READ PHILIPPIANS ONE
I’ve been eager to jump into the study of Philippians one, because the very first few verses are bursting with meaning for us. Though we might be tempted to rush right past it, the very first line of chapter one is pregnant with meaning for us.
What is the primary way Paul identifies himself (and Timothy)?
Recall the original audience from our book overview study. What is the primary cultural background of the recipients of this letter (the Philippian church)?
We have to remember what when these letters are being penned the religious community is radically divided. In one group there are pious Jews who are working hard to maintain the ways of their people, rejecting Christ as the Messiah. In another, there are Jewish converts to Christianity; those who were raised in the Jewish tradition and followed the Torah, but accept Christ as the long-awaited Messiah. Lastly, there are Greek converts to Christianity, those who were Gentiles in their culture but have accepted Christ as the Savior of the world.
And there was a lot of tension between these three groups. Truly, Paul came from the first; he was a devout Jew who was persecuting Jewish converts to Christianity because they had abandoned the faith of their ancestors (what he didn’t know at the time was that Jesus came to fulfill the faith of his ancestors!). Even among those who shared a common faith in Jesus as the Christ experienced divides; the Jewish Christians wanted to impose the Old Testament law on Greek Christians, adding a list of ritualistic requirements to their conversion. With all this in mind, we can understand that the household of faith had a few hurdles to overcome in order to be a unified body.
But Paul introduces himself and Timothy with a powerful image: servants. The Greek word here for “servants” is δοῦλος. There are two primary Greek words for “servant”: δοῦλος (used here) and υπηρέτης (used throughout the NT). While both can be translated “servants,” they retain different meanings. But, while υπηρέτης carries the connotation of an attendant or an assistant – someone who gives aid but still carries social status – δοῦλος is most often used of household slaves. Slavery in the Greco-Roman world was different from the atrocity that plagued the Western world in modern times since most were paying off a debt, but they still maintained the lowest place in the household. They would eat last and go to sleep last, and THAT is the word that Paul saw fit to use of himself and Timothy! Paul is not feigning humility in calling himself a υπηρέτης – a word that could indicate that he was an attendant or assistant of Christ. No, Paul is assigning himself the lowest place of humility in the household of God.
Why do you think Paul does this?
What do you think this meant to the Philippian church?
How does this paly into overall themes we say in the Book Overview?
PRAY & REFLECT
Thank God that He desires unity in the household of faith. Ask him for the humility to serve others ahead of yourself as you seek unity with other believers.