Philippians 4

This reading is Philippians 4.

Paul starts with a plea to two women who are arguing. It must not have been a matter of church doctrine, or he would have addressed it. Petty disagreements in the church can hold back our witness and service.

V. 4 is famous (“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!). We are commanded to rejoice always.

V. 7 is one of my first memory verses. We are told not to be anxious about anything. We are to pray with thanksgiving, regardless of our circumstances. The “peace of God that transcends all understanding” is often interpreted to mean a peace that is so fantastic that we can’t even understand it. That may be, but it also might mean that the peace will surpass our understanding of the problems that were making us anxious to begin with. In short, the peace of God may put everything into perspective for us.

After Paul tells us not to be anxious, he tells us what to fill our minds with in v. 8. This is a great reminder that we get to choose what we think about. It is easy to get into patterns of negative thinking about failures, hurts and disappointments. But we can elect to think about what is true, noble, right, lovely, etc.

Verse 13 is often misinterpreted to imply that we can do all kinds of spectacular things with Christ’s help. That may be true, but that isn’t what this verse is saying.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

But reading verse 12 you can see that the context is that with Christ’s strength, we can be content whether living in plenty or in need.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Learning to be content with what we have is a great secret indeed!

V. 19 contains a great promise: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Verse 22 shows how the Gospel had already reached Rome and into Caeser’s household (“All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.”)

The next reading is Psalm 1.

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Philippians 3

This reading is Philippians 3.

This chapter starts and ends with Paul warning against false teachers. He calls them “dogs” and “mutilators of the flesh” because they tried to make new converts follow Jewish customs. He addresses this more extensively in Galatians. Here Paul uses it to point out that if acts and good deeds brought us to God, he would have been there already.

Paul’s resume was truly outstanding. His family followed the rules and had him circumsised according to Jewish customs, he came from the right kind of family, he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” he had the highest religious position as a Pharisee, he was zealous in persecuting the radical Christian groups and he was righteous. Yet none of that was enough to reconcile him to God. He needed Christ as well all do.

Paul says that he considers his noted accomplishments to be “rubbish.” This is a very strong statement, as other translations call it “dung” or “manure.” Our accomplishments and good deeds apart from God can actually be a barrier to our knowing Him if we are trusting in our own righteousness.

When he says in v. 10 that he wants to “know” Christ, that means not just “head knowledge” and facts about Jesus, but a deep relationship with him.

It isn’t bad advice for us not to dwell on past failures and hurts, but when Paul says in v. 13, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,” what he means by “what is behind” is the accomplishments he just mentioned. We do better and stay more joyful when we don’t get puffed up with our spiritual accomplishments. If Paul was “pressing on,” how much more should we press on towards the prize?

It is interesting that in v. 17 and other parts of the Bible we are encouraged not just to follow Christ but to follow the example of Paul and other leaders. Of course, Jesus is the ultimate model, but when we see others who are farther along in their faith journey we can learn from them as well.

Never forget that “our citizenship is in Heaven.” We should try to impact this world, but ultimately we are aliens and strangers in this world, as Peter said.

The next reading is Philippians 4.

Philippians 2

This reading is Philippians 2.

I love this book!

This chapter begins with Paul issuing a strong challenge – basically saying that if we are authentic Christians, we should be loving, united, purposeful, humble servants. In short, our attitude should be like that of Jesus.

Selfishness and pride are at the root of sinfulness and the misery it brings. Selflessness brings joy. This is a challenge for all Christians, as it is so easy to think of ourselves first.

Verses 6-11 give a powerful description of Jesus, his divinity and his purpose. He is “in very nature God.” This means He is the very essence of God, and He is God. Not just a little like God, or that He spent time around God, but He is God – the 2nd person of the Trinity. Yet He humbled himself to come live as a human and was obedient to suffer the worst death imaginable – all for our sakes.

In verse 12 he challenges us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” He doesn’t say to work for our salvation, because that is a gift of God’s grace. We must do this with trust in God, not ourselves. But our works and our perseverence give evidence that we have faith in Christ.

Verse 14 should convict us all: “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Keep in mind that Paul wrote this while in jail. Christians are to be witnesses to the world through our lives – “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” Our generation is surely as crooked and depraved as Paul’s was. As verse 16 points out, the light we hold out is God’s Word, the “word of life.”

