18 November 2010

Verse-by-verse through Philippians (Conclusion, 4:21-4:23)

Four chapters, 104 verses, 65 lessons. We’ve seen that even though this was a very personal letter that Paul wrote to this one church, what he said can be applied to any church, even to this day. Just to kinda speed-dial through the first 103 verses, in chapter 1 Paul starts out showing his affection for this church that he loved so dearly. He lets them know that the one and only desire of his heart is that Christ be preached. In chapter 2, He exhorts those of us in the church to be united as one body, and to be humble and to consider the needs of others as being greater than our own needs. Then he launches into one of the most well-known doxologies in Scripture. The word “doxology” means “speaking of the glory of God.” And he uses the example of Christ—the eternal God who became a slave—to encourage us to serve one another so that we may show the world the glory and grace of Christ.

Chapter 3 warns us to avoid those who would teach salvation by works. And for this he uses himself as the example, that he was a man who was well-known, well-respected and admired by all of Jewish society. But he looks back and sees that all of his earthly accomplishments were a pile of rubbish, and that the only thing he desired now was to go forward, reaching for the prize that Christ has laid up for all the saints. Chapter 4 shows us a disagreement between two ladies in the Philippian church, and he tells them to, basically, “Knock it off and get along with each other.” We don’t know what the fuss was about because, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter—whatever the dispute, it was bringing reproach upon the church. Then, we find what so many people are searching for today—the secret of true contentment. PSST—It’s in Christ Jesus.

So now, we come to the last few verses in Philippians, and when we get to the last few verses of a book in the Bible like, for example, Romans 16, I commend you to Phoebe…receive her in like manner…Greet Priscilla and Aquila…Andronicus, Julius…Tryphaena and Tryphosa… "OK, that’s done!" But when we actually get down into the text—knowing that these words were given to Paul by the Holy Spirit—when we see the background it shows why these words are important.

Philippians 4:21-2321 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household. 23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

When we talk on the phone to our family who may be living a long ways off, how do we usually end the conversation? “Tell everybody we said ‘Hi!’ You remember Johnny Smith? He says ‘Hi!’” Paul ends many of his letters in this manner. 2nd Corinthians 13:12-13Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. Romans 16 is full of greetings from the saints to the saints. 2nd Timothy 4:19Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Titus 3:15All who are with me greet you. Greet those who love us in the faith. And here, Philippians 4:21Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. Paul is urging us here to make every effort to, basically, speak to one another.

What happens to a church when no one speaks to each other? And what happens to someone who happens to drop in to visit that church? Well, in the case of the little church mom took me to when I was a child, the congregation gets split up, you have this little clique over here and that little clique over there—what happens to the people who don’t join any of these little cliques? Then, on the other hand you have those people that are always looking for pennies. What do I mean by that? They're checking the shine on their shoes. They keep their eyes glued to the carpet, thinking, “Don’t look up, don’t make eye contact. Someone might see and want to talk and—oh drats! Pastor saw me! Hey Pastor, how ya doin!” Then you have the people who shake your hand, they talk and laugh with you, and once they turn around they tell their wife/husband “Can you believe that person? I heard that one time they…” That’s not greeting people.

On the other hand, our friend in the front row here, for example. Have you ever seen him not shake someone’s hand? You’d think you were standing on the San Andreas Fault. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.

Then Philippians 4:21b-22The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household. Now, you can call me Lucy—because I've got some ‘splainin’ to do. If you recall, when we started this study, we started in Acts 16. We looked at the start of the church in Philippi. The first convert was a woman named Lydia and the ladies who were with her. The next convert was…anybody? The Philippian jailer. Philippi—and I promise, this is the last time you will hear me say this for a long time—Philippi was a colony of—who? Many military officers who retired were encouraged to settle their and flood it with their Romanism.

