The people of Philippi understood strife. They knew what it meant to live in a troubled world. The city was birthed four hundred years before Paul’s letter arrived there as a military garrison of Philip II, the renown conqueror and father of Alexander the Great. Three hundred years later the city was the site of the Battle of Philippi, the military campaign that ended Rome’s bloody civil war fought over the assassination of Julius Caesar.
The strife continued when the missionaries came to Philippi. This Roman colony was already unfriendly to non-citizen Jews. Many historians believe that the reason Paul went “outside the city” looking for “the place of prayer” was because Jews weren’t even allowed to meet inside the city in synagogues (Acts 16). So when Paul, the Jewish Christian missionary, came to the city and began stirring up trouble by preaching the gospel and casting out evil spirits, the people of Philippi formed a mob, beat the missionaries badly, and threw them in jail. You can read about how God miraculously rescued Paul and Silas from prison in Acts 16.
Before reading on grab your Bible and read Philippians 2.
With all the strife in Philippi, what could a Roman citizen living there have as their ultimate hope? Another military conquest? They had that, and their strife continued. Financial success? Philippi was one of Europe’s richest cities in Paul’s day, and their strife continued. A strong government? They were a colony of the strongest government in the world, and their strife continued. The people of Philippi needed a more enduring hope for the troubled world in which they lived, and so do we. We live in a world that is at war. Mass murder is taking place right now all over the planet. What ultimate hope do we have to offer the people of the world? American military intervention? A strong US economy? A powerful America? Though all of those things can certainly be a blessing from God, none of them are an enduring hope. The world was filled with strife long before America came along, and if the Lord continues to delay his judgment, the world will be filled with strife long after we are gone. The message of Philippians 2 is that God’s hope for a troubled world is his church.
When the missionaries first arrived in Philippi, they offered the people of the city a completely different kind of hope in the midst of their strife. They offered the Philippians Jesus Christ. Paul tells his jailer, who is about to commit suicide, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your whole house!” And then God used Paul and Silas to plant churches all over the city to be God’s arms to serve those in need and to be God’s mouth to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole city. By the time Paul writes this letter to the Philippians years later, the gospel is thriving there through the preaching and serving of the churches. When Paul takes pen in hand to write Philippians chapter 2, he is calling these churches to continue to be God’s hope for their city. In a very real sense, God’s hope for the whole world is his church!
This is why in Philippians 2 Paul calls the Christians in Philippi to continue to unify around the mission of the church of Jesus Christ which is God’s mission in the world. In doing so, Paul answers three questions for them: “What is the message of the church?”; “What is the purpose of the church?”; and “Who are the missionaries of the church?”
What is the message of the church? We preach the incarnate and crucified God, Jesus Christ. What is the purpose of the church? We are on the mission that God is on to bring the hope of Jesus Christ to the whole world. Who are the missionaries of the church? God is calling all of us to be sacrificial servants who follow Jesus. These three, Paul argues, are the source of the unity of the church. We rally, not around ourselves and our wants, rather we rally around a message, a mission, and sacrificial service.
- Have you ever felt hopeless? What are some situations that cause people to loose hope?
- How does the incarnation of Jesus give hope to a troubled world?
- Read Philippians 2:12-18. Why do churches struggle with division? What will keep a church unified? (Hint: It’s gospel and mission)
- Read Philippians 2:19-30. List out the commendable qualities of Timothy and Epaphroditus that Paul displays to the Philippian church. Contrast these qualities with those we normally associate with celebrity or fame.
One of the great treasures of my ministry was the time I spent serving alongside Ed Gravely. For close to 4 years we wrote small group curriculum for Christ Community Church. This blog series is adapted from my archive of curriculum we wrote concurrently with the pulpit ministry of CCC. If any writing in these posts is pleasant to read I’m sure Ed deserves the credit.
Other posts in this series: