To the Saints of Philippi
March 17th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
TO THE SAINTS AT PHILIPPI
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-17-57 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Word of the Lord, last Sunday night we brought the closing message from the Book of Ephesians. And this morning, we begin in the most beautiful and precious of all of the letters in the Bible. We begin with the Book of Philippians. And if you’d like to turn to it and hold your Bible open at the place, the message this morning is an introduction to this beautiful letter of love called Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi – the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians. And it begins like this:
Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,
Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy
And on and on in that spirit: the most beautiful letter in the Bible. So I say this morning, the message is an introductory message as we begin our preaching through this magnificent epistle.
Philippi is the name of a little place right in the middle of that ocean shore on the north side of the Aegean Sea. In the topography of the country, there is a rocky barrier that separated the East from the West: in recent centuries, the Turkish, Oriental Empire from Western Europe; in the days of the Greek kingdom, it separated Macedonia and Hellas from the barbarian Thracian kingdom. And that rocky barrier that comes down out of the north dwindles away into hills and, finally, into a little plain about ten miles long that runs down to the sea.
In the days of Philip of Macedonia [Philip II of Macedon, 382-336 BCE], in 358 BC, he built there a fortification on the plain in order to defend his kingdom of Macedonia from the wild and barbarian Thracians. And that fortification, that city that he built, he named after himself, "Philippi."
Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great [356-323 BCE], was himself a tremendous military figure. He was a tremendous man in his own right. It was because of the fear of the conquests of Philip that Demosthenes [384-322 BCE] in Athens came to the glory of his oratory and rhetoric as he delivered those tremendous "philippics." You call them "philippics." They were addressed against Philip – a philippic. It’s come to be an adjectival form in our English language. If a man delivers a philippic, he’s delivering a tremendous oration against something, anything. It’s a philippic if it’s against something and is in tremendous rhetoric and oratory. Well, that’s what Demosthenes was doing. He was trying to rally the Greek world against the tremendous military genius of Philip of Macedon.
Now, this man Philip had another reason for building that city there. They have long since been exhausted, but in the days of Philip, the mines around Philippi were most lucrative. They were gold mines, and they brought to Philip a reward of a thousand talents a year in gold. A talent is a weight about, oh, that one man could carry. So those mines around Philippi poured into the treasuries of Philip of Macedon enough gold to equal what a thousand men could carry in a year. And it was by means of that gold bullion that Philip was able to develop his army, pay their wages, and pretty well to bribe his enemies.
Philip had a saying. He was a shrewd, astute politician. He had a saying, and it was this – and it’s a famous one: "No fortress is impregnable to whose walls you can drive a burro laden with gold." And after reading about our legislators in Texas and our insurance companies in Texas, what Philip of Macedon said about impregnable fortresses can be said about men in high places. They are easily corrupted with money. That’s what Philip said and that’s the way, partly, that he built his tremendous Greek kingdom later followed by his son, Alexander, who conquered the whole world.
Now, I say this man Philip was a tremendous man, and he built there, in the genius of his military strategy, this city and named it after himself. Well, it continued to be a most interesting location. In 146 BC, it became a part of the Roman Empire, and in 42 BC, most any schoolboy could tell you, there was fought on the plains of Philippi one of the great decisive battles of world history. Philippi saw the last agony of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire. There on the plains of Philippi in 42 BC was fought the battle between Augustus Caesar and Antony – Augustus at that time was called Octavius – between Octavius Caesar [Gaius Octavius, 63 BCE – 14 CE] and Antony [Mark Antony, 83-30 BCE] on one side, the Imperialists, and on the other side, Brutus [Marcus Junius Brutus, 85-42 BCE] and Cassius [Gaius Cassius Longinus, 85-42 BCE], the Republicans. And the Republican army was defeated, and the Roman civilization became soon an empire with an emperor.
Because of the strategicness of that battle and its meaning, the Romans created there a free state, a free city. They called it a Roman colony, and they built it up with pensioned Roman soldiers. By "Roman colony," I mean they had their own government; they elected their own Senate; they directed their own traffic and ways; and they had their own government, and they were free from taxation. It was a little Rome in all ways like Rome, free as Rome. It was a little Roman city seven hundred miles from the city on the Tiber. Well, that’s Philippi – Luke says the most important city in that part of the country [Acts 16:12].
