Session 1

Philippians Study – Session 1

(Philippians 1:1-2)

 

INTRODUCTION

1.      Letter writing is quickly becoming a lost art in our culture.  There was a time when people communicated over long distances primarily by letter.  But with the coming of email, video conferencing, texting, and instant communication via cell phones, people are writing and receiving fewer and fewer personal letters.  Not too many years ago people went to the mailbox with a sense of excitement of possibly receiving a letter from a loved one or friend.  But now, mailboxes are basically depositories not for personal letters but for junk mail (more than 40 pounds a years for the average household) and bills payable.

2.      However, that’s not the way it was in the world of the 1st century.  In that world the writing of letters was the basic way of sharing information.  That is why most of the books of the New Testament are in the form of a letter from one person to another person or to a group of people.

3.      In this session we are beginning a study of one of the great letters of the New Testament—Paul’s letter to the Christians in town of Philippi located in the Roman Province of Macedonia.  Philippians is one of the warmest, most personal of the letters in the Bible.

4.      I want to begin our journey through Philippians by making a couple of general observations:

·         Paul established the church at Philippi on his 2nd missionary journey.  Acts 16 tells of Paul having a vision of a man from Macedonia saying to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  Taking that to be a sign from God, Paul and his traveling companions sailed across the Aegean Sea and made their way to Philippi.  Ironically, the man in the vision turned out to be a woman.  Lydia, an apparently prosperous businesswoman, became first convert in Philippi and a key part of the Philippian church. 

·         Paul established many churches, but none were more special to him than church at Philippi.  I think this was Paul’s favorite church for several reasons:

o   Philippi was the first place Paul preached the gospel on European soil.

o   The first convert in Europe, Lydia, was baptized in Philippi.

o   God miraculously rescued Paul and Silas from the Philippian jail.

o   The Philippian church was the only church to send Paul financial support for his ministry after he left their area.

This church was very special to Paul, and that is obvious from the Philippian letter in the New Testament.  It is the warmest and most personal of all of Paul’s letters.  It is peppered with the personal pronouns I, my, and my.  It has the tone of a friend writing to friends.  A close bond of fellowship existed between Paul and the Philippians, and that bond can be seen in almost every sentence of this letter.  Paul refers to them in 4:1 as “...my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown...”

·         The theme of the letter of Philippians can be stated in a single word--JOY.  Biblical scholars often refer to this letter as the epistle of joy.  In the four chapters of Philippians the words joy and rejoice (which just means to be full of joy) are used 16 times.  One writer [Wiersbe, pp.15-19] says that there are four great thieves in life which are capable of robbing us of joy--circumstances, people, worry, and material possessions...in this letter Paul tells us how to—

o   Deal with difficult circumstances... (1:12, 19-20)

o   Relate to difficult people… (1:15-18; 2:3-4)

o   Be free from worry… (4:6-7)

o   Be content with whatever possessions we have... (4:12-13)

·         That JOY is the theme of Philippians is rather ironic because this letter is one of Paul’s prison letters.  Philippians is one of a group of four New Testament letters that have come to be known as “The Prison Epistles.”  The other three letters in this group are Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon.  In each of those four letters Paul makes specific reference to his being a prisoner. (See Philippians 1:12-17)

o   In style the prison epistles tend to be more meditative, more tranquil than most of Paul’s other letters.  That’s understandable giving the setting in which Paul was when he wrote the letters.

o   In content the prison epistles tend to focus more on the growth and spiritual health of believers than on the salvation of unbelievers.  Another way of saying that is they are more devotional than evangelistic.

o   From where were they written?  The Scripture does not tell us precisely where Paul was imprisoned when he wrote these letters, so we are left to speculate.  I think from the biblical text we can assume they were written from one of two places.

