Paul’s letter to the Philippians is perhaps best known for its emphasis on joy. “Complete my joy by being of the same mind…” (2:2). “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord” (3:1). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (4:4). Variations on the word joy occur some 14 times in the book. But the reason Philippians is so full of joy, is because it’s so full of Jesus.
With breathtaking vision, Philippians compels us to revel in the beauty, satisfaction, and transforming power of Jesus and his gospel—the good news of what God has done to accomplish his purposes and deal with our sin through the life, death, and resurrection of his eternal Son, Jesus Christ. The gospel is in fact the book’s pivotal theme—more specifically, what it will take for the people of God to participate joyfully and unwaveringly in this gospel.
In other words, Philippians is about gospel mission and gospel community. This is the note on which Paul opens the book in 1:3-5: “I thank my God every time I remember you. . . . because of your partnership in the gospel.” And this is the note he closes on in 4:15: “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.” And in between Paul again and again strikes this note of gospel partnership—partnership in the gospel and for the gospel. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that . . . I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). Gospel mission and gospel community.
Mission and community have an organic relationship in Paul’s vision for the church. On the one hand, it is gospel mission that gives birth to community—through the gospel of Jesus we are both rescued from our sin (3:7-11) and refashioned into a humble, joyful, steadfast, unified people (e.g. 1:3-11; 1:27-2:11; 4:2-7). At the same time, community is a key medium by which we advance the gospel, partnering together in steadfast, joyful unity to hold forth the word of life (e.g. 1:3-8, 27-30; 2:14-16; 3:17-21; 4:10-20). But both mission and community are fueled by and hang together on the gospel. Jesus is the power (3:9-11; 4:13), the model (2:5-11), and the motivation (2:1-2; 3:12-14) for Paul’s vision of gospel mission and community.
Paul’s vision provides a challenging and yet thrilling call to the church today. Our Sunday morning series this fall and winter will give us occasion to explore all kinds of pressing questions about who we are and what we do as a church: Are we wasting our time with the gospel—can it really supply all it promises for life and relationship with God and others? Are we being distracted from our gospel mission by good but peripheral matters? Is it worth it when someone personally rejects me, mocks me, or takes advantage of me because of my efforts to advance the gospel? What happens to our community and mission when self gets in the way of the gospel’s centrality? Does the gospel really have the power to change us? Was it really necessary for God to send his Son to earth to rescue us? Are we really that bad? Is Jesus really that valuable? Is participating in the community and mission of the gospel worth it when life gets hard? Is the advance of the gospel a worthy investment of our time and money?
May we not only behold Paul’s vision for the church in Philippians, but by God’s grace participate in that vision of gospel mission and gospel community.
Click here for the Philippians Series audio.