Welcome to a short series on the book of Philippians. I hope our study together will be like a treasure hunt. Philippians is truly full of word-jewels and powerful concepts that could change your life on a deep level. May I be so bold as to say that if one could live Philippians, life could be heaven on earth.
The letter to the Philippians is a personal response from Paul to an immediate situation, just like the other letters which the scholars call epistles. It was meant for that specific body of believers in the city to which it was addressed. Paul never envisaged that these letters would do the rounds and become the greater part of the New Testament of the Christian Bible today.
Philippi existed before 300BC. Philip, King of Macedo and father of Alexander the Great seized the city in 358BC and renamed the city after himself. It was an important intersection of trade highways going from east to west and therefore a good place to sow the seeds of the Gospel. Paul established a church there on his second missionary journey in 52AD. The church in Philippi is regarded as the first church in Europe.
Paul departed on this journey in 52AD after a vision from God (Acts 16). He writes the letter during the days of his imprisonment in Rome around 62AD.
His first action for the Gospel, after arriving in Philippi, was sharing the story of Jesus with a few women gathering at the river for prayer where Lydia was converted. She was a merchant woman; quite an accomplishment in those days. She most probably has had to belong to some sort of guild to trade her very exclusive purple cloth. Usually such a group had a patron god to be worshipped in various ways, all contrary to faith in Jesus. Her conversion must have changed her whole life and career, trusting God to make a way for her. The Catholic Bible describes her as: “a reputable businesswoman and possibly a widow… [who] was a righteous Gentile or ‘God-fearer’ attracted to Judaism”.
Lydia’s social power illustrated by her control of a household and possible ownership of a house, which she offered to Paul and his companions, could have meant that she was most likely a free woman and possibly a widow.
We know very little of her after her conversion. Considering the status of women in the ancient world, this act of Paul was significant. He changed much from his chauvinist, Pharisee days. He regarded women worthy of the Gospel. The rabbi’s deemed women unworthy of any teaching on the Law.
She provided him a home for his stay in the city. God’s timing and direction are always very wise, to be utterly respected.
|May I say this:
The words “luck” and “coincidence” are not in my vocabulary. I live from a Source for a purpose according to a Plan. Nothing is random.
After the encounter with the women, Paul and Silas continued their teaching in the city and attracted unwanted attention. A little slave girl, whose masters exploited her “gift” of fortune telling, tagged behind them proclaiming their teaching to be salvation from the Most High God. Her nagging “endorsement” of their ministry prompted Paul to command the demon to leave her. He discerned the source of the seemingly correct statement as demonic. Keep this incident in mind when Paul prays for discernment in the very first chapter of Philippians.
Her masters, suffering their loss of income, accused Paul and Silas of making trouble in the city. Their accusations resulted in a cruel beating and imprisonment with strict orders to the jailer to prevent a possible escape. The accusers must have been quite influential to get Paul and Silas beaten and thrown into jail without a trial.
In prison they worshipped and sang praise songs to God. An earthquake shook the prison asunder. The consequent dramatic liberation of all the prisoners, not only Paul and Silas, had the jailer in a panic. Before he could kill himself, they shared the hope in Christ with him and his life was saved. Upon hearing that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, the authorities apologized, but asked them to leave.
Paul visited Philippi again on his journey from Ephesus to Macedonia (Acts 20, 2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 7:5-6). He spent a Passover there (Acts 20:6) and received messages from them (4:16). He is writing the letter to say thank you for the assistance he received from them (4:18).
It is an informal letter of gratitude rather than as a discourse addressing doctrine. He writes about his love and gratitude. He is their brother in Christ and he presents them with the essential truths of the Gospel in a warm-hearted way. His own joy and grateful tenderness shines through every word. Epaphroditus is the messenger. He is about to return from Rome to Philippi and his journey gives Paul the opportunity to send the letter.
Paul usually begins his letters with a statement of his calling and apostleship. Here in this letter he writes to the saints, the believers, the true church. He greets them, so to speak, from the “bottom up”. He greets the church as a friend amongst friends, and then as if he remembers them also: the overseers and deacons.
But he does talk about his title and what a surprising title it is. He calls himself the servant (Greek = doulos) of Christ. Doulos was more than a servant or one should say less than a servant. Doulos denoted a slave. In the Roman Empire it was a person belonging to a master as a living tool with absolutely no rights as a human being. Paul declares himself to be the absolute possession of Jesus, to be fully obedient to Jesus with no will of his own just like a slave serves his master. The title of servant to God has been the highest honour with which the great faith leaders and prophets endowed themselves. Such was Moses, Joshua and David (Joshua 1:2; 2:8; Psalms 78:70; 89:3,20) as well as Amos (3:7) and Jeremiah (7:25). Paul places himself in the succession of prophets from before his time.
In Latin there is the saying: Illi servire est regnare = to be his slave is to be a king.
The letter is addressed to the saints – a word that the modern tongue has attached an overly pious meaning to. The meaning of hagios (Greek) and the Hebrew equivalent (qadowsh) is holy. The basic idea is to be different. To say something is holy, is to set it apart for a specific purpose. You are holy. Know it and roll it over your tongue to become acquainted with the term.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people… (1 Peter 2:9)
In Philippians, as in all the other letters of Paul, the words or phrases: in Christ, in Christ Jesus in the Lord occur often. Clearly it is the very essence of his teaching. Paul taught that being a Christian means to live consciously and completely in the presence of Jesus Christ, just like a fish in water and a bird in the air. The presence of God himself is a Christian’s natural habitat. Without it, we perish and look like the fish on the bank of the river, gasping for water and about to die.
In Paul’s letters these core phrases occur regularly throughout: in Christ (34 times), in Christ Jesus (48 times), in the Lord (50 times).
Christianity has become a broad and all too inclusive term in the world today. Even Western culture is sometimes defectively and confusingly swept under the Christian banner. The early church was called: The Way. The term Christian was used for the first time in Antioch and signified a person who is Christ-like. The title Christian should only be given to a person who has made a conscious decision to give his life to God by believing in the Cross of Jesus who atoned for his sins and then live his life according to the principles of the Bible, mindfully pursuing a life in the presence of God. The title should never be given to the mindless churchgoers who think that they might escape hell or win some social advantage by attending a church service of organized religion. There is only ONE way and that is the way of the Cross.
That brings us to the first main theme of this study.
The PROMISE – who is He who calls us.