Lesson 13: Introduction to Philippians
Acts 16:11-40, Acts 28
Paul's Prison Epistles. This is lesson #13. An introduction to the book of Philippians. The apostle Paul undoubtedly wrote this letter from that same imperial prison, connected to the same chain, from which he wrote the book of Ephesians, that we just finished. Again, may I suggest a rereading of Acts ch. 28. This can sharpen your focus on Paul's circumstance. This we mentioned in lesson #1 & #2 as we delved into Ephesians. You might want to review that. However, don't fail to get a good picture of Paul waiting in Rome under guard for his hearing before Nero, the emperor. Paul, after spending two years in prison at Caesarea and realizing he would not receive justice under the new procurator in Palestine (a man named, Festus); Paul appealed his case to the emperor. As a result, he shortly began to be transferred to that big capital city of the empire called Rome. The apostle spend a severe winter enroute under guard. On the way, he survived a shipwreck and a grueling trip. Finally however, the next spring, after a Roman centurion escorted Paul into that big capital city; Luke said "Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him" (Acts 28:16). Further down in that chapter (v.30), Luke said: "Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him." Thus, we learn a couple things here: (1st) Paul was permitted to receive visitors and, (#2) I infer from the words "his own hired house" that Paul was permitted to rent a place of his own, very near to the imperial prison no doubt. V.16 said, "a soldier kept him." In Phil. 1:13, Paul made reference to the imperial palace, as if it were near by. Luke, in quoting part of a speech that Paul made to the "chief of the Jews" in Rome, undoubtedly some of the very first guests Paul was permitted to receive only a few days after he arrived and was incarcerated in Rome; Luke quoted Paul as commenting: "I am bound with this chain." That's in v.20 (Acts ch. 28). The soldiers that kept Paul were no doubt part of the Praetorian Guard, i.e. the soldiers that protected the emperor and his castle and the capitol grounds, etc., a very elite military group. Possibly analogous (in some ways) to our Secret Service in America to day. Like I said, Paul's incarceration there dragged out for two whole year (according to v.30). Those Roman courts must have been about as speedy as our American justice system, today.
I am inclined to think it was near the end of that two year period, i.e. the incarcerated at Rome; that Paul wrote this book, we call Philippians. Perhaps it was written sometime during the year of AD 62. In Phil. 2:23, Paul told his brethren in this letter, that he hoped to send Timothy to them "presently," i.e. very soon. In the next verse (2:24), Paul continued: "But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly." Thus, I infer, Paul was expecting to be released in the near future. In this study, we shall assume THAT to be the case and date this book as written in about AD 62, or about 4 or 5 years before the Roman-Jewish war began.
Now, let's talk about Philippi, just a moment. Do you remember the Philippian church? I insist you turn the tape player off long enough to go back and re-read Acts, chapter sixteen. Paul and Silas established the Philippian congregation on the second missionary journey. It started with Paul's vision at Troas (Acts 16:9). Luke said, "a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and praying him," [i.e. Paul] saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us." Paul's companions at Troas at that time and on that trip into Macedonia were Silas, Timothy and Luke. After the night vision, these four men quickly departed from Troas and went into Philippi of Macedonia in response to that invitation and where this congregation was soon established. Now, we haven't taken the time in this study to talk about maps. However, you need to locate these places on a good map and get a mental picture of the place. I am assuming in this course that you have completed the 88 lessons entitled: Paul's Missonary Journey Epistles, and of course, you should have completed the set of 52 lessons on ACTS before that. If my assumption is correct, then I trust you can locate these places on any good map. If you need a little map review, go back to the old ACTS MAP WORKSHEET. Troas is city # 23 and Philippi is city #26 on that map. If you don't have that, write to us, we'll send you a copy if you want it. But, you need to locate Philippi on a good map and observe its location in relationship to the city of Rome, from where Paul wrote this Philippian letter.
Let's do a little review of what little we know about the Philippian church. We learn in Acts 16:12, Philippi was at that time the chief city of that part of Macedonia. We would say it was the capital city. Philippi was also a well known military town and the citizens there were thus strong patriots of Rome, you might keep in mind. These four preachers, Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy as they came trudging into Philippi found no synagogue. Thus, we might infer, the Jewish population in that city was low, comparatively. Paul and his co-workers had, as a matter of policy (in other places), put the Jews first and began the work in a synagogue. Let me remind you also, the Jews were in disfavor with Rome. I trust you remember Acts 18:2; under the administration of Claudius a decade or so before, the Jews had been banished from the City of Rome. Thus, Philippi being a military stronghold and a very patriotic city; you would expect the Jews were not exactly favored there either, let us say. So, remember: no synagogue in Philippi; nevertheless, in or near Philippi, they found some women (Jewish women, i.e.) meeting by a river side. Luke said simply: "we sat down, and spake unto the women." He did not say what they preached on that riverside occasion; however, in the next verse (Acts 16:15), Luke hastened to add: that a lady, named Lydia, along with others in her household were baptized into Christ. Thus, that gives you a pretty good hint as to the nature of the riverside lesson, that day. Then, a little later, Paul and Silas were put in jail. You know the details, I trust. Paul and Silas were confined to the inner prison, their backs were bleeding from a beating by the local civil authorities and their feet were clamped into stocks. At midnight, they were released by an earthquake. The jailer was finally shaken to his senses. That night, after giving first aid to Paul and Silas, the jailer asked: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" It says, "they spake unto him the word of the Lord." Thus, sometime between midnight and daylight, Paul and Silas taught this jailer and his family the gospel and that included baptism. They obeyed the gospel and were baptized into Christ, that same night. This is all we are told, before Paul and Silas reluctantly (but courteously) left town the next day at the request of the city magistrates. How long Paul and Silas were in Philippi on this occasion, we have no way of knowing. However, it must have been a matter of a few weeks at most. Luke and Timothy apparently did stay with this infant congregation for at least a short time longer.
Now, here's the thrust I want you to get: in this passage (Acts ch. 16, please read it), get a mental picture of the nucleus of the Philippian congregation. When Paul and Silas left town that day, this infant congregation (the Philippian church) consisted of two young preachers, named: Luke and Timothy; a sales lady, named Lydia along with some of her household; a jailer and his family. We have no names; possibly 8 or 10 Philippian citizens all babes in Christ. Have you got it? How many more were converted, how soon after that, we don't know. Paul and Silas simply went down the road about 100 miles and started another congregation in a city called Thessalor.ica (according to Acts ch. 17). We've covered that! But, let me tease and test your .mental concepts just a moment; WHAT IS your mental picture of this congregation? Try to imagine the next worship service after Paul and Silas left Philippi that day. Essentially two families and two young preachers. Where did they meet? A great big beautiful brick building with a 35 foot steeple, landscaped with all kinds of blooming shrubbery, right? I trust your mental picture is a little closer to reality than that. Can a few tattered Christians meeting on a river bank be scriptural? Was the Philippian congregation scriptural? Jesus said, "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20). Don't miss that "gathered together in my name," part, i.e. Jesus's name.
It must have been about ten years after Paul and Silas established that congregation in Philip that Paul wrote this letter in chains there in or near the imperial prison in Rome. Count with me a moment! Add up these figures. Would you? Paul spent only three weeks at Thessalonica (Acts 17:2). From there he went on to Berea and Athens before coming to Corinth where he spent a YEAR AND A HALF (Acts 18:11). Did you get it? Keep adding! After leaving Corinth, Paul took a trip back to Jerusalem and then on to Antioch of Syria from whence the third missionary journey began. Then Paul went again "over all the country of Galatian and Phrygia in order" (according to Acts 18:22-23); before starting the work in Ephesus. We have no time references in those passages. Take your map and do a little estimate, that must have taken at least ONE YEAR. Then a space of THREE YEARS at Ephesus (according to Acts 20:31). Then add to that about ONE MORE YEAR that Paul visited Macedonia and Achaia before making that last voyage to Jerusalem where Paul was arrested. Then, count TWO MORE YEARS in a Casearean prison before his transfer to Rome. And then, we assumed about TWO MORE YEARS in his own hired house under guard there in Roman before writing THIS LETTER to the Philippian church. Now, what's the total? It rounds out to something like ten years from the time the Philippian church was established until Paul wrote this letter, we call Philippians. However, if one backs up to a time about five years before Paul wrote this letter; we come out somewhere near Acts 20:1-2. In the first verse of Acts ch. 20, Luke recorded the end of Paul's three year stay at Ephesus, that's where Paul embraced the disciples and departed into Macedonia. Review that just a minute! Macedonia there probably means Philippi and Thessalonica, if you've got that old map in perspective. Thus, the point is: Paul visited Philippi at least once between the time he and Silas established the Philippian congregation and the occasion of this writing. Now, that was before his final trip to Jerusalem which brought an end to the third missionary journey followed by Paul's arrest. Thus, the point is: Paul did spend some time a Philippi, I conclude. Possibly the summer and fall of AD 57 or AD 58. Luke said (in Acts 20:2): "when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece" or Achaia, which probably means Corinth where he spent the winter and with the help of Tertius, the scribe, he wrote the books of Romans and Galatians. But don't miss that "much exhortation" (Acts 20:2). In addition to Paul's visit(s) back to Philippi, you must keep in mind that Paul continually communicated with all these congregations. While Paul was at Ephesus, for example, he sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia. Do you remember that? (Acts 19:22)?
