Philippians 4: 4-14: The World Behind the Text

rootedchristThis week we are going to be looking at Philippians 4: 4-14.  Today we’ll be looking at the World Behind the Text, what is happening in the world all around this passage.

This is the first time this year we’ve looked at one of Paul’s letters. And that is exactly what this book of the Bible is, it is a letter that Paul wrote to the church at Phillipi.  The Bible is full of all types of literature, historical books. books of wisdom, books of poetry, and Gospels, just to name a few.  After the Book of Acts in the New Testament until basically the end (Revelation is its own thing) of the New Testament is filled with letters.  There are catholic letters (letters written to the entire church), General letters (letters written to a specific group or person but the author or recipient unknown) and there are Epistles.  Epistles are letters that are written by an Apostle to a specific group or person.

And, for additional clarity, an Apostle is an individual in the Bible to whom Christ, physically, in the person, gives a specific mission.  The Twelve Disciples become the Twelve Apostles (with Mattias taking Judas’ place).  In Acts 9, Jesus appears to Saul, changes his name to Paul and gives him this mission to take the Gospel to the entire world, especially the Gentiles.  So, while Paul was not one of the Twelve, he is an Apostle.

Paul wrote this letter to the church that was in Phillipi.  Now, when you think church, you most likely think about the modern, American concept of a church, a building where people gather for weekly worship, along with a host of other activities.  That would not have been what “church” was to the first generation of Christians. This would have been a house church.  One of the members of the church would have opened their home to other believers and weekly (on Sunday) they would have met to sing, pray, read the scriptures, hear the Word proclaimed, and receive communion.  Philippi was a city in Northeastern Greece, a major Roman outpost.  Philippi is famous for one particular event. In 42 BC Mark Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, in a battle at Philippi, one of the major battles on the way to Octavian becoming Ceasar Augustus.

Phillipi was a major crossroad in the Empire and because of this, there was a synthesis of different pagan religions – some Greek, some Roman, some Emperor worship. There were also very few Jews in this community, so Paul does not quote the Old Testament in this letter.  Philippi was also full of retired military leaders, so Paul throughout his letter applies to the concept of citizenship, they would have really understood that concept.

Most scholars think that Paul wrote this letter from prison, in Rome, which makes the theme of this letter even more surprising.  Joy.  This is a joyous letter and in fact, after our time of commitment yesterday at St. Matthew’s that this theme of this week.  Joy.  Which is so significant, Paul writes this joyous letter towards the end of his life, while in prison.

In other words, our joy is not bound up in our context, our joy is bound up in Jesus. That is where our joy comes from.  This week, we’ll talk more about that.

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