THE SPILLING OUT LIFE: [A Letter to Philippi] I am starting a series this week on the book of Philippians. It will be a rather leisurely look at this great letter of the Paul’s that will continue over the summer.
This is considered to be one of the most joyous writings of the Apostle Paul. Even though it was written from his prison cell he wrote with a joy unmatched in any of his other letters.
Here are the opening lines: “This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.”
This small book of four chapters is filled with more quotable and recognizable sound bites than most books in the Bible. Here are a few: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Phil. 1:21
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Phil. 1:27
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also on the interest of others.” Phil. 2:3-4
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus . . .” Phil. 2:5
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil. 2:12
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3:13-14
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Phil. 4:4
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God . . .” Phil. 4:6
“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable. . .” Phil. 4:8
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Phil. 4:11
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me. . .” Phil. 4:13
As great as these isolated verses are there is no substitute for taking them in context. To just reduce them down to easy to memorize lines is to do a disservice to the integrity of the scriptures.
For some the phrase: “Rejoice in the Lord always” Could easily become a motto for superficial happiness rather than the deep theologically grounded command it is. I hope over the summer that we will find ourselves deep in this book and that we will all experience Christ in a deeper more meaningful way.
Let me give you an outline or a historical context for this small book in the New Testament. 1.The Journey
This is Paul’s second missionary journey and he was joined by Silas, Timothy and Luke. It was on this trip that Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia standing before him urging him to come there and help them.
In an instant they began a two day crossing to Neapolis and walked nine miles along the Egnatian Way to Philippi. The Roman Empire was not aware of it but on that day the flag of Christianity was unfurled.
Philippi was not a big city, no more than 10,000 at the most, and rested on a narrow shoulder of land, crowned by an acropolis guarding the Via Egnatia, the famous highway between Rome and her eastern empire. It was founded by the Greeks in the fourth century B.C. and Alexander the Greats father named it after himself.
When Paul arrived there it was a Roman colony. This was due to the fact that it was here that Mark Anthony and Octavian fought the forces of Brutus and Cassius (the assistants of Julius Caesar.
Normally Paul would go into a city and search for a Jewish synagogue but there were very few Jews in the city of Philippi. In fact, there were not ten Jewish men which is how many you had to have to form a synagogue.
Within a few days he discovered a Sabbath congregation meeting alongside a river outside the city walls. It was a group of god-fearing Gentile women meeting in a “place of prayer.” (Acts 16:13)
These ladies were to become the first Christians of Philippi. 2.The Reception
The first of these women was a business woman named Lydia. In the book of Acts Luke writes, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the cit of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”
Like every other place Paul went neither he nor his message were well received. After driving a demon out of a young girl causing her master to lose his source of income, they were taken by the mob to the Roman magistrate. This young lady was being used like a physic to tell the future. When she encountered Paul and Silas she announced loudly, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” Paul immediately exorcised the spirit to keep her from destroying the gospel message.
Even there God was with them as Paul and Silas sang hymns at midnight. They were beaten and they were sitting in stocks bruised and bloody. God rescued them by causing an earthquake that totally destroyed the prison but it opened the door to share the Message with the jailer. He has been so affected by their spirits that he fell down before them and asked, “What must I do to be saved.” Of course the answer was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” The entire family was baptized!
They returned to Lydia’s house and there was a great deal of rejoicing. They were freed from jail, they had the beginning of a church planted, Lydia was a woman that possessed leadership skills and they had some new converts in the jailor and his family. They very well could have also made a Christ follower of the young lady who had been possessed with and evil spirit.
This church was clearly Paul’s favorite church out of all the churches he had started. Right after the greeting which I read to you earlier, he writes these words, “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.”
The word partnership is the Greek word koinonia which means fellowship. Paul felt a warm fellowship or a sense of community with these people. This wasn’t just a church with a sense of community for each other but they truly fellowshipped around a sense of calling and the need to share the gospel message of Christ.
This was more of Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring then a soft drink and cookies small group. These people were bound together by a cause and it is critical that we understand that as we share in studying this letter of the next few weeks. 3.The Letter
This letter was written years after founding this church. It sprang from the fact that they were supporting him financially as he was in prison again but this time in Rome. The monetary gift had been hand delivered by Epaphroditus who had nearly died during its delivery. When he recovered and was ready to return home Paul asked him to take this letter back to the church and share it.
Paul wrote for many reasons. He wrote to express gratitude for their generosity. He wrote to explain why he had sent Epaphroditus back so quickly. He wanted to catch them up on his personal life, to tell them he would be sending Timothy shortly and to warn them about the Judaizers. He also urges them to stand firm and to be united. 4.The Message: Christ! It is Christ centered in a message of joy.
