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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Today we begin our verse-by-verse study of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, Greece. Before we start I want to take the time to welcome y’all to HBS, an informal Bible study dedicated to examining the Scriptures to see what God said, and in turn what He did not say. There’s a lot of confusion in the church today because of the many different messages, i.e. the teachings of men, coming from more than two hundred so called Christian denominations. Which begs the question, which one is right? They will tell you unashamedly they all are true. Case in point, I was a member of one church organization for more than nineteen years, and a few others after that. The first one has millions of members from all points of the globe. One day their leader proclaimed, “Our church is the only true church. All the others are headed for eternal damnation…” Common sense dictates all these folks cannot be right, so the answer to this dilemma is the only source of spiritual truth in the world, that is, the Word of God, rightly divided.
Introduction to Philippians
Philippi in Paul’s day was an old Greek city located in northeastern Greece (Macedonia). It had been conquered by Phillip II of Macedonia (the father of Alexander the Great) in 356 BC and he named it after himself. He eventually established it as a military stronghold in order to protect the lands he had conquered and the nearby gold mines (to the victor go the spoils). In 168 BC Philippi became an important colony of the Roman Empire after they defeated the Macedonians at the Battle of Pydna. The land was divided into four districts, Philippi belonging to the first of these (Acts 16:10-12).
The gold mines were eventually depleted and the population of Philippi in turn. The city experienced new life due to an important event which occurred there around 42 BC. Near Philippi was fought the climactic battle that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar and resulted in the victory of Antony and Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) over Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar. It is from Shakespeare’s references to this battle in his play titled: Julius Caesar that the undying misquotation, "We shall meet at Philippi," is taken. After this battle, the victors settled a number of their veterans at Philippi and made it a Roman colony.
It was customary of Rome to disperse veteran soldiers, who had served their time and had been granted citizenship, to settle in strategic road centers like Philippi. Usually these parties consisted of three hundred veterans with their wives and children. These colonies became the focal points of the great Roman road systems which were engineered to permit the rapid reinforcement of other colonies and Rome itself. In the USA, President Eisenhower is credited with building America’s national system of interstate highways for defense in 1956, in effect copying Rome’s strategy.
Philippi was a busy commercial settlement on the Via Egnatia, an important route leading west along the coast and eventually across the Adriatic Sea to Rome. During Paul’s second missionary journey (around 52 AD), he desired to take the gospel east but was directed to go to Philippi by a vision from God (Acts 16:6-9). After Paul and Silas completed their ministry in the region of Galatia, where a number of grace churches had been established, they desired to go eastward into the regions we recognize as Iran and Iraq today. However, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to “speak the word in Asia.” Thus, these two godly men obediently set out for Macedonia.
Here I need to remind folks God knows the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things. He knew His grace message would be welcomed in the west, which history substantiates. The farther west the revelation of the mystery traveled the greater the impact it had on the gentile nations. This is only one example of God the Father intervening in the affairs of the Body of Christ on earth. Paul gets this. He knows it’s God’s Church and he the steward of God’s mysteries (secrets):
“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1 – KJV).
“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 1:1).
“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:13).
Paul preached the gospel boldly in Philippi despite opposition to the gospel. The first grace church in Europe was eventually established there (Acts 15:36-41; 16).
The Writings of Paul
When we began our study of Ephesians, I mentioned Paul’s letters are not placed in the Bible chronologically, as one would expect. Since some of the folks attending HBS today were not present for this explanation, I think it’s necessary to review this information. First Thessalonians and Second Thessalonians were written first around 52 AD. First Corinthians, penned around 53-54 AD and Second Corinthians written about 55 AD are next in line. There appears to have been another letter to Corinth written between First Corinthians and Second Corinthians, however, it was lost to antiquity. Some folks think it was destroyed due to its harsh tone. They have titled this the sorrowful letter: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears” (2 Corinthians 2:4). Romans is next written around 57-58 AD. The first prison letter, Ephesians, written around 62 AD, begins a commentary on the “deeper things of God.” Before this, Paul’s teachings are considered elementary. From Ephesians to Philemon Paul explains the deeper spiritual truths of the faith. The next letter is Philippians (62 AD), then Colossians (62 AD), and Philemon (63 AD). As I’ve said, don’t major on the minors. Biblical dates are somewhat difficult to ascertain because people back then didn’t practice accurate record keeping, something we take for granted today.
