Philippians: Seven Positive Attitudes
Paul wrote the Epistle to the Philippians while a prisoner in Rome, where he was in chains and confined in a rented house. He could preach to all who came to him, and he could write (Acts 28:30-31; Eph. 6:20; Phil. 1:7,14,16).
This letter is very practical. It speaks about Christ, but not in a doctrinal way. The words “sin” and “sins” are not found in this epistle. There is nothing about justification, making peace with God or assurance of salvation. The word “salvation” in this epistle does not mean deliverance from sin as in Romans. It is used once (1:19) to refer to deliverance from prison.
There are three key words in this epistle – Christ, Joy and Mind. Christ is referred to at least 70 times in this epistle. Joy (and rejoice) is mentioned 18 times, and it sets the whole tone of the epistle. Paul sent forth from the Roman prison a triumphant song of faith and joy. The word “mind” – referring to a mental attitude – appears 12 times. Paul writes of his imprisonment, but there is neither complaining, doubt nor self-pity. Not only does he not murmur, but he exhorts us to “do all things without murmurings” (2:14 KJV).
If anybody had reason to worry, it was Paul. He was cast unjustly into prison. He could have been executed as a traitor. Even some of his friends were against him. He had good reason to worry, but didn’t. Instead, he gives us the secret of victory over worry (4:6-7). In spite of difficult circumstances, Paul wrote about joy, the peace of God which passes all understanding, and contentment. What was his secret? Paul could write of joy in the midst of pain because he had seven special attitudes.
1. TOWARD CHRIST
Two-thirds of this epistle’s verses refer to Christ. He was always on Paul’s heart, having a constant, supreme place in his thoughts and affections. As he wrote in Ephesians, Christ dwelt in Paul’s heart by faith (Eph. 3:17). Each of the four chapters reveals Christ from a different perspective.
In chapter one Paul rejoiced in Christ as his controlling principle: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). True Christian life and experience is to live for Christ, to manifest Him in our walk, to obey, serve, glorify, and be fully controlled by Him.
In chapter two, Paul rejoiced in Christ as the pattern of his life: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5). Christ, in His humiliation and obedience, is presented as the believer’s pattern. The One who left the glory, humbled Himself, took upon Himself a human nature, endured suffering and death on the cross, and is now exalted at the right hand of God, is to be constantly before the believer’s heart.
In chapter three Paul rejoiced in Christ as the bright object, final goal and prize of his life. In the energy of new life Paul reached for that goal, never satisfied with anything else. His supreme passion was to “win Christ and be found in Him” (3:8-9). Didn’t he already possess Christ? He did, and had perfect assurance of his standing before God in Christ. His wish to “win Christ” was his desire to actually possess Christ in glory. This is the goal that should ever be before the believer’s heart in the Christian race. Like the runner whose eye is not on his surroundings, but only upon the goal, so the believer is to look to the glorified Christ and press toward the mark.
“That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (3:10). Paul is not referring to his saving knowledge of the Savior some 25 years before, when the Lord stopped him on his way to Damascus. At the end of his life, Paul’s great passion was to know more about Christ. Christians love to talk, sing, and write about fellowship with Jesus, but it should be kept in mind that sometimes this fellowship also involves suffering. Many Christians are excited about knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection, but show little interest in the fellowship of His sufferings. But there is no power of the resurrection without the fellowship of suffering.
In the fourth chapter Paul rejoiced in Christ as the power of his life – One who is sufficient for all earthly circumstances: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (4:13). Because worry is the worst enemy of joy, Paul gives the formula to conquer it: “Be anxious for nothing,” pray and give thanks for everything (4:6).
Because Paul rejoiced in Christ as the power of his life, he could confidently use the personal pronoun “I” eight times at the end of chapter four in statements which define his rejoicing: “I rejoiced in the Lord … I am therewith to be content … I know both how to be abased … I know how to abound … I am instructed … I can do all things … I have all, and abound … I am full” (4:10-18).
In Philippians Paul used five different prepositions before the name of Christ. “In Christ” is found in the first verse of each chapter as well as other passages. To be “in Christ” is salvation; we enter this world in Adam, but when we receive Christ in our heart as Savior, we become divorced from Adam and married to Christ (Rom. 7:4). To be “in Christ” is the most emphatic expression of being truly saved. To be “with Christ” (1:23) refers to glorification – our departing this life to be with Him. “By Jesus Christ” refers to being filled “with the fruits of righteousness” (1:11). It could also refer to provision: “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (4:19). “Through Christ” refers to our being enabled to “do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13). Finally, “for the work of Christ” (2:30) intimates our service.
