The Gospel in Philippians

Please turn in your copy of the Scriptures to Acts 16.  This morning we begin a series through Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Today will be the introduction in which we’ll define this Gospel that Paul will refer to so often in this letter.  

In the 16th chapter of Acts we read of Paul’s first visit to the city of Philippi, which indeed was the first time that the gospel of Jesus Christ came to Europe.  

Paul, accompanied by Silas and Timothy (and from the first-person plural it sounds like he’s been joined by Luke) is on his second missionary journey when he enters Philippi, a leading city on the Via Egnatia, a stone paved road that ran near the coast along the length of Greece and westward into what is now Albania, directly across from Italy.  That road was the main connector to Rome and became the primary thoroughfare for Romans soldiers heading east toward the Mediterranean countries.  

We know from reading history that Philippi was an architecturally impressive city.  That it contained a productive gold mine.  That it was commercially important.  A city to be taken seriously.    

Aso, and importantly, Luke informs us that Philippi was a Roman colony.  It and other Roman colonies were intended to function as extensions of the city of Rome, reminders to everyone who encountered them of the might and splendor of the capitol city.  

To that end, everywhere in Philippi you turned you remembered Rome.  The residents spoke Latin instead of Greek, the common language of the empire.  They used Roman currency.  The residents of these Roman colonies were proud of the fact that they were technically citizens of Rome, even though they lived far away from the capitol.  

This Rome-centeredness of Philippi is suggested in Acts 16: even though the account of Pauls’ time there is brief, there are several references to Rome and being Roman (12, 21, 37, 38).  

In summary, Philippi existed to proclaim the glory of Rome and her Emperor.  

About that Emperor: as Paul traveled into Philippi it had been only approx. 75 years ago that Rome transitioned from being a republic to an empire.  When that transition took place, years of tension and internal unrest and jockeying for power that had characterized the late republic came to an end.  Ahh, what a relief – We no longer have to fight as hard over ideas – we can look to our dear leader emperor for direction.  

And so, over the years the emperor wasn’t just honored, but came to be loved, revered, WORSHIPED.  Throughout the empire were displays of this Emperor worship.  On their currency even.  Everywhere you went you came upon placards – billboards we might call them – bearing statements like this one in Turkey from a calendar inscription in 9 BC:

It is a day which we may justly count as equivalent to the beginning of everything – inasmuch as it has restored the shape of everything that was failing and turning into misfortune, and has given a new look to the Universe at a time when it would gladly have welcomed destruction if Caesar had not been born to be the common blessing of all men…Whereas the Providence which has ordered the whole of our life, showing concern and zeal, has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to it Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men, and by sending in him, as it were, a savior for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere…and whereas the birthday of the God [Augustus] was the beginning for the world of the glad tidings [good news/gospel] that have come through him…Paulus Fabius Maximus, the proconsul of the province…has devised a way of honoring Augustus hitherto unknown to the Greeks, which is, that the reckoning of time for the course of human life should begin with his birth.

If you didn’t get all that: Augustus Caesar is a god sent by the gods and his birth is the beginning of the gospel because he will be our Savior.  Through Caesar, wars will come to an end, we’ll have order.  Hello, Caesar; Hello Utopia!

The shorthand phrase that came to encapsulate this exaltation of the Caesars was Caesar Kurios– Caesar is Lord.  His arrival on the scene is the good news…the gospel!  Caesar is come and he’ll save us out of our strive and disorder!  Look to him.  Remember him.  Trust him. 

Although the expectation ebbed throughout the time of the Empire, Roman citizens were required to acknowledge Caesar as the world’s Lord.  

At different points during the Empire, every inhabitant was ordered to the public square, was to burn a little incense, and publicly say the words Caesar Kurios.  No big deal, right?  Just some words, right?  

One of the earliest martyrs in the church, an aged man named Polycarp, was on trial for sedition because he refused to confess Caesar as Lord. and the magistrate wanted to spare him from punishment.  He entreated with him, “What harm is there in saying Caesar is Lord?” 

There were positive reasons to confess Caesar as Lord because Caesar had already proven to be a Savior.  For instance, in AD 17, not far from Philippi, an earthquake in western Asia (modern Turkey) had destroyed city after city.  The inhabitants were in disarray.  Caesar (Tiberius) came to the rescue and, from imperial funds, built back better those cities.  Caesar helps in real life.    

So to summarize – and back to our letter – Philippi was a city dedicated to the gospel of the triumph of Rome through the Savior, Caesar.  The residents gloried in their Roman citizenship: We might be away from the capitol, but we’re citizens of Rome and our Caesar Kurios is leading us into a utopia.  We’re marching into the glorious future with him.    