Now, a word about the church. If there was a great battle fought on the plains of Philippi in 42, there was another tremendously significant battle fought there in Philippi, in the realm of the spirit and of God’s will and work. Paul, in his spirit, desire – his personal choice – Paul wanted to take the gospel east: turning east, preach it in Bithynia, Pontus, turning east. But the Bible says: " . . . the Holy Spirit suffered him not . . . and passing by Pontus and Bithynia and through Mysia . . . " [from Acts 16:6-8] turning west, turning west.
Isn’t that a strange thing? Had the Holy Spirit directed him east, to the East, to the Caucasus, to India, to the Orient, there would have been, I suppose, the missionaries out of Mongolia and out of China sending the gospel to these white savages roaming the plains of northern Europe and the great continental expanses of America. But the Holy Spirit turned Paul around and suffered him not to go to the east but to the west and finally direct him down to ancient Troy on the seashore of the Aegean [from Acts 16:6-8].
Then that night, Paul saw a vision: a man dressed like a Macedonian – like you’d say, "Why, that man is dressed like a Scotch Highlander," easily recognized – a man of Macedonia saying, "Come over into Macedonia and help us" [Acts 16:9]. So Paul crossed the waters that separate the East from the West and placed his foot on the soil of Europe and came to the outpost of Western civilization, the Roman colony named Philippi [Acts 16:10-12].
When he came to Philippi, being Roman-Gentile, there was no Jewish synagogue in the city. So repairing by the riverside, down by the riverside, there were some women, Jewish women, who prayed at regular seasons. And Paul went down and spake to those women the gospel of the Son of God [Acts 16:13]. And the Lord opened their hearts and one of them a merchant woman, a businesswoman [Acts 16:14].
I call them "my rich women." They support this church largely. Without them, we’d go broke. Were it not for the business and professional women in this church, I don’t know what we’d do, Martha. We’d just be up here begging. That’s one thing we’d be doing. God bless these business and professional women.
Lydia was one of them. She was a seller, the Bible says, a "seller of purple" [Acts 16:14]. What that means is she sold goods; she sold material. If there was a king and a prince, they were to be dressed in all the gorgeous robes of state. Lydia would be there selling them the beautiful materials made in Thyatira, her city. Lydia was converted – this business and professional woman. She became a Christian, and she invited Paul and Silas and Luke and others in the company into her home [Acts 16:15, 40]. She must have had a spacious home. And they abode there and taught the people the Word of the Lord.
Now, you remember what happened – just by way of introduction – how that demented girl who was used for a soothsayer, being demented, they could easily control the strange intuitions of her mind. We don’t even begin to know how the mind works. That demented girl could fathom thoughts and whole lots of things that we don’t understand about the mind. And they were using her for a witch. They were using her to tell fortunes, to make money with her. And Paul saved her, and she became normal [Acts 16:16-18]. Of course, that infuriated those who were using the girl for funds [Acts 16:19-23].
Isn’t that funny how men do? Take advantage, using girls for money – use them all kinds of ways: make barmaids out of them, make white slaves out of them, using girls for money. May the Lord judge them. That’s what these men were doing. And when they found out that the hope of their gains was lost – every once in a while you’ll have a contest in a city over things like that. Why? Because they’ve lost money, lost revenue. They don’t care about debauching homes. They don’t care about orphaning children. They don’t care about enslaving people. They don’t care about filling graves with the bodies of men who’ve been destroyed by the things they sell. That’s nothing to them. They’re interested in money!
That’s what happened there. And so those men, seeing the hope of their gains gone, rose up, did all kinds of things and said all kinds of things against the apostle Paul [Acts 16:19-21]. And they put him in prison – beat him real good till the blood flowed down his back – and put him in stocks and chains in the lowest part of the dungeon [Acts 16:22-24]. And then Paul and Silas, instead of bemoaning their lot, Paul and Silas prayed to God and sang praises to the Lord at midnight [Acts 16:25]. And no wonder the prisoners heard them as the Bible said. Brother, anybody would be listening to that! Not very often you see a man rejoicing in the Lord over his misfortune: beat, and in jail, and put on the inside of a dungeon in stocks and chains.
Well, you remember what happened. The Lord came down and shook the whole earth! [Acts 16:26] And the door of the prison fell off, and the chains fell off, and the stocks fell loose. When God got through shaking that place and that jailer, thinking he’d be responsible for the prisoners that had fled away, started to take his own life, and Paul said, "No. Not that. This is no time for a man to take his life. This is time for a man to save his life" [from Acts 16:27-28]. And the jailer fell down before Paul and said, "What is it I must do to be saved?" [Acts 16:29-30]. And they pointed to the Son of God: "Look and live. Trust in the Lord Jesus and live" [from Acts 16:31]. And he believed and he was baptized; and all of his house trusted in the Lord and they were baptized [Acts 16:32-34]. Oh, it was a glorious thing, the founding of the church at Philippi.
