Saturday, February 22, 2014

Time for context

So what is the historical context that should augment our understanding of the epistle to the Philippians?  For this we need to look at the book of Acts, together with outside historical sources to understand the city and the events that transpired there.

The city of Philippi was named after the father of Alexander the Great, Philip of Macedonia. Founded in the fourth century B.C. it was located on an important road between Rome and Asia the “Via Egnatia”. The population was no more than 10 000 and the city had special privileges within the Roman world as it was designated a Roman Colony in 42 B.C. This meant that citizens had preferential tax treatment as well as other privileges conferred by holding Roman citizenship.

As for the founding of the church, in Acts 16 we have the story.  Paul and Silas having been directed by the Holy Spirit to leave Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and go into Europe, cross the Aegean Sea and arrive at Philippi which was located nine miles from the coast.

Paul’s habit upon entering a new city was to go to the local synagogue, but that didn’t happen at Philippi.  Apparently there wasn’t a large enough contingent of Jews to support one.  Philippi was a predominately gentile city.  There is subtle evidence for this in the letter of Philippians where every name mentioned is a gentile name.

There were ‘God fearers’ in Philippi however as Paul soon discovers a group of women who met at the local river to pray.  There among those women Paul has his first European converts.  Lydia a merchant of purple cloth is specifically mentioned as one of those first converts since she opened her home to Paul and Silas to stay with her.

Paul soon gets into trouble with the locals after he commands a demon to leave a slave girl.  The girls owners are unhappy that they are no longer able to gain money from the girl as a fortune teller and they subsequently stir up the city against Paul and Silas.  The magistrates order them to be beaten and thrown in prison.

It is in prison, where we read the wonderful story of Paul and Silas singing in prison at midnight when suddenly there is an earthquake that causes the doors to be opened and everyone’s bonds to be unfastened.  The Philippian jailer assuming that the prisoners had escaped is about to kill himself, but Paul assures him everyone is still present.  This leads the jailer to utter those famous words, “what must I do to be saved?”.

Paul’s response is “believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”, and jailer comes to know about Christ and is converted both him and his whole family.

The next day the magistrates are about to let Paul go, when he lets them know that their treatment of Silas and him was unlawful.  Since Paul and Silas were Roman citizens themselves, being thrown in jail without a trial was a grievous offence.  You can see this in the fact that the magistrates were afraid and apologized to them once they learned this fact.

Shortly after this episode Paul and Silas leave the city, however based on the letter Paul later writes to them, the church in Philippi is near and dear to his heart.  It is unknown whether or not Paul ever returned to Philippi, but his connection to the church was strong.

As for the church left behind, it seems to have thrived and based on the tone of the letter Philippi seems to be a healthy congregation with few problems.

The letter was most likely written from Rome.  There are allusions to this in the letter.  In 1:13, Paul mentions the imperial guard and in 4:22 Paul refers to those of Caesar’s household.  Also the fact that Paul is anticipating that he might soon die seems to point to the letter being written when Paul was in prison in Rome.

The occasion for the letter is the fact that Epaphroditus a member of the church has recently brought a gift to Paul.  Paul is writing to thank the church as well as let them know that Epaphroditus almost died.  Epaphroditus did recover and it is believed that he carried the letter back home to Philippi with him.

The date for the letter is sometime between 60 and 62 A.D.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Do not be anxious about anything

Here is another frequently quoted passage found in Philippians.

Philippians 4:6–7 (ESV)  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What I find especially helpful with this passage is that the apostle not only gives us a very practical command to follow but he also prescribes the means to obey it.  The solution to anxiety and worry is peace. 

Where does peace come from?  It comes from God.  What is the nature of this peace?  It is a supernatural peace that is beyond our human understanding.  How do we get this peace?  We ask God for it.  In what attitude should we approach God in order to receive it?  In an attitude of thanksgiving.  What will this peace do for us?  It will guard our hearts and minds.  What is the prerequisite for all of this?  That we are ‘in Christ Jesus’, that we are members of his body, that we belong to him.

Here are a few other translations of this verse.

(NKJV)  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

(NASB)  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(NIV) Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(HCSB) Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

(Expanded Bible) Do not worry [be anxious] about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need [or make your requests known to God], always giving thanks. And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it [transcends/surpasses all comprehension], will keep [guard] your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

(NLT)  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

(The Voice Bible) Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come.  And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.

Here are some cross references listed in the treasury of scripture knowledge.

Psalm 34:4 (ESV)  I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 119:165 (ESV)  Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.

Matthew 6:25–33 (ESV)  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

John 14:27 (ESV)  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Colossians 3:15 (ESV)   And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

1 Peter 5:7 (ESV)   casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Joy from a prison cell

One of the themes many commentators have highlighted from the book of Philippians is that of joy.  Over a dozen times in the four short chapters of his letter, Paul either expresses joy, or instructs the church to rejoice.  I think it is incredible that Paul would feel this way, especially considering his circumstances in a Roman prison.  Consider these verses.

Philippians 1:3–5 (ESV)  I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Philippians 1:18–19 (ESV)  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,

Philippians 2:2 (ESV)  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Philippians 2:17–18 (ESV)  Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.  Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Philippians 2:28–29 (ESV)  I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.  So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honour such men,

Philippians 3:1 (ESV)  Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Philippians 4:1 (ESV)  Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Philippians 4:4 (ESV)  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Philippians 4:10 (ESV)  I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.

So let’s summarize, Paul is joyful for the following reasons.

- for the faithful partnership in the gospel of the church in Philippi, which also includes financial support as we learn in chapter four
- that Christ is being proclaimed
- for the prayers of the Philippians and its effectual power to bring about his deliverance
- for the expectation that the Philippians will be in united in mind and love
- for the privilege of suffering and perhaps even dying for the church in Philippi
- for the Philippian people themselves
- for the concern that the church in Philippi had for him

Secondly, Paul exhorts the Philippians to  be joyful for the following reasons.

- to rejoice with Paul (or presumably any brother) in his rejoicing
- to rejoice at seeing Epaphroditus again
- rejoicing should be a trait of all Christians
- rejoicing should be independent of circumstance
- rejoicing should be a continual

So I ask myself the question, what things do I rejoice at.   Here is a short list.

- any accomplishment by my child
- recognition at work
- my country doing well at the Olympics
- unexpected blessings
- the beauty of creation
- hearing my child pray
- being told of the work of the church around the world

What I notice about my list is that they are ‘event’ driven.  I rejoice when something happens, or experience something specific.  I think what I need to work on is capturing the spirit of Philippians 4:4 and “Rejoice in the Lord always”. 

After more than a month of reading Philippians over and over again, I am beginning to understand what this means and hopefully soon, my life will begin to express this radiant joy that I can picture being true of Paul.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

A life worthy of the gospel

Philippians 1:27 (ESV)  Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ

Oh how I want to obey this verse.  For wouldn’t it be tragic to meet Christ and realize that our conduct on earth did not measure up to the worth of the gospel?  I know that I cannot earn salvation through my good works, but now that I am a Christian I have the Spirit of Christ abiding in me (Rom 8).  Now that I am a disciple of Jesus, I have the Word to equip me for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).  Now that I have placed my faith in the finished work of the cross, I find that I have been created in Christ Jesus for good works. (Eph 2:8-10).  And when it all comes down to it, good works are the evidence that I am a Christian in the first place (James 2:17). 

But what does a life worthy of the gospel look like?  Here are some cross references to show what the bible identifies the Christian life to look like.

Philippians 2:14–15 (ESV)  Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

Philippians 4:8 (ESV)  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

2 Peter 1:5–11 (ESV)  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 6:10–11 (ESV)  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

For to me to live is Christ

So here we have verse 21 of chapter 1.

Philippians 1:21 (ESV) — For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

This is one of the more recognizable verses from Philippians, but what does it mean?  The second phrase is straightforward enough, I understand the concept that compared to the world I will inherit when I die, this world is a garbage dump.  There is no comparison and in every sense dying is gain for the Christian, but what does the first phrase mean, and what is it telling me about this life.

Let’s look at some other translations.

(ESV, NASB, NKJV, NIV)  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

(HCSB)  For me, living is Christ and dying is gain.   

(NET)  For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

(NLT)  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.

(Expanded Bible)  [For] To me the only important thing about living [to live] is Christ, and dying would be profit for me [to die is gain/profit].

(The Voice Bible)  For my life is about the Anointed and Him alone. And my death, when that comes, will mean great gain for me.

This is an excellent verse to show the value of reading multiple versions.  The literal reading is not clear in my mind as to what Paul is attempting to say but the thought for thought translations give more clarity at the expense of giving the reader the interpretation.  As seen previously, the danger is that the verse is interpreted to mean more (or less) than what it actually does.  However I don’t think this is happening here especially considering the context of verse 20.

Philippians 1:20 (ESV) — as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death.

So based on these translations, it seems that the phrase “for to me to live is Christ”, means that while living on this earth, Paul’s utmost joy is in living for Christ.  Everything he does is for him and he recognizes the privilege of serving God in the here and now.  It begs the question then to me.  Is living for Christ the central purpose of my life on earth?

Here are some cross references to bring further clarity.

From later in the letter, Paul mentions unfaithful workers in contrast to the faithful Timothy.  He writes, “for they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (2:21)”  I get from this that as faithful workers we should always be working for the interests of Christ.

From other letter’s Paul wrote.

1 Corinthians 1:30 (ESV)  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

Galatians 2:20 (ESV)  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 6:14 (ESV)  But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Colossians 3:3 (ESV)  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

These verses expound on our verse under examination by expressing the idea that in a very real sense our old life has died and we are now alive “in Christ”.  This takes me back to the concept of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.  I am to make Christ my chief purpose in life, but God is the one who now lives in me to make it a reality.  How awesome is that!