Summary: This is the first sermon in a ten-part series on Philippians which introduces the background adn theme of the book and also the style of studying a New Testament letter.
This is a letter from Paul to the church in Philippi, a Roman city in Greece that Paul visited with Silas on his second missionary journey. This letter was written by Paul when he was in a Roman prison, very likely the last place he would be before his execution for being a Christian. It begins like many letters in that era:
“Paul and Timothy, servants [slaves] of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.”
Introduction: Letters in the first century began with the name of the sender, the name of the receiver, and a greeting. So does this one. But it deviates from simple names and contains some teaching.
After the initial identifying of who this letter is from (Paul and Timothy), we learn that it is “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.” God is taking the tools of the day, something as simple as letter writing, and using it to teach his people in Philippi.
Acts 16 records Paul’s time in Philippi. It is clear that God led him to that city. It was a Roman city, an important trade city between Rome and Asia and the Middle East.
There were very few Jewish people living in Philippi, so there was no Synagogue for Paul to preach in. He and Silas went down to the river and found Lydia, a purple cloth trader from Thyatira. Purple was a luxury worn only by the rich and powerful. Paul shared with her that Jesus is the Messiah and she and the members of her household were baptized right there at the river.
Things got ugly in Philippi when Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl. This girl’s demon apparently could predict the future and she made a lot of money for her owners. When the owners of this slave girl found out what Paul had done, they dragged him and Silas into the marketplace to face the authorities.
They were publicly stripped, severely beaten and flogged, and then thrown into a cold, dark prison.
That night, around midnight, Paul and Silas start singing hymns to God. Their joy did not depend on circumstances. They knew that God was good and God was in control of their lives even in the Philippian jail. And so they began, even in a dank musty prison, singing the praises of God.
Suddenly there was a miraculous earthquake which opened all of the prison doors. The jailor thought he had failed miserably and lost all his prisoners and was about to kill himself, saving his boss the trouble. Paul shouted, “Don’t hurt yourself. We’re here!”
The jailor knew that God was behind this. He knew that Paul was in jail for his religious teachings. So the jailor asked him, “What must I do to be saved?”
Paul told him the same thing he told everyone else, the same thing that is true for us today, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.” That night he and his family accepted Christ and were baptized.
Paul and Silas were released the next day from prison and told to leave the city and not come back. After a final meeting with the new converts at Lydia’s house, they left and continued their journey to preach Christ.
Now consider the kind of church they left behind. Lydia, a seller of purple, was a wealthy person who knew people in high places. She had a multi-national corporation operating in several large cities. She regularly interacted with some of the most wealthy and powerful people in the area.