River City Spokane

Hello, Philippi: Audience, Occasion, and Author

by kerr howell jr.


I am so excited to start our study through Philippians, the letter of indestructible Joy. So let us read the section of Scripture we will look at together. Open your Bible to the letter to the Philippians and turn to chapter one verses one and two. Let’s read it together.

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to You and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:1-2)

There is a story behind every opening of each letter in Scripture. Most of the time we just pass through it, instead of letting it brew in us. So this first session we will look at the Audience and Author. So the questions that should be asked in our heads as we go through this letter as a church as individuals are: Who are the Philippians? What is this letter about? And who is this dude Paul?

So we will look at each of these questions one at a time and hopefully it will give you a better map into Philippians, and as one dead scholar called it the “hymn of joy.” This is letter about indestructible joy. Okay let us trek together.

Who are the Philippians?

When looking at Scripture it is very important to know who the audience this letter was sent to. When thinking about this it is helpful to think of three trails: people, purpose, and occasion. The letter is addressed to the church of Philippi ) a Roman city where army veterans were given retirement villas) to be joyfully despite all appearances. The author is reminding this people that real power is not in Rome, but in heaven. This church was special to the author of the letter, since it was the first church he founded in Europe. It would be helpful to pause this podcast and read Acts 16:6-40. The story begins with the conversion of a business woman named Lydia. She was a seller of purple goods—which means she had money and she was good at what she did. The second chapter of the Philippian story is the conversion of a demonic possessed slave girl which stirs the people so much that it causes the author and his companion, Silas, to be imprisoned. While in this prison the author and his companion, instead of complaining and asking God why, they choose to sing “hymns of joy.” God hears their songs and see the reason for the chains—because they are about be freed to help someone else be unchained in his soul. A miraculous earthquake happens in Philippi and will happen in the jailer who was ordered to watch these men like a hawk. This leads us into the third chapter of the story behind this church. The three conversion in the jailer. The man that was over their bondage was unbound himself. Jesus imprisoned His children in order to free and adopt another child. In the story God rescues a rich, poor, and middle class people. The gospel of Jesus has no boundaries.

That is one of the beauties of the gospel. It is news that is for all people in all cultures and classes. As this author would say multiple times, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female, for you are all in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

The background to the city of Philippi, begins at a battle in 42 B.C. There was a victory Marc Antony and (later) Augustus re-founded this city with army veterans. Because this city was set up as a privilege city for veterans if gave significant exemptions on taxation and special land ownership privileges. Making this city a metropolitan area. The city had a very important commercial road that ran right through it, known as the Egnatian Way. Resulting, this city to be a sought after 401K plan and an almost exact replica of the mother city Rome. The church of Philippi was the great supporters (financially) for the spread of the gospel. Many of the Philippians were veteran soldiers that were rescued by the gospel. The sole purpose as soldiers were to spread the kingdom of Rome, but now being captured by Jesus had a new mission: advancing the kingdom of God in the hearts of people. Which at that point made them enemies of the city that served all those years. And because they loved and followed Jesus they things would eventually be “counted as loss.” They would be a people that loss so much, but also gained so much. Their joy would not be in their stuff, but in their God.

What is the occasion?

God’s premier missionary sits in a Roman jail cell awaiting trial in front of a Roman judge whose first loyalty is to Caesar—the predecessor of the one who founded the city the letter is address to. Instead of worrying Paul rejoices Jesus for His people in Philippi. This is a letter stain by indestructible joy in the one who watched Jesus adopt these people, and the author goal is to encourage them in their faith while he lives out his. The Philippians were not oblivious to suffering and persecution. While the author is being faithful in his chains, he is encouraging the Philippians to be faith in their costly freedom. It could have been easy for the Philippians to turn their back on their pastor and spiritual father, but the remain faithful to him and he tanked them for that, because their loyalty was not to him, but to Jesus. The purpose of this letter was not just to thank them for being faithful, but to encourage them to continue to grow in their faith. There would be many conflicts that would arise, but the author reminds them that Christian maturity does not come through special mystical insights available to only a few, but rather through the patient practice of the familiar virtues of love and serve to others. And the author does this by reminding them of where he is at and has gone through, but mainly exalts Jesus for what he did and will continue to do in them. Jesus will finish his work in them and through them. And this is a joy that is indestructible.

Who is the author?

This was a city and people where God would speak. This was the place where God would plant His church. In the middle of chaos, darkness, and depravity, God would establish His light. Darkness does not intimidate or conquer God. He comes and dwells in the middle of darkness. God does not wait till everything is fixed. That is why He came: to fix. God would rescue rebels in their rebellion. God would cleanse the dirty. God would shake a city. In the middle of this self-worshipping, self-seeking, and self-pleasuring place, God would become the One worshipped, sought, and pleased. In a dark deepening and God-lacking place, God would come and dwell. A city that was dead, God would make alive. The church thrived in the middle of darkness, because in darkness the light shines. Sounds like anything? It sounds like the Gospel. Meet Paul the author of the letter to the Philippians.

We meet the author in Acts chapter nine.

This is a picture of amazing grace.