With that background, let’s see what happens with Paul and the missionary team in Philippi: Instead of following his normal practice of, upon entering a new city, first visiting a Jewish synagogue, Paul’s first proclamation of the gospel occurs down by the river (13).  Probably because there wasn’t a large enough Jewish population there to warrant a synagogue.  

Anyway, at the riverside a woman named Lydia heard the gospel of Jesus –we’ll talk about that in just a second – and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (14).  Incredibly, she believed and was baptized…and the church of Philippi was launched.  Their headquarters was in Lydia’s house.  

The church that began with Lydia and her household– which would include family members and slaves – and later grew with other brothers and sisters (16:40) was PERHAPS joined by the slave girl from whom Paul exorcised a demon (v. 18).  Then the jailer and his household joined (v.33).  By the time the missionary team agreed to leave the city (39) there was a community of believers with some colorful characters among them.  

Believers in what?  The gospel of the Lord Jesus.  Jesus the Lord.  That’s the main title for Jesus Christ that Luke employs in his journal of their time in Philippi:

  • V. 14: The Lord opened Thyatira’s heart. 
  • V. 15: If you’ve judged me to be faithful to the Lord.
  • V. 31: Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved
  • V. 32: And they spoke the word of the Lord.

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus.  Jesus Kurios.  Not Caesar Kurios.  Jesus is the Savior.  Not Caesar.  Paul comes into Philippi, a stronghold of the strongest power on the earth that existed to praise that strength…and proclaims the Lord Jesus.  

And His Gospel.  Glad tidings about what the Lord Jesus has already accomplished.  

Let me summarize that accomplishment by quoting a pastor-theologian:  Christ lived, suffered, bled and died. He did this so that sinners could look to Him and be saved. Having taken them, and all their sins, down into the grave with Him, He came back from the dead, carrying them in His arms, but having left their sins behind, down in the grave where they belong. – Wilson

This is a Gospel of a Lord who had understood our problems at the deepest level and saves to the uttermost.  We don’t need simply new cities.  Humans, image bearers of God, we…were weighed down by guilt, were overpowered by sin.  In our sin-guilt we were the puppet of the Evil One, who used our condition to spite the Creator who had made us to bear His image.  You have made creatures of death, who spread death and then die in their sins, he taunts.  

But in comes the Lord Jesus, the Savior!  And this Man, by His powerful Spirit, resists sin.  He is true to the human calling in honoring God.  And He honors God all the way through His life and into His death.  He honors God’s holiness by acknowledging that sins against God’s holiness deserve punishment.  But He takes the penalty of that sin, though, upon Himself.  He becomes sin so that, by taking the sin from us, we might become the thing that God intended when He created us, the blameless image bearer, the righteousness of God.  

Jesus, victor over our sin and guilt by his death.

And through Jesus representing us in His death and taking upon Himself our penalty and thus quenching the wrath of God against our sin… 

and through representing us as He rises from the dead, re-creating us to a new life that is alive toward God

…we are reconciled to God.  Our God.  Our Father.  Who calls us Friend.  

And Who calls us “Partner.”  Yes, God has work for us now.  He brings us, restored image bearers, into the work that He’s doing in the world.  This is exactly what happens with our friend Lydia – she is baptized into the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  And then she urged us…come to my house and stay (v. 15).  I want to join in the work of the Gospel.

When we come to believe the Gospel of Jesus the Lord, when we are saved by the Savior, we are brought into the work of the Gospel.  But we don’t come to the work kicking and screaming…we want to be a part of the work God is doing.    

But perhaps more importantly, for us who are in Christ sharing His life – –   God has work in the age to come already in mind for us.  And even now, He is preparing us for that bigger task in the future.  We don’t know hardly anything about what that work will be.  We are told only that God is working in us to prepare for the work ahead; we’re being honed, refined, trained to do it.    

So, we are now working alongside God – in the letter to the Corinthians Christians are called “fellow-workers with God.”  And God is at work in us, preparing us for the greater work to come.  

God has been at this work in us longer than we knew.  He started a work in us before time began (not that that phrase makes any sense!) by the plan of uniting us to Christ.  He continued that work by giving us faith as we heard the gospel of Jesus Kurios: Jesus the Lord who by His death powerfully saves us from sin and alienation and the Devil. 

And the work of God in us continues as we work out over time what it means for Jesus to be Lord over our schedules and families and choices.  We’re doing that work but God is working in us to do it.  

As time goes on, however, an inconvenient truth keeps poking into our confession of Jesus as Lord:  We’re dying.  Our bodies are giving out.  So…God has started something in us, we hear He has plans for us in the age to come, but our minds and bodies are fading.  

