This week we are starting a new series going through the book of Philippians. I am really excited for this series because I love to teach books of the Bible verse by verse. I believe this to be the best way for Christ followers to see the true context in how and why a certain book was written and then determine how it applies to us today. It may come as a surprise, but scripture is often misquoted or taken out of context in order to fulfill an agenda, condemn someone or give false hope and this is not what scripture is intended for. You have heard the old real estate mantra that goes, “location, location, location” the biblical mantra should be “context, context, context.”
In our series my goal is to read, teach, and preach through Philippians with context in mind. Now, this does not mean that this will be a history lesson, (although there will be some historical data I will talk about to set up how the letter can be better understood) but that it will be a series where we can look at the context, and determine how we can benefit from it today.
As a way of introduction, I think it is important to look at the three themes the letter to the Philippians may pose to the church today.
The City of Philippi
Philippi was a city that was rich in tradition and unique in culture. It is located in Macedonia about 800 miles east of Rome. It was in 42 B.C. at the Battle of Philippi where Mark Antony and Octavius defeated Brutus and Cassius (Julius Caesars assassins) that Philippi became of Roman province. Many Philippians were descendants from the soldiers who settled there after the battle. As a result, Latin was the common language in Philippi and thus kept the Roman characteristics such as architect and Caesar worship.
The Philippian Church
Paul’s second missionary journey, after he chose Timothy to come with him, took him to the city of Philippi. According to Acts 16, Paul met with “God-fearing” women by the river and one woman named Lydia was in the group meeting for prayer. They met by the river because there was no synagogue in Philippi. During this encounter Lydia and her household were baptized and she invited Paul and his companions to her home. It was not unusual that women were given prominence in Macedonia and in Philippi, thus it was not surprising that the first Christian converts were women and the early church met in Lydia’s house. It was here that the first church was established in Philippi. Interestingly the nucleus of the church was formed by a group of women around 49 A.D. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke established the church and they stayed in Philippi for some time. We are not sure how long, but it was enough to form and establish close friendships with them and the community of believers.
It was during this time that Paul and his companions (excluding Luke) left Philippi at the request of the city magistrate as a result of casting out of a demon from a young slave girl and an ensuing riot, which led to their imprisonment, which also led to the conversion of the Philippian jailer. By the time Paul left it is probable that the house church consisted of Lydia and her family, the jailer and his family, and perhaps the slave girl. It appears this church was Paul’s favorite. They were generous to him and supported his missionary journeys and were faithful in their support when others could not or would not support him.
The Letter to the Philippian Church
Some time has passed since the events of Acts 16. It is probable that Paul visited the church on other occasions not recorded in Acts. However, the letter written to the Philippians was written in early 60s from prison in Rome by the Apostle Paul. The reason for writing this letter is in the elements of friendship and exhortation.
When the Philippians heard Paul was in prison, they commissioned Epaphroditus to bring money, gifts and encouragement to Paul and assist him in prison. During his travels he became sick and nearly died, but he was able to bring the gift to Paul. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus could not stay due to his illness, but it is very probable he gave Paul an update on the church in Philippi and according to Paul’s tone in the letter it was a positive update, but he did mention some division that was happening. Paul was concerned the quarrels that had risen could taint their witness before the unbelievers in the city and his concern was that it would be difficult for the divided church to withstand the persecution that they continually experienced.
Philippians 1:1 – 18
Vs 1 – 2: This is a traditional introduction of a letter that begins with the name of the author, the recipient, and a greeting. Paul does not just mention his and Timothy’s name, he declares that they are servants or more literally “bond servants” of Christ Jesus. This context shows the humility and submission the two had to Jesus. The letter is written to all the “saints” in Philippi, namely the church in Philippi. The word “saints” refers to the status of the believers as people of God who are set apart or called out from others and carries out the ethical responsibilities of the new covenant. This is more than one who is a Christians in name only, but one who is actively living a life set apart from the influences of the world. This letter is addressed to ALL the believers, and yet he wants to recognize the leaders as well.
Vs 3 – 8: The Apostle begins by telling the Philippians that he prays prayers of thanksgiving for the church in Philippi and he does so joyfully. It is interesting to note that this joyful prayer and petition is not circumstantial. Remember, Paul is writing from prison and his encouraging optimism is noteworthy. Paul’s joy was not rooted in feelings, emotion, or situations.
Paul’s joy was rooted in…
12 – 14: The reason the Philippian church sent Epaphroditus to Paul was to support him and to check on his living situation. They wanted to alleviate his suffering and find out how he was really doing. Paul assures his readers that he is in fact do fine despite his current situation. Even though he is in prison, this has not stopped his mission of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. In reality the opposite is true. His current situation is actually working to advance the Kingdom of God. The gospel has advanced as the imperial guard and all around him now know that Paul is not your ordinary prisoner. His suffering, chains, and situation has not affected Paul’s attitude at all. His joy is found in Jesus and he has found ways to embrace his chains and suffering and this spoke volumes to the those around him. People saw his faith was real and rooted in something higher than his current situation.
Not only is Paul’s faith contagious to those around him in prison, but also to the believers where he has given them great encouragement to give them confidence and boldness in preaching as well. The progress of the gospel swept through the ranks of those who work and live around Paul’s imprisonment, so there is no need for the Philippians to be concerned for Paul.
Vs 15 – 18: However, not everyone who is emboldened to preach are motivated for upstanding reasons. One group preaches from envy and rivalry, and the other preaches out of goodwill. The one group preaches out of envy. These are those who are annoyed by others’ successes and desiring that they don’t get what they desire. It is hard to imagine that there would be people who were jealous of the successes of others who proclaimed the Gospel, but it was real and remains an issue today. Unfortunately, there are pastors who are envious of others’ successes in ministry that their motivation is to try to thwart or discredit other ministries simply out of envy. One pastor may see the success of another pastor and desire that his church would not continue to succeed. He may go so far as to try and undermine the ministry, the pastor, or the church. These individuals are motivated by rivalry and envy.
But Paul is assuring his readers his motivation is of genuine and from goodwill. His motivation is to see Christ proclaimed in truth and rejoice when this happens.
Finding Joy In
As we have looked at the opening to the letter to the church in Philippi our challenge is in determining what our take is? Joy is the word that jumps out at us throughout Philippians. So, the question for us today is, how and where do we find joy in our lives and in this world today? We can take some advice from Paul in the first part of Philippians.
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.