With all the extended time at home several have mentioned that they’ve already completed their entire planned year of Bible readings. That’s great! If you recall, we have several “plans” for reading through the Bible. If you need another one to get you through the rest of the year, just let me know and I’ll be happy to get it to you!
When we look back on our lives, we see both good times and bad ones. But we certainly know which times we prefer to recall, don’t we? There is always something exceptionally precious about good memories, good friends and good things.
Can you imagine how Paul felt about the church at Philippi compared to those “problem children” congregations like Corinth? Oh, I’m certain he loved the struggling congregations that he helped and loved them very dearly, but there’s just something extra precious about a congregation that just plain extrudes love and encouragement.
That is not to imply that good congregations don’t struggle. We all do! But it means that when we accentuate the positive and try harder to actually DO all things God’s way, that we bless not only ourselves, but others richly!
So for the next few lessons we are going to take a closer look at the church of Christ in Philippi and see a few lessons that we can learn from them.
The Whole Praetorian Guard
To begin, let’s first look at some basic things about the letter, the city and the church. Paul writes this letter from a prison (Philippians 1:13) and is known by the whole praetorian guard. While the term praetorian guard was used for the guard of a governor’s palace, like in Caesarea Maritima where he spent a couple of years, it is far more commonly used of the guard in Rome itself. Then, when in Philippians 4:22 Paul sends greetings from Caesar’s household, it becomes virtually certain that the prison is in Rome.
Given the lighter, more hopeful tone of the letter in contrast to 2 Timothy, it thus seems certain that this letter is written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome between AD 60 and 62. That tells us a few important things to help appreciate Paul’s words.
On Paul’s second missionary journey he had a vision requesting the Gospel be preached in Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10). In response, Paul travels to Philippi and, in about AD 50 plants the Lord’s church there. Although the vision Paul had was a “man” calling him to Macedonia, the first Christians there were women, Lydia and her household (Acts 16:12- 15). The church there continued to grow to include the retired Roman soldier and official jail keeper of the city.
Mix of Jews and Romans
This congregation, a mix of male and female, Jew and Roman, represents the best of Christ’s people here on earth. Saints of different backgrounds faithfully blending into a Christian family.
Philippi was a proud city with a noteworthy military history. It had been the capital of Alexander the Great, who’d renamed it for his father Philip of Macedon. When captured by the Romans it was repopulated with soldiers and flourished as an official Roman colony continuing that long, proud military and political record. That would lead Paul to comment on these very things as representations of the church.
For some 10 years, the church in Philippi has continued to be faithful and grow, evidently in both number and in spirit. A part of their work has been the ongoing support of Paul and his mission work. They are to be commended, not only for their loyalty to Christ but to those Christian workers, for they were highly regarded by Paul for their generosity.
Paul and Nero
Let’s back up a moment and catch a few other facts that would have been well known by the early Christians reading this letter. In AD 50, as Paul first preaches the Gospel in Philippi, the Roman emperor, Nero, has already been emperor for some 13 years. Five years into his reign Nero had his mother killed. By the time of Paul’s imprisonment, he was well on his way to the extravagance and madness that would lead to the death of both Paul and Nero.
Putting all this together, Paul, even though technically “in prison,” writes a proud letter about Christian victory to the congregation he honors as his crowning achievement (cf. Philippians 4:1). To Christians well-informed of both their own proud military traditions and of the world capital of Rome and it’s splendor, Paul shares the even greater victory of Jesus! Even Caesar’s palace guard (and everyone else, too) knows of Paul and his Christ. And because of all this, the word of God is spoken and taught without fear (Philippians 1:12-14).
So great is our Savior and His reach into this world that greetings are shared from “Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22). Prison, whether in Philippi or Rome, means nothing to God and the Gospel will always be shared by those who love the Lord.
Remember the Victory
Yes, there would still be dark days ahead for Paul as there are for us. But if we constantly focus on the negative, on the minor defeats and allow them to consume us, we will miss both the great victory and the great power of our Savior!
As we read through Philippians, remember who they are, remember who Paul is, remember the setting and surrounding history; but above all else, remember the Lord. Remember the joy, the confidence and the victory that comes when we work together in Jesus.
Remember that, with God, one day these things will be the only things worth remembering of our time here on this earth.
—Lester P. Bagley