The first word of verse 1, ‘therefore,’ reminds us that what Paul writes here is connected to what he has said in the previous verses in which he reminded his readers in Philippi that they already belonged to the heavenly city, and were waiting for their King to come and bless them with glorified bodies. An earthly illustration would be the citizens of Philippi waiting for a visit from the Roman Emperor and expecting to receive from him a great favour. If they had known he was coming, they would have made preparations for his arrival. In chapter 4, Paul tells his readers how they should prepare for the arrival of the King, their Saviour Jesus Christ.
We cannot help but notice the strong contrast between how Paul regards the Philippian believers and how he regards the false teachers. Both descriptions are very graphic: the false teachers are enemies whose habits of life are limited to this world, whose destiny is destruction, and for whom the apostle weeps (3:18-19); the true believers are brothers whose habit of life is to adhere to a Christian lifestyle, whose destiny is heaven, and for whom the apostle yearns (4:1). His attitude towards these believers can only be described as rapturous. As he thinks of them, he can anticipate the glory that is yet to be theirs. Yet he also repeats here what he said of them already in the first chapter: he prayed for them with joy (1:4) and longed for them with the affection of Christ (1:8).
Paul sees his readers as a family with great expectations concerning its future. They are brothers (and sisters) from whom he has been separated for a while, but whom he is looking forward to meeting again in the Father’s house, in heaven. When they do meet in that future state, he informs them that there will be a real relationship between them and him: they will be his joy and his crown. On that great future day when Jesus returns, Paul will be rewarded by his Master for the service given in Philippi, and part of that reward will be sharing in the joy of Christ as he rejoices over his people gathered with him forever. Surely this challenges us to value highly all who belong to Jesus, but especially those who are known to us in this life. We should not assess them merely by what they are now, but we must also respect them for what they are going to be when Jesus glorifies them.
Yet we cannot limit Paul’s use of ‘joy and crown’ to the future. We can ask ourselves, ‘In what situations would a person joyfully wear a victor’s crown or winner’s garland?’ The answer is that an athlete would wear such a crown or wreath after he had successfully completed his race. Paul is saying that the believers in Philippi were the evidence that he had run a successful race there several years previously when he, with others, had founded the church in the city.
Ever since then he had been delighted to tell others of his success in Philippi. Just as a successful athlete would show his victor’s wreath to others, so Paul spoke about his triumphs. Or as a victorious commander will wear medals on his uniform, so Paul displayed the evidence of his triumph over enemy forces. Yet instead of pointing to medals usually kept on a shelf, or to a fading wreath, he could direct people to consider the believers in Philippi as they stood fast in the Lord. They were his reward, even in this life.
Nevertheless Paul sounds like a general calling his troops together to withstand an enemy attack, either from the Judaizers or from the civil authorities. So he urges them to stand fast in the Lord as citizens of the heavenly metropolis. Although they were geographically away from the heavenly city, the distance was not a problem because they were, even in Philippi, in living union with Jesus, the Lord of the city. They were to live out in Philippi their union with him.