Study of Philippians

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!

Philippians

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

12/30/18 ~Changes in Worship Year by Year

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Restoring First-Century Worship

      Believe it or not, a large part of the way most protestant denominations worship today is a direct influence of the Roman Catholic Church, and their influence was the Old Testament.  Some readers will throw up their hands in horror at the thought.  Follow the pope?  Never!  But it is true.

            Many Catholic additions to and changes in our worship were resurrected from the Old Testament Law of Moses.  Most are nearly carbon copies of Jewish worship except for animal sacrifices.  There is even a movement among Protestants to rebuild the Temple on its old foundation in Jerusalem.  What in the world for?!  God destroyed it.  How arrogant of us.

            Infant baptism was introduced in 187 AD, copying the Jews who circumcised babies.  They made it church law in 1457.  Sprinkling as a form of baptism was introduced in 250 AD, but was not very well accepted until the twelfth century. 

            Also in 250, some bishops began saying people could not receive the Holy Spirit, even after baptism, unless it was conferred by the bishop.  This became church law in 1275.

            In 318 AD, it was declared that the church creed has supremacy over anything written in the Bible.

            In 451 AD the church said that people had to go to the clergy for a clear interpretation of the scriptures.

            That same year, priests began wearing sacred vestments, copying priests under the law of Moses, and it was made church law in 850 AD. 

            Also in 451, the Roman Church insisted church heads refrain from changing their dress to the more modern styles, saying they must imitate the clothing of our first parents, Adam and Eve.  It was also in imitation of the Jewish practice of the priests wearing special vestments for respect.  It was made official in 850 AD.

            In 600 AD the church declared that its traditions were to be kept in matters of salvation and worship, regardless of what the Bible said.

            In 666 AD musical instruments were introduced into Christian worship, copying the Jews who had instruments during the daily worship at the temple.

            In 1079 candles were introduced into worship, copying the use of candles in the Jewish temple, and it became church law in 1611.  Incense was introduced into worship in 1079 copying the use of incense in Jewish worship, and it became church law in 1213.

            In 1095, common Christians were told they could take the bread if given by a bishop, but not the cup ever, by copying Old Testament Jewish priests who drank the wine part of the sacrifices. 

            In 1215, taking the Lord’s Supper was declared to be necessary only once a year, copying the Jews who celebrated the Passover Feast once a year, and it became church law that same year. 

            In 1274, the church announced that presbyters (elders) were the same thing as pastors, and pastors were the same thing as priests.  Therefore, priests and pastors could head the local congregations.  This was copied from Aaron’s descendants in the Old Testament being priests.

            In 1495, choirs were introduced, copying the choirs in the Jewish temple.  In 1547, the use of choirs became official, and their wearing of vestments like the priests was required.  This copied the Jewish use of choirs in the temple and their wearing fine linen vestments.

            In 1547, the Catholic Church declared ministers and pastors had to be ordained, copying Jewish priests and Levites being ordained in the Law of Moses. 

11/11/18 ~ Armistice Day

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians living in the capital of the Roman Empire reminding them to not only pay their taxes but to give honor to all those to whom honor was due (Romans 13:7). The peace that Rome had brought to the world of the New Testament times translated into freedom that allowed the rapid spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the world.

That peace was purchased at the cost of countless lives of brave soldiers. Many of those Veterans would go on to become followers of Jesus and thus serve in both earthly and eternal ways.

Today (Sunday) is a very special day. It is set aside for remembering the sacrifice of our Savior. And it is also a special date set aside for remembering the sacrifices of all those veterans who have served us. Let’s take a moment to remember this…

Armistice Day

One hundred years ago today the First World War ended. The designated time was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The day would become known as Armistice Day. The war was called the War to End All Wars. It was not.

Slightly less than 21 years later the second World War would “officially” begin (September 1, 1939) with Germany’s invasion of Poland. In 1954, following the Korean War, Armistice Day in the USA was renamed Veterans Day to honor all veterans.

While Memorial Day honors all those who died in military service, Veterans Day honors all who have served, and currently are still serving in the Armed Forces. That means this day is host to a range of emotions from the sadness of lost lives to the joys of victory, even if that victory has never been fully realized in world peace.

As Christians, we of all people on this earth can understand and share the feelings of such a day. For us, it is not 11-11-11 but One.

The first day of the week brings to our remembrance the most horrible battle in all of eternity when Satan seemingly triumphed in the death and burial of Jesus.

The first day of the week brings to our remembrance the real victory of Jesus’ resurrection.

And, perhaps above all else, the first day of the week brings to our remembrance that another day is coming. That day will bring the only real, eternal peace that we have ever known. That day will begin with the triumphant return of our Savior to escort His own to eternal life and it will never end.

So for now, we remember. To those who have faced the horrors of war and the losses of friends and family, there is no forgetting. But there is something special in taking this unique moment of remembrance. There is something that brings a momentary comfort to the pain, the distress and points us to a more joyful memory of faithfulness in service.

Those words, those thoughts, those emotions are true for both our earthly remembrance of Veterans as they are for our weekly spiritual remembrance. May we remember, this day and always, the sacrifices of those who serve us with honor on this earthly plane. May we remember, this day and always, the sacrifice of our Savior who served and died for us that we might be with him throughout eternity.

