Sunday School Lesson for September 7, 2003
Background Passage: Philippians 1:1-18
Focal Teaching Passage: Philippians 1:1-14
Introduction and Blessing (1:1-2)
In keeping with the form of ancient letters, Paul began his epistle to the Philippians with an identification of the writer, the recipients, and a blessing or greeting. Here we see that Paul identified himself along with "Timothy" as authors of this letter. While Timothy probably did not actually pen any portion of the epistle, he stood in perfect agreement with all that Paul wrote to his brethren in the Lord. Timothyís importance as Paulís missionary companion and prominence as an early church leader is seen in the fact that he is mentioned in six of the Pauline epistles (2 Corinthians; Colossians; Philippians; 1 and 2 Thessalonians; Philemon). According to Acts 16 Timothy had been with Paul when the Philippian church was established. Paul further identified himself, along with Timothy, as "bond-servants of Christ Jesus." With the application of this description, it is likely that Paul wanted to stress the fact that he was fully owned by the Lord and possessed no personal rights or privileges. His true identity was centered in relationship to Christ.
The Philippian recipients are identified as "saints." This term stressed their relationship to God "in Christ" as those who, on one hand, had been set apart from evil and, on the other, dedicated to God for His service alone. They were sinners saved by grace who were in the process of being made holy by means of the Spiritís ongoing work of sanctification.
The mention of "overseers and deacons" supports the fact that the church recognized at least two official offices. The "overseers," sometimes identified as "elders," were responsible for the spiritual leadership of the church, while the "deacons," following he pattern established in Acts 6, provided for the practical meeting of needs within the body. The fact that Paul singled them out for mention may indicate that they were responsible for the collection and distribution of a special gift sent to the apostle while he was in prison in Rome (cf. 4:18).
Paulís typical greeting consisting of "grace" and "peace" was employed here, yet not without profound depth of meaning (cf. Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon). For Paul, "grace" was always personal in that it was experienced in relationship to Jesus Christ (see Titus 2:11-14). William Hendriksen defines this term as "Godís spontaneous, unmerited favor in action, [and] his sovereign, freely bestowed loving-kindness in operation" [Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, NTC, 48]. "Peace" was, in Paulís estimation, strategically linked to grace in that it represented the state of tranquility and security resulting from the experience of Godís grace in Jesus Christ. Note carefully here that Paul is emphatic regarding the source of these twin blessings. Both come from "God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Richard Melick observes that the inclusion of the Lordís name in this verse "adds a profound Christological dimension to the blessing. . . . In so combining the work of God and Jesus, Paul reflected his deep conviction about the deity of Jesus" [Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, TNAC, 51].
A Prayer of Thanksgiving, Confidence, and Love (1:3-11)
Again, as was his custom, Paul reminded his readers of his faithful prayers to God on their behalf. As he lovingly reflected upon them while in prison, he was led to continually offer both thanksgiving and joy-filled supplication on every "remembrance" of them and Godís great work in their hearts (v. 3). The fervency of Paulís love for this congregation is evidenced by his use of the words "all" (vv. 3,4), "always" (v. 4), and "every" (v. 4). His mention of "joy" (v. 4) in connection with his prayers is significant in that it is the first occurrence of the key word that will become a major theme in his letter [Melick, 55].
In this section, two reasons for Paulís deep feelings of gratitude and joy in regard to the Philippian church are surfaced:
As verse 8 confirms, the apostle deeply loved his Philippian brothers and sisters and longed for each of them "with the affection of Christ Jesus." The term translated "affection," literally indicating oneís inward parts, reveals the strongest of feelingsóso powerful and pronounced that Paul would depict them as belonging to Christ Himself. Note also the declaration in verse 7 that "I have you in my heart." Clearly the apostle had an abiding pastoral concern and sympathetic interest in his brethren.
The content of Paulís fervent and consistent praying for his brethren was composed of three principal requests (cf. Col. 1:9-11):
Circumstances and the Progress of the Gospel (1:12-14)
While Paul is rightly considered the apostle to the Gentile world, he may also be accurately termed the "apostle of Godís sovereign power." Paulís deep conviction that God had ordained every event (Rom. 8:28) for the purpose of glorifying himself and edifying his people is evidenced here as he spoke of his "imprisonment in the cause of Christ" (vv. 12-13). Paul firmly held to the conviction that all things, including the actions of evil men who resist the truth and violently oppose the people of God, served the greater purposes of Christís kingdom and glory. For Paul, even his apparently disadvantageous "circumstances" had, by Godís doing, "turned out for the greater progress of the gospel."
Even in Paulís imprisonment, God had been at work. Two marvelous things happened as a result of what looked like a tragedy on the surface:
Key Themes for Reflection and Application
One: Consider how the lesson passage challenges and stimulates us to become more faithful in prayer for fellow-believers (1:4).
Two: Based upon 1:9-11 see if you can develop a picture of Christian love in action. What are its characteristics and distinctive features?
Three: Paul understood Godís sovereignty over all circumstances of life (1:12-14). How does this apply to and impact the various circumstances of your life? Can you see the hand of God at work in a similar way?