Summary: Introducing Philippians, the most joyful letter in the New Testament. And the joy is all about Jesus.
There are three New Testament books that are letters written from jail: Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. I don’t know if anyone here has been to jail or prison, but I have... not as a resident or inmate, but as a minister. My cousin Phillip Melson, whom some of you may remember when he came to live with us for a little while, spent time in prison in Alabama. He wrote to me while he was there and we corresponded several times. I don’t remember his letters sounding much like the ones Paul wrote.
Think about it, what kind of letters would you expect coming from someone in prison? What might they say?
I find it amazing that the most positive letters of Paul were written by him while he was spending time in prison, and what is more, he was unsure of whether he would be executed or not.
Today, lets start a study of what is perhaps the most positive letter of Paul: the letter of Philippians. This lesson will be introductory. I was tempted to simply read the entire letter without comment and then extend the invitation. That would be an excellent thing to do if everyone here were spiritual meat eaters, and comfortably familiar with Paul’s densely packed writing style, but I think that some of us are not. For those who are not that would be sort of like turning a fire hose on someone who is asking for a sip of water.
In fact, reading most of Paul’s letters presents certain problems for us. Even the Apostle Peter said that some of the things Paul writes are hard to understand. 2 Peter 3:15-16. Peter says that the untaught and unstable twist Paul’s words to their own destruction. So, I suppose, if it was hard for Peter to understand Paul’s writings, and there is a danger of taking them wrongly, it’s ok for us to take time to work through them carefully and prayerfully as well. But... you do have to read it! No one can study the Bible without actually reading it. Now, if you want to go to Vanderbilt and get a Ph.D. in theology, you can do that without ever having to actually read the Bible. But this is not Vanderbilt. Forgive the reflection on Vanderbilt, but other elite colleges offer similar degrees without ever requiring their students to look into the book and read it. We MUST be different. We MUST take time to read God’s word, or at least listen to it read. Faith comes by hearing the words of God. We’ve got to get the word of God off the page and into our hearts and minds. And, yes, we’ve got to do what God tells us and not do what God forbids.
So... Let’s read a few of the familiar and encouraging sections of Philippians now and simply make note of at least four ways Paul Pictures Christ. To make it as simple as possible, they all start with the letter "p". Open to chapter 1. Earl read this for us just a few minutes ago. Look at it again.
The central theme of Paul’s writings is Christ. Phil. 1:1-11 consist of four Greek sentences. Our English Bibles break it down into more sometimes. The NIV and NASV have six, ESV has five, and the NKJV has four. Anyway, the name Christ occurs seven times in those first four sentences or eleven verses. That’s a dead give away that this letter is going to tell us things about Christ. By the way, add to that Paul’s reference to God, Jesus, the Father and Lord and there are 19 references to the Divine Being in these first 11 verses.
Paul’s world view was so spiritual we can hardly fathom it. It is a challenge to us to begin to grasp how richly present God is in his mind and how all encompassing Christ has captivated Paul’s every imagination and every thought. By the way, that’s what he expects all of us who believe in Jesus to do. Don’t believe me? Just listen to his Holy Spirit inspired words -
Go to Phil. 3:7-16.
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.