That congregation at Philippi was Paul's pride and joy. I think it is fair to say that of all the congregations that Paul established; Philippi was closest to a model congregation, i.e. to Paul's notion at least. The Philippians were hard to impress; but, the few that obeyed the gospel were undoubtedly staunch Christians. In Phil. 4:1, Paul referred to them as "my joy and my crown." Paul had REFUSED to take support from some other congregations; for example, Corinth, thinking his motives might be misunderstood, I assume. In writing to those Corinthian Christians at a. later time, Paul said: "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you [i.e. the Corinthians] service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man..." (II Cor. 11:8-9). I.e. to say, Paul refused to take support from the Corinthians' thinking his motives would be impugned. Thus, Paul did without lust to make sure his message was not misunderstood by the Corinthians. However, in that same verse, Paul continued: "that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied." In other words, at the very time Paul would not take support from the Corinthians; he was receiving support from Macedonia which probably means Philippi or at least included Philippi. Paul quoted the Lord Jesus (Acts 20:35) as saying: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Paul would not refuse the Philippians this blessing of giving. Paul was impressed with the Philippians. Paul said that in a great trial of affliction and in their deep poverty the churches of Macedonia gave beyond their means. That's in II Cor. 8:1-3; study that just a moment. There's a great lesson there, a great example. In this book, Phil. 4:16, Paul said that even during that three weeks at Thessalonica (do you remember?...we said about 100 miles down the road from Philippi, recorded in Acts 17:2...where Paul and Silas went when they were asked to leave Philippi by the civil authorities.. .what happened? Paul said:) "ye sent once and again unto my necessity." Now, that's that small congregation...two families and two young preachers. Do you remember? The river-side-people! That small congregation at Philippi sent support to Paul more than once during the next month after Paul and Silas were forced out of town, i.e. out of Philippi. Some one has said: poverty and generosity go hand in hand. I believe it! Those who send us postage money for these courses are usually the people who can afford it least. I'm convinced that's true. That sure humbles me! I received a note from a lady in the mail just this morning, which said: [and I quote]: "I am really enjoying these lessons. It is amazing how much a person can learn. Studying like this makes me realize how much more I need to learn... I really appreciate these lessons" [unquote]. She sent in two dollars and enrolled two more people. It's amazing what a few staunch dedicated people can do; if they want to. The Philippians sent a man named Epaphroditus to Paul there in Prison and guess what! They sent Paul some more support. Read Phil. 4:18! I suppose this at least helped to pay the rent on Paul's "own hired house" there in Rome where he abode in chains. Epaphroditus traveled several hundred miles and almost died to take Paul some form of financial help and to see what the Philippians could do to help this brother in Prison. We today sometimes send a "thank-you card" to those who have help us or given us a gift. You might think of the Philippian letter as Paul's "thank-you card or letter" to the Philippian brethren. That congregation had grown in numbers. They now had elders and deacons according to first verse. But, apparently they were as spiritual as ever. Paul, as he said his chain-rattling good-bye to brother Epaphroditus in the presence of that soldier; he must have hated to see his brother go. With that scene in mind, we begin our textual study of Philippians. I'll see you in lesson # 14. Have a good day.