Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:1-2)
The Theme of Philippians
In 1992, the Calvin scholar, T.H.L. Parker, wrote this about Calvin’s method of preaching and teaching:
Almost all of Calvin’s recorded sermons are connected series on books of the Bible…. He preached on a New Testament book on Sunday mornings and afternoons (although for a period on the Psalms in the afternoon) and on an Old Testament book on weekday mornings…The first sermon on any book dealt wholly or in part with the general theme of that book…From the outset the book is made both universal and particular, lifted from its original setting, seen as covering all men in all ages and then focused upon “us today.”
Calvin has a great deal to teach modern preachers who are willing to listen as well as to modern congregations who need to be aware that what they are receiving from the pulpit is the Word of God. As often as not today, the “sermon” is little more than some musings of a man who is confused about his calling as a preacher of the Word. At worst, preaching has devolved into “Christian entertainment.”
The value of preaching “series” sermons lies in the fact that the preacher must follow the text. There are a couple of obvious benefits to this approach. First, pastors don’t have to perform the “mad scramble” to decide what text they are going to preach on. The pastor simply follows what the book dictates.
This leads us to our second advantage, which is that pastors following a book will have to stay away from the “hobby horses.” Far too often pastors have certain “themes” that interest them and they’re not above bending, twisting, and otherwise distorting a biblical text to make it say what they want it to say. This is the old “wax nose” theory of biblical preaching. Bend it, shape it anyway you want it.
A large number of sermons today are “topical” in nature. Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with preaching the occasional topical sermon, but the problem arises when preaching topically is the normal fare. This is especially a problem in modern Christianity. With our decades-long de-emphasis on preaching, sermons tend to be expositions of pop-psychology or self-help techniques.
As we weave through this book, we’re going to let the biblical themes we find there speak to us and direct our steps.
The Mind of Paul
In a very special way, this letter reveals the mind of the apostle Paul to us. As he wrote from prison, his mind was filled with peace and he rejoiced in the preaching of the gospel. Some of the most beloved verses of the Bible flowed forth from Paul’s pen as he wrote this letter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
In 1:21 he wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Speaking of his relationship to his Savior he wrote these words in 3:10. “…that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.” 4:11 teaches Christians everywhere that there is a lesson to be learned regarding Christian contentment. Throughout the ages Christians have found comfort in the words of 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Doctrine & Life
It’s quite possible that it will come as a huge surprise to modern Christians that the book of Philippians is noted for its great doctrinal statements. Many have bought off the lie that Christians don’t need doctrine. Just give me Jesus is the pious saying that sounds nice, but is thoroughly unbiblical. The problem is that you simply cannot describe who Jesus is without spewing forth a mother lode of doctrine. Some modern Christians don’t like this, but it’s true. The Bible is filled with doctrine and if you have trouble with doctrine, you’re going to have tough time being a Christian.
Throughout the Bible what our Lord provides for his people is a glorious and beautiful balance between doctrine and life. In this particular book, Paul expounds all of the glorious doctrines of grace. Here is a man who truly proclaims the whole counsel of God.
At the same time, Paul couples his love for doctrine with a warm heart that beats for Christ. In addition, he is sensitive to people and to their needs. He is caring. He is not mean. The great doctrines of predestination, sovereignty, electing grace, justification by faith alone in Christ alone and other similar doctrines do not make him impervious to the hurts and needs of others. In fact, those are the very things—properly understood—that make him loving towards others.
The caring heart of the apostle is nowhere more evident than in his letter to the young Church at Philippi. The relationship between Paul and the Philippians was especially happy and harmonious and he wrote to them from a glad heart. In Proverbs 15:15 we’re told that a cheerful heart has a continual feast. This was certainly true for Paul as he wrote to the Philippians.
He writes lovingly, spiritually, and practically. This type of writing is a clear demonstration that every circumstance or situation in and of life has an answer in the Word of God. I’ve always admired the manner in which the Westminster Confession of Faith (I.6) speaks about this truth and summarizes it. It says, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” This is what we’re going to looking for and at in the coming installments.
Ron Gleason, Ph.D., is pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda, Calif.
 T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s Preaching, (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), pp. 80-82.