New Citizens | Philippians
Introduction & Background
A Rome Away From Rome
Philippi is situated in northeastern Greece. In 42bc Philippi became the famous place where Mark Antony and Octavian defeated the Roman Republic forces of Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar! The victors settled their veteran soldiers, establishing Philippi as a Roman colony. After the battle of Actium in 31bc where Octavian defeated Mark Antony, more settlers, including Antony’s disbanded army and former supporters, settled in Philippi by order of Octavian who humbly renamed the city after himself where it finally became Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis. Philippi was governed by Roman law, the highest privilege possible for a Roman provincial municipality. The citizens of the colony were citizens of Rome and the city itself was modeled on the great city: laid out in similar patterns; style and architecture were extensively copied; the coins produced in Philippi bore Roman inscriptions; and, the people spoke Latin and wore Roman clothes – Philippi was Rome away from Rome! Although not the capital of the province, Philippi was still an important stopping place on the Egnatian Way, a constructed military road linking Byzantium with the Adriatic ports that led to Italy.
By the time Paul came to Philippi, the religious landscape was very mixed with a remarkable variety of gods and cults. Emperor worship, also known as the imperial cult, was common: Julius, Augustus and Claudius were worshipped as gods. There were altars and temples to the pantheon of Greek gods, who shared honours with their Roman counterparts (Jupiter identified with Zeus.) There were sanctuaries to Egyptian gods – especially Isis under whose protection Philippi was placed after Mark Antony’s victory in 42bc. The religious climate was syncretistic, but not surprisingly Emperor worship dominated. The Jewish community in Philippi was small, with no synagogue or regular synagogue congregation (10 men required to make a congregation), however Paul did find an informal meeting place outside the city, by the river, where several women met on the Sabbath to pray (Acts 16:13). After seeing a vision of a Macedonian man (Acts 16), Paul came and preached the gospel in Macedonia, establishing the church in Philippi, sometime during his second missionary journey (49-52ad). We will look at how the church in Philippi was planted in our first study. Paul writes this letter to the Philippians from prison (probably in Rome) some time around 60ad, where Paul is on trial for his life!
Paul’s purpose in writing is essentially the division between Euodia and Syntyche. Paul says if the Gospel unites us nothing should be able to divide us. He gives four examples of commitment to the Gospel: Paul … who in prison is able to say “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. Jesus … “who being in very nature God”. Timothy… “I have no one like him” … faithful in the preaching the Gospel and not motivated by self-interest and Epaphroditus… who “almost died” for the sake of the Gospel.
So the key verse in 1:27 “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”. Is seeking to address the division in the church!
Philippians is a great book for moving people from stagnation to service. Themes like unity/partnership, example, encouragement, and giving keep recurring in the book. Philippians is a great book to preach through to get people on board and involved in the ministry and mission of your church! Each week the passage challenges people to consider their involvement in their partnership of the gospel.
Talk 1 | The Gospel Unleashed
Big Idea | From a vision of a man in Macedonia, Paul planted the church in Philippi with Lydia, a demon possessed slave girl and a prison officer. From three gospel encounters in Philippi, we see God’s powerful gospel at work unleashing people from their slavery to sin to live as servants of the Risen Son. It’s the gospel that unites them.
Introduction | Christians in Vietnam being persecuted – jailed and tortured. We might get picked on at work or online but it’s still a long way from our experience.
v.6-15 | At Bible College it was hard to know where to go and do ministry. Paul didn’t have that problem: he sees a vision of a Macedonian man begging him to come and preach there! Philippi, a Roman colony, a leading city – no Synagogue and no men. Paul meets Lydia, God opens Lydia’s heart and she opens her home to Paul and Timothy.
v.16-24 | When the slave girl comes to Christ, Paul and Timothy are persecuted by her owners. They are beaten and thrown into prison.
v. 25-40 | Singing in the cells – Jail house rock when the jail house is rocked and so too the life of the Prison guard. He and his whole family come to faith in Christ and are released from the sentence of sin and death.
Conclusion | It’s a radical message that radically transforms lives! How has the gospel transformed your life? From three unlikely people, Paul started the church in Philippi, unleashing the gospel on Europe. What radical things does the gospel have you doing?
Talk 2 | Gospel Partners
Big Idea | There’s a lot of love between Paul and the Philippians, lots of affection, lots of warmth and inclusive language in the opening of this missionary letter. Paul and the Philippians are partners together in the Gospel.
Introduction | Old man at Henty named Charlie Coe used to pray with me, for me and encourage me to keep serving and loving Jesus.
v.1-5 | Paul and Timothy who started the Church in Philippi now writes to thank the Philippians for their partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Acts 16 – Lydia and the Jailer!
v.6-8 | Paul is confident that God is at work in the Philippians: he will carry out what he started in them. There’s lots of love and lots of affection here!
v.9-11 | Paul prays for the Philippians that they might Grow in love, Know what matters, Overflow with fruit and Glow on the day of Christ.
Conclusion | Who is giving thanks to God for you? Who’s someone at Church you can pray these things for and with.
Talk 3 | Gospel Living
Big Idea | The Apostle to the Gentiles is in prison, suffering for the gospel, bound by chains, in Rome, writing to the Philippians who want to be Romans about what it means to be Christians! But Paul can only see good things happening because God is at work – it’s an upside perspective.
Introduction | A mate is going to jail for the on charges of fraud and embezzlement. Talking to him before sentencing his afraid for his wife and kids.
v.12-20 | You’ve got to admit it looks bad. Imprisoned, false teachers, contemplating life and death. Paul can only see the good that’s coming from it – the gospel is being preached and he rejoices.
v.21-26 | Most people think about life and death when they’re depressed. But for Paul, life or death, either way it’s all for Jesus! It’s a win-win situation, but by staying with the Philippians the gospel advances further.
v.27-30 | Living a life worthy of the gospel isn’t about going to bible study and giving 10% of your income to church. It’s about standing firm with others at church for the good of the gospel even when you’re being opposed.
Conclusion | Are you living life in a manner worthy of the gospel? It’s easy to see everything at church as bad or “needing improvement”, we voice our complaints but are we standing firm together so the gospel might advance or are we just advancing our own agenda?
Talk 4 | Gospel Unity
Big Idea | To have unity in the church we need to rediscover humility. Jesus is the greatest example of what humility looks like – we need to be like him in every way.
Introduction | Alexamenos Worships His God. The foolishness of a crucified God was obvious to those in the 3rd century. Alexamenos’ God is a saviour who looks like a donkey!
v.1-4 | Paul sets out the ‘if’.. ‘then’ clause. The purpose of which is unity, being one in spirit and in purpose. Not being self serving but by being humble, looking out for the interests of others.
v.5-8 | Jesus who left the position of glory in the incarnation to become the humble servant of all mankind – expressed in his obedience by death upon a cross.
v.9-11 | God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, exalting Jesus to the highest place with the name above all others.
Conclusion | Humility is the key to a unified church. Considering others before ourselves has a whole heap of practical applications in church life. But we need to follow Jesus not only as our example but in submission to him because God has given him the name above every other name – including our own.
Talk 5 | Gospel Labourers
Big Idea | “Shine like the stars”, Paul says to the Philippians, and he gives them some star examples in Timothy and Epaphroditus of what it means to be a servant who holds firmly to the word of life.
Introduction | Story of professional boxer – Joe Louis, who didn’t beat up the kids who picked a fight with him but gave them his business card as he got off the bus. The power of example and humility.
v.12-18 | Stop complaining and arguing – that’s what purity and blamelessness looks like. Paul wants the Philippians to shine like the stars and hold firm so that his labour isn’t in vain.
v.19-24 | Timothy – no one else like him who looks out for the interests of others. He has proved himself to be faithful because he has served like a son with a father.
v. 25-30 | Epaphroditus almost died serving the Philippians. Everything Paul says about him screams servant.
Conclusion | Honouring people who serve others. Di Watson reads the Bible with a blind lady from church – no one knows about it! Examples of servants from church – people who are serving others at great expense to themselves.
Talk 6 | Gospel Citizens
Big Idea | Paul lets go of all he has to boast about so that he might obtain the resurrection. Heavenly citizenship focuses on our Saviour rather than ourselves.
Introduction | Australian citizenship entrance exam: all the things that you have to know and do to become an Australian Citizen.
v.1-6 | Although Paul has every reason to be confident in his achievements he gives a no confidence vote in the flesh and those pushing ‘fleshly’ things on the Philippians like circumcision.
v.7-11 | All the things Paul has done are rubbish by comparison to knowing Jesus. He throws it all on the scrapheap so that he might scrape into the resurrection.
Contrast the pattern of 3:4-9 (greatness to nothing) with 2:5-11 (nothing to greatness).
v.12-21 | Now we press on towards maturity, following Paul’s example and the others we’ve seen. Contrasting enemies of the cross with citizens of Heaven.
Conclusion | It’s easy to boast and brag in our own achievements, especially the ones that impress others. Easy for us to focus on our own desires and needs but heavenly citizenship means dumping those things and focusing on Jesus and growing in maturity.
Talk 7 | Gospel Giving
Big Idea | Paul has learnt the secret of being content, God provides his every need. God provided for him from the generous Philippians. Now he wants them to follow his example by standing firm and bearing fruit.
Introduction | Our church worries about the bottom line, most churches do. We spend so much energy worrying and fighting over money, how and where is should be spent, thinking and arguing about budgets.
v.1-7 | Paul urges the two bickering women to agree with one another in the Lord. Be united together for the sake of the gospel verse 5.
Don’t be anxious but pray – God provides for his people.
v.8-9 | Once again, Paul has set the example for the Philippians to follow. It’s time for the Philippians to put into practice the things they have learned, heard, seen and received from Paul.
v.10-21 | Paul says he’s learned the secret of being content – God provides his every need. Paul doesn’t want more from them – they’ve given him so much from day 1. What Paul wants is to see more fruit from them.
Conclusion | God provides us with everything so we don’t need to be anxious and fight amongst each other. What we need to do is keep being generous and follow the gospel example we’ve seen and heard.
The Epistle To The Philippians | Peter O’Brien.
I have used this commentary. It’s technical and assumes a working knowledge of Greek and interacts with the Greek text at an exegetical level. However, even if your Greek is a bit rusty or a little underdone, Peter’s insights are invaluable and repay a careful reading.
Basics For Believers: An Exposition of Philippians | Don Carson.
Great little book but at times it’s hard to follow – anything written by ‘The Don’ is worth consulting and considering – Don has a way of bringing things out you may have missed. My only advice is don’t use his illustrations!
Humilitas: A Lost Key To Life, Love And Leadership | John Dickson.
Take your illustrations from here though! A great little book, a must read but especially helpful in thinking about the theme of humility in Philippians.