Looking at Paul’s letter to the Philippians in its socio-historical context, the following passages really come to life for me. I see direct application regarding the atmosphere and behaviors I would like to develop in my church Family.

Philippians 2:2-4 (NASB95) make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

It is easy to read this passage as a purely ethical treatise on relationships. If, however, I read this with an understanding of the intense social stratification in Philippi, this passage takes on some powerful implications for the kind of atmosphere in which the church should gather.

It is impossible to accomplish the vision of this passage in a typical Sunday service. If we are to consider the interests of the other person above our own, then we must know the other person. Therefore, church must be faithful to create environments where people are not artificially divided and where they can know one another and maintain the unity of Spirit.

Philippians 3:16-17 (NASB95) however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.

The demands on those in leadership are great, for we must live according to our common standard so that our lives can be a model for the brethren. Yet we must also keep in mind that this standard is not a greater one, but the same for every Christian. Being a leader is not a class privilege that sets one person apart from the rest of the congregation. The implications then for ministry are not that pastors do more; but that we model the exact kind of service we expect others to offer the Body. No act of service is above the leader because there is no class or social distinction in the Body of Christ.

Philippians 2:20-21 (NASB95) For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.

Not all leaders take care of the people the in the same way.

Interesting, how Paul’s criticism of other leaders is not that they had bad theology, but how they did not have a genuine compassion for the people or seek the interests of Jesus above all else—what a challenge to me in my own role as Elder. It is a challenge that no matter how much time I spend preparing a lesson, or preparing to preach, if I do not have the same heart as Paul, the heart of the Father, then we will not be a healthy church.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NASB95) Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I think all too often this passage is seen as the ideal for ones personal walk with Jesus. In context, however, this is really the instruction manual for the church’s interaction. We must not dwell on the things that make our church unique from all other churches or give us status above others in the community.  Instead, we must focus on the things of God. These ideals are more than words; they are the actions which each Christian should live out within the the church and community.

Philippians 4:15-16 (NASB95) You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.

Finally, the mission of the church is clear—spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To complete this mission, the church has a very practical role to play in supporting those men who would go out and establish new churches. Even in Paul’s day, not all churches were willing, or able, to participate in the mission of evangelism and church planting, but this church in Philippi did not miss the call. Every church today must also make this decision on how they will support the establishment of new communities of faith.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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