the “Prison Letters,” the books of 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus being the only ones written after this collection). At the time he wrote it, Nero was the Caesar, had been for about 6-7 years. Rome had not burned yet. And Christianity was still a little group of people who followed the teachings of a Jewish rabbi that was killed in 33 AD. As a child, Nero was adopted by the emperor Claudius. His mother’s name was Agrippina; she was the sister of Caligula, one of the most wicked men to ever rule any empire. We could spend a day and a half studying how Nero attained the title of Caesar, but we won’t. Remember those old miniseries on PBS, the Shakespearean plays about the devious plots to make someone king? Yeah, that. I do want to share this with you, however: Nero’s father made a rather uncanny prediction after Nero was born. One encyclopedia says, “On the birth of the child, his father predicted…that any offspring of himself and Agrippina could only prove abominable and disastrous for the public.” Nero was that offspring.
And when Paul and Silas and Timothy came through Philippi in Acts 16, word spread about this Jewish rabbi who was put to death in the region of Tiberius by the governor Pontius Pilatus, and how this man who was executed in such a cruel manner, was bludgeoned and scourged and crucified—He rose from the grave three days later? What kind of man could do that? And He forgave the men who did such a thing to Him? See, we look back on the crucifixion—and I don’t want to get too far into this right now, because we’ll be looking at it more when we get into the doxology of chapter 2, verses 5-11—but we look back and we don’t always understand everything that was involved in a crucifixion.
Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
Is how you see Him as He dies for your sins
But the word says He was battered and scarred or did you miss that part?
Sometimes I doubt we’d recognize Him.
(Todd Agnew, My Jesus)
If a person from Philippi could see some of the paintings that artists have done, trying to represent the Crucifixion—they would laugh. They knew what a crucifixion looked like. They knew that if you were nailed to that tree—you weren’t coming down until you were dead.
See, these Philippians had seen one Caesar die. And another one took his place. Then he died. And another one took his place and another and another and another. But none of these men ever returned from their grave, their tomb. Jesus did. In Acts 25:17-19, King Agrippa comes to see Festus, the new governor of Caesarea, the city where Paul is at that point in his life. And Agrippa says to Festus, 17 "When his accusers came here for the trial, I didn’t delay. I called the case the very next day and ordered Paul brought in. 18 But the accusations made against him weren’t any of the crimes I expected. 19 Instead, it was something about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who Paul insists is alive." The world doesn’t get it. It’s not about words. It’s not about “religion.” It’s about this dead man named Jesus whom we insist is alive.
As I mentioned one other time, many scholars believe that Paul had a deeper love for the church at Philippi than he did for almost any other church he planted. And we see why down in verses 3-5, 3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now. He goes on to say near the end of chapter 4, 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities (Philippians 4:15-16). Other than the church at Philippi, no other church reached out to Paul and said, “How can we help?”
The region of Macedonia included the cities of Philippi and Thessalonica and Berea. Paul refers to the churches in Macedonia some 15 times in his letters. Sometimes it was to tell the Corinthians that he would come to them when he went through Macedonia. But mostly he just liked to brag on them. Paul wrote 2nd Corinthians in about the year 58 AD, some 4-5 years before he wrote Philippians. Listen to how he praised the Philippians in 2nd Corinthians 8:1-5—1 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: 2 that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. 3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, 4 imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5 And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.
The churches of Macedonia did more than “church.” They didn’t try and come up with some nifty program to attract new members. In fact, in this Roman colony, becoming a Christian was scandalous. “You worship someone other than the Caesar? How dare you!” But Paul tells the Corinthians that the churches in this Roman colony were no longer submitting to the Caesar, but rather to the Lord Jesus Christ! They sustained Paul more than any other group. In fact in 2nd Corinthians 11:9, Paul says And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied.
