If you will, please join me in turning to Philippians 1:3-5. Before we get to the text I wanted to share one more thing about slavery in New Testament times. I found this while I was looking up some background on the book of Philemon, from the John MacArthur Study Bible. This is under the “Historical and Theological Themes” section in the introduction to Philemon:
Slaves could be doctors, musicians, teachers, artists, librarians, or accountants; in short, almost all jobs could be and were filled by slaves.
Slaves were not legally considered persons, but were the tools of their masters. As such, they could be bought, sold, inherited, exchanged, or seized to pay their master’s debt. Their masters had virtually unlimited power to punish them, and sometimes did so severely for the slightest infractions. By the time of the New Testament, however, slavery was beginning to change. Realizing that contented slaves were more productive, masters tended to treat them more leniently. It was not uncommon for a master to teach a slave his own trade, and some masters and slaves became close friends. While still not recognizing them as persons under the law, The Roman Senate in A.D. 20 granted slaves accused of crimes the right to a trial. It also became more common for slaves to be granted (or to purchase) their freedom. Some slaves enjoyed very favorable and profitable service under their masters and were better off than many freemen because they were assured of care and provision. Many freemen struggled in poverty.
The New Testament nowhere directly attacks slavery; had it done so, the resulting slave insurrections would have been brutally suppressed and the message of the gospel hopelessly confused with that of social reform. Instead, Christianity undermined the evils of slavery by changing the hearts of slaves and masters. By stressing the spiritual equality of master and slave (Phil 1:6; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1,2), the Bible did away with slavery’s abuses.” (MacArthur Study Bible, pg. 1891).
In each letter that Paul wrote—he didn’t just write for the sake of saying “How ya doin?” He wrote because he had learned something about that particular church—that particular body of believers. He wrote the letter to the Galatians because he heard that they had gone back to trying to keep the Mosaic Law, that they had been duped by a group called the Judaizers whose sole mission was to bring Non-Jewish Christians under bondage to the Old Testament law—with its rituals and sacrifices—and convince them they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. And we find these words from Paul, the greatest teacher of the Mosaic Law—in Galatians 2:16—knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. And he spends 6 chapters going through in detail why we who are saved are no longer under the curse of the Law, Christ becoming a curse for us.
He wrote to the Colossians because they had been influenced by a group of heretics called Gnostics—who taught that salvation and entrance into heaven was gained by the acquiring of secret knowledge—“Mysteries.” They taught a system called “dualism” which held that all physical, tangible matter was evil, that Jesus did not possess a physical body of flesh, and that He was nothing more a being that God created, that created everything else. Which is why he told the Colossians, 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist (Colossians 1:15-17). He wrote to the Corinthians to correct their sinful lifestyles. He wrote the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus to instruct them in matters pertaining to leading a congregation, and what kind of man is properly equipped to lead a church. And he wrote this letter to the Philippians in order to encourage them to continue in the faith, and to thank them for supporting him throughout his ministry. This was one of the last letters Paul would ever write. Only Titus and 1st and 2nd Timothy were written after Philippians.
What would be the last thing we told our loved ones? If we knew our time was up, what words would we leave that person? There are people who have lost a loved one, and they sometimes grieve because the last time they spoke was in an argument, and their last words to that loved one were harsh and hateful. What about the last words of some famous people? Redneck’s last words. Last words of a worker in a nuke plant. What about the last words of some famous people?
Napoleon—the last word he spoke was the name of his wife. “Josephine.”
Former US President James K. Polk said to his wife, “I love you Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.”
Those are the kinds of words we want to leave those we love. Some famous last words of kings and queens.
Queen Elizabeth I of England—“All my possessions for a moment of time.”
Queen Louise of Prussia—“I am a Queen, but I have not the power to move my arms.”
King Louis XIV of France—“Why do you weep. Did you think I was immortal?”
Here are some last words of a couple of Caesars.
Julius Caesar—“Et tu, Brute?” As he was assassinated by his closest friend.
Caligula, who was assassinated in 41 AD, said, “I am still alive!”
To show how arrogant a Caesar could be, Vespasian, who would become Caesar 7 years after Philippians was written, “Me thinks I'm turning into a god.” Famous last words.
A person’s last words reveal much about that person. When they are faced with death and they have no more need to impress people, they are more inclined to show just who they really are. And in this letter to the church at Philippi, Paul shows these brothers and sisters in Christ just how he felt about not only himself, but how he felt about them. Starting with verse 1, going through verse 5, and I’m going to read it from the NASB—1 Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. And here is today’s text. 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. How would like to be remembered for leaving those as some of your final words? I thank my God in all my remembrance of you. “I thank God every time I think about you!” Friends, that is how the church is supposed to think. That is even what the world expects from the church! And when the world doesn’t see it, they call us hypocrites!
Think about that! The world sees us get in our petty little squabbles about things that don't matter. They see us bicker and argue over carpet and “We want to sing new stuff!” “No, we’re only singing hymns!!” And other stuff like that. They see people pull into the church parking lot smiling and grinning and “Praise the Lord!” Then they leave and—does anybody know what time during the entire week that waiters and waitresses dread the most? From 12:01 AM Monday to 12:01 AM the next Monday? The church crowd. People who work in restaurants hate it when we come in. Think about that. The people that these workers wish would just stay way—is Christians. And it’s not even for the reason it should be. It’s not because we bring our church in with us. In fact, it’s just the opposite. We leave it outside. We leave Christ on the church pew. So instead of seeing church as a place where people are built up in the love of Christ, the world sees church as a social gathering.