So this Philippian jailer probably—and I ain't gonna take a bullet for this—he probably had some military background. If that is the case, then he probably heard about The events recorded in Acts 16 took place around 52 AD. The story was still going around about that group of crazy soldiers who couldn’t even guard the tomb of a dead Jewish rabbi in the land of Palestine, and that fell asleep and let the disciples of that dead Jewish rabbi steal the body (Matthew 28:11-15). What dead Jewish rabbi am I talking about? And here is this jailer in Philippi, guarding some of the newer followers of this dead Jewish rabbi, and suddenly, at midnight, what happens? This jailer sees the power of the God that these guys worship.

Now, let’s consider this also—Paul wrote Philippians during his first arrest by the Roman government, about 62 AD. During this confinement, he was chained to either one or two Roman soldiers. Now, when the Philippian jailer got saved, chances are he continued his employment as warden of that jail. Do you think he might have led some of his guards to Christ? And do you think that when a soldier brought a prisoner to that jail, that either the jailer or one of his guards may have shared the gospel with that soldier? Now, the soldier(s) that Paul was chained to, they became Christians at some point—either by Paul’s preaching or by hearing it from the jailer or one of the guards at the jail. Either way, these guys wanted the church at Philippi (specifically, the employees of the jail) to know that they had a bond—that bond was Christ. And it is significant that these soldiers guarding Paul became Christians.

As I said before, Paul probably wrote Philippians in about the year 62 AD. At the time, the emperor of Rome was Nero. It was during Nero’s reign that the first persecutions of Christians took place. Adam Clarke says,
“Nero was at this time emperor of Rome: a more worthless, cruel, and diabolic wretch never disgraced the name or form of man.”
It wasn’t always like that. In fact, during the first few years after Christ’s death and resurrection, the church was pretty much ignored by Rome. Furthermore, Tiberius, who was emperor at the time of the crucifixion, received a report from the governor of Palestine—a fellow by the name of Pontius Pilate—that Pilate had ordered the crucifixion of a local rabbi, and that this rabbi died within hours of being crucified, and that a band of soldiers charged with guarding the tomb of this rabbi reported seeing a great being roll the stone away from the tomb, and that this rabbi got up and walked out of that tomb. Hearing this, Tiberius went to the Roman senate and said, “Hey, let’s make this guy a ‘god’.” The senate—which had the final say on who was named a ‘god’—said, “Eh, not so much.” The fact that we have written history of Tiberius receiving this report from Pontius Pilate is a very strong piece of evidence for the historical fact that Jesus Christ was a true historical figure.

Now, I tend to think—and this is simply my opinion—that it was God who persuaded the senate to deny this request. For this reason—God did not want His Son to be lumped in with a bunch of false pagan ‘gods’. Besides, Christ would have probably been relegated to the lower class of ‘gods’ that were known as the ‘minor gods.’ They may have made Him the ‘god of gardens’ or something. Think about how different history would have been if this had been approved. There would have been no persecution of the church; there would have been almost no way to distinguish the true worshippers of Christ from those who simply worshipped Him A ‘god’.

So early on, the Roman government was not really too concerned about this little movement called “The Way.” It was just a silly bunch of Jews following the teachings of their dead rabbi. To Rome, they didn’t seem to be too much different than any of the other religions that Rome tolerated. They had their little teacher, they believed some things that were kinda strange—you know, humility and self-sacrifice and so forth—but this “Way” didn’t seem like that big of a deal. We see this fact in Acts 25:14-19When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying: “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him…when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” What Festus was saying here is that the only “crime” Paul was being accused of was simply about words and disputes about religion. No serious crime in the eyes of Rome.