We are joined to Jesus, He is the Lord Jesus – the strong one who rose up the victor over death.  He is the Savior who has carried us away from sin and Satan.  And yet our physical decline threatens to render our faith as pointless…weak.  

The pain and loss of physical decline are striking.  This pain is so real.  And it’s so bad.  Why doesn’t the Lord heal us?  Does the Lord Jesus only operate in the “spiritual” realm?  Does He not have power in the world of heart valves and hips and migraines?  

And then we recall that Paul is writing this letter from prison!  Oh no – how could this have happened to him?  Maybe this Christianity doesn’t work in the “real world”…

Sometimes…MAYBE a lot of times… our physical impairments and decline are induced and sped on by our failure to exercise self-control.  And this fact is also a strain on our faith.  And a cause for the world to shake its head at us.  If you’ve been saved by the Lord Jesus, why do your bad habits have the upper hand?  Is Nabisco the real Lord?    

Or you look at things more broadly: why haven’t we as a society been given the ability to solve cancer?  Or heart problems?  Or Alzheimer’s?  Or strokes?  We keep raising money to beat these devils but where does it all go?  Why is there so much waste and inefficiency in medical research?  The Devil whispers into our ears: If Jesus is Lord, why does He allow this corruption or incompetency or just plain ignorance that prevents you from moving forward as a society into longer lives?  

The decline and death of bodies can really gnaw away at your confession of Jesus as Lord.  Maybe this Jesus Kurios thing was a fiction.  Maybe we should have looked to Rome after all…we are citizens there.  

Or to modernize that: maybe our best chance for salvation is in Government.  More bureaucracy to make us more efficient.  Or salvation in self-discipline.  In Technology.  In Progress.  In Excitement.  Maybe the glad tidings, the gospel, is that Big Brother Surveillance or Big Brother Science will take care of us.  

Or maybe the real Gospel is the vague sense that we needn’t care for about anything except for status or pleasure…because everything’s on the way out anyway.  

I’m already a citizen of Rome and so I’ll look to Rome for the kind of salvation Rome is offering.    

Or even more generally: why try to rise above? I’m a citizen of the earth and thus I’ll look for nothing more than a full belly and then back to the dust for me.   

Maybe there’s no salvation.

But Christian, here’s the thing about those doubts raised by the decline and death of our bodies: Listen to Paul in 1:6 as he starts his letter to the Philippians: I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  

God began a good work in Philippi.  As our Acts chapter reports, the Lord sent His Spirit in His servant Paul into Philippi and immediately began working authoritatively: granting attention to, and then trust in the gospel of Jesus, rescuing a child from the demonic powers, saying “Stop” to the iron that bound Paul and Silas, holding Rome accountable to her own laws. 

The Lord Jesus has already decisively acted around and in the Church in Philippi.  His power and authority are the only explanation for people being baptized into the name of the God of Jesus Christ…and for that Church’s continued existence.  

And we in the 21st century could only add on the testimony of God’s having begun a good work.  In these last 20 centuries, throughout the globe the Lord Jesus working through His Church has started hospitals, conducted medical research, began schools, fed the hungry, banished demons, established towns and cities and even what we call civilization.  Saved individuals, changed them, and out from them changed families and societies.  

So, there has been a salvation unleashed on the world after the Resurrection of the Lord.  The work of God has started all over the place.  Don’t for a second entertain the idea that the real goods we enjoy are from any cause except the good will and grace of God springing out of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.  God’s work.

And Paul says, [God] will bring this good work to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  

Paul knows from years steeped in Holy Scripture and from his own experience that the Creator God is anything but a quitter.  He’s a God of steadfast love.  What He starts He finishes: in the globe and in the lives of people He has started to save.       

Yes, started.  Did we listen carefully to the gospel of the Lord Jesus?  Because there’s one final stage of our Lord Jesus’ salvation, the completion of God’s work in us, still in front of us,.

Let’s turn to Philippians 3.  And we’ll read v. 20, without paying attention to the context – we’ll get there in a few sermons.  

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.  

Did you hear what Paul wrote to these Philippi-an Christians who, though they lived in Greece, could call themselves citizens of Rome?  He says, actually… fundamentally… you’re a citizen of Heaven.  There – the place where your Risen Lord dwells now – is where your title is found, where your identification is certified, where your roots are.  

And from where your salvation will come!  Yes, the Lord Jesus will appear again and complete the salvation, complete God’s work in you.  Then, your memory will never fail.  Your hips and back won’t ache.  Your coordination will be exact.  The life of God that now animates only your spirit will flow through your whole body and out from your body and you will be glorified and then the whole creation will be set free.  

Right now, a lowly body…on that Day when the Lord appears, one like the Lord’s glorious body.  

You called on the Lord Jesus… and you will be saved!  

Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: