Friday, September 01, 2006

Philippians 1:1-11

I've started posting some Bible studies for a forum site, but seeing as I'm writing them, I'm going to start posting them here too, in the blog, so they're with all my other writings! This is the first one from last week.

Philippians 1
1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers[a] and deacons: 2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.Thanksgiving and Prayer 3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. 8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

---On starting this Bible study, the first thing to be noting is that the genre or type of text is a letter - a communication from Paul and Timothy (v1) to the church in Philippi. Or to be more specific, 'to all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi'. So who are these people, and where are they?

Who? 'the saints' - Nowadays when we think of saints we think of St Paul's Cathedral, or St Somebody's parish church, or things or days named after dead people. But the letter was obviously written to living people (at the time!). The 'saints' are 'the holy ones' - 'saints' is another way of saying the Christians, or the saved ones.

Where? Notice the saints are 'in' two places at once. 'in Christ Jesus in Philippi.' One relates their physical location, where they live in Philippi, but above and before that, they are 'in Christ Jesus' - their spiritual location is first. 'In Christ' is a big theme for Paul - check out the 88 times it appears in his letters. So really, they can't be 'saints' unless they are 'in Christ Jesus'.

The next phrase raises questions though - the letter is also addressed to 'the overseers and deacons'. Now that's not to say that these holders of church office aren't also saints... let's hope they were! But it goes to highlight that everyone in the congregation who is a Christian is a saint - not just the super-holy-Joes up in lights or stained glass.

As in many of his letters, Paul opens with 'grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus' - there is no greater thing Paul can wish or communicate to the church than the grace and peace which comes from God. This grace is God's favour, in giving us things we don't deserve! The peace we have is preace with God, through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.

Paul then moves into the body of the letter, starting with thanks and prayers for the particular church he is writing to. Here, we can see that Paul is glad to know the Philippians, as he speaks of joy, and having them in his heart.

Why is this?
- they shared in God's grace with him (7), as they responded to the message of grace, from the time that Paul was imprisoned in Philippi and the jailer and his family were saved. (Acts 16)
- they shared in the partnership in the gospel. Later we'll see that this was in terms of supporting his needs and sending him Epaphroditus (4:18).
- they shared the confidence that God wasn't finished with them - that the good work God had started in them, he would continue (6).

Paul also prays for them:
- that their love would abound (or grow) more and more in knowledge and depth of insight... - this wasn't just so that their knowledge would grow, so that their heads were full of God, but their hearts and lives weren't affected but in order that...
-you may be able to discern what is best and be pure and blameless until the day of Christ - their knowledge is to lead to them having changed lives, discerning what is best to be doing, and then doing it. Being pure and blameless was not, of course, them being pure and blameless by themselves, but only based in Christ's righteousness. In all this, also, there is a day in view - 'the day of Christ' - which is his return as King and Judge. Do we live in view of the day of Christ?

- Another consequence is that they will be 'filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ'. This fruitfulness is dependent on all that goes before - the growing love, the growing wisdom, the discerning what is best and living that way, and being fruitful in Christ's righteousness.

- And notice the final aim of Paul's prayer 'to the glory and praise of God.' At the end of the day, this is what Paul is committed to, as we will see. His recounting of Christ's attitude ends in the praise and glory of God (2:5-11), and his own testimony is about God's glory and not Paul's (3:3-7).

This can be a challenge to us in this new Bible study - are we doing it so that our (head) knowledge will grow, or so that we, as Paul prays for, have greater insight and wisdom, which leads us to have changed lives and produce the fruit of righteousness, and all to the glory of God.Maybe this is even more a particular challenge to those of us who will write the studies... are we doing this for God's glory, or our own? I pray that we will all use these to God's glory, as we are moulded and changed and challenged by God's word.

Another thing for us to be thinking about is how often we rejoice and give thanks for other Christians. We noticed the sincere joy and fellowship Paul had with these saints. Do we also rejoice with others, giving thanks when we remember them? Stop for a minute and give thanks for other Christians you know, and the partnership in the gospel.

We are also challenged about how we pray for others... sometimes our prayers can be limited, or basic, in the 'God bless mummy and daddy and everyone everywhere' category. Now, there's nothing wrong with these sorts of prayer, but Paul is specific in what he is praying for, and is confident that God will do it. How then can we be praying intelligently for others, and what do we want them to have?

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