Philippi was a Roman colony, populated primarily by retired Roman soldiers. Romans colonies were little islands of all things Latin scattered throughout the empire. Here Latin was the spoken language, Roman law was the law of the city, the toga was the expected dress of its citizens, and Roman religion and custom was rigidly observed — important in understanding some things in Paul’s letters.
The church at Philippi was one of Paul’s favorite churches. It was the first church he established in Europe, and it was a congregation who apparently helped support him, possibly being a sponsoring congregation (4:15). It began with the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16, a probably wealthy business woman (being a seller of purple dye), from whose house the church was launched.
Paul is writing them from a Roman imprisonment. They had sent a gift to him for his financial support, and inquired into his welfare and prospects of release, because of their great personal concern for him. His letter to them is an unshrinking encouragement to them to not be concerned whatever the outcome of his imprisonment might be — that he was ready even for the death. The message and theme is one of joy and encouragement to continue to live the Christian life in full courage, faithfulness, and service. For that reason this letter from Paul is a favorite of New Testament readers and a source of great encouragement to Christian living over the centuries.
To live is Christ, to die is gain — Phil. 1:21
What’s the one truly important thing in your life? Paul’s imprisonment in Roman was reason for considerable concern for his life, because it could have easily ended in execution. But counterintuitively Paul was little concerned about the outcome. His life was all about following Jesus, so that whether by his life or by his death, Christ should be glorified. Would you be able to say such a courageous thing? Such courage, such indifference to death, comes only when our life is completely about Jesus. Otherwise, we clamor and claw to survive in this life. The world has a tough time with this concept, because to live is — well, to enjoy oneself, to be happy, to experience everything, to finish your bucket list, etc. What is life for you?
Have this mind in you — Phil. 2:5ff
What problems that appeared to have been present in Philippi had at least in part to do with unity. Status, honor, and pecking order are perennial enemies to unity in every age and every culture; they were the major issues between the apostles in Jesus’ lifetime on this earth. And they appear to have been causing an erosion in the fellowship of the Philippian church. And so Paul focuses on the mindset that most promotes unity, Christian humility and service, and for the perfect example he points to Jesus. To become a man, the Christ had to “empty Himself” of His “God-ness”, His equality with God the Father. We probably will never know all that such a thing really means, but Jesus deliberately “let go” of it for our sakes — like Paul was trying to urge some Philippian brethren to “let go” of their grasp of status — and serve. But even more, Paul goes on to say, than becoming a man and a servant (and all the things that being human involves) He also submitted Himself to something God should never have had to experience, death. And not just any death, the terrible death of the Roman cross (excruciatingly painful and humiliating in the extreme). Nothing should, therefore, be too lowly in our service to others. Such service to others may have been a special problem among some brethren who were Roman citizens, an exalted station in life, especially in a Roman colony — especially if slaves were among those who were to be served.
It has application to us today, too. Is there a line that you would draw and say, “That’s just too much! I wouldn’t do that!”
I count all things to be loss — Phil 3:8
It would appear that another “status” issue may have been troubling the church. Some Judaizing teachers had come their way, had attempted to persuade the church to be circumcised and follow Moses’ Law, and possibly even flaunted their Jewish pedigree to add to their powers of persuasion. To them Paul says, “Rubbish!” No, literally, he said, “Rubbish!” All those such credentials and confidences in the flesh he now considered loss, trash, garbage, rubbish. There was one thing only that was worth anything, (Philippians 3:10, 11) “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” It’s the very thing that you’d expect from someone who’s already said that to live is Christ and to die is gain. What’s loss and what’s gain to you?
Learning the secret — Phil. 4:12,13
How can we be content, whether living with humble means or prosperity, being filled or hungry, experiencing abundance or being in need? There is a secret, and if anyone knew it you’d expect it to be Paul, who had experienced it all. Here it is: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” At first blush, it sounds kind of simple or perhaps even a non sequitur — how does that get me to contentment? But it is the real answer, and it clearly is a secret (since so many in our age are generally discontent). Trust in the Lord!
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.