Well, they loved Paul very, very much, and now Paul is over there in a Roman prison. And the people at Philippi take up an offering for him, and they put it in the hands of a young fellow named Epaphroditus. And they send Epaphroditus on the seven hundred mile journey from Philippi to Rome to bring this gift to Paul in a Roman prison [Philippians 4:18].
And while Epaphroditus is there, ministering to Paul and helping with the gospel, he’s become sick and he almost dies [Philippians 2:27]. He is at death’s door. And the church back at Philippi hears that Epaphroditus, their beloved friend and young servant, is sick unto death and almost gone. And they’re distressed, and they prayed for Epaphroditus. And they’re in agony concerning Epaphroditus who’s about to die there in Rome. And Epaphroditus hears about it. And Epaphroditus is even more distressed when he hears how the church at Philippi, the folks back home, are anxious about him – filled with care about him [Philippians 2:26].
You know, I can understand that so well. I tell you, I never felt in my life as I did when I was sick over there in London – just never did. And when I heard the folks back here were full of care about me because I was sick over there, I don’t know, it just made it twice as lonesome and twice as heavy. Oh, I don’t know; some of these things you don’t put in words.
Well, that was Epaphroditus. When he heard that the church at Philippi was filled with care and concern about him, it just made him so homesick and so lonesome, he just didn’t know what to do. So God answered their prayers, and Epaphroditus got on his feet and he got well [Philippians 2:27]. And the first thing he did, he said, "Paul, I want to go back to Philippi. I want to go back home."
So Paul says here, "I’m writing you folks a letter there at Philippi, and I want to thank you for sending me the gift, and I want to thank you for sending me Epaphroditus:
And now, Epaphroditus longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that you heard that he’d been sick:
And indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not only on him, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow seeing him die.
I’m sending him, therefore, back to you, back to you. He wants to go that ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.
[from Philippians 2:26-28]
So Epaphroditus leaves Rome for Philippi with this love letter in his hand. And that’s where the Book of Philippians comes from.
Now, a little word – our time goes so rapidly – a little word about what Paul writes, just the kind of a letter it is, because these next services, we’ll be preaching through this book. Some of the most glorious passages in the Bible are in this letter.
Well, first of all, it is that: it is a letter. Some of Paul’s epistles were treatises. They were theological, orderly studies like Romans. Another one would be like Hebrews, or another one would be like First John. They are orderly presentations of great theological truths. Sometimes, an epistle or a letter will be an encyclical. That is, it will be a general exhortation addressed to all the people, all time, everywhere. A letter like that would be like Ephesians that we’ve just completed: the Book of Ephesians or James – the pastor of the church at Jerusalem – or Simon Peter writing to all the diaspora [First Peter and Second Peter]. They were encyclicals.
But this letter is just a letter just like you’d write a letter. And it rambles along talking about things personal, and things in his heart, and the fellows that are with him, and the folks there. It’s just a letter like you would write to somebody.
Well another thing about it: it is a love letter, and it is unusual in that regard. Almost every time when Paul writes, there will be something concerning which he is greatly burdened. For example, in the Second Corinthian letter, he is personally hurt and greatly indignant [2 Corinthians 11:1-13:10]. And in the letter to the churches of Galatia and to the church at Rome, he is taking a tremendous stand against false teachers and enemies of the Cross; and he just blisters, and burns, and flames, and thunders [Galatians 1:6-10; Romans 2:1-16]. That’s the way Paul is in Galatians and in Romans.
In almost every letter, there will be some kind of thought, some kind of an appeal. There will be something said how they might change and might do better. In the Book of Philippians, there is not any of that – not at all. He finds no fault at all. The only thing that he points out is that in the church, there were two women. One was named Euodia – that’s the Greek word Euodia for "beautiful way" – one was named "beautiful way," Euodia. And the other one was named Syntyche, the Greek Syntuche. That means "good luck, fortunate." The Latin would be fortunata.
