We began a brand-new study of a book of the Bible on Sunday, and Pastor Scott gave us some compelling background that led to Paul writing his letter to the Philippians.
And that background starts in the book of Acts, which offers us so much history of the early church. In chapter 16, we encounter the story of Paul arriving in Philippi amid his second missionary journey. Interestingly Paul and his companions experienced a lot of doors shutting in their faces prior to arriving in Philippi — even the Lord not allowing them to speak the gospel in certain places. Why did that happen? Why wouldn’t God want a city to be evangelized? Well, of course we know he does — but timing and circumstances also play a role in how God’s plan works, and clearly the Lord had something else in mind for Paul & Co., who just needed to obey.
The answer in this case came through a vision Paul received in the night — a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And it’s in Philippi, a major city in Macedonia, where Paul learns about family ministry. Indeed, the first time Paul uses the word “household” is his writings is in his letter to the Philippians! There he encounters Lydia, a religious woman who doesn’t have Jesus — but through Paul’s witness she becomes a Christian … and her entire household does as well, after which Paul is invited to stay with her family.
Things get tough, though, for Paul after he exorcizes a demon out of slave girl whose practice of divination had been bringing money to her owners. With that Paul and Silas are beaten and flogged and thrown into jail, their feet placed in stocks in the innermost part of the facility to ensure they won’t escape. But they are not the inmates anyone was expecting. Rather than grumbling and complaining about their circumstances, Paul and Silas begin praying and singing praises to God while behind bars. Everyone was listening. Can you imagine? And with that, an earthquake hits, and the cells open, and prisoners’ bonds were broken. As Pastor Scott said, a crisis has come into the jailer’s life. His world was shaken, literally and figuratively. He knew that escaping prisoners meant his execution, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul had a different idea, and hollered to the jailer: “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” But the jailer was still afraid and fell down before Paul and Silas before asking them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”That’s how quickly people can come to the end of themselves. Like a flash of lightning; a clear moment when we realize we cannot go on without God. And Paul and Silas told the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Again … “household.” More family ministry! So they “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” What a gift!
As Pastor Scott reminded us, our salvation doesn’t depend on our own good works or performance or anything else but what Jesus did for us on the cross. All we need to “do” is believe in him. More than that, the magistrates apparently had enough of earthquakes in connection with Paul and Silas and ordered their release. But Paul wasn’t satisfied — he wanted an apology for their unjust treatment … and got one before they left Philippi. Fast forward 11 years, and Paul is under house arrest in Rome. And it’s here that he writes his letter to the church in Philippi, whose members are afraid of what may happen with Paul now in chains. What will become of him? Will he be killed? They’re sad, anxious, and angry. So Paul addresses those emotions in the letter to the Philippians.
Pastor Scott emphasized the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on circumstances, but joy is different — it is not dependent on circumstances, which means joy can be experienced in the worst of times. So crucial to our well-being, Paul uses the word “joy” 16 times in the epistle’s 104 verses!
In addition, Paul address his letter to all the “saints” in the church — and as we know, that term has been misused forever as a way of describing someone who does good things … or doesn’t do bad things. But Pastor Scott underscored that all Christians are saints. And again, our sainthood isn’t dependent on our personal righteousness. God chooses to look at us through the lens of Jesus’ righteousness, which is perfect.
Pastor Scott also told us that the letter to the Philippians is the only one in the Bible that names church leaders — overseerers and deacons — in the opening salutation, which is an acknowledgment of the structure of a church. And in this case Pastor Scott said the idea of church leadership here seems to emphasize the Lord’s power in each of us through spiritual gifts we have to offer to the church.
Finally, we stopped at verse 2 of Philippians which offers us two crucial words to all of us: “Grace” and “peace.” Pastor Scott told us that the word “joy” we had just discussed actually is rooted in the word “grace” — and added that the word “grace” is manifested three ways in Scripture: saving grace, which we don’t earn; the grace of spiritual gifts that empower us to do ministry; and grace to endure trials … in the same way the Lord told Paul his grace is sufficient to deal with his thorn in the flesh. And for that reason we all can experience “joy” through the grace God provides for us. And concerning the word “peace,” Pastor Scott told us that it represents the “center” of where the Lord wants us. So that when hard things happen and anxiety hits, we can ask God to give us the “peace that passes all understanding.”
Bottom line, though: To experience grace and joy and peace, we must choose to do so. Therefore, choose wisely today!