Here is the Week 3 recap for the Bible study “Shine Like Stars – 14 weeks in Philippians” for anyone who missed class or is following along from a distance. Questions and comments are welcomed.
We are finally getting into the letter Paul wrote to the church in Philippi!
What title did Paul and Timothy give to themselves? Servants. That’s the right answer, but before moving on too quickly, this word is super significant for two reasons.
1. This is the only letter Paul wrote with this title. In most of his letters to the churches, Paul called himself an apostle. (See 1 Cor. 1:1, 2 Cor. 1:1, Gal. 1:1, Eph. 1:1, Col. 1:1) By definition, an apostle is someone who knew Jesus while He was on earth. We are disciples or followers, not apostles. Paul had a face-to-face encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus which gave him the right to be called an apostle. This title carried with it a level of authority. Paul was saying that his official position as an apostle meant that he had the right to say what he was going to say, and that the churches had the responsibility to listen.
This is important because most of the other churches were dealing with some big issues. In Corinth, there was a member of the church sleeping with his mother (or mother-in-law — 1 Cor. 5:1). The church was divided between those who followed Paul and those who followed Apollos. Believers were suing each other. Communion was a mess and not done with reverence. Worship services were chaotic. So when Paul wrote to them, he had to establish his leadership in order to address a lot of serious issues.
In Galatia, the church there started out great, but got off track when some teachers came in saying that in order to become a Christian, a person had to first become a Jew and get circumcised. Paul had to write and say “NO!” He sent a letter to straighten out that incorrect teaching.
In Ephesus, false teachers were messing with the doctrine and the immature, easily swayed believers were getting confused. There was sexual immorality among the believers and drunkenness was a problem. Paul wrote to them to say, “Grow up.”
In all these instances, Paul needed to pull his apostle card because he had some tough things to say and some correcting and rebuking to do.
None of that was the case with the Philippian church. Instead Paul said, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” What a relief for Paul to have a church that was not in crisis. No wonder he was so thankful for them! For any pastor, a healthy, thriving church is a tremendous joy. So Paul called himself a servant — a fellow worker, a partner in ministry.
2. There’s another reason why this word “servant” is so significant. A servant or slave in Ancient Rome was far different than our context for slavery, which was a dark time of great injustice in American history. In Rome, slavery was voluntary and not permanent. In fact, it was a way for people to rise out of poverty. A person could offer himself as a servant to a master and it would be a seven year commitment. At the end of that time, the master had to set the slave free. Then the slave had options. He could leave or he could say, “Master, you have been kind, you have provided food, clothes and shelter for me, you have given me work and I have come to love you and want to serve you the rest of my life. I want to stay, not because I have to, but because I want to.” The master would then take the servant to the doorpost, stretch his earlobe across the frame and pierce his ear. That piercing indicated that he freely chose to devote his life to this master. Do you see the beauty of this illustration? Paul called himself the servant of Jesus Christ, meaning he was totally submitted to his Master’s will, he was all in, he had pierced his ear.
To whom was the letter addressed? To all the saints in Christ at Philippi. What’s a saint? Any believer. That means you, if you believe in Jesus. What does it mean to be “in Christ”? It’s a phrase Paul used 164 times in the New Testament. “The Christian lives in Christ as a bird in the air, a fish in the water, the roots of a tree in the soil. What makes a Christian different is that he is always and everywhere conscious of the encircling presence of Jesus Christ.” (William Barclay)
Which expressions show how close the relationship was between Paul and the Philippians? “I have you in my heart.” (v.7) “I long for all of you with the affection of Christ.” (v.8) From a dark, dank prison cell Paul wrote a letter that drips with love for these people. Remember Lydia, the jailer and the slave girl from last week? Paul had such affection for these people, even though ten years had passed from his first meeting them (Acts 16) until writing this letter. We often think of Paul as a thinker, a theologian, a great mind. But he was also a man of great heart and deep love for people.
What are some specific requests Paul prayed for the Philippians?
He prayed that they would love, even though it is obvious they were already a loving community. Paul said love bountifully. Love more. And then, love some more. There is no end to love, there is always more. Then he went on to describe this love – it is based on knowledge and insight. How does knowledge help us love better? Just as the more I learn about Jesus, the more I love Him, so too, the more I know about my brothers and sisters, the better I can love them. If I know someone is going through a rough season, it makes me more aware of their needs so I can reach out in love and support. How is insight different than knowledge? Insight is the ability to see into a situation, what we might call intuition, or understanding that comes from the Holy Spirit. Love with knowledge and insight is powerful!
Paul also prayed for much fruit to come from the Philippian believers. (See Galatians 5:22-23) Good fruit can only come from the work of God as we stay attached to the vine. Being able to display supernatural love, joy, peace, etc. is what makes Him evident to the unbelieving world. It makes us look like Jesus.
What is Paul’s overarching request? That God would receive all the glory and praise.
How does his prayer compare to what you pray for your friends? I don’t know about you, but I find myself mostly praying for friends who are in crisis. The idea of praying joyful prayers for my Christian brothers and sisters who are doing well was inspiring.
On the second page of our study for this week, there were lots of blanks! Don’t be intimidated by that! Once you try it a few times, it will become second nature. And the best part: this is where you begin to interact with God’s Word on your own and begin to hear His voice. Here is an example of how this can be done.
What does God’s word say? v. 3 “I thank my God every time I remember you.” The first blank is for you to copy the text word for word from the passage. Easy.
What does God’s word mean? What facts can you pull out of these words?
1. Paul spends a lot of time thanking God for people.
2. Paul prays when God brings someone to mind.
3. Paul uses his memory as a trigger to pray.
4. Paul thinks of others and not his own troubles.
What does God’s word mean to me?
1. Are my prayers thankful? Joyful?
2. Am I the kind of Christian who brings joy to my pastor’s mind when he thinks of me?
3. Do I respond with prayer when someone comes to mind?
4. How much of my prayer time is focused on me and my own needs?
Then move on to verse 4, 5, and 6. We had rich discussion in our study as we squeezed out meaning from some key words in those verses. I encourage you to invest in this study on your own because God wants to speak to you.
We will wrap up this week by revisiting our three questions from week 1.
1. What’s the source of joy? In this passage, Paul’s source of joy was other believers who were staying strong. His prayers for others gave him joy.
2. What does a mature believer look like? A mature believer doesn’t focus on his own problems, but finds something to rejoice in. A mature believer is a true partner in the work of the gospel, which means being an active, participating, contributing, involved member of His body, the church.
3. How can we shine like stars? By exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit and allowing God to do good work in us. We won’t be perfect and complete until Jesus returns, but He does want us to partner with Him until that Day.
(A resource we used in class was an audio clip of Matt Chandler’s sermon “Service” starting at 40:38 – to the end. You can find that on itunes at The Village Church, aired on September 18, 2017. )