Well, these two women: "I beseech Euodia, and I beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord" [Philippians 4:2]. They were having a fuss in the church, those two women. Well, that’s always bad, you know, to have two women fussing in your church. It’s not fatal; it’s not mortal; it’s not conclusive. But, you know, it’s just one of those things that kind of bothers. That’s the only thing that Paul mentions. There were two women in the church that were just yapping at one another and just talking about one another and just on and on and on. And he says, "Now, I beseech them that they be of the same mind in the Lord" [from Philippians 4:2]. That’s the only thing in that church, just the only thing.
And, I say, it is a letter of wonderful spirit and optimism. And I want to say a word about that, then the time is gone. This thing of Paul’s writing and the spirit by which he speaks. He’s in prison here [Philippians 1:12-26]. He lived most of his ministry in one kind of prison or another. He was always in jail; he was always opposed. At one place, they’d be stoning him to death [Acts 14:19]; at another place, beating him with rods [2 Corinthians 11:25]; at another place, putting him in stocks and chains [Acts 16:23-24]; every place slandered and opposed [2 Corinthians 11:22-29].
Well, you’d think a man who lived his life like that would be under tremendous burden for the lot unto which God had cast his life and that, finally, he’d be morose and unhappy and miserable and downcast. Why, not at all – not at all. The whole spirit of Paul’s writing, typically reflected here in this letter: "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord." And the keynote of it, Philippians 4:: "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, ‘Rejoice.’" Now, he’s in prison when he writes that [Philippians 1:7, 12-16].
There are more than twenty times in this little brief letter that he will use that word "rejoice" and "be glad" and "be content" and words like that. And the way he will marshal them: "and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" [Philippians 4:7].
Now, you lose the picture there. That word phroureō refers to a military guard – a sentinel that marches up and down, up and down, in that day with a sword in his hand. "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall march up and down like a sentinel keeping your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" [from Philippians 4:7]. Wherever he looked, the Roman soldier chained to him, the sentinel out in front of the prison, all of it just reminded him of the guarding, keeping hand of God. And the whole spirit of the man is one of great rejoicing: "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, ‘Rejoice!’" [Philippians 4:4]
He’s caught the spirit of the Christian faith. Some of us may be sick, but we’re rejoicing in the Lord. Some of us may have the sentence of death in our bodies. We’re not going to get well, but we are rejoicing in the Lord. Some of us may have passed through the deep waters, but we’re rejoicing in the Lord. Some of us may have lost our fortunes, everything for which we’ve toiled and worked, but we’re rejoicing in the Lord. Some of us may have great discouragements, but we’re rejoicing in the Lord. That’s the spirit of the Christian, and it’s the secret of the Christian faith. Whatever: to be sick or to be well, to be rich or to be poor, to live in a big house or a little one, to be free from debt or to die in debt, to be disappointed in our children or to be happy in them – however, whatever, to rejoice in the Lord. It’s the spirit of the man of God: whatever his fortune, whatever the turn of his life, to rejoice in God.
Now, I want to share with you a thing that I read in my study that so wonderfully illustrates this thing of a Christian who faces a trial and how does he meet it. Through the dusty road of Galilee, there travels a Roman soldier with a heavy pack – with a heavy burden, a heavy pack on his back. And as he walks down the dusty road with the heavy pack, he sees, over there in the field, a despised dog of a Jew working with his hoe. According to Roman law, that man can be commandeered and forced to carry the pack of the soldier for one measured Roman mile.
So the Roman soldier brings to his lips his fingers, and with an ear-splitting whistle he attracts the attention of the despised dog there in the field. And the farmer, lifting up his face, seeing the Roman soldier and knowing the law of the empire, throws down his man-made, homemade tool in disgust. And with dragging feet and oaths under his breath, he walks to the road, picks up the heavy burden, puts it on his back, and following the Roman soldier a few paces behind, his blood boiling within him, hating every step of the way. At the end of a measured Roman mile, he takes off that pack in disgust, slings it to the ground and stalks away, goes back to his field. Because of the anger boiling in his soul, it’s hard to make that hoe do its work – the end of the day, trudges home and takes out on his wife and children the bitterness and the hatred in his soul.
The Roman soldier, happy that he’d made one dog of a Jew mad and at the same time serviceable, looked around for another one to which he could do the same thing and espied another farmer at the end of that first mile. And whistling again, he attracted the attention of the laborer there in the field. To his surprise, the man lays down his hoe and waves a friendly greeting in reply and comes to the Roman soldier and picks up his burden and puts it on his back. Without a hint of servility, he asks the Roman if he could walk by his side. And gaining permission, he talks to the Roman soldier about Rome, the imperial city, and about places where the Roman soldier has been and about all the people that he’s seen and known and the life that he’s lived. And in astonishment, the Roman soldier looks up and there is the end of a measured mile. And unconsciously, he reaches to get the burden from the back of the laborer, and the man says, "Sir, could I go with you a second mile?"
