In our fast-paced, internet age of short emails, the art of letter-writing has become less appreciated or even practiced. Yet, in the time of the NT, the apostle Paul wrote long and personal letters to the various churches. Some were filled with teaching and moral instruction such as Romans. Others were deeply personal and grounded in friendship, such as Philippians and Philemon. Paul’s letters were frequently addressed to the church leaders and intended to be read by the congregation.

 

For the month of August, we shall read Paul’s letter to the Philippians and enter into a conversation with Paul as though this letter was intended for our congregation today. We know that Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. Perhaps, Paul was in Ephesus or even in Rome, we are not certain. But despite his circumstance, Paul was deeply touched by the friendship and partnership with the Philippian congregation for their special gift of support sent through Epaphroditus. News about Paul’s captivity and the unexpected illness of Epaphroditus raised concerns and elicited much prayer. Among the churches planted by Paul, the Philippian church was especially dear to him. So Paul writes to express his deep appreciation for their generous love and support.

In this letter, Paul devotes vital attention to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how it transforms interpersonal relationships, ethical living and community life. The word for Gospel occurs nine times in this letter (1:5,7,12,16,27; 2:22; 4:3,15) and may be translated as “good news.”  For Paul, this Good News about Jesus Christ informs and inspires how followers of Jesus live out their faith and discipleship. The Good News is centered on who Jesus is and on what He does in each person by faith through the work of His Spirit. Therefore, the Good News is the absolute priority in Paul’s ministry and he considers absolutely vital for relationships in the Christian community. So another dimension of Paul’s letter focuses on the character of godly living in light of Jesus’ return for His people.

The apostle Paul does not impose his authority upon the local church in Philippi by demanding improvements in leadership or in conduct. Instead, Paul appeals on the basis of Christian love and consensual partnership. Just as friends would endear with great sacrifice and devotion to one another, so Paul expresses his deep love and affection for the Philippians. Just as partners in business would participate fully in the risks and benefits of the enterprise, Paul shares his heart’s desire for the Philippians and appeals for the same spirit of humility and compassion as manifested by Jesus Christ. Paul longs to visit the Philippians again as soon as he is released and so he takes the opportunity to send this letter along with Epaphroditus who is returning home.

We are invited to read Paul’s letter to the Philippians as a pastoral letter addressed to a local church filled with members who care for the work of the Gospel and for the work of God in people’s lives. We are invited to read the whole letter so that we might receive God’s message for the community today. On Sundays we will read the letter in the New Living Translation. It is my prayer that Paul’s message to the Philippian Christians will inspire our faith and personal discipleship. May the spirit of joy, confidence, compassion and sacrifice characterize our congregation as we learn together what God is already doing in our community. With Paul, my prayer for you is: “May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” (Phil 1:11).