Paul’s letters to the churches are divided into two parts, which helps us to distinguish between his early and latter ministries. His pre-prison letters of I & II Thessalonians, I & II Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans were written to the Church, the Body of Christ, in the course of the Acts period (30–62 AD). During his first Roman imprisonment, which marks the beginning of his latter ministry, he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Paul’s letters 1 Timothy and Titus were written between his two Roman imprisonments when he was released for a period of about one year (Titus 1:5, 3:12; II Timothy 4:20). II Timothy was written at the end of his second Roman imprisonment shortly before his martyrdom.
Pastor Paul Sadler wrote, “There are three epistles that Paul wrote after the Acts period that forms a trilogy of truth – Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians unfolds the truth of the Body of Christ and our relationship to Him as the Head of the Body (Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:12-13). Philippians on the other hand emphasizes our fellowship with one another as members of His Body (Philippians 2:2-4). Finally, Colossians presents His Headship of Christ and His relationship to the Body (Colossians 1:18-24). When this trilogy of truth is properly understood it will help us to more fully comprehend the occasion and theme of this letter.”
The First Convert in Europe
Paul first preached at a woman's prayer-meeting, where Lydia was converted (Acts 16:14-15). In biblical times, according to the traditions of the fathers, there had to be at least ten Jewish men to establish a synagogue. If this condition could not be met, it was permissible for the Lord’s people (the Jews) to meet by the seashore or a river to worship and pray. This was in keeping with the various washings the Law commanded. Various ceremonial washings were commanded in the Mosaic Law, both upon priests (Exodus 30:19-21), and others (Leviticus 12:1, 15:33; Hebrews 9:10). These were mere O.T. shadows of a N.T. truth signifying the spiritual purification one receives through the Lord Jesus Christ’s shed blood, i.e. His finished work of the cross:
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7).
…and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His (what) blood— (Revelation 1:5).
Paul realized there was no active synagogue in Philippi, so he headed straightaway to the river’s edge on the Sabbath day and there he found a small group of women praying. After the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to receive Paul’s gospel, she was converted (Acts 16:14-15). She then invited him to say in her home while he continued his ministry in the city. Sounds good, so far right? Well, what happens next is proof Satan detests God, His Son, and the gospel of grace in this dispensation. After some time there arose great opposition to Paul because he commanded a demon to leave a slave girl who had been following him around. Her owner profited from her fortune telling (Acts 16:16-19), but after the demon left her she no longer possessed this ability. The man was truly upset and wanted to exact vengeance upon Paul and Timothy. They were consequently beaten with rods and then thrown into the dungeon not just prison (Acts 16:22-24). But about midnight while they were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and while the other prisoners were listening in, suddenly there came a great earthquake that released them from their chains and captivity (Acts 16:22-26). This spiritual activity also resulted in the conversion of the jailer and the members of his household (Acts 16:27-34). God is good!
Paul visited Philippi again on his journey from Ephesus to Macedonia (Acts 20:2; 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, 7:5-6). Paul spent the Passover there (Acts 20:6) and received messages from them (Philippians 4:16). They also sent him financial assistance which he mentions in this letter (Philippians 4:18).
Why we Study This Letter
We study this letter as we do the entire Bible because it’s a love letter from the Creator God to His adopted children in which He reveals His spiritual truths. I say this because unbelievers can’t understand this book. Its truths are revealed to Believers by the indwelt Holy Spirit (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16). Philippians itself is known as “the epistle of joy.” This makes it applicable to our lives (or our daily walk with the Lord) because people everywhere (the saved and the unsaved alike) desire to experience joy and peace. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is actually a goal. When people graduate college, get the job they want, a loving spouse, the car, and the 3500 sq. foot home, then they will experience happiness. But here’s the thing, the Bible never promises happiness, instead it promises joy. You can have joy and be happy but you can’t really be happy without joy. It’s easy to be happy when you have freedom from suffering, you’re financially secure, and all your relationships are good, but what happens to your happiness when you start having problems with one or more of these? It’s probably gone but if you’ve trusted in Jesus and know you are secure in Him (John 10:28-29) you still have joy.
Happiness is based upon “happenings,” meaning if things happen to go well, you’re happy, but if things happen to go badly then you’re unhappy. Not so with joy. Jesus Christ said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11). Joy is not connected to our circumstances it is a result of one’s expressed faith in the gospel of grace (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) and their resulting position in Christ Jesus. Your spiritual blessings have been guaranteed by God; the Holy Spirit being His earnest payment and neither one is going anywhere! I recently lost my mother and experienced great sorrow at her passing, but this did not rob me of my joy because she’s a child of God and I know I’ll see her again one day.
