“I thank my God”—What an unusual way to begin a letter written in prison by a faithful messenger of Christ who is no longer free to travel and establish churches as he had been doing for many years. Surely he is a living example of the admonition he himself gave us, “In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). He gives thanks for:
A. Fond Memories (1:3-4)
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” Some scholars interpret this as meaning, “I thank God for you every time I think about you.” Others believe he is saying, “My thanksgiving is based upon my whole remembrance of you.” The two ideas are not exclusive to each other so itwould seem both are included in the statement. Paul could look back upon the ten years of his relationship with the Philippians as a basis of his thanksgiving to God. He surely rejoiced in praise to God, too, when he remembered his experiences in preaching the gospel to Lydia and her friends, when he remembered the joy of seeing the slave girl freed from the demon spirit which bound her, and when he remembered the jailer who turned from his religion of Emperor worship to serve the King of kings and Lord of lords!
B. Faithful Fellowship (1:5,7)
As Paul continues to enumerate his causes for thanksgiving he mentions their fellowship in the gospel. This is the first of five references to the gospel in this chapter (see 1:5,7,12,17,27). He expresses concern for fellowship in the gospel (1:5), furtherance of the gospel (1:12), and the faith of the gospel (1:27).
This fellowship he had enjoyed with them across the years was not only a sharing in receiving the gospel, but also a partnership in defending and establishing the gospel. Listen to Paul’s expression in chapter 1, verse 7, from the New International Version: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart, for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.”
C. Full Assurance (1:6)
“Being confident of this very thing, that He who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The Jerusalem Bible gives us: “I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes.” What assurance! Paul did not expect the saints at Philippi to “hold out faithful to the end” by their own strength or through their own good works. He had complete confidence that the Christ who saved them would also keep them. The evidence of the genuineness of their profession of faith would be, of course, in their living soberly, righteously and godly in this present world.
Let the reader who lacks the assurance of the saving and keeping power of our Lord carefully and prayerfully read John 5:24; John 10:28,29; 2 Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 5:11-13; Jude 24,25; and believe the message. Paul used the words “begun” and “perform” together in two of his other epistles. Note Galatians 3:3: “Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect (same word as “perform” in Philippians 1:6) by the flesh?” The obvious answer is the “flesh” could not save us and the flesh cannot keep us. Clearly, the same power of the Spirit that brought us our salvation from the penalty of sin is likewise the provision for our present salvation from the power of sin and the guarantee of our prospective salvation from the very presence of sin and the possibility of sinning! We can only exclaim with the hymn writer Philip Paul Bliss, “Hallelujah, What a Saviour”.
The words “begun” and “perform” are also used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:6, “Inasmuch that we desired Titus that, as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also.” It is evident the same agent (Titus) who began the ministry here would finish it.
D. Firm Commitment (1:8)
“For God is my record (witness) how greatly I long after you all in the bowels (affections) of Jesus Christ.” The Apostle desires so strongly to assure the saints at Philippi of his interest in them, and his love for them and his commitment to them in their joint-venture of getting out the message, that he calls upon God Himself as his record or witness to the truth of this statement. Paul uses this expression in Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; and 1 Thessalonians 2:5,10. No firmer commitment of a Christian leader to his loved ones in Christ could ever be made. So pure were his motives and so sincere his love that he could call upon God to verify it.