A Walk Through Philippians – #1

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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 1:1-5, ESV)

Both Paul and Timothy were present at the founding of the Philippian church, sowing gospel seed in the previously unplowed region. The church at Philippi holds a special place in Paul’s affections, as he also does in theirs, demonstrated by their repeated gifts of help for Paul and his ministry. Quite simply, he loves them with the love of Christ. They love Paul sacrificially. You can see this clearly when you read the letter as a whole. Paul does not express his deep affection for them in flowery speech. No, he calls God as witness of his love for them. This is no small testimony of his commitment to them. They had observed Paul in very troubled times and had endured their own persecution for the sake of the gospel. Shared persecution has welded the apostle’s heart to the church.

There is one specific point we will meditate on in this opening post. The Philippian church is a partner with Paul in his missionary work. From the very beginning of their walk in Christ, birthed through Paul’s preaching ministry, they have freely given their time, energy, and means to further the ministry of the gospel through Paul. They have forged a mutual partnership in Christ, even though their individual circumstances are quite different. Paul is a missionary apostle, traveling and preaching widely. The Philippians minister in their locale but also support Paul in both theological and practical ways.

This account raises questions for our times, for our churches, and for us as individuals. How does my church relate to the missionaries we support? Stop and look at the bigger picture. This is a relationship, a partnership, a friendship. Relationships need effort. They go deeper than the dollar figure on your missions budget. Are we freely giving our means to further the ministry of the gospel in missions? If we are, great. But that’s not the whole picture. Are we giving our time and energy also? Are we partners in the gospel like Paul and the Philippians? Does my church intentionally support our missionaries in theological and practical ways?

Please consider your own personal part in your church’s relationship with its missionaries. I do not ask this as a means to lay a guilt trip on you. It is a fact that everyone is not called to do everything all the time (but sometimes it feels or looks like it). No, I’m simply asking you to consider if and how you might spend your time, energy, and means as a member of your church to partner with your missionaries. They are real people with hopes and fears, triumphs and failures, and a million other things that make up a life. I know they would appreciate your partnership and, as Paul, would thank God in all their remembrance of you with joy.

Paul in Philippi – Part 6

And now we come to the conclusion of this little series. Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke have ministered in Philippi, bringing the truth of the gospel to a small group of women who gathered by the river for prayer. Lydia was among their number, whose heart the Lord opened to receive the gospel preached by the traveling band of missionaries. A demon-possessed slave-girl is the catalyst that ultimately leads Paul and Silas into suffering for the sake of the gospel.

After they are beaten, bound, and imprisoned; Paul reveals that he and Silas are Roman citizens. They should not have been treated in such a manner. And here is the rub for us today. Paul waited to reveal their citizenship until after they suffered terribly. Why did he wait? The text does not say and I have found precious few commentators who devote any space at all to theorizing. So while there may not be any dogmatic conclusions concerning this delay, it is a question worth meditating on. Think about how you might react in the face of real persecution from the state. Should we always withhold our defense until after unrighteous punishment has been meted out? I don’t think we can say that conclusively because the text does not specify. But are there times when it would be the right thing to do, what God calls you to in that season? It appears to be a distinct possibility. God may call you to suffer unrighteous persecution for the sake of the gospel, even when there is a way out of the persecution before it occurs.

Can we begin to wrap our “successful Christian life” minds around this? Were we to fall into this kind of trouble for the sake of the gospel and then fall back on what we’ve learned about “victorious Christian living”, where would we land? After all, if we are doing (and saying) the right things, there should be only victory. At least that’s what some people tell us, some very “successful” people who lead churches and ministries defined by a message of “victory”. Yet, here we have Paul and Silas giving us an example to follow that is so very unlike the “victory” lifestyle. I understand the temptation… weighing the promise of great physical blessings against the reality of trials and persecution.

Brothers and sisters, one of these lives is victorious. One is a lie. God calls you to true life,

every

single

day.

