Coffee with the King welcomes guest writer Marc Rader, who will take us through the book of Philippians. Marc lectures at Morling College and is on the pastoral team of Gymea Baptist Church, in Sydney’s south.
For the next few weeks we’re going to be looking at Paul’s letter to the Philippians but in a way that’s going to require a bit of imagination on your part. In what follows two people reflect on the letter: Paul and Clement (an imaginary member of the Philippians church). I have tried to capture what Paul may have been trying to accomplish with this letter as well as how it may have been received.
The text is a dialogue between Paul (in blue) and Clement, and I’ve included the identity of the speaker along the way. At key points I’ve included references to Philippians to read. You might want to read them in a different translation than you normally use – I based some of these on The Message – in order to “hear” it a bit differently than you might otherwise.
This is an edited version of a performance of the epistle originally written for Blackstump 2012 and performed with Gillian Davis.
In today’s section Paul wonders if his letter arrives, and Clement wonders about the opening line and reflects back on the Philippians’ partnership with Paul over the years.
Paul – I wonder if the letter has arrived yet? It’s been nearly six weeks which is more than enough time to make the journey unless the crossing was difficult.
Clement – Epaphroditus returned today and he brought a letter from Paul! Epaphroditus said the journey was quite pleasant. At least he didn’t get sick this time – he nearly died on the trip to Rome.
Paul – I’ve been praying for Epaphroditus’ health as well; he was fully recovered – miraculously so – but I worry all the same.
Clement – We were all pretty worried for Epaphroditus, but not for his health! Mostly because of the financial gift we’d sent. It’s never perfectly safe to travel with a large sum of money. He was happy to take the risk and we were happy for him to take it. Paul has been imprisoned for years; first at Caesarea and now at Rome. It was the least we could do after all he’s done for us.
Paul – It’s the one aspect of being in prison that I find almost unbearable; not knowing what’ happening out there. If only I were imprisoned in Ephesus! It’s so much closer. I’d already know if Epaphroditus arrived and how my letter has been received.
Clement – The letter caused quite a stir, let me tell you and we all gathered together to hear it read to us. We knew that Epaphroditus would have told Paul all the things that had been happening and that those who had travelled to Rome since then would have updated him on our situation. Not surprisingly, the very opening line made it clear that Paul had something important to tell us.
Read Philippians 1:1-2
Paul – I thought it was important to include Timothy right from the start. I hope to send him there after I hear news of my appeal. He is a true son in the faith and has been my right hand man ever since he joined my ministry in Lystra. He can truly represent me and the gospel I preach. But I had other reasons for including him as well.
Clement – The opening greeting was so much longer you’d normally expect that we were pretty sure Paul was making a point. I mean, a normal letter is very brief. Parchment is costly and the postal system is pretty unreliable. I received a letter from my brother the other day.
“Linus, to Clement, greetings. I have arrived in Corinth and have been received favourably by Gaius. The money you entrusted to me has been safely deposited with Erastus. Greet our sister, Lydia.”
Simple and to the point. Paul, however, goes on and on. Timothy we all know; he’s a good man and is Paul’s right hand man.
Paul – I wanted to include Timothy from the beginning to make a point about equality. In other situations, like the fiasco in Galatia, I’ve addressed I’ve had to emphasis my apostolic authority, but here, to a group of believers whom I love deeply but who are experiencing division, it was important to include Timothy with me.
Clement – I couldn’t help but think that Paul was more aware of the problems in our community than we might have hoped. The emphasis on “every” and “all” in his greeting was too noticeable to have been an accident. There were more than a few raised eyebrows let me tell you.
Paul – I really didn’t want them to get the wrong idea; I wanted them to know that no matter how bad things were, I really thought the world of them.
Clement – The greeting put us in no doubt, however, that Paul’s attitude toward us hadn’t changed.
Read Philppians 1:3-8. How does Paul feel about the Philippians?
Only Paul could put it like that!
Paul – If only they knew how thankful I am for them! And I am convinced that they will weather this storm and that God will finish His work in them. They have been my partners in the gospel from the start. The first time I met Lydia she practically begged Silas and I to stay with her. Who would have thought that his first act of generosity would be the pattern of things to come?!
[You can read about this in Acts 16:11-40]
Clement – When Paul and Silas left to go on to Thessalonica Lydia, the first of Paul’s converts in Macedonia, organised a gift to follow them to Thessalonica. We’ve been supporting Paul ever since.
Paul – Their support in Corinth was critical to the success of that mission. They sure aren’t like the Corinthians! I always have to be sooo careful with them; they are so influenced by the values of their culture that any support I receive from them would be construed, not as a partnership, but as patronage. To have accepted anything from them would have placed me in their debt – hardly the social arrangement of the gospel! In fact, it was the Philippians’ partnership that enabled me to stay as long as I did in Corinth. And, that time was very valuable indeed!
Clement – And then there was the opportunity to contribute to the offering for the saints in Jerusalem. Even though it didn’t directly contribute to Paul’s ministry he was so passionate about it and the message that it would send to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, we could hardly say no!
Paul – Their response to the need in Jerusalem still brings a smile to my face! After Agabus prophesied about the famine I felt a burden on my heart to support the saints in Jerusalem. And it was a chance to prove the validity of the faith of the Gentiles. The Philippians, who aren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, gave a gift of such generosity that it put many other churches to shame. The Corinthians in particular were shamed into finally getting their gift together after I told them about the Philippians.
Clement – Even now, our partnership means so much to us. It was that sense of being partners; of being equals; of being friends, that inspired us to send Epaphroditus with our last gift. We don’t know if Paul will even get out of prison – an appeal to the emperor is a risky proposition.
Our love for him runs as deep as his love for us.
Paul – I know that they have a deep affection for me; I only fear that their love for each other might not be as deep.
So this is my prayer: Read Philippians 1:9-11
Clement – More raised eyebrows, let me tell you. And not a few little glances at one another. The love that Paul as writing about wasn’t just about our mutual love but our love for each other here in Philippi. That was a tougher proposition. It was so much easier to love Paul; he isn’t here!
Tomorrow we’ll learn about Paul’s situation in Rome and what the Philippians were meant to learn from it.
To think about
What have you learned about Philippians that you didn’t know before? More specifically, who are you in partnership with financially? Are you contributing to the gospel in this most practical of ways?
Pray for those you support in ministry – your church, sponsor children, other charities and organisations – for effective gospel outcomes.