o   Caesarea – In Acts 21 Paul was arrested by the Temple authorities in Jerusalem.  After a near riot in Jerusalem, the Romans transferred Paul to Caesarea, the Roman headquarters in 1st century Palestine.  A large contingent of Roman soldiers (see Acts 23:23) escorted Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea to keep him safe from the Jewish authorities who were intent on killing him. Some say Paul wrote the prison epistles during the 2+ years he was being held in Caesarea (Acts 24-26).  The argument against that is that in Philemon 22 Paul seems to indicate he was about to be released.  But during his imprisonment Caesarea, Paul obviously knew that he had appealed his case to Caesar and that he was headed to Rome.  Therefore, he would have known that his release was not imminent. 

o   Rome – The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar.  This is what some NT scholars refer to as Paul’s first Roman imprisonment.  The traditional view is that Paul wrote the prison epistles during that time.  The speculation is that Paul was vindicated in his trial before Caesar, was released and traveled further in his missionary work, perhaps going as far as Spain.  Then, as the climate in the Roman Empire under Nero turned against the Christians, Paul was arrested again.  During this second period of imprisonment in Rome he wrote the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) where he is clearly not optimistic about being released.  And that at the end of this second Roman imprisonment he was martyred in Rome.  That is the view I hold.

o   When were they written? – Since Paul was released from prison sometime after writing the prison epistles, it is likely there were written before two major historical events took place which contributed to Rome turning against Christianity.  In A.D. 64 a great fire broke out in Rome for which Nero was blamed.  He needed a scapegoat for the fire, so he blamed it on the Christians.  This began in Rome a terrible persecution of Christians.  In A.D. 66 the Jews in Judea revolted against Rome.  Since the Romans made little distinction between Jews and Christians, the Jewish revolt added to the misery of Christians in the empire.  Most NT scholars think Paul wrote the prison epistles sometime around A.D. 62 or 63, before those two events took place.

o   So, it is my position the prison epistles, including Philippians, were written by Paul from Rome sometime around A.D. 62.

 

Philippians 1:1-2 – These verses are the salutation to the letter.  It was typical in the 1st century world to put the salutation identifying the writer and the recipients and containing a greeting at the beginning of a letter.  Since letters were most often written in scroll form, placing the salutation at the beginning would keep the recipient from having to unroll the entire scroll to determine from whom the letter was being sent.  In this salutation, Paul uses three prepositional phrases to describe the relationship between Christians and Christ.  Christians are:

·         “…bond servants of Christ Jesus…”

·         “…saints in Christ Jesus…”

·         Recipients of “…grace…and peace…from the Lord Jesus Christ…”

Each of those phrases is extremely important and I want us to explore them in some detail in this session.

 

 

Christians are bond-servants of Christ

1.   Notice how Paul begins this letter:  “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus...” There are at least five different words in the Greek vocabulary that can express the idea of servanthood.  And of those five choices, Paul selected the word that was used of the most lowly of servants to describe his relationship with Christ.

2.      The word is doulos.  It was used to refer to the lowest of servants in the social order of the first century world.  It is the word that is most often translated slave.  Paul could have begun this letter by referring to himself as an apostle or a missionary or a church planter or a theologian.  But instead, he begins by saying the thing of which I am most proud is that I am a slave of Jesus Christ.

3.      That is an amazing statement, especially considering the culture to which Paul was writing.  Philippi had the status of a Roman colony.  That means it was populated primarily by Roman soldiers who had retired from the military and who had been awarded an exceptional amount of freedom for their service to Rome.  These people were extremely proud of their freedom.  And to say that they were slaves to anything or any person would be offensive to them.  It is amazing that writing to such people, Paul begins his letter by saying, “I am proud to be identified as a slave of Jesus!”

4.      There’s an important lesson in that for us.  Our lives and the lives of those people around us would be greatly improved if we would learn it and put it into practice.  The lesson is that as Christians we should be so tied to Christ, so bound to Christ that our lives point beyond ourselves to Him.  Instead of living to build ourselves up or to make ourselves look good, the goal of a Christian should be to magnify or to lift up Christ.  And this is directly in conflict with the narcissistic, self-centered, me first philosophy that dominates our culture.


