The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church at Philippi from prison. Paul faced a number of adversaries during his life, and it is not clear what situation led to Paul’s imprisonment. It does not matter; his life is in Rome’s hands now, or so it seems. Yet so confident is Paul in the power of God – greater than the power of Rome, greater than even the power of death itself – that he is willing if necessary to surrender his life for the sake of the gospel.
Paul’s courageous stand is having a remarkable effect: members of the elite Praetorian guard – soldiers closest to the center of power – are learning about Jesus. Just as significantly, other believers have been inspired to be bold in their faith.
As we read the opening of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it’s easy to think of Paul as a lone hero, as God’s champion facing down the Roman empire in a daring act of faith. In many respects, courage is an individual virtue; no one can make your most important decisions for you. When trouble comes, one’s real character is revealed. When one’s life is on the line, what one really values becomes very clear.
Yet Paul did not think of himself as a lone hero of the faith. The Philippian Christians are “partakers” (sugkoinonos) with Paul in grace, imprisonment and the confirmation of the gospel (Philippians 1:7). They are engaged in the same conflict in which Paul finds himself (Philippians 1:30). Together with Paul, the Philippian Christians are citizens of God’s kingdom, a fact that is even more significant than their shared Roman citizenship. Paul calls the Philippian Christians to live out their heavenly citizenship in a manner that befits the gospel and their Lord. In particular, as citizens of God’s kingdom believers are to “stand firm” and “strive for victory together” (sunathleo) without fear until the enemy is destroyed. (Philippians 1:27-28).
Let us look, then, at four themes that run through this part of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:
- Opponents of the Gospel
- Hope in the Face of Death
- Living as Citizens of God’s Kingdom
- Side by Side in the Line of Battle
Related on Philippians 4:4-9: