The heading of this section in the Lutheran Study Bible is “Lights in the World.” Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The note in the Lutheran Study Bible is that we live with our fallen human nature, but God works in us by subduing our sinful nature regenerating our souls, and giving us his Spirit of grace. “The preaching and hearing of God’s Word are the Holy Spirit’s instruments.” God uses these tools of the Holy Spirit to to convert people to God and to work in them both to will and to do God’s will to meet His potential and live life to the fullest in the way God intended. A phrase that we worked on was when Paul says “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Taking the first part of this without the second it sounds like James. But here Paul is saying that we live here on earth in God’s will and that is how we can achieve God’s will. Starting at verse 14, Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.” It is as if he is trying to speak to the people almost as children, but it applies to so many of us in our daily life. These it seems to me are lessons in what God expects. of us. He closes by saying that he wants to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to them as well. He wants them to be a witness to these people of Philippi.
This letter was written to a small group of Jewish Christians in the town of Philippi. Lydia was one of the believers and seemed to be one of the leaders. There was some discussion here about this being a pep talk for the people of Philippi. They were being persecuted by the Romans who thought of Philippi as being one of their star cities. Leroy Huizenga writes about the process of de-Christianization of the church in the USA and says it is similar to what was happening at the time of this letter in Philippi. The letter was written in the 60’s. The Christians of that time suffered from persecution because of their faith in God through Jesus, they had to reject their prior identity as Roman citizens and they could not honor or worship the pagan gods and no longer could they worship the image of the emperor. Therefore, the Romans regarded them as atheists, since they rejected the Roman gods, and thus as traitors, as the Roman gods guaranteed the health of the empire. A reference to the whole article is http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2013/01/the-new-philippians The de-Christianization of the USA means that kids don’t know the Bible, and the stories therein. Some confirmation age children don’t know that Jesus died on the cross. School activities make it difficult for students to have time for church. Is faith truer in times of persecution. Mark made the comment that Romans 5:3 was trying to raise hope among the people. They needed encouragement, and that is why I think that Paul was not pointing out their flaws because that might just make it difficult for them. Sometimes we want things to be too well defined and that can make it difficult for us. It is important for us to see what Paul was doing with and for the people of Philippi.
Our discussion today seemed to focus on the differences between the way churches interpret what a church should focus on and what beliefs the people in that church should have. Mark discussed an interaction that his daughter had had with someone from the Open Bible church where they were aghast that a woman could be in a position of authority in the church, in this case church council membership, and could be taught by a female pastor. So why would a church take this seemingly anti-women approach, or at least one that seems to put women in the background of the church. This seems to be a broader issue in many churches, not the least of which are the Muslims. I have often wondered why women are relegated to the background of so many churches and that is thought in these churches that only men can have substantial impact on the church. It seems that while growing up there my church had such a focus on being opposed to alcohol and dancing and social activities of that nature, while the Catholic church in my home town seemed to embrace those activities. So where do our beliefs get formed? Who sets the rules of how we should lead our lives in the church? Is it pastors? synod bishops? the ELCA bishop? or do individuals have an important role in deciding this question.
However, the more interesting question here is that posed in verse 1:21 where Paul says “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It seems to pose the question about what life is all about and if there is no value to life we should all just end it as soon as possible to be with Jesus in heaven. But Paul says that to live is Christ, so that Christ provides meaning to our lives and that preaching, writing, and talking about Jesus makes life worthwhile and gives us purpose makes us to live in Christ and make it worthwhile to continue our task on this earth. Is living in this mode more like a heaven on earth? Is Paul saying that we should aspire to a life like this in order to fully realize a worthwhile life? Does this not say that everyone both women and men can realize a life in Christ and not be limited to artificial diminution of these roles by arbitrary rules of the church? And then Paul seems to make his choice in verse 25, saying that he will abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith. In the message, Peterson writes, that Paul is saying, “I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues.” Thus, I think he is saying that trusting in God and carrying out the commands of God makes for a worthwhile life and one to be desired by all. Possibly even better than the act of being with Jesus in heaven. It is important to know that Paul was probably either in prison at the time he wrote this or had been in prison and I am sure that being in prison in those days was not a bed of luxury. So Paul was going through a lot of persecution for his faith and actions and yet he still thinks it is worthwhile to continue and to be like Christ.
I also found it interesting that Paul seems to have by this time in about 62-63 AD have moved away from the belief that the return of Jesus was imminent and therefore was looking more towards being with Jesus in heaven.
The selection in Acts set the stage for Paul’s letter to the Philippians some 2 years later. In Acts, we read about the first visit to Asia by representatives, namely Paul and probably Luke and others in their entourage. They had been traveling along the coast of Asia, but the Holy Spirit at that time had forbidden them to speak the word there. Then Paul had a vision that a man from Macedonia asked that Paul come to Philippi and Paul received the Holy Spirit’s word to go there. We spent some time discussing the woman who proclaimed that Paul and his people were the servants of the most high God who declare to us a way of salvation. She was employed as a soothsayer and had a spirit of Python. Paul told the spirit to come out of the woman and it did, thus ruining her employment because it was because of the spirit that she was a soothsayer. We discussed why this woman was judged to have a spirit when she was proclaiming that the men were from God. Possibly she was making a nuisance of herself and Paul felt she was mocking them. Her employers were so upset that they roused a mob against Paul and his followers and ultimately had them beaten and jailed. The jail was destroyed by an earthquake or God, and Paul did not escape but stayed and converted the jailer. Then we got into a discussion about what it means in verse 31 when Paul said to the jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Some translation used in instead. The Greek would be translated as On. This led to a discussion about whether we go to heaven upon dying or if that happens when Jesus comes in his second time when it says that the dead will be raised up from their graves. We have become like the Jews waiting for their messiah for a long time as we wait for Jesus to come while the early Christians were expecting Jesus imminently. Does this mean that for us the expectation is better than the actual? I don’t think so, but it might mean that we live our lives as if we have realized the second coming and have communion with Christ in our lives. Here is a map of Paul’s journey.