Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
You are on my mind & in my heart
To understand Philippians we have to consider several things: the type of literature it falls into, the history and setting surrounding the letter, and Paul?s reason for writing it. Philippians would be considered a ?friendly letter.? This was an actual formal type of literature in the Greek and Roman world and followed a particular pattern which Paul also follows in this letter.
Friendship means something, and Paul had a deep and long friendship with the people of Philippi. So he writes them a letter to show their mutual concern for each other and reaffirm their close allegiance.
Philippi was located at the far eastern edge of a large fertile plain in central Macedonia (modern day Greece). Notably, Philippi became a Roman colony in 42 B.C. after a battle with Brutus ? the man who assasinated Julius Caesar. Those battles were won by Octavian (later Caesar Augustus) and Mark Antony (you know, of Cleopatra fame). Octavian repopulated the area with veterans and their families, thus ensuring loyalty to Rome and the Emperor?something that influences the letter we are studying.
We learn about Philippi first from Acts 16. There, the Apostle Paul meets Lydia, a businesswoman, a slave girl who was demon possessed, and a jailer, who comes to faith in Jesus. Interestingly, another component about this city is that the Scriptures record at least three prominent women (Lydia, Euodia, and Syntyche) strongly suggesting that women in that area had a much larger role than in other Greco-Roman colonies.
After meeting Lydia?Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke stayed for some time, enough time to form a close bond and friendship with the church there. Though it?s hard to pin it down, it appears that Paul paid at least two other visits to Philippi that are not recorded in Acts.
Paul really loved this church and felt very proud of their maturity. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 he says:
2Cor. 8:1 ?We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia: 2 During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity. 3 I testify that, on their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability, 4 they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, 5 and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God?s will.?
Why did Paul write this letter? It appears for two main reasons: 1) some sort of opposition to the gospel in Philippi, and 2) some sort of unrest in the church (1:27-28). The opposition seems to come from the fact that the people of the city were Roman citizens and Philippi was a Roman colony. Yet the members of the church were also a ?colony of heaven? (as Gordon Fee puts it in ?Paul?s Letter to the Philippians?, page 31). The values of this age and the values of the kingdom of heaven do not play well together.
The internal problems had something to do with selfish ambition or rivalry. That?s why Paul calls on the Philippians to be humble, and look to the needs of others before their own needs.
Paul wrote the letter while kept under guard in Rome and while waiting to go to trial before Caesar Nero.
So apparently what happened was that the Philippians had heard of Paul?s imprisonment and had sent him a gift by way of Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus told him about the problems externally and internally back home. So Paul wrote this letter of friendship with which he encourages the church to refocus their efforts on their real mission, which is to further the gospel of Jesus.
The basic important points in the book are:
- The gospel (it must advance and something?s got to change in Philippi to do that)
- The Trinity as a key to understanding God?s plan
- Jesus Christ as the center of everything
- The fact that everything we do now looks forward and contributes to the coming back of Jesus to rule on earth.
- Finally: the Christian life: so in response to all the rest, the Philippians need to stop acting like the world around them and start acting like the children of God that they are.
1 ? 2
They way Paul begins Philippians is a little out of the ordinary. Usually he identifies himself as an apostle. But here he and Timothy are together, and identified as ?slaves of Christ Jesus.? That?s because Timothy was not an apostle. Though it is likely that Paul is the sole author of the letter (as opposed to 1 & 2 Thessalonians which were co-written), Timothy was likely filled the role of secretary and may have actually penned the letter at Paul?s direction, making suggestions as he went along.
Paul identifies both he and Timothy as ?slaves.? The concept is really two-fold. On the one hand, the audience at the time would have understood the concept of a douloi. This would have been a slave, owned by another, but not the sort of racial slavery that we encountered in America?s past. Large portions of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves, including doctors and accountants. But a secondary concept is in view as well, and that is the Old Testament concept of the ?bond-slave? by choice.
Ex. 21:5 ?But if the slave declares: ?I love my master, my wife, and my children; I do not want to leave as a free man,? 6 his master is to bring him to the judges and then bring him to the door or doorpost. His master must pierce his ear with an awl, and he will serve his master for life.?
So Paul and Timothy both claim to be slaves of God, subservient and owned by the Lord, but also serving Him as willing participants and bond-slaves.
Paul addresses the letter to ?all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi.? The idea of saints here could well be rendered ?God?s holy people.? We are called out of this world to reflect the holy character of God, not the values of this age?and this becomes important as we move through the letter.
Finally he includes the ?overseers and deacons?. Overseers, or bishops, were not the pastors. Paul was the pastor of this church. The overseers were those charged with caring for the flock. ?Deacons? is a more difficult concept to parse since Paul uses it in a variety of ways in his letters. Most likely the overseers cared for the administration and oversight of the church, and the deacons were those who carried out that service. But a lot of this is shrouded in mystery?we really don?t know that much of how the leadership in these churches ran.
3 ? 5
Paul is a Philippians fan. He saw the church begin there, the people grow, and really mature and show that maturity in the way they both helped Paul materially while he was in prison (2 Corinthians 8:1) and also generally in spreading the gospel. It brings him joy when he thinks about them and prays for them. The problem is that the external pressure and internal strife threaten to make them less of a ?partner? in the gospel. Do you bring to mind other brothers and sisters, and how your connection with them brings you joy?
Paul here reassures them that they will overcome their difficulties, that God has not stopped working in and through them, and that their work contributes to the overall plan of God that will be realized when Jesus returns physically to planet Earth.
I like this?sometimes we must feel like our own weaknesses and petty disputes are really going to make it hard for us to be a contributor to God?s work. The word ?completion? (vs 6) means: ?accomplish, perfect, execute, complete?. God started a wonderful thing in you when you gave your life to Jesus and obtained the salvation of your soul. He?s not going to stop there and will continue to work through you?and notice that it?s His work.
Eph. 2:10 ?For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.?
Why is Paul so bullish on the Philippians? Because they?ve partnered with him both in helping him in his imprisonment and in spreading the gospel. I love how he says ?I have you in my heart?. Can we say that about each other? We also have partnered together?to see each other through good times and bad and to mutually help each other defend and establish the gospel.
Paul here is saying: ?God knows how much I want to be with you guys.? He misses them not just as Paul but also the love that Jesus has poured out in his heart towards them.
I think what we?re seeing here is a very personal side of Paul. Here he is, locked up in prison, not knowing if he?ll ever see the light of day?and here comes this incredible gift from Philippi. It must have been such a joy to receive. It must?ve made much more than Paul?s day but his whole month. Along with the gift comes news that his dear friends are having some internal and external difficulties.
So he reaches out with this letter?to reconnect and to encourage. You know, sometimes that can be the greatest gift we could give to someone we know who is going through a tough time?let them know how much they mean to us, how much we appreciate them, and are standing with them.
And he encourages them that God will see them through?that the work He began was good and that it won?t fail despite their circumstances. And he tells them that they are a part of something much bigger than just their suffering. This isn?t to minimize what they?re going through but to put it in some context?a good lesson for us as well.
So in verse three Paul has the Philippians on his mind. In verse 7 he says: ?I have you in my heart? and next week we?ll see he also has them in his prayers.