Monday, September 10, 2007

Philippians 1:1-11

Philippi, situated in Macedonia (roughly the northern half of modern Greece), on the major road between Rome and its eastern provinces, was a prosperous Roman colony. As a colony, it possessed a privileged status in the empire. Governed by Rome’s municipal law, it was in effect a “little Rome.” Most of the population was Gentile, with a significant number of Romans, many of them retired military veterans. As we read Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, we should keep in mind this context, particularly when he emphasized that Christians’ true citizenship lies in heaven, where our true savior and lord comes from, as against any earthly citizenship with its pretenders to ultimate rule.

Paul visited Philippi around 49 or 50 A.D. on his second missionary journey. (Compare Acts 16.) He preached the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time in that place. Some, notably a merchant named Lydia, believed and became followers of Jesus. In subsequent years, Paul came to Philippi at least once more, and a deep relationship developed between him and the Christian community there. The bonds of true and holy affection thread visibly through today’s passage and the entire letter. When Paul wrote this letter, he was in custody. Likely he was under house arrest in Rome, around 61 or 62 A.D., awaiting a hearing before the emperor, with release or death to follow.

One thing to dwell upon in this opening passage and throughout – it is such a major point in the letter! – is that being a Christian does not consist in just meeting a set of minimum religious requirements. It is not a matter of merely crossing a church threshold. As we should grasp from Paul’s heartfelt prayer in verses 9 through 11, to follow Jesus truly must involve real, spiritual growth: in abounding love for God and our neighbor; in deepening knowledge and insight into God’s truth and purposes; in maturing discernment and application of what it means to live rightly and fruitfully in Jesus.

How can we grow? We grow spiritually when we devote ourselves to Scriptural teaching, to fellowship with other believers, to participation in the Eucharist, and to regular prayer. God has covenanted with us in Jesus. In turn we covenant with God when we engage in these activities. Are we growing in Jesus? Are we devoted to these practices? Are we, in God’s grace, maturing into the people God wants us to be? May we, with those Christians long ago, say and live out a great “Amen!” to Paul’s prayer.

Gregory Strong

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