Gaining permission, they walk along together, and the laborer learns that the life of a Roman soldier is hard indeed and they have much in common toiling in this mortal world. When they get to the second measured mile, he asks if he might go a third. The Roman soldier denies, "no," and takes the pack from the laborer. They bid one another good-bye, and the Roman is surprised as he smiles a farewell to this dog of a Jew and even turns to watch him go down the dust of the road.
At the end of the day’s work, this laborer makes his way toward his little home where the wife and the daughter are preparing an evening meal. And the girl says to her mother, "I hear Daddy come, whistling as he walks. He must have helped somebody today." And the mother replies, "Yes, daughter, your father has been a new man ever since he met that Master who taught him the joy of the second mile." That’s the spirit of the Christian:
My eyes are gone and I can’t see,
But I am rejoicing in the Lord.
My health is gone, I cannot attend,
But I am rejoicing in the Lord.
I am poor and penniless,
But I am rejoicing in the Lord.
I am old and feeble and my life is spent,
But I am rejoicing in the Lord.
I have gone through the deep waters
And I now live in the night and the valley,
But I am rejoicing in the Lord.
That’s what it is to be a Christian.
Paul in prison to the saints at Philippi who themselves knew nothing but persecution and waste: "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, ‘Rejoice!’" [Philippians 4:4].
Even an infidel can sing when everything’s bright and happy, and even an unbeliever can rejoice when everything’s going his way. But a Christian can smile and a Christian can sing when his eyes are blinded in tears and the valley through which he walks is the very valley of the shadow of death. That is the faith.
We’re going to sing our song of appeal this morning, and somebody you, give his life and trust to our Savior. Would you come? Somebody to put his life with us in this church, would you come? I just echo the Word. It has to come from God, or it is nothing at all. God must press the appeal, and the response must be to the Lord. We’re just voices; that’s all.
If God bids you here, would you come? "This is of the Lord, and here I am; give you my hand, my heart have I given to God. I want to come into the fellowship of the church, the whole family of us, and here we are." If the Lord bid you come, would you? And make it now while we stand and while we sing.
TO THE SAINTS AT PHILIPPI
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The history of the city
A. Rocky barrier that separated East from West
B. Philip of Macedon built fortification on the plain in order to defend his kingdom of Macedonia from barbarian Thracians; named it after himself
1. Gold mines around Philippi brought reward of thousand talents a year
C. Became part of Roman Empire in 146 BC
1. On the plains of Philippi in 42 BC was fought the battle between Augustus Caesar and Antony, and Brutus and Cassius
2. Romans created there a free city; a little Rome, free as Rome
II. The history of the church
A. Tremendously significant battle fought here in the realm of the spirit and of God’s will and work
1. Paul wanted to evangelize Asia Minor, East – the Holy Spirit turned himWest
B. Paul meets Lydia and the women at Philippi(Acts 16)
C. Paul saved demented girl being used as a witch to make money
1. The men seeing their hope of gains gone, rose up against Paul, beat him and put him in stocks and chains in prison
2. Paul and Silas in prison prayed to God and sang praises at midnight
a. The Lord shook the earth and they were freed, but did not run away
b. Jailer was converted, and all his household
III. The occasion of the epistle
A. People at Philippi take up an offering for Paul, who is in Roman prison, and send Epaphroditus to Rome to bring the gift to Paul
1. While there Epaphroditus becomes sick, almost dies
2. Church at Philippi hears he is sick and are distressed and in agony
3. Epaphroditus even more distressed when he hears how they are anxious about him
4. God answered their prayers and he got well
B. Paul sends Epaphtroditus back to Philippi with a letter for the people – our Book of Philippians (Philippians 2:27-28)
IV. Characteristics and content of the epistle
A. A letter, not a treatise like other of Paul’s writings
1. Not encyclical; it was just a letter
B. A letter of love
1. Other writings of Paul concern things about which he is greatly burdened
a. In almost every letter there will be some kind of appeal
2. In this letter he finds no fault at all
a. Only mentions one small personal difference – Euodia and Syntyche
C. A letter of joy
1. Has a wonderful spirit and optimism
2. Uses word "rejoice" more than twenty times in this letter(Philippians 4:4, 7)
3. The second mile