Summary: Intro to Philippians. Living life to the full.
I was told by a friend the other day, that according to research she’d just read, while the percentage of people who currently reach the age of 100 is about 5% of the population, of those who are now teenagers the percentage is likely to be closer to 50%. There’s no doubt that our lifespans are increasing. We’re all likely to live longer than our parents or grandparents. But all that does is raise the question, "Will our lives be worth living?"
As we’ll see next week when we get to Phil 1:21, Paul didn’t see the prolonging of life as a great advantage. In fact the opposite: he saw death as bringing a far greater reward than anything in this life. Yet at the same time, he saw that Jesus Christ had made life eminently worth living. There’s an amazing sense of joy overflowing which comes through the pages of this letter, even though it’s written from a gaol cell as he awaits trial and possible execution over false charges brought against him by his opponents. He wants his readers to enjoy life in Christ, despite their external circumstances, to grow in their knowledge of him, and in holiness, and in the fruit of righteousness.
He begins his letter in an interesting way. Unlike other letters where he reminds his readers of his status as an apostle of the Lord Jesus, here he addresses himself and Timothy as servants or slaves of Christ Jesus and his readers as the saints in Christ Jesus and then he throws in the bishops and deacons as well. It’s as though he’s trying to emphasise their status as the chosen ones of God, and to remind them of the equality we all share as followers of Christ, irrespective of our role within the church.
Having greeted them in the customary way, he tells them of his thankfulness to God for their life as Christians. He says: "I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now." The founding of the Church in Philippi is a great story of God’s power at work. Paul and Silas, with Timothy and Luke tagging along, came to Philippi after Paul had seen a vision of a man of Macedonia begging them to come and help them. Philippi was a Roman colony, perched in the mountain pass that linked Asia and Europe, so it was quite a strategic city. But because it was primarily a Roman colony there was no synagogue there. So on the Sabbath they went outside the city to the river where they thought there might have been a place of prayer. There they found a group of women gathered, one of them being Lydia, a wealthy merchant woman from Thyatira, who was a worshipper of God. We’re told in Acts 16 that the Lord opened her heart to the message of the gospel and she became a Christian. She then invited them to her house, and effectively began the first Church there in Philippi. So here was a wealthy Greek woman who became one of the first Church planters. But then as they started moving around the city, a slave girl began to follow them. She had an evil spirit by which she predicted the future. She wasn’t your modern day fortune teller. She really could tell the future. And she started following Paul and the rest around shouting out "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you how to be saved." Well, eventually Paul got so sick of this that he turned around and commanded the evil spirit to come out of her. And she was healed. So there was a rich merchant woman and a slave girl who had been touched by the gospel.
But then the owners of the slave girl, who’d been charging people to have their fortunes told started a riot and had Paul and Silas arrested for throwing the city into an uproar and for advocating customs unlawful for Romans to accept or practice. So Paul and Silas were thrown into prison. Well, in prison with their feet in stocks, they began praying and singing hymns to God. They’d seen God’s power change the direction of Lydia’s life, they’d seen the slave girl freed from her bondage to an evil spirit and nothing was going to stop them praising God, not even being chained up in a dungeon. But there was more of God’s power at work for them to experience. As they were singing an earthquake began to shake the very foundations of their prison. The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose. The gaoler was about to commit suicide rather than risk being thrown into gaol in the place of his escaped charges, but Paul chose to stay and help him, rather than escape and take his freedom. The response of the gaoler was immediate: "What must I do to be saved?" Paul told him "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, along with your whole household." And so he and his whole family were baptised. So the Church in Philippi had begun, with a rich merchant woman, a poor slave and a middle class prison officer who all experienced the power of God in different but equally effective ways.