Here then is a quick synopsis of what we are going to learn over the summer. There will be different approaches to this and we will come at them from difference spiritual angles but there are three major themes.
Paul identifies himself as a servant not an apostle which is really unusual but then he writes later on about being a servant like Christ.
There is nothing I would like better or nothing that I think we need more than the three fold message of this letter.
We need to really work on our attitude of serving as a congregation. There are many of you involved in the ministry of this church and I am so very thankful for all of you that understand why you do what you do.
Serving is one of the best ways to model who Christ was and is. We are privileged to walk after him in service to others.
Paul calls the Philippians “holy people” and proceeds to write about it in the letter. There is no question that this is God’s standard for living and always has been. From the Old Testament right on through the New Testament the message never changes. We are called to follow God and be holy.
We are never taught to look around and see how everyone else in the church is living and then adjust our lives accordingly. We are taught to pursue Christ and to walk in all His ways.
It is critical that we, the church, and that we as individuals begin to really take the message of holiness and holy living seriously.
This message is simple. It is one of full surrender to Christ.
Lastly throughout the whole book he is urging them to unity and working together. All of this is woven together with a spirit of joyfulness. This is considered to be the most joyful of Paul’s writings. The message is about Christ and no other noun appears more than His name.
This letter is about people in Christ Jesus, people who are in fellowship with each other because of Christ, and people whose citizenship is in heaven. And all of that causes great joy. 1:4b: “making my prayer with joy.”
1:18b, “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes and I will rejoice.”
1:25b, “your. . .joy in the faith.”
2:2, “complete my joy.”
2:17-18, “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.”
2:28, “That you may rejoice.”
2:29, “so receive him in the Lord with all joy.”
3:1, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.”
4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.”
4:10, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly.”
It is joy of Christ, in Christ and from Christ! It is a joy that burst through the dark places of life. It is available to those who are “in Christ” who stand together in unity and community with each other. Print Illustration
As the head coach of the New York Giants, Jim Fassel has enjoyed great success on the football field with a trip to the Super Bowl as recently as 2001. A fresh off-the-field-success, however, might be his sweetest victory. The story begins 34 years ago. The year was 1967; Jim and Kitty Fassel were freshmen in college in Fullerton, California when they met, fell in love, and made a mistake. In the late summer of 1968, as they were getting ready to start their sophomore years, they found out Kitty was pregnant. Since abortion was never an option for them, they seriously considered marriage before accepting their parents’ advice that being forced into a wedding was no way to start their lives together. Kitty left southern California to attend a Colorado business school and have the baby. On April 5, 1969, a healthy baby boy was born and three days later given up for adoption. Even though Jim and Kitty got married two years later and raised four more children during their 32 years of marriage, the unanswered questions about their firstborn son haunted them. They tried for years to make contact with their son but were unsuccessful, until a change in Colorado adoption laws in July of 2002. On Mother’s day, May 2003, they spoke on the telephone for the first time, and three days later they met face-to-face. The Fassel’s reunion with their son, John Mathieson, turned into a genuine reconciliation. Said Coach Fassel: "For John, Kitty, and myself, we have lived with an unanswerable question for all these years. If someone had granted us one wish in the world, it would always have been to be together and to know things were okay. Instead you carry this question around with you, and you never know how it will come out. So to have a day like today, it is a miracle." The family resemblance between Mr. Fassel and his long-lost son, John Mathieson, is obvious even at a glance, but for years Mathieson did not know who his true father was. He bore the image of his father but was unaware. Mathieson recalls watching a November 2000 replay of Coach Fassel on television making a now-famous prediction. The Giant’s were reeling from two consecutive losses at a time when they should have been ramping up for a playoff run. Most commentators were writing them off and suggesting that a postseason birth was out of the picture. In that context, Fassel used his post-game news conference to boldly predict that his Giants would make it to the playoffs. Mathieson recalls: "I turned to Kristi [his wife], pointed at the television and said: ’That’s what I would have done.’ I said: ’That guy is doing the right thing.’ When they went to the Super Bowl that year, I must have seen that television clip 20 times. I always thought: ’That’s the way to handle it. I’d have done the same thing.’"
When this story hit the headlines, I couldn’t help but think of some parallels to the story of humanity and our own "reunion" with our heavenly father. As Paul reminds us, we are "created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24). Even though we bear his image, it often takes us many years to discover who it is that God made us to be.
Today I want to invite you to make a fresh start with Christ in your life. We invite you to do something significant with your life this summer by deciding to follow Christ.