2. TOWARD THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit is mentioned twice in Philippians (1:19; 2:1). Although the filling of the Spirit is not referred to, Paul does speak of “the supply of the Spirit” and some of His manifestations are quite apparent. Only one who is filled with the Spirit, that is, supplied by Him, can say, “For me to live is Christ” (1:21). A carnal believer, under the dominion of the flesh, cannot utter these words. The cause of the spiritual life is the in-dwelling Spirit, but the character of that life is the out-lived Christ.
In addition to the word “joy” appearing 18 times, the words “love” and “peace” are also repeatedly mentioned. All three – love, joy and peace – are manifestations of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5 :22) experienced only by the Spirit-filled believer. And Paul associates these manifestations with the “fellowship of the Spirit” (2:1), believers joined together with “the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (2:2).
3. TOWARD OTHERS
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (2:3-4). “Others” is the key word of these verses. Others were the dominant interest in the life of our Lord who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). Nothing is to be done among God’s people in the self-seeking spirit of strife or vainglory, in the spirit of the natural man and of the world.
The true way – which characterizes the followers of the Lord who live by and for Him – is to esteem others better than ourselves in lowliness of mind, regarding not our own interests but the interests of others. To walk in such a manner is only possible with those who are born again and walk in the power of the Spirit. To forget self, deny self, and be truly humble – this is how we manifest the mind of Christ.
4. TOWARD THE GOSPEL
The word “gospel” is mentioned six times in the first chapter. Paul wrote of our “fellowship in the gospel” (1:5) – believers joined together with him “in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7). He looked upon his circumstances as God-given opportunities for “the furtherance of the gospel” (1:12). He was not concerned with defending himself, as he was appointed “for the defense of the gospel” (1:17). And twice in verse 27 he encouraged believers to let their “conduct be worthy of the gospel” and to “strive together for the faith of the gospel.”
Paul wanted to go to Rome as a preacher; instead, he went as a prisoner. Yet prison did not prevent him from preaching the good news. He preached the gospel to Caesar’s household and some believed (4:22). Paul exhorts the Philippian believers and us to “hold forth the word of life” (2:16).
5. TOWARD CIRCUMSTANCES
“But I would you should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places” (1:12-13). In chapter one, Paul said his difficult circumstances could not rob him of his joy because he was not living to enjoy circumstances; he was living to serve Christ. He did not look at circumstances themselves, but rather as they related to Christ. He was not the prisoner of Rome; he was “the prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:1). The chains around his wrists were his “bonds in Christ” (1:13).
Paul didn’t complain about his chains; he asked God to use them to advance the gospel in three different ways. First, his chains gave Paul contact with the unsaved. He was chained to a different Roman soldier every six hours, which meant he could witness to four unsaved men each day. Second, his chains gave Paul contact with the officials in Caesar’s court who were forced to study the doctrines of Christianity to determine whether Paul was guilty or not. Third, Paul’s chains gave courage to the saved: “Many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:14).
6. TOWARD SUFFERING
“For unto you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (1:29). Two divine gifts are mentioned here: to believe on Christ, and to suffer for His sake. We have no problem at all with the first gift. But how many believe that suffering for Christ is a gift?
If we know why God allows suffering in the life of the believer, we can understand that it is indeed a divine gift. When we respond to adversity with an attitude of submission, praise and thanksgiving, God will use it to: promote His own glory, enhance the glory of His children, develop their spiritual growth, conform them to the image of Christ, demonstrate the sufficiency of divine grace, cast them more upon Him, and bring them into fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. If suffering produces all these blessed fruits, it is indeed a gift from God.
7. TOWARD THE PAST AND FUTURE
“But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). “Forgetting those things which are behind” doesn’t mean we erase the sins and mistakes of the past. It simply means we break the power of the past by living for the future. We cannot change the past, but we can be changed by it if we have the right perspective and learn lessons from it. The unregenerate may be controlled by the past, but the Christian running the race is always looking ahead toward the future. “Those things which are behind” are set aside, and “those things which are before” take their place.
Some Christians are shackled by past failures, while others are distracted by past successes. Both attitudes are wrong. Jesus said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:62).
Paul likens the Christian life to a race with a purpose. Christ in glory is the goal which must be before the believer’s heart in the race. “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2). The Savior is to be the “mark” on which the eyes of those who are pressing toward the prize of the high calling of God are to be fixed. The eye of faith must be steadfastly fixed on Christ, looking to Him constantly, trustfully, submissively and expectantly.
We began by briefly considering three key words in this epistle – Christ, Joy and Mind. If we make these seven attitudes ours, our minds will change, our joy will increase and our lives will present more of Christ to the world around us. Let’s start today.
By Maurice Bassali
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org