Monday, 2 October 2017

Philippians Overview

Last week I had the privilege of being the camper speaker at my church's youth camp (this is one of the reasons why this blog has been so quiet over the last months as I was preparing for these talks).

I was a little intimidated by the demographics of the camp as it was about 45 youth, of which 33 were girls, and half those were in year 7 and 8. In the lead-up to these talks, I went from feeling ok about them to be up at night worrying about them. I probably should have taken Philippians to heart a bit more, trusting in the true King of this world who will grant you peace.

After I gave this first talk (the shortest one of the five) I did feel a bit better about them. The youth leaders were very encouraging and some of the youth seemed to engage with the text and ponder how they were going to take it to heart.

So over the next week or two, I will be posting the talks I gave here. This way, the youth can come back over this, any concerned parent can see what I told their child or if you just want to get a broad overview of Phillippians you can come back and read the rest.

So what is life all about? What are you living for? What would be the thing that if you got it, you would think you had really made it in life? Is it your own room? To be the top of the class, be the most popular, the most attractive or rich? To get into that uni degree that you always wanted?

All the reality TV programs are based on this. In Survivor, you’re trying to outwit, outsmart, outplay your competitors to win half a million dollars. In MasterChef, everyone has their food dream they are trying to realise. In your own reality show, what are you striving for?

In the letter to the Philippians, we see quite personally what Paul the Apostle was living for, even when he was facing death. For Paul, there was nothing in this life more valuable than knowing Jesus.

With the theme this week, we have tweaked Apple’s “think different” slogan to be “live different”. As Christians, we have been called to live different lives for Christ. Christianity is an alternate lifestyle. It is counter-cultural. We are not to conform to this world, but instead are to be living sacrifices to God[1]. Christianity is punk in that it is a quiet rebellion against society. If you want to be a rebel in society, don’t just do what everyone else is doing, pretending to be cool, or hard, drinking and sleeping around. If you really want to be a rebel, be a Christian, stay a virgin till your wedding night, don’t look at porn, stay sober and read your Bible[2]. Everything else is overdone and overrated.

Paul wrote this letter as kinda of a thankyou letter. He wasn’t responding to a messed-up situation but was writing to his friends in another town who still cared for him.

Paul with a few of his buddies planted the Philippian church maybe 10 or 15 years previously. It’s a pretty cool story which you can read about in Acts 16. The first three members of this church included a rich religious woman in the fashion industry, a slave girl who was possessed by a demon and a gruff Roman prison guard. It’s possible these three people were still at the church when Paul was writing to them.

Now, Philippi was a Roman colony. That is, it was trying to be a copy of the city of Rome. Being a Roman colony meant that the people didn’t have to pay taxes to Rome and they received the same privileges and freedoms as the citizen of Rome. People there dressed like the Romans, were governed like the Romans and pretty much they wanted to be a mini Rome. So when someone said Jesus was Lord or King in Philippi it was dangerous as it was saying that the Roman Caesar wasn’t Lord or King.

Paul was in prison awaiting trial which may lead to his freedom, or to his death. Back then the government didn’t think they needed to look after their own prisoners, so you needed outside help to stay alive. The Philippians heard that Paul was in prison, so they sent their man Epaphroditus (probably with a few others) to bring Paul some food and money so that he wouldn’t starve. This wasn’t the first time the Philippians had looked after Paul. In Chapter 4 we read that the Philippians did this to Paul in two other towns. It is pretty clear the Philippians liked Paul. He was like their link missionary.

But what happened this time round was that their gift giving guy Epaphroditus got sick, like really sick and nearly died. Paul writes this letter to send back to the Philippians to let them know that Epaphroditus is now OK and to say thanks for their provisions. But because this is Paul, he can’t just write a quick thank you note. He is encouraged by the Philippians, so he writes back to encourage them. And of course, the best thing to write about is Jesus. So, Paul writes to encourage them to press on with Jesus, telling them to live different.

You guys should have a fairly blank image in your booklets. For the rest of this talk I’m going to trace, rather quickly, some of the ideas and themes in this letter, to get you thinking about its content and what it means for you today. You can draw or write whatever you want to fill in your outline. We’re going to go quick so you might like to fill in the details in the talks later in the week.

