When Paul and Silas (and Timothy and Luke) first preach the Gospel to Lydia and her friends in the Roman colony of Philippi, two things are abundantly clear: (1) God is absolutely in control, and (2) these people are completely engaged in what God is doing.

Paul does not get credit for deciding to take the Good News to Europe: The Holy Spirit literally kicks him out of the Near East and clearly guides him to Macedonia. Paul does not get credit for having a business plan that works when they get to Philippi. Paul cannot follow his regular pattern of starting at the local synagogue on the Sabbath because the Roman city of Philippi does not have a synagogue. So, Paul and company end up at a women’s Saturday morning riverside bible study and prayer meeting. And although Lydia, a Gentile, was a God-fearer, she does not get any credit for her faith: “The Holy Spirit opened Lydia’s heart to pay attention to Paul’s message” (see Acts 16 for the details). When it comes to the founding of the Philippian church, God is absolutely in control.

At the same time, these people are actively engaged in the Gospel business. In Acts 16 alone, Paul and Silas will be stripped, beaten, and thrown in prison because of their Gospel activity. Once the Spirit opens her heart, Lydia jumps in with both feet. Her entire household is baptized, and she insists her house be the home base of Gospel operations in the region. In fact, this is where the believers meet when Paul and Silas get out of prison. God is absolutely in control and these people are actively engaged in the grace work God is doing.

God is absolutely in control and these people are actively engaged in the grace work God is doing.

The origin of the Philippian church sheds light on the opening of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul is following a fairly standard opening gambit, with a salutation and a thanksgiving which spills over into prayer. But embedded in this standard formula we can see a dual theme that has been lived-out in Philippi from the very beginning: (1) God is in control, and (2) you are actively engaged.

Paul’s overwhelming sense of joy and thanksgiving flows from what he calls the Philippian “partnership in the Gospel” (verse 5). From the context of the letter as a whole, we know this partnership includes both the activity and the financial support that go into the business of spreading the Good News. From the “very beginning” of their engagement with the grace of God in Jesus Christ, the Philippians have been actively involved in supporting and participating in the expansion of the Kingdom.

In the next breath, Paul reminds his dear, dear friends that even their partnership from the beginning had its origin in God’s work, not theirs: “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (verse 6). Both the origin and the completion of the excellent work of salvation belongs to the work of the Spirit in us. From first to last, God is in control.

And, from first to last, we are actively engaged! Paul goes right on to say these Philippian believers are business partners with Paul in an entrepreneurial startup he refers to here as “grace.” Paul can describe his own work and status as an apostle sent by Jesus with the word “grace.” In context, this is probably what he has in mind here. The Philippians have shown, in heart, mind, actions, and finances, they are co-partners in the business of grace.

From first to last, God is in control.

(1) God is in control, and (2) we are actively engaged in God’s work of saving the world. That dual reality leads to all kinds of emotional responses in these few, short verses: Thankfulness, joy, yearning, affection, partnership, longing, and love.

It also leads to a kind of double evidence, where our faith is tested and proves reliable, while at the same time God’s promises are tested and prove reliable. In verse 7, the grace partnership leads to the defense and to the testing-with-approval of the Gospel itself (the word here has to do with something you know is sturdy because you have walked on it. In other words, the proof is in the pudding). In verse 10, it is the Philippian believers who are testing and proving the excellent things (this testing word is used elsewhere in the metallurgic sense of testing with fire). Finally, the believers themselves will be tested and proved reliable at the return of Jesus. Paul is sure their faith is going to be held up in the sunlight and shown to be genuine, and their lives will not cause stumbling to any who walk the narrow way (verse 10). Even this confidence in the final outcome of their active engagement is followed up by a reminder that God is in control. These believers are simply bearing the fruit which comes naturally from being made right with God. The proof is in the pudding, but the pudding does not get any credit: God alone gets the glory (verse 11).

The joy and thanksgiving for God’s work in and through the Philippians makes this text and opportunity to express your pride and love for your congregation. You can point to specific things your people are doing which give evidence they are actively engaged in the saving work of the Gospel, business partners in grace.

At the same time, you have a chance to remind your people that, from beginning to end, their engagement in God’s work is already the result of God’s work in them. This further allows you to invite them to trust more fully and rejoice even more confidently in the Spirit’s work as they lean into dependence on Jesus. What a blessing. God is in control, and we get to be actively engaged!

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Philippians 1:2–11.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Philippians 1:2–11.