In northeastern Greece are the remains of what was once considered a major city in the day of Paul’s ministry. In fact, Acts 16 tells us that Philippi was the first “Jesus community” that Paul started in eastern Europe. You can read about Paul’s story starting late in Acts 7. After Paul gave his life to Christ, he spent the rest of his days relentlessly traveling around Turkey and Greece planting churches, training leaders and ministering to many. The New Testament from Romans to Jude are all letters that individuals wrote to gatherings of people. These letters are called “epistles”. No sooner do some hear the word “epistle” before they hear “Pauline” before it. Paul single- handedly wrote around 2/3 of the New Testament with such letters to churches that he has planted or to mentees in his ministry.
While these letters were written all throughout his journey, 4 of them were written while Paul was in prison. These are commonly referred to as the “Prison Epistles”. I still can’t fathom the dedication that it takes to be thrown into prison for doing what you have dedicated your life towards, only to think, “Oh, you know? I should probably check up on those churches I planted.” If you read Acts, you will soon find out that the guy never took a break.
Now, Philippi was known for its patriotic nationalism which, in turn, means that a good amount of them didn’t take too kindly to Paul’s teaching that Jesus was the Messiah and not Caesar. After Paul left Philippi, the followers of Christ there experienced much of the same resistance and persecution. Paul is writing this letter to them to encourage them and to also thank them for a financial gift they sent him while he was in prison.
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
These words, which Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth, echo much of the same theme of Philippians. Paul encourages the Philippians that they need to see their story as a living expression of Jesus’ story. Throughout the book, you will see several examples of Paul telling the Philippians about imitation.
As you follow along with this study for the next 6 days, I challenge you to think about who your life is imitating. Do you claim to be a follower of Christ? Is this public knowledge? When people see you, do they see Jesus? Paul tells the Philippians at one point that, “for me to live is Christ”. Paul wanted the only word people could say about him, after seeing how he lived and carried himself, to be “Christ”.
Do people think the same about you?
Do they see any difference between their life and yours? Just as Paul encouraged the Philippians to follow after and imitate Christ, we should heed the same challenge.
Come with me as we study Philippians.