Paul in Philippi – more to come this week

The last two weeks have been furiously busy. I had to fill the pulpit at my church for the last two Sundays. Preaching is not something I take lightly. Needless to say, I was preoccupied with preparations. The sermon I preached two weeks ago is a practical application of the truths I’ve been writing about concerning Paul in Philippi. I will be posting the sermon here tonight, followed by a final post for this series later this week.

I have also been teaching through Philippians in my adult Sunday school class. I have been challenged on many fronts, especially the gospel courage that Paul, Silas, and Timothy display during their journey.

Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me. Writing is not a quick thing for me. You are more patient than I deserve. I have opportunity this week and next to devote myself to serious studies. God help me to mine precious gold with hands of clay.

Paul in Philippi – part 4

During Paul and Silas’ midnight prison worship service, an earthquake has opened up the doors of the Philippian prison and everyone is unshackled. The earthquake awakens the jailer, who upon surveying the open prison immediately decides suicide is his only option – assuming the prisoners have escaped. Strangely, not one of them is missing. Paul cries out in order to save the jailer from himself, who now seeks lasting salvation from the hand of the Savior. What a dynamic turn of events! Confusion, fear, thoughts of suicide, the metallic rattle of a sword being drawn, despairing of life itself, hope, true freedom. The jailer, roused from sleep by an earthquake and thrown immediately into utter despair, has found rescue at the foot of the cross, led there by the very prisoners he placed within the prison that same night.

Paul and Silas, shown no mercy by the jailer since their arrival, answer his plea with a simple message of mercy. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” The jailer’s heart is changed, demonstrated in washing their wounds, housing, and feeding Paul and Silas. There is much rejoicing in his home, for real life has come to stay. Where death and fear have reigned, rejoicing drives them out as the Lord ascends in the heart of this man and his family.

The next day, the magistrates send their messengers to the jail with instruction to release these two prisoners. Paul insists that the magistrates come themselves and apologize for mistreating him and Silas, who are Roman citizens. Fear boils over in the hearts of the magistrates. They, as rulers in a Roman colony, have abused their fellow contrymen.

Here is the point I find supremely stunning and challenging. Paul and Silas could have asserted their Roman citizenship when all this trouble began, but they didn’t. Think about that for a day or three. I’ll be back in a few with some more thoughts on this curious turn of events.

Paul in Philippi – part 3

When we left Paul and Silas in Philippi, they had been dragged before the magistrates in the market, falsely accused of crimes, stripped, beaten repeatedly with rods, thrown into prison with their feet in stocks. What irony. The gospel of peace has stirred up a hornet’s nest in Philippi. The freeing of a slave girl from demons has lead the truly free into suffering and chains.

Imagine how curious the other prisoners were about the new arrivals in their midst. A prisoner’s view of the world becomes microscopic. The prison itself seems to encompass the whole world. Paul and Silas have been delivered into this tiny world – the free placed in prison chains in order to free others from eternal chains.

Put yourself in the other prisoners’ place for a minute. A pair of battered and bloodied magician tricksters have landed in the inner prison. Rumour surrounds their arrival. “These are the men who silenced the soothsayer slave-girl with but a command. What kind of men are these? They’ve already been beaten before their arrival here. There is so much concern about their magic they are taken straight to the inner prison, foot stocks shackling them.” You can be sure the prisoners are straining to see and hear everything surrounding the spectacle lived out before them.

“Who are you? Where have you come from? What have you done?”

They did not have to wait long to find out what these two “criminals” were about. Around midnight, after gathering strength sapped by their trial and beatings, Paul and Silas pray and sing songs of praise to God. All the prisoners are listening to them. What kind of God is this, whose suffering servants give no pause in their praises?


“What is this? The ground is shaking? First they silenced the slave-girl with words, and now their songs start an earthquake?!?! I can’t believe what I’m seeing. The prison doors wide open. My shackles, lying on the floor next to me. … so strange. My head… all this shaking. I must be dreaming.”

to be continued…