[This is the mere introduction and outline of a sermon. Notice that a sermon is not a merely commentary upon a text, but is a means of changing how one thinks and desires. The application must flow naturally from the transformation of the heart. A good sermon and biblical counseling must have the same ends and means (Dr. John Street calls it ‘expositional counseling’).]
In Philippi, something had gone wrong. There were two women whose conflict had over-spilled the banks of their relationship and was now flowing through the streams of the church. The bitter water had reached into Paul’s prison, and from that prison he did more than resolve the issue, he set out to rebuild their heart.
Now, we have no idea why these women fought: Paul does not even mention the particulars of their conflict. But it is just that way with fighting: when the war is over we have the scars, but we don’t know why we drew our sword.
Paul loves this church dearly. He thanks God for them in every remember (1:3); he prayers for them with joy (1:4); he is certainly God is working in them and for them to the end that they will be “complete” (1:6, 2:13); he “holds in [his] heart” — which is an endearment he offers to no others; he “yearn[s] for [them] all with the affection of Christ Jesus”; they are his partners in the work of the Gospel (1:5).
Therefore, Paul’s heart must have been torn in two when he heard from Epaphroditus of the conflict. Sorrow upon sorrow had been heaped upon Paul, and now he had his friends in rivalry with one-another.
Now, if we were to seek to work here, we would likely put our effort into the facts of the conflict and the possible solutions. But Paul doesn’t go there (at best he leaves that for later, 4:3). Rather, Paul runs at the root of the conflict: They have lost sight of how the story ends.
Paul is no therapist or life coach. He is an apostle and pastor. Paul’s orientation is toward that Day:
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9–11 (ESV)
In Paul’s understanding, that Day transforms how he thinks about this day. His own imprisonment is redeemed, because it has “served to advance the gospel” (1:12). It is not that he is not under pain and pressure: in fact, his sees death and life in the presence of Christ as the only resolution to his pain. However, he does not shrink from the pain and trial, but rather can still rejoice for the cause of Christ’s glory (1:18).
He then turns to the Philippians and tells them that their suffering is a grace of God:
29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29–30 (ESV)
Paul is not merely seeking to resolve their conflict: he is seeking to remove the grounds for their conflict. Think of it this way: Come the “day of Christ” what will this matter?
Suppose a young lady will be married in a few months. It is the common lot of such women to work and sacrifice and plan and worry as she prepares for that day. She will deprive herself of pleasures and rest, and she will do so joyfully because she so anticipates that day.
Paul is preparing his friends, his family for “the day of Christ”. He thus works to recast their present troubles as future blessing. Like a bride preparing for her wedding, he tells that they may suffer troubles joyfully: not because the trouble is no trouble, but because the end is so joyous and certain.
Here are three of the means Paul uses to restructure their hearts, their desires, their thinking and willing and affections: First he tells them that end which they desire is certain. Second, he gives the example of his own life, how he willingly has lost everything in his work to gain such a day. Third, he tells them to pray, meditate and then act as those who are willingly preparing for that day.
First, the end is certain: Philippians 2:4-11
Second, Paul’s own example: Philippians 3
Third, Pray, Meditate, Act with Joy. Philippians 4:4-9
[In each of three sections, note the implied obstacles to believing and acting. E.g., in Phil 3, Paul speaks of his joyful loss of all things. We so treasure our immediate goods that we fear losing them and thus will fight to keep them. Paul counters that line of thought by explaining how he works through such desires. The second point, in particular, should do the work of responding to objections. Now someone here will say, But if I try to reconcile with X, I might lose Y.]