5.      Hudson Taylor was a famous missionary to China in the 1800’s.  He was a very gifted person, but he was also characterized by genuine humility.  One time he was scheduled to speak at a large Presbyterian church in Melbourne, Australia.  The moderator of the service introduced Hudson Taylor in eloquent and glowing terms.   Spoke of the things that the missionary had accomplished in China and then presented him as “our illustrious guest.” Taylor, obviously embarrassed by the introduction, stood quietly before the congregation for a moment.  Then, he began by saying, “I am not illustrious.  I am just the little servant of an illustrious Master.” [Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers,  p. 243]

6.      We must never forget that as Christians, first and foremost, we are “bond-servants of Jesus Christ.”

 

Christians are saints in Christ

1.      Notice how Paul describes the Christians in Philippi in the middle part of verse 1:  “...to all the saints in Christ Jesus...” The word translated “saints” is “hagios” and it comes from the same word family as the word we translate “holy.”  This may be one of the most misunderstood words in the Bible.

2.      If stopped average person on the street and asked that person to explain what a saint is, would probably say a saint is someone who has an extra measure of religious commitment or has done something outstanding or unusual for God.  The ordinary understanding of the word is that saints are those who are super-spiritual, super-Christians, who rise above everyone else.

3.      However, that is not at all the NT meaning of the word.  Literally the word means to be separated, to be set apart.  In the Christian context it means to be separated from our sin and to be set apart for service to God.  And in that sense, all Christians are saints.  It is important to understand that we do not become saints by virtue of our own actions or commitments.  The title of saint is conferred upon us by virtue of our relationship with Christ.  We are “...saints in Christ Jesus...”

4.      The phrase “in Christ” is one of the Apostle Paul’s favorite phrases.  He used that phrase in various forms at least 164 times in his writings.  He speaks of being “in Christ” or “in the Lord” or “in Him” over and over again.  The phrase “in Christ” describes the spiritual location of believers.  The recipients of this letter didn’t just live in Philippi.  They also lived in a spiritual relationship with Christ. 

5.      The implications of that for our lives are astounding.  No matter where we go, no matter what we do, no matter how lonely or isolated we may feel, we are never separated from Christ.  He is our constant companion.  He is always there.  He never forsakes us, never abandons us, and He never leaves to be alone.

6.      David expressed this idea in the beautiful 139th Psalm when he wrote:

“Where can I go from Thy Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.  If I take the wings of dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me.” [Psalm 139:7-10]


Paul expressed the same concept in Romans 8 when he wrote:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

Christians are recipients of grace and peace from Christ

1.      Look at v.2 – “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  That is a typical Pauline greeting.  As matter of fact, it is found all of Paul’s letters except for the letters to Timothy.  In this greeting we are reminded that from Christ we have received two great blessings. 

2.      First, we have the blessing of “grace.”  The Greek word  is “charis” and it essentially means unmerited favor.  It has been said, and I think correctly so, that the word “grace” sums up Christian theology.  One writer defines the word as “the free and undeserved giving by God to [people] what they cannot achieve themselves” [Moulton, quoted by Vaughan, p.20].  It is a reminder that in Christ we have something we could never have gained on our own initiative — the unmerited, undeserved favor/acceptance/approval of God.  No wonder that John Newton, the converted slave trader, referred to it as “Amazing Grace” in the famous hymn.

3.      Second, we have the blessing of “peace.”  The Greek word is “eirene.”  It is used more than 100 times in the New Testament.  The word has a little more nuanced meaning than our  word peace.  It does not mean merely the absence of conflict.  Instead, it carries the idea of a calmness of spirit, quiet trust in the Lord, in the midst of conflict.  On the night before His crucifixion Jesus promised His followers peace.  He said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” [John 14:27] 

4.      Grace and peace are often linked together in Scripture.  The order in which the words appear is important.  It is not peace followed by grace but grace followed by peace.  That’s because peace is the natural  result of grace.  Martin Luther wrote:  “Grace releaseth sin, and peace maketh the conscience quiet.”

 

CONCLUSION

1.      Paul begins this letter to his dear friends by reminding them that we are called to a life of relationship with Jesus Christ...Christians are, above all else, —

--bond-servants of Christ...

--saints in Christ...

--recipients of grace and peace from Christ...

Don’t forget who you are in Him!

 

 

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