When folks fail to get their heart’s desire, not only does this steal their joy it causes them to be stressed out. Stress (life’s daily pressures) can make a person ill and chronic stress can kill an individual. The second law of Thermodynamics teaches us entropy always increases. In plain language, everything around us, including ourselves, is constantly moving toward decomposition. The LORD God in punishing the man’s sin said, “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19).
By the way, while listening to a church program one Sunday morning, I heard the preacher say, “For you are dust, And to dust you shall return” is not in your Bible… It’s only an opinion.” I mention this here as a follow up to my introductory remarks. This person was definitely not acquainted with what God said evidenced by his erroneous statement. But the people followed him blindly; please don’t be one of them.
So, it’s an acknowledged truth people everywhere desire less stressful lives. Billions of dollars are thrown at this worldwide problem yearly. But let’s be clear, people are experiencing unhappiness and the lack of peace in their lives because they refuse to turn to God and His Word for the answer to their chief problem, unrecognized sin, and then spiritual direction. People are literally chasing their tails because nowhere in the Bible does God promise our lives will be problem free. He promises us in Him we’ll have peace and joy; these are natural outflows of God’s grace:
"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
This book clearly states reconciliation with God brings about peace with God and the peace of God. Yet people are following the devil’s program; they’re seeking anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ to ease stress and to bring about happiness. Data reveals Americans hold the disadvantage of trying to alleviate stress and gain peace through the use of pharmaceuticals. Americans use more pain pills, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers than the rest of the world combined. More than 115 Americans die every day from an overdose of Opioids alone. Other studies show 1 in 8 Americans struggles with alcoholism. Then there is America’s love for illegal drugs. Recent studies show Americans are more likely to experiment with illegal drugs than anyone else in the world. Since no one has found peace or joy in pill popping, it clearly demonstrates joy and peace are not found in any of these vices. FYI: vices are Satan’s department, and the world is spending exorbitant amounts of time and money therein. Access to joy and peace are provided by God through faith (plus nothing else) in His only begotten Son, (Ephesians 2:14-22).
Philippians is a spontaneous expression of love, gratitude, joy, and peace from a tender-hearted, loving brother in Christ who presents the essential truths of the gospel. Paul found many reasons for constantly rejoicing in these saints, and now that Epaphroditus who had brought their aid to him was about to return from Rome to Philippi, he had an opportunity to send them a letter of gratitude (Philippians 4:18). This book is also notable for its passionate requests, encouraging remarks, and its warnings.
Lest we forget, our Apostle Paul penned this letter to these Believers while he was imprisoned in Rome. He was waiting to hear the official decree that would determine his fate, i.e. life or death. Paul’s life was literally hanging in the balance for the sake of the gospel, as he commented in Philippians 1:20:
“…according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Most folks simply read over and through their Bibles and in doing so fail to grasp the significance of Bible passages like this one. You see, Paul wants the Philippians to know his circumstances regarding his incarceration had changed dramatically. When he first arrived at Rome he was granted a certain degree of liberty to come and go as he pleased while he pleaded his case. He acquired this privilege because he was a citizen of Rome by birth – Acts 25. But his situation changed considerably, i.e. his life was in jeopardy (Acts 28:30; Philippians 2:17).
Here’s the thing, the charge against Paul for defiling the Jewish temple was all but ignored by the Romans. Consequently, his Jewish dissenters who accused him opted to go with their original accusation that Paul was the ringleader of an insurrection and had committed crimes against Rome. This was one of the first of three original false charges leveled against him at Caesarea, which the enemies of the gospel of grace thought they could use to their best advantage (Acts 24:5-6, 12-18).
We know from other biblical accounts anyone causing an uprising found himself staring into the face of death such as our Savior and Barabbas (Mark 15:6-7).
Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” So Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say” Luke 23:2-3).
The Jewish religious leaders falsely claimed Jesus denied Caesar’s right to tribute and said He was the rightful heir to the Davidic throne. Combine these two accusations along with their claim he was “misleading the nations over which Pilate governed identified Jesus as an insurrectionist in a historically unstable subject-nation.
So let’s be clear, Paul was facing a serious charge. The Roman authority could not and would not “look the other way,” and this placed Paul’s life in extreme peril. Yet, Paul wasn’t shaking in his sandals; they did not steal his joy or his peace. Why? He relied on the Lord, his Savior, to see him through this dilemma prompting him to say, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21).
(To be continued)
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