~ Lester P. Bagley

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5/28/17 ~ Memorial Day

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingNe ob Livi Caris, is a Latin phrase meaning “Forget not” or “Do not forget.” It has been used for centuries as both a military motto and a military family motto as a reminder to keep, cherish and honor those who have gone before. As Christians, we, above all others, should understand and remember. Think for a moment about…

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.

Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

We cherish too, the Poppy red / That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies / That blood of heroes never dies.

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Since 1922 the VFW and other veterans’ organizations sell poppies or artificial poppies as a reminder of the day and its importance.  (From the website at usmemorialday.org)


Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day (a day to remember all who served). Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving. Sadly, many people think of Memorial Day only as a day for remembering the end of school, the beginning of summer break, get together time with family or even as one of the national BBQ holidays.

But if you ask a combat veteran about the day you would hear of much more poignant memories. Memories of the precious young lives taken much too soon. Lives of the real heroes that gave their all and never came home. Lives given in sacrifice that can, and should, never be forgotten by those who share in the horrors.

This Memorial Day we should take the time to remember the ultimate gift, the ultimate sacrifice given by those young men and women to bring us peace.


Hopefully, you also remember that there is a deep spiritual lesson here, too. As we gather around the Lord’s Table each first day of the week it is an ever fresh, ever painful, ever precious Memorial Day.

Here we remember the Savior who bought our life with His own. As He gave the ultimate sacrifice for us, so the memory is to be cherished above all memories. And we find it almost inconceivable that someone would use that precious time for any lesser purpose… if only they knew, if only they cared.

Of course, our Memorial Day as God’s children has one more item even more precious than any earthly remembrance. We do this, we share this memory in celebration on the very day that He rose again to live forever.

Never forget the precious lives of those heroes that sacrificed so much for us. Remember and honor them this week.

And for the hero of Calvary, the very Son of God who sacrificed for you and me, let us not only remember, but share the precious good news this day and every day of our lives.

Ne ob Livi Caris, “Do not forget!”

— Lester P. Bagley

11/20/16 ~ Who is Really in Control?

RacineBuildingFrom the Preacher’s Pen… Protesters in the streets using violence and theft to “prove” that their candidate and agenda should have won the election. “Demands” that California secede from the United States (an act that is by definition an act of treason – anybody remember a thing called the “Civil War”?).

What is the world and this country coming to? Why doesn’t God do something?

Perhaps it is time that we let God answer that question just as He has before. So let’s think for a moment about another time this issue came up and ask…

Who is Really in Control?

The story began long before God gave His answer. His Chosen People, His Holy Nation had been grossly disobedient for years. The nation had gone steadily downhill as both the people and their leaders intentionally disobeyed the commands of God and elevated themselves, their opinions and their worship of false Gods above the Lord.

As God’s people rebelled He began to humiliate them before the world. Some of their own government leaders (including some of the king’s own family) were taken into captivity by the new superpower of the world. The nation responded by rebelling against God yet again and placed their faith and alliances with a nation (Egypt) that God had warned them not to join.

God responded by again humiliating the nation, making the king a prisoner, installing a puppet king, and cleaning out much of the Temple and palace treasures. But the puppet king also rebelled and imagined that he had a right to disobey God’s will and His prophets.

This time God destroyed the nation, the capital (Jerusalem) and burned the Temple, the king’s house and every major building in the city. Some of the poorest were left to work the land and a governor was appointed (Gedaliah, 2 Kings 25:22) but killed by the remaining people only two months after his appointment. As a result, most of the rest of the nation became refugees (including the prophet Jeremiah) and fled to Egypt.

The book of Daniel includes several events over the years that God used to teach Nebuchadnezzar that it was the Lord, the real and only God, that was truly in control. But as the years passed the king of Babylon forgot the lesson and imagined that he as king was really in control.

The final lesson for Nebuchadnezzar came (Daniel chapter 4) much to the chagrin of Daniel. But it was this final lesson that would convince the king of Babylon of the truth and make him a godly man.

So, who is really in control of nations, kingdoms, states and all the earth? Yes, you know the answer but perhaps we should listen to God’s presentation of it:

“This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men.”

So before you worry again, God, the Most High is in control. Before you imagine that someone else is in control for even a single second, remember that you are NOT God, the president is NOT God, the governor is NOT God, the king is NOT God. The LORD is GOD and He is ruler and in control no matter what happens

If you find this truly extraordinary and perhaps even a bit daunting or even downright frightening, then you are in good company. Even Daniel felt that way (Daniel 4:19), but was wisely counseled by Nebuchadnezzar not to be alarmed.

One of the most amazing passages of Scripture is Daniel 4:34-37. Read it and realize that this is the sole passage of the Old Testament written by a Gentile, an outsider that God brought into His Kingdom to be one of the inspired writers (2 Peter 1:21).

What will it take for us to realize and acknowledge that God is really in control? What will it require for us to understand that all must be in submission to Him? What must God do for us to learn to be obedient to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and acknowledge that “all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Daniel 4:37).?

— Lester P. Bagley