It is so lovely to see you all here this morning! My, what a difference a summer makes! Some of your little ones are walking now, some of you are seeing your kids transition to new stages – whether to preschool, kindergarten, high school, off to college, or even one of you has had one of your children return from the mission field! As for me, in addition to now homeschooling two children, I bought a house yesterday! The process has shown me over and over God’s faithfulness to provide and bless us. Thankful only begins to scratch the surface of what I am feeling today. I’m afraid if I were to try to describe it I would begin to run my sentences together like Paul seems to!
Paul. This fall, we are studying Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. It is my job, this morning, to give you an introduction. I want to start by answering some questions.
Who was Paul? Turn in your bibles to the book of Acts, chapter 7 verse 8. Stephen has been testifying before the Sanhedrin, retelling the story of Moses to the religious leaders, and showing them their own rejection of the Law. They were so enraged they stoned him to death! Read verse 58. A young man named Saul. Now, flip over to chapter 8, verse 3. Saul was ravaging the church. Saul was a Pharisee, a devout, “law-keeping”, Jewish citizen of Rome. We are going to read more about his credentials later this fall.
Now, if you are not familiar with Saul’s story, you may be wondering why I am talking about him. Isn’t this Paul’s letter? Yes. Saul underwent a dramatic conversion (and later changed his name to Paul). You can read about his conversion in Acts chapter 9, verses 1-25. He is on his way, with the authority of the Jewish leaders in his hand, to Damascus in pursuit of Christians who have fled his persecution. On his way, he is blinded by a light, and meets Jesus. Jesus sends him on to another town to await someone Jesus will send to him. Jesus sends a believer to pray with him, and after praying he regains his sight and believes! He is a man so completely changed by the Gospel! He begins to spread the Gospel message with the same intensity he once sought to eliminate it with!
Right off the bat he is confounding Jews and they are plotting to kill him. This is a reality that does not ever change for Paul. Everywhere he goes he proclaims Christ with such boldness he is threatened, beaten, and even imprisoned more than once! It is during his second imprisonment in Rome that he writes this letter. He is writing to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, along with the overseers and the deacons.” Paul went to Philippi the first time during his second missionary journey. You can read about his time there, as well, in the book of Acts. Chapter 16, verses 11-40. This letter was written approximately 10 years after he founded the church there. This church was particularly special to him because it was the first church he founded in Europe.
What we will notice this fall is that this letter is different from his others. This is a thank-you letter, of sorts. Today, this letter would be similar to a missionary support/update letter. Like I said before, Paul is in prison when he writes this. Prisons in Rome are not like the prisons we have in America today. The inmates then did not get food, clothing, or other things we would deem necessities today. If you did not have family or friends to provide these things for you, you were out of luck then! The Philippian church had sent a gift of some kind, along with one of their leaders to support and encourage Paul. He is writing to thank them for that.
One of the main themes we will see in this letter is joy. Joy regardless of our circumstances, because of Christ. You won’t see to many references to the old testament in this letter. One reason is because of that motivation for writing – it is a thank-you note. Another reason is that this letter is the only of Paul’s letters in the bible that was NOT written to address a specific doctrinal issue or concern.
So that is the who, and the what. Here are some things to keep in mind as we go. When you are studying a letter, or an epistle, you must remember first and foremost that CONTEXT IS KING! Paul’s choice of words, as well as his sentence structure will be extremely important. You don’t necessarily have to start diagramming the sentences (unless you are a huge nerd like me 😉 ). However, Paul is the king of clauses. Pay attention to the entire sentence, as well as the entire paragraph it is in, as well as the paragraph before it and after it!
Also, if you come across a word or a phrase that you want to study further to help you understand, first look at the other ways the author uses it in the same book. Then look at how the same author used it in a different book. Then move on to how else it is used in the New Testament, and then on to the Bible as a whole.
Okay! You ready? Next week we will come back with lesson one done, and we will explore this together. I am very excited to be teaming up with Mary and Ashley, and even Mary-Alice, this year to help you explore God’s Word. I have been praying for God to give all of us eyes to see, and ears to hear this year. Let’s seek Him together.