The first thing you should see is the big circle in the middle. This is the heart of the letter and really everything drives from this section. We are told to look at Jesus as the example to follow. In the hymn in chapter 2, we see that Jesus did not use his position with God for his own gain, but instead gave his life for us. Jesus humbled himself as a man as a servant to die on the cross. The Father then raised Jesus up and exalted Him with the title “Lord” or King. Under King Jesus, everyone will one day pay their respects to Him, because He is worthy of praise and worthy to be followed. So, follow and copy Jesus, he is the humble King and Lord of everything.

In the first box on the left, Paul opens the letter with a prayer that the Philippians will continue in the Gospel until King Jesus returns. He prays that they will grow and live different.

In the next box, Paul turns his attention to his current predicament of being in chains. And yet, despite his chains, he says it’s not so bad. He rejoices because the Gospel message is still being proclaimed, even while he is locked up. He feels torn between what might be the result of his trial. If he dies he will go and be with Jesus, which he is very much looking forward to, and yet he thinks he will go on in the land of the living and he is happy about that, for, like Jesus, he will humble himself, and he will put others needs before his own desires. So, Paul is in jail, yet he rejoices because Jesus is being talked about. Paul follows Jesus by humbly serving God and others.

In the next box in the bottom left, Paul wants the Philippians to live in a way that is worthy of the Gospel. He wants them to support one another when they suffer and care for one another[3]. Jesus is the ultimate example to follow, He gave up His own glory and suffered for others. Jesus was vindicated, that means, proved to be in the right, and His actions were praised by the Father.

Paul then tells the Philippians to keep going in their faith and not to grumble and complain about their struggles. He holds up two guys as examples of living the Christian life well, in the bottom middle box. We have Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Timothy is held up as a humble guy, as someone who doesn’t look out for his own interest, but for the interest of others. Kinda like how Jesus didn’t look out for His own interests but gave himself for us. So copy Timothy, he is a humble servant who looks out for others.

Epaphroditus is also held up as an example because he faced death for the work of the Gospel. Kinda how Jesus didn’t only come close to death but went through it so that we can be saved. So copy Epaphroditus who was willing to sacrifice for the work of the Gospel.

After those two examples, Paul then describes his own achievements and how they are all rubbish (or as something with a nastier smell). Because of Jesus, we are considered right, pure and blameless, not because of what we have done for ourselves, but because of what Jesus has done for us.

And once we are considered right, or righteous under God, we look forward to the resurrection, where Jesus, our King will come back and rule in the new earth with us in our new bodies. Since we are saved now, we look forward to this coming heaven, We are to live as citizens of this new kingdom, knowing that one day, the whole world will be under King Jesus’ rule.

Then as Paul wraps up his letter he has a kind of a shotgun approach to how Christians are to live in light of Gospel, how Christians are to live as citizens of Heaven here and now. They are to live different. He asks for them to experience harmony, peace and goodness, but especially joy, to have joy in all circumstances trusting in the true King Jesus.

Paul then, in the top right, closes his letter with some personal notes. He thanks them for their concern for him and he assures them that he is content in all situations.

So there you have it, a quick overview of Philippians. This is a thankyou letter, but it is more than that. This week we will be talking about unity, partnership, following examples, humility, suffering and joy. It is an encouragement to keep on with Jesus, to follow in the example of Jesus, Timothy, Epaphroditus and Paul. Life is all about Jesus. Our conduct should be worthy of the message of Jesus, and so our minds need to be focused on Jesus as the true King and Lord. We are to live different.

So what is your life all about? What are you living for? Would you be content in any and all situations because you know Christ?

<Insert personal story about a loved one in hospital>

What would you do if faced with a hard situation like that? What would your attitude be? What if your parents got a divorce? What if you were in an accident and couldn’t walk again? Is your joy and contentment with Christ? Do you trust Christ in all things, like really all things? Do you see Jesus as an example to imitate? What do you worry about? Do you try to promote yourself and put your needs above others? Do you put Christ first and others second before your own desires?

That is the challenge we are going to look at in Philippians.

[1] Romans 12:1-2

[2] I think this is from one of Mark Driscoll’s Philippians talks

[3] Gorman, Michael J. (2004), Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters


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