Nero was emperor at that time, but he had not yet become the wicked, depraved wretch that we read about in history. In fact, Nero allowed Paul to preach the gospel openly when Paul arrived at Rome (see Acts 28:16-31). But, eventually, this movement called “The Way” started growing and gaining more influence, causing Nero to become much more hostile to those of “The Way.” So, to make sure that these people understood who the “real ‘god’” was that they were to worship, Rome would send troops from one city to the next, and bring together all those of “The Way,” and order them to burn incense to the Caesar. They kept getting the same response. “No.” Nero didn’t cotton too well to that. And it was at this time that Nero went around the bend, so to speak. The historian Eusebius, in his most famous work, The History of the Church, says this about Nero’s turn:
1. When the government of Nero was now firmly established, he began to plunge into unholy pursuits, and armed himself even against the religion of the God of the universe.

2. To describe the greatness of his depravity does not lie within the plan of the present work. As there are many indeed that have recorded his history in most accurate narratives, every one may at his pleasure learn from them the coarseness of the man’s extraordinary madness, under the influence of which, after he had accomplished the destruction of so many myriads without any reason, he ran into such blood-guiltiness that he did not spare even his nearest relatives and dearest friends, but destroyed his mother and his brothers and his wife, with very many others of his own family as he would private and public enemies, with various kinds of deaths.

3. But with all these things this particular in the catalogue of his crimes was still wanting, that he was the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion.

4. The Roman Tertullian is likewise a witness of this. He writes as follows: “Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine, particularly then when after subduing all the east, he exercised his cruelty against all at Rome. We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence.”

5. Thus publicly announcing himself as the first among God’s chief enemies, he was led on to the slaughter of the apostles." (Eusebius, The History of the Church [Book 2, Chapter 25, sections 1-5], G.A. Williamson translation, page 104).
So when we see Paul tell us that all the brethren greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household, this is no small thing. These folks—whether they were family or servants or soldiers under Nero’s command—were risking their lives and their livelihood and even the loss of everything they owned—by confessing Jesus Christ as Lord, rather than declare "Caesar est dominus"—“Caesar is Lord.”

Finally. Finally!! Philippians 4:23The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. Some translations say The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. The difference between these phrases, in the Greek, is very small and it could be either one. The grace of God is a curious thing. When we consider the holiness and the perfection of God, and when we realize that we deserved nothing less than His holy eternal wrath because of our many rebellions against Him—the fact that he sent His own Son to die for us is the most wonderful display of His grace.

One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is Romans 5:6-9 (NLT)When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's judgment. It’s like this—suppose I break into your house. I come in with a gun and a knife and baseball bat, smash out your windows, tear up your furniture, hold you at gunpoint and terrorize your family and smack your kids around and kill your brother right in front of you. I get arrested, go to jail, sentenced to death. No retrial, no appeal, no overturning the verdict. All of a sudden, you stand up and say, “Judge, I've talked to my son, and he will sit in that gas chamber so that fellow can go free.” Everybody would call him a lunatic. They'd shout, “Are you out of your mind? You're gonna let your son die for that blankety-blank that did that to you and your family?” Everybody would be in an outrage!!

It wouldn’t make sense to us, would it? We’re human, we need to get revenge. Well guess what? That’s what God did when He sent His Son to pay the price for all the times you killed someone with your words or committed adultery with your thoughts or worshipped other gods by your actions. We committed a countless number of crimes against God, and we deserved death. But the Son of God stood up and said, “Father, I'll die so they don’t have to.”

I found these words that were written by a lady named Frances Havergal. They're from a hymn she wrote called “Light After Darkness.” She wrote it in 1879, and it is based on Psalm 46:10, but I think the words apply to this whole letter that Paul wrote to the Philippians.

Light after darkness; gain after loss.
Strength after weakness; crown after cross.
Sweet after bitter; hope after fears.
Home after wandering; praise after tears.
Sheaves after sowing; sun after rain.
Sight after mystery; peace after pain.
Joy after sorrow; calm after blast.
Rest after weariness; sweet rest at last.
Near after distant; gleam after gloom.
Love after loneliness; life after tomb.
After long agony, rapture of bliss –
Right was the pathway leading to this!

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Jesus Christ is Lord.

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