“Partnership in the Gospel”
Philippians 1: 1-8

We begin a new book of the Bible today, we are starting the New Testament book of Philippians. Which is actually a letter that Paul, while in house arrest in Rome in the early 60’s, to his longtime friends and supporters of the gospel who lived in Philippi. 

In order to understand this book it is necessary to remember the historical situation that was present during its writing. As members of the 21st Century it may be difficult for us to wrap our brains around the fact that letters during the 1st Century were actually a genre. They were seen as a form of literature as the idea of “printed books” had not been invented. Thus, there were many types of letters in the ancient times. Paul’s letter to the Philippians fits in the context of a “letter of friendship,” as well as a “letter of exhortation.” 
Had you been male and rich you would have been offered in your formal education the instruction of letter writing. 

It is also important that we understand why is Paul writing this letter to this group of people at this time?
Much about the people of ancient Philippi, especially its character, in the seventh decade of the first century is speculative at best. Let’s face it, we only have this one end of a two-way conversation to base it on. 

Philippi the city was located at the far eastern end of the large fertile plain in central Macedonia. It had a few things going for it. It was well protected by its acropolis  and it was nearby to Mount Pangaion on the northern side of the plain, which at that time period had a generous amount of mineral deposits, including gold. By the time Paul arrives in Philippi, in 49 CE, the population of Philippi is both Greek and Roman. 
We know four names from the early Christian community, and three of those names are Greek, Lydia, Euodia and Syntyche, with Clement being Roman. 

The history of the church in Philippi comes from Acts 16:11-40. Luke records that the nucleus of the group that started this church was from a group of “God-fearing” women. There was not a Jewish synagogue in the city, so the women met by the river on the Sabbath for “prayer.” The location of the first house church was in the home of Lydia, a woman merchant. Paul and his entourage became temporary house members of Lydia, and it is thought that Luke stayed there as well. It was like a big missionary pajama party, where Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke are hanging out at Lydia’s and worshipping with them and lifting each other up. It is understood this friendship was cultivated while living at Lydia’s home. 

Paul’s letter to those in Philippi also includes a mention of opposition and suffering that was occurring in Philippi. Paul urges those in Philippi to “stand fast” in the one Spirit, as they “contend together”  for the gospel at the end of chapter one. Paul reminds them that like Christ, they too were to suffer “on behalf of Christ.” Part of this
“suffering” in Philippi was due to its being a Roman colony. The first Roman emperor demanded to be called by the titles, “lord and savior.” To make matters worse, the cult of the emperor made sure that every public event in Philippi would have given honor to the emperor, in this case Nero, with the terms, “lord and savior.” The believers in Philippi placed Christ as “Lord and Savior.” Can you comprehend the dilemma? 

The church in Philippi is not the only one that was having difficulty. Paul, himself, is in detainment, which he describes as “being in chains.” 
He was in house arrest in Rome. As we live through the COVID-19 pandemic we can get a glimpse of what it means to be under house arrest.  The church in Philippi had responded with a gift by way of Epaphroditus, demonstrating their commitment to their friendship with Paul in the matter of “giving and receiving.” Epaphroditus has obviously filled Paul in on the situation back home regarding their suffering and the internal bickering between two of the women who were most likely leaders of some kind. 

The letter begins with both Paul and Timothy’s name. Timothy’s name appears at the beginning because of his association with the apostle in Paul’s imprisonment, from his Roman house arrest, which is described at the end of Acts 28, as Paul waits for his court appearance before Caesar. Timothy was seen as a fellow bondservant of Jesus Christ. 
Paul addresses this letter to all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi. Those in the church Paul had founded some eleven years before the writing of this letter, on his second missionary journey. (Acts 16:11-40) Philippi was the first church established on the continent of Europe. This may explain why Paul has such a special fondness for them.

Paul addresses his letter to three groups within this church. 
The saints in Christ Jesus: This would have included anyone who was a Christian, because at that time all Christians were saints. 
To the bishops, which was seen in a general sense to those in leadership
To the deacons, who would have been those in positions of service
Paul offers them his familiar greeting of grace and peace. He also reminds them that grace and peace come to us only from God our Father and through the Son. 
Paul then begins his attitude of gratitude. He gives thanks for the Philippians Christians. Paul tells them that he remembers all they had done for him and he was extremely thankful. He was grateful for those in Philippi but more so Paul was grateful to God who had worked out such kindness through the Philippians. The Philippians had supported Paul while he was living with them (Acts 16:15, 16:32-34) and they continued to support him when he was apart from them (2 Corinthians 8:1-7, 9:1-4, and 11:9). 

Part of Paul’s gratitude for the Philippians was expressed in his intercession for the Philippians. Notice when Paul did so, he did it with joy. 
Paul’s prayers were a way of repaying the Philippians for all they had done for him and he was happy to do so. 

Another thing Paul was grateful for was the Philippians were in fellowship with him for the gospel. The Philippians partnered with Paul and were an integral part of his spreading the gospel. They managed this both in friendship and in financial support. They began supporting him when he was a nobody and they kept on supporting him even when he was in prison. 

Paul had been with the group at Philippi when they started, on the river side each Sabbath. He had seen the good work start then and work among the Philippians, from the first day. It makes sense that Paul would think of the day when the work would be completed and that God would be the one to complete it. 

Paul proclaims his right to think the way he does. Paul expresses the thankfulness, joy and desire he has to pray for the Philippians. He justifies this by reminding them of how they had stood beside him in his trials for the gospel, and by doing so they had received the same grace Paul did. 

Paul’s transformation, his personal encounter with Jesus had given him a heart. Prior to meeting the Savior, face to face, Paul had been a towering intellect, but following his Damascus visit with Jesus, Paul had developed a great heart. It is evident in this letter that the Philippian Christians were in his heart. He called upon God as his witness regarding his deep affection for them. 

The beginning of this letter reveals that the support of those who go out to spread the gospel hasn’t changed much since the first century. 
Although Jesus’ last exhortation to his disciples was to “Go.” The ratio remains the same. Many stay in the churches and few go out to “spread the gospel.” Yet, if you read closely the words of Paul, that brings joy to both. Paul’s focus is “spreading the gospel.” But he still needs to eat, have a roof over his head, afford medical insurance, pay for getting back and forth, etc. That’s where his brothers and sisters in Christ step in. They may not have the personality to travel all over the place, but they do have the ability to give the finances and prayer that Paul needs to get him through the basics of living and the struggles of the day. The proportion works out so that the spreading of the gospel happens. Many give a little, which is enough for the one or two to get out there and serve God, where they need to be. 
That is what DBC is doing with the Shannons, Garcias and now the Bartons. We see what these families are doing in reaching out, across the world, to give those in need, the gospel. We support them with prayers and finances. Together, we share in God’s grace, by sharing God’s grace. 

Today, I would like to encourage each of you to take on the ancient genre of letter writing and send an encouragement to one of our missionary families. It’s okay if you don’t know them personally. Follow Paul’s format and share how grateful you are that they have taken on the role of full-time missionary. Express how much joy that brings to you. Remind them that you are praying for them. Share with them how you empathize with them on how COVID has not only interrupted your life but theirs as well. Thank them for following their calling. 
It will cost you, less than 20 minutes and $1.20 for a stamp. Not bad for the amount of joy it will bring both you and them. 

Let’s pray.