A “letter of friendship” (Fee, 2).
“Paul’s happiest letter” (Peterson, 1619).
With phrases such as these biblical scholars refer to the New Testament correspondence known as Philippians. Throughout the next few weeks, we will focus on this friendly, happy, and pastoral letter from Paul to the first century believers living their everyday, ordinary lives in the Greek town of Philippi.
Paul wrote the letter around the year 60. As we prepare to read from Philippians we do well, first, to familiarize ourselves with events that occurred approximately a decade prior to the writing of the epistle. Luke, the writer of Acts and the traveling companion of Paul provides the details.
Four devout men of faith (Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke), led by Paul’s God-sent vision, traveled to Philippi and taught the truth of the gospel. This was during Paul’s second missionary journey. Among the first hearers - who were women - Lydia eagerly responded.
To her conversion and baptism, she added faithfulness. With her gift of persuasion that served her well as a businesswoman in sales, she convinced the men to use her house as a home in which the first European church would be birthed.
If we continued to read in Acts 16, we would discover that the next conversions Luke recorded were those of a demon-possessed female slave and a Roman jailer along with his family.
Do not miss the identity of the founding members of the church in Philippi - one a woman, Greek by birth; a woman freed from possession and slavery; and a jailer in the service of the pagan empire of Rome. Only God can do such a wonderful work! At the start of chapter seventeen Luke informs his readers that Paul and his companions left Philippi to continue spreading the gospel. There the use of the pronoun “we” changes to “they.” Heeding grammar, we learn that Luke stayed behind. We surmise he remained to shepherd the young church.
We gather from Paul’s decade-later letter that Lydia, the jailer, and Luke led well as God grew the Macedonian church. We turn now to that letter.
Within those introductory words you hear the friendship and happiness to which scholars refer. You also hear Paul’s vulnerability. Paul, the counter of joy in all things, bares his soul. He reminds the believers of his prayers for, devotion to, and love for them. Let us focus on the connections between his devotion and love with his prayers. Paul prays for the Philippians for reasons.
Reasons Paul Prays
1) Paul loves them.
2) Paul recognizes them as partners.
While Paul, in his letters, will often refer to his readers as children, he does so out of love and a healthy sense of pride. He did not view them as inferior, but rather as servants on par. Imagine their joy in being referred to as partners in ministry with Paul.
3) Paul prays from Christ’s love.
As John wrote, “we love because [Christ] first loved us.”
For those reasons Paul prays. He shares the substance of his prayers.
Work backward through those verses with me.
What does it mean to grow in their love? By that, Paul meant a love based in knowledge and insight. Here’s a bit of what he meant.
1) Uneducated love decomposes quickly.
Take a marriage as an example. After the “honeymoon period” husbands and wives learn more and more about their spouse—even the annoying things. Love based in knowledge loves “for better or for worse.” Love based on feeling alone crumbles. What is true in marriages is also true in relationships within the church. We love each other even though we know each other.
2) Educated love produces insight.
Knowledge is gained information. Wisdom is using that information appropriately.
Paul truly loved the Philippians.
The knowledge of his love for them aids our understanding of the next section of verses.
Paul’s love for the people allowed him to focus on the theme of central importance.
Because Paul loved the people his main concern was that they heard the gospel. He, even though he recognized the self-serving nature of some others’ preaching, rejoiced that they preached the gospel.
Paul’s love for the people allowed him to maintain a desire for life even though he preferred the opportunity to rest from all his struggles in death.
He knew his was a win/win situation. In life and likewise in death he would win. His confidence in that fact fueled his obedience to his Lord. Come what may, Paul would be ready and faithful.
Verse twenty-one is a piece of knowledge upon which we do well to focus as we conclude this post. As I said previously, wisdom is using knowledge appropriately. Here’s my question for you. Do you know that to live or die is a win/win situation?
Listen to a reminder from Gordon Fee . . .
If you live for Christ even your death will be gain. If, on the other hand, you live without Christ, your death will be loss.
Do you live for Christ?
If yes, then rejoice in your win/win situation.
If no, then call upon Christ and accept His forgiveness. Call Him Lord today.
For further reading:
Fee, Gordan D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995.
Peterson, Eugene. The Message. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005.
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