By Christopher VanDusen
Are you a joyful Christian? Are you united with a local church? Are you obsessed with the gospel?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then you need the teaching contained in the apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.
Philippians is a missionary report letter that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, a Roman colony in northern Greece, while he was imprisoned in Rome, and waiting for the result of his appeal to Caesar for release. In it, he encourages the Philippians to rejoice in all circumstances, to live for Christ’s glory, to imitate Christ, and to strive to work together to spread the gospel.
In the 2015 book, Joyful Unity in the Gospel: The Call of Philippians by pastor A. Blake White, White shows that there are at least three main themes in Philippians: joy from the gospel, unity from the gospel, and the gospel itself.
Historical Background of the Letter
White begins by giving an overview of the history of the Philippian church, based on the account of its founding in the Book of Acts. In his introduction, he describes the stories of three people that are found there — Lydia, the Jewish seller of fabric, the demon-possessed slave-girl, and the jailer. He emphasizes that these stories show that the gospel reaches every type of person, and unites them all because of it. Then, he applies this truth to us today, and says that this is one of the things that Philippians is all about — the joyful unity that people have because of the gospel that saved them.
Thanksgiving for the Philippians
In the second chapter, White explains Paul’s introduction to the letter, including his greeting and thanksgiving. First, he focuses on the identity of Paul and Timothy as slaves of Christ. Then, he zeroes in on Paul’s mention of the “overseers and deacons”, explaining what those offices are. Third, he expounds the significance of the trinitarian wish that Paul always gives at the beginning of his letters. Finally, he devotes much space to explaining the importance of thankfulness and Paul’s frequency of prayer.
In the third chapter, White does a detailed analysis of Paul’s prayers for the Philippians. He starts by explaining who it is that Paul prays for. Next, he highlights the fact that Paul prayed with affection for the Philippians. Then, he explains Paul’s prayer for the Philippians’ love to grow. Lastly, he develops Paul’s intention that the Philippians “approve the things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:10 NASB).
Trials in Christ’s Kingdom
In his fourth chapter, White expounds Paul’s description of his imprisonment, and its results for Christ’s kingdom. He first details the fact that Christians go through persecution, and are to deal with it by trusting in God. Second, he shows from an event in history that persecution in the Christian’s life can lead to the expansion of Christ’s kingdom through the salvation of His enemies. Third, he points out that Paul’s imprisonment helped other Christians to be more bold in sharing the gospel. Then, he notes that Paul rejoiced in the preaching of the gospel, even if the preachers were doing it to harm him.
In the fifth chapter, White does a good job of emphasizing the passage in which Paul says, “for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21 NASB). He shows that Christ is the One for whom all people, especially Christians, ought to live for. Then, he explains the essential nature of seeing death as a gain to the Christian.
Living Worthy of the Gospel
In the sixth chapter, White goes through Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians that they live worthy of the gospel. Of course, he highlights the importance of unity in Paul’s exhortation. Also, he takes a lot of time explaining how Christians are to deal with suffering, since Paul explicitly says that God has granted them suffering (Phil. 1:29).
The Jesus Mindset
In the seventh chapter, White sets forth what he calls “the Jesus mindset”, which is the “attitude” that Paul urges the Philippians to have, and illustrates through the life of Christ. He breaks up this passage in chapter 2 of the letter into the exhortation itself, and then the example of Jesus.
The Christ Hymn
In the eighth chapter, White analyzes the passage describing Christ’s life as the example of Christian humility and service. First, he explains the incarnation. Then, he hits on Christ’s humiliation. Finally, he explains Christ’s exaltation.
In the ninth chapter, White exposits Paul’s exhortation to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12 NASB). He first distinguishes between earning salvation and working out salvation. Then, he explains exactly what Paul means by “working out” salvation, and Paul’s reasoning for doing so.
Holding Firmly to the Gospel
In the tenth chapter, White explains a passage that concludes Philippians 2. He begins with Paul’s exhortation to hold fast to the gospel, and Paul’s interest in the Philippians’ success in this. Then, he devotes the rest of the chapter to expounding Paul’s description of the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus, pointing out that good examples of mature Christians are important in our Christian life.
The True Jews
In the eleventh chapter, White goes over Paul’s argument that Christians are the “true circumcision”, or spiritual Jews, in contrast to the ethnic Jews who were teaching salvation by works — known as the “Judaizers” (Phil. 3:3 NASB). He goes into great detail in showing that many places in the New Testament clearly show that the church is the fulfillment of the Old Testament nation of Israel, and is thus spiritual, or true, Israel.
Christ is Everything
In the twelfth chapter, White describes Paul’s non-Christian life and his conversion that changed his whole way of thinking. He clearly expounds what justification truly is from the Philippians passage, and then ends with the importance of the resurrection from the dead.
Reaching for the Resurrection
In the thirteenth chapter, White goes over the end of Philippians 3 by highlighting Christian citizenship and resurrection hope. He explains the historical background of Paul’s reference to heavenly citizenship, and of Christ’s return from heaven as Lord and Savior.
Stand Firm Together
In the fourteenth chapter, White explains the first major section of Philippians 4. He begins by explaining church unity again. Then, he highlights Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). Finally, he spends a lot of time explaining Paul’s exhortation to pray instead of worry.
Thinking, Giving, and Being Content
In his last chapter, White covers the remainder of Philippians. He first briefly explains Paul’s exhortation to dwell on excellent things. Then, he points out Paul’s appreciation and value of Christian generosity, and applies it to American evangelicals. Next, he spends a great deal of time going over being content in all circumstances, and points out some things that often make Christians discontent. To conclude the whole book, he explains Paul’s mention of “those of Caesar’s household” who have been saved, and exhorts Christians to thinking right, being generous, and being content (Phil. 4:22).
This book is short (a few hour read), easy to understand, and filled with illustrations and examples. Rather than an in-depth commentary or exposition, this is more of a devotional commentary that does a brief overview of Philippians. It is very well-researched, and very practical.
If you want to learn how to have joyful unity in the gospel, then this is a very good book to read. Just make sure you don’t rely upon it to fully understand and learn the book of Philippians. If you want to do that, then study and meditate on Philippians itself. You can get White’s book from Amazon for about $13 (US).
By the way, if you don’t know what the gospel is, it’s this message:
God sent His divine Son to become a man, Jesus of Nazareth, to live the perfect life, and then made Him be hung on a Roman cross to suffer and die as punishment for our rebellion against Him. Then, He raised Him from the dead and took Him into heaven as our King. He now commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Jesus as their Substitute and Lord to receive His forgiveness because He’s sending Him soon to punish His enemies for all their sins against Him. Please repent and trust in Christ alone to be saved from God’s wrath, and be reconciled to Him.