One of the Christian’s archenemies, Saul, is introduced. We first see him as the approver of the murder of Stephen. From this moment he made it his mission, his life, to end “The Way” movement. He was given orders to persecute, imprison, and even kill Christians (converted Jews). He is sent on mission, with a personal vendetta. On the Road to the city Damascus, with a mission to harm, God was behind the orders of this mission because he had His own mission: Amazing Grace. Saul is humbled by being knocked off his horse and the Lord speaks to him, by first calling his name, “Saul, Saul…” God knew his name and knew these orders would send him on this road. Jesus shows that when people persecute His followers they really are persecuting Jesus Himself. It was the plan to bring the message to the Gentiles. God saves Saul in the middle of his pursuit to destroy His children. A murderer is changed into a rescuer. God blinds him to have him see. The lyrics “I was blind but now I see,” became real for Saul. Jesus told him where to go, and wait for his new orders. He would be sent on the mission that was chosen for him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10).

The Church Planter and Author

God called Paul to Philippi. Paul had a history. Paul remembered his history. Paul wrote these letters from two different locations for two different issues, but with one main message: God speaks and He speaks through the Gospel of Christ. He penned this letter 29 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus (62 A.D.). The driving force behind his life with the Philippians was that God wanted to save the lost and dark and he was the one God called to plant the church. Paul was driven by the gospel. Knowing Paul was an amazing story of grace that is in every Christian’s life. It was true for the Philippians; it is true for you. By looking at Paul’s life, see your own and the workings of God in everything! Paul’s history is this: Jew, Tent Maker, Roman Citizen, Trained Rabbi, Persecutor, Christian, Missionary, Theologian and Author, Church Planter, and Martyr.

His Story

Saul/Paul was born into the tribe of Benjamin. His name derives from the most well known member of the tribe of Benjamin: King Saul. Paul most likely learned his trade (tent making) from his father, which was a normal Jewish custom: learning the family trade. Church fathers Jerome and Photius stated that Paul’s family were prisoners of war, slaves of a Roman citizen, freed and then granted citizenship themselves. Regardless of how Paul attained this citizenship, we know that he possessed it (Acts mentions it three times). Roman citizenship would benefit him after his conversion and be used mightily for his Gospel expeditions.

Acts chapter twenty-two tells us that one of the top thirteen rabbis of Judaism trained Paul: Gamaliel I. Gamaliel I was the leading teacher of Paul’s day. The Mishnah (Jewish Instruction Manual) not only claims Gamaliel I was one of the top rabbis of Judaism, but also claims the decline of Judaism after his death, by saying, “When Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died.” Gamaliel I was known for his high moral standards and interpretation of Scripture. Paul was a Pharisee and possibly commissioned by the Sanhedrin to persecute Christians. Paul believed that he was serving God in doing what he did to Christians. Acts 26:9-11 states clearly what Paul did to Christians. We know that he also approved of the killing of Christians. Paul’s conversion happened around A.D. 35. He was actually on his way to arrest and imprison Christians. Christ appeared to him and he surrendered to Christ. Christ blinded him (in order for him to see) and also let him know his path would be paved with suffering.

Paul went on four missionary expeditions from A.D. 35-61. The total miles of travel made by Paul were approximately 9,150. Paul’s heart was to get to Spain and proclaim the Gospel there, because he knew what happened to people that had not heard the Gospel. He also planned to visit the Roman church for support on his way to Spain. Paul arrived in Rome, however, as a prisoner.

Paul wrote thirteen epistles (letters) of the Christian canon, and the Book of Acts follows him for sixteen of the twenty-eight chapters. This means that Saul, turned Paul, wrote one-third of the New Testament; He was also known as the most important interpreter of the teachings of Jesus and the best explainer of the life, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He also wrote what most scholars claim is the most important letter ever written: Romans. God used Paul to establish and plant churches. Most of the epistles were written to churches he had a hand in establishing. He visited these churches and he sent disciples and co-workers to these churches for many reasons.

Paul lived out “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul lived his life for Christ to be magnified in all the earth and to glorify Christ in everything that he did. Paul did honor God with his life, but he also honored him by becoming a “living sacrifice”. Paul was condemned by emperor Nero and beheaded.

His Pain Our Gain

Paul did not have an easy road to his death. He lived on the brink of death every day. Paul, however, knew Who was in control of his life and Who held his life in the palms of His hands: Christ. According to 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Paul went through many harsh trials to “proclaim the mystery of the Gospel.” Here is the list:

1. Imprisoned (many times).
2. Chained.
3. Flogged (5 times = 195 lashes).
4. Beaten with rods (3 times).
5. Stoned (1 time).
6. Shipwrecked (3 times).
7. Traveled through dangerous rivers.
8. Danger of robbers, own people, city living, wilderness, sea, wolves.
9. Pain and afflictions.
10. Sleepless nights.
11. Without food or water often.
12. No place to stay and in the cold.

Paul had every right to brag about who he was. He even says he could in Philippians 3:4-6. However, this ex-Pharisee church crusher brags only about the One who met him on that dirt road in Acts 9. What do you brag about? Have you forgotten the One you met on that life changing day? Philippians will encourage us to see where true joy not only comes from, but Who holds this indestructible joy. This the guy who wrote The Letters to the Philippians. This is the guy who would share his joy with those who have brought him so much joy. His joys would come through his pains.

This church and these letters teach us so many lessons. To learn the most lessons, it is always a good idea to starts with the origins. The is the background to The letter to the Philippians.

See you next Week!

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