If I was talking to someone, and Steven came up, we talked for a moment, then he moves on, the person I was talking to would say, “Oh, you know Steven?” What would I probably say? “Yeah, we go to church together.” That's normal. But the church has lost its ability to make that person say, “Wow! You two go to church together? That’s great! That’s wonderful!” The person would probably just so, “Oh” and move on. The world sees church as a social gathering. They see it as a place where certain people get together once a week. They don’t know why we get together. And to be perfectly frank, there are many in the church that don’t know why we get together.
But how much greater would the impact be if instead of saying “Yeah, we go to church together” if instead we told that person, “Yeah, I know him. He’s my brother in Christ.” We don’t know whenever we let any word go out of our mouth, we don’t know if that is going to be our last word. Want to know what FDR’s last words were? “I have a terrific headache.” Then he had a brain hemorrhage and died. One Civil War general’s last words were “He couldn’t hit an elephant from that dist—.” He couldn’t even finish his last word! What would be more meaningful? If my last words about Steven were “We go to church together.” Or if the last thing anybody ever heard me say about him was “He’s my brother in Christ?” If the last sentiment I expressed about him was “I thank my God in all my remembrance of him.”
That was the sentiment he expressed to Philemon. Philemon was a wealthy man, he owned a slave named Onesimus—a name which, go figure, literally means “Useful.” “Come here, Useful! Hey, Useful, get me something to eat!” Kinda like in the book of Hosea, when God told him to "Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God" (Hosea 1:8). Can you imagine what it must have been like around that house? "Hey, 'You are not my people!' You about ready for school yet?"
Well, Onesimus escaped from Philemon, and under Roman law, Philemon would have had every right to punish Onesimus quite harshly. But listen to Paul’s last words about this slave—
10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains…12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart …15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord (Philemon 10-16). He said, “This man is not just a slave—this man is my heart, this man is our brother!! And I thank my God in all my remembrance of him.”
This “thanking God.” It was not just some flippant “Oh, thank God!” I think we all know what TGIF means. Of course, for some of us, it used to mean, “Thank God the weekend’s here! Now I can go out and get lit!” Come on, admit it! How many of us used to say that? What Paul was saying was a heartfelt thanks to Almighty God. It was the same sentiment he expressed in 1st Corinthians 1:4. Colossians 1:3. 1st Thessalonians 1:2. 2nd Thessalonians 1:3. Romans 1:8. 2nd Timothy 1:3. Thanking God for these saints, for these his brothers and sisters in Christ. Verse 4. Always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all… If there is one part of my walk with Christ that I am lousy at—it’s my prayer time. If there was thing I would ask you to pray for me, it would be for me to know how to pray when I’m alone. I don’t consider it drudgery, or “duty.” I mean, when I’m getting ready to do a lesson, I can pour my heart out. But as far as just sitting and talking with him and listening for Him—and I know a lot of it has to do with patience. I have a severely mutated form of ADD. I cannot sit still in one place unless I’m doing something, like reading or typing or studying—to just sit and be still—can't do it. And I know that’s wrong. I know that I need to take even a little bit of time to just listen. And it’s even worse now with school, I’ve got reading and tests and clinicals.
But look at Paul here. Always offering prayer with joy… Think of how many hours he must have spent just in prayer. Here are some quotes on prayer from some very godly men and women:
Corrie ten Boom
- Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.
- Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?
- When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy.
- The church will not get on its feet until it first gets on its knees.
- Some men's prayers need to be cut short at both ends and set on fire in the middle.
- The best prayers have often more groans than words.
- In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
- If I fail to spend 2 hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending 3 hours daily in prayer.
What about the apostle Paul? What did he think about prayer?
Romans 1:9—without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.
1st Thessalonians 5:17—pray without ceasing.
Ephesians 1:16—I do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.
Any time King David was trying to decide about going into battle, what did he do? He prayed. One time, he asked the LORD, “Will You give me victory in this battle?” God said “No.” David told his men, "Ok, boys we the day off."
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry, ev'rything to God in Prayer.
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry, ev'rything to God in Prayer.
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer;
in his arms He'll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there.
Finally, verse 5. In view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. There were obviously, from Paul’s language, there were some of the women who were out there by the riverside on that Sabbath. We don’t know if Lydia was still there. I think I've mentioned before that she went back to Thyatira, but I can't really say for sure. The only mention we have of her is in Acts 16. But nonetheless. They were participants in the gospel. Some translations say your fellowship in the gospel. Either way is good, but I think participation is a little better. The Greek word is κοινωνια (koinonia). It means “fellowship” but really, it means more than just getting together in a group. κοινωνια (koinonia) means “joint participation; the share which one has in anything; used of the intimate bond of fellowship that unites Christians.” In 2nd Corinthians 8:1-4, Paul is bragging on this church he holds so dear. Philippi was the chief city of the region of Macedonia. And he tells the church at Corinth 1 we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia…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. Paul wrote 2nd Corinthians about 6-7 years before he wrote the letter to the Philippians. And when he looked back, and considered what he had written, and when the Holy Spirit called him to remember how this church had done what no other church had done—support him in spreading the gospel—the Holy Spirit led Paul to write the Philippian believers, in Philippians 3:7-10, that 7 what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ…for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as dung, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. See that in verse 8, where it says I count them as dung. If you have a Bible that says I count them as rubbish--cross it out, and write "dung" in there. Because that's literally what Paul was calling his own works of flesh. Dung. Excrement.
“You have been there from day one, you have never flinched, you have been faithful, and I never stop praying with joy for you, for all you have done for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for participating in the partnership, sharing in his sufferings, sharing in my sufferings! I thank God for you!” What a way to start a letter! It’s not religion. It’s not customs. It’s not a social gathering. It is following our Lord no matter where He leads, and no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.