When Paul says he is being “poured out like a drink offering,” he is referring to an Old Testament practice of sacrificing animals for the sins of the people. Drinks like wine were also poured out to symbolize the completeness of the sacrifice. Paul is giving everything he has for his fellow believers. The chapter ends with examples of how Timothy and Epaphroditus were making sacrifices for Paul and for Jesus as well.

The next reading is Philippians 3.

Philippians 1

This reading is Philippians 1.

When Paul refers to the Philippians as saints, he means it in the sense of being “set apart,” not that they are perfect. Paul referred to the “Lord Jesus Christ,” which is rich in meaning. As Lord, He is over all and we are subject to him. As Jesus, He is our Savior. And as Christ, He is the Messiah promised to the Jews.

As shown in verses 3-4, Paul obviously had a strong relationship with the Philippians: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.

Verse 6 teaches the doctrine of eternal security, that is, if you are really in Christ then you will stay that way. Don’t confuse that with the doctrine of assurance, which deals with whether you really are in Christ or not.

Paul is sometimes misconstrued as being harsh or chauvinistic, but if you read his writings closely, he is very personal and caring. Consider verse 7: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart . . “

As God does so often, a bad situation like Paul’s imprisonment is used for good, as Rome’s “whole palace guard” heard of Christ because of it. You get the feeling that no one could be around Paul for long without hearing about Jesus. In addition, Paul’s example emboldened other believers to more courageous and fearless.

Paul humbled himself so much that he didn’t even care if others used his situation against him to preach about Jesus, as long as they got the Gospel right.

Verse 21 (“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”) is famous. He has such confidence in the Lord that he is willing to be obedient and suffer on earth though he would prefer to be with Jesus in Heaven.

Paul notes that all Christians will suffer for their belief in some way – “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” This is an important point to mention when sharing the Gospel. Sometimes churches focus solely on the peace, love and joy parts of Christianity without mentioning the suffering and sacrifice it can require.

Paul challenges the church to stay unified, “contending as one man for the faith of the Gospel.” Fellowship is much more than just cookies and punch after church. It is living life together and carrying out the mission of Christ’s church together.

The next reading is Philippians 2.

Philippians overview

Welcome to the overview of Philippians.

Who wrote this? The Apostle Paul (formerly known as Saul).

Paul’s story was recounted three times in the Book of Acts, in chapters 9, 22 and 26. His conversion is amazing and important for a couple major reasons. First, if the main persecutor of Christians and the church can be converted, anyone can. His job was to destroy Christians and Christianity. Jesus even said, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” Yet he was forgiven and transformed. He became the first missionary to the Gentiles (non-Jews) and arguably the best missionary ever.

Second, Paul was a first-rate Jew in every measurable way. He listed his credentials in Philippians 3 and 2 Corinthians 11 yet pointed out how that wasn’t enough to reconcile himself to God. So if Paul still needed Jesus, then everyone does.

It is important to note that Paul wrote this while in jail. His message of joy is that much more powerful considering his environment.

Who was Paul writing to, and why was he writing? New Testament letters were typically written to correct false teachings, but Philippians was an exception. It is mainly a thank-you letter to the church in Philippi, Greece that Paul had started and that had helped him immensely. This church most likely helped and fed Paul when he was in the Philippian jail in Acts 16:25-40. In those times, if someone didn’t come to feed the prisoners they might starve to death.

When was it written? Roughly 61 AD, which is nearly thirty years after Jesus’ resurrection and roughly three years before Paul was put to death for being a Christian.

The resounding theme of Philippians is joy. He mentions joy or rejoice sixteen times. Only Luke mentions joy more, and that book is twelve times the length of this one. So Philippians has more joy per page than any book in the Bible.

It is important to note the distinction between happiness, which depends on current circumstances, and the joy of Christ, which depends on Jesus. We can be unhappy yet joyful at the same time.

I encourage you to read the whole book of Philippians quickly then go back through one chapter at a time.

If you really want to dig deeply into this incredible book, I recommend James MacDonald’s audio series, I Choose Joy. It contains about eight hours of a series of sermons which cover Philippians verse by verse. Many of my study notes will come from that series.

The next reading is Philippians 1.