So, we see that this letter was written to a church that had come out of paganism and Caesar-worship. They had contributed greatly to the work of the gospel. And Paul sets out to encourage and provoke these saints to continue in their faithfulness to Christ. 1 Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus Christ: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses this salutation in verse 2—or something like it—in every letter he wrote. Romans 1:7; 1st Corinthians 1:3; Colossians 1:2, etc. In all 13 letters he wrote, he says Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. What is grace? What must we do to earn that grace? Trick question. There is NOTHING we can do to earn it. There is no amount of “good deeds” we can do that will impress God to the point where He says, “Oh, look at all the good things you’ve done! Here, you’ve earned my forgiveness.” Who knows what Isaiah calls our “righteous deeds” in Isaiah 64:6? I think most of us know what he was literally calling them? When a person stands before God thinking that he is justified in God’s eyes because he has done a bunch of “good deeds,” without the righteousness of Christ—that is what the person is asking God to accept. “Here! I brought all these maxi-pads! Aren't they beautiful?” And all these “good deeds” are covered with the stench of human effort, and God will say, “Get this wicked man, and his filthy rags, out of here! I don’t want anything to do with him!”
I was listening to Paul Washer one time; he was talking about working with lepers. He said, “If a leper walked in the room right now, you would probably smell him before you would see him.” He wrote a Bible study called “The Doctrine of Man” and in it he continued this line of thought. He wrote, “One might clothe a leper in the finest white silk to cover his sores, but immediately the corruption of his flesh would bleed through the garment, leaving it as vile as the man it seeks to hide. So are the “good works” of men before God. They bear the corruption of the man who does them.” All of our “righteous deeds” are as filthy rags. Jesus said that our righteousness was to exceed what? Our righteousness is to exceed the righteousness that is of the law—because no one can be justified by the works of the Law (Romans 3:20).
So we don’t have to worry about works, right? Trick question! We are not saved BY our works, but remember, what word did Paul use to describe himself? Slave. Does a slave get to sit around the house all day? Here is why God saves us: to do good works—no quotes—to do good works that glorify Him on earth. Works that truly are good because they are done in Christ, through us. Ephesians 2:10—For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. See, God prepared works for us to do, then He saved us, sanctified us, cleansed us, so that we can go and do those works. We are not saved because of the works we perform—we are saved to do the works He has prepared.
But He didn’t have to. He would still be glorified if He had let each and every person go down to the depths of Hell. In fact, there is only one thing that glorifies God more than His sending everyone to Hell, and that is the fact that He saves some. 2nd Corinthians 3:9—For if the ministry of condemnation [that is, the Law] had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. God exercises His rights in sending people to Hell—but He exercises His grace (which is much more glorious) by saving some. It is for this reason that Paul considered himself a slave to Christ. If you notice, he never conformed to the laws of Rome, which made it illegal to worship anyone other than the Caesar. Because he was beholden to the authority which gave Rome authority. Remember when Pilate told the Christ, “I have power to crucify thee or to set thee free” (John 19:10). How did Jesus respond? Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). If I am in the Navy, and my CPO and tells me to do something, but the Captain tells me to do something else, who am I going to listen to? The captain outranks the CPO, so I am going to obey what my captain tells me. And by the way, Hebrews 2:10 calls Jesus the captain of our salvation. Paul was not a slave of Rome—yeah, he was chained. Big deal. He was in chains once before, in Acts 16. What happened to that? No, he was a slave of Christ. 1st Corinthians 7:23—you are bought with a price; do not be slaves—do not be a doulos—of men. It was by the grace of God that he was bought from his former master—that any of us was bought from his former master, redeemed out of the marketplace of sin to serve the Living God. Grace to you…
Let me leave you with this. Grace. If I have 5 minutes to live, I tell you I don’t know God. What would you tell me? If you come up on me, and you see me bleeding profusely, and you call an ambulance, and you know the ambulance won’t get here in time. And I tell you I don’t know God, and I need to be saved. What would you tell me? Would you ask me, “Well, were you a good person? How did you treat others? Did you do any good things?” Nope. I’ve been a sinner my whole life. I was shot in a drug deal gone bad. I don’t have time to do any good things. I can’t be a better person. And here I lay dying, my life spilling out of me—what works can save me? Three and a half minutes left. What must I do to be saved? Grace.