Scripture Study -- Paul's letter to the Philippians. For daily Scripture Study, which follows the daily readings in the Mass, see Presentation Ministries', Today’s Scripture Teaching, from "One Bread, One Body". The full test of Jeremiah can be read on the Bible Gate Way. You can use our Home Page Index to access the Bible Gate Way.

Philippi, in northeastern Greece, was a city of some importance in the Roman province of Macedonia. It was in Paul’s day a Roman Town (Acts 16:21), with a small Jewish population, and was the first European Town in which he preached the Good News having arrived there with Silas, Timothy and Luke. After a disturbance, Paul and Silas were imprisoned and the jailer and his family were converted. Paul may have also stopped there on his fateful trip to Jerusalem (Act 20:6). The location of Paul’s imprisonment when he wrote the letter and thus the date of the letter are uncertain. The traditional view according to the Introduction in the New American Bible, Revised New Testament, 1988, is during Paul’s confinement in Rome, between AD 59 and 63. The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that it was written about AD 57 while Paul was at Ephesus.

There is also likelihood, according to some scholars, that the letter as we have it is a composite of three letters by Paul to the Christians at Philippi. The Philippians remained very attached and grateful to their Apostle and on several occasions sent him pecuniary aid

There were persecution at Philippi and Paul gives the Philippians a strong exhortation to bear up against this out of harmony and love (2:1-18). He also shows his great love for the Christians at Philippi, urging them to seek peace and joy in Christ (4:4-9). This beautiful letter is rich in insights into Paul’s theology and his apostolic love and concern for the gospel and his converts. The following reflections are on Phil 2:1-11.

While Paul was not afraid to collect his debts, he gave unstintingly of himself to the cause of the Gospel. He risked life and limb in his travels from place to place to spread the word of Christ's death and resurrection. He lists the things that he had suffered for the sake of the gospel in several of his writings. He had been left for dead on more than one occasion, cast in prison again and again. And, of course, we know that he eventually paid with his life for his loyalty to Christ. He followed his Lord in martyrdom like all of the early Disciples of Christ. But even Paul did not just give with any consideration of receiving. He wasn't afraid to ask for help when he needed it. In fact, he wasn't afraid to call in the debts that were owed him.

Many of us are all too quick to demand favors in return for some small act of kindness. "You owe me big-time for that one!" ,we say for the least favor we do for another. Many of us keep a balance sheet in our head, trading off one good turn for another, holding back when someone is behind in his or her generosity toward us. That kind of calculated giving Jesus condemned. He taught us to give more than a person deserved. He told us to forget about rewards for our good deeds. But having said all of that, there still is a place for laying a claim on the decency and kindness of others. We have every right to expect to be treated fairly. We have every right to make our needs known to the people who can meet those needs. We have every right to claim the encouragement that others owe us.

All of us have had the experience of stepping on an elevator that we thought was going down, only to have it go up. If we are the impatient types, there is something profoundly irritating about going up in order to get down. Most of us would rather wait for the elevator to go up and then come back to our floor than ride the elevator up and back. Somehow it seems we have wasted less time if we haven't traveled several floors up in order to reach our destination. That familiar experience of getting on an elevator heading the wrong direction is a parable of life. So often we end up going in the very opposite direction than we want to go. We find ourselves spinning our wheels in a bad job, or a dead marriage, or a troublesome friendship. But those detours often prove to be the doorway to growth and change. That was the experience of Jesus.

Paul captured the paradox of his life and death in a memorable way in this hymn to the humility of Jesus (Phil 2:6). Christ was in the form of God, but he emptied himself and took the form of a slave. Christ was the giver of life, but he obediently accepted death. He thereby learned that the way down is really the way up. By humbling himself, God exalted him.

Even though we cannot directly compare ourselves to Christ's humiliation and exaltation, there is a lesson here. We have to let go of some things if we are going to grow up. We are going to have to risk some things if we are going to prosper. We are going to have to suffer some things if we are going to become wise. There are no short cuts, no straight-line paths to goodness, or to glory. GLP

This reflection is from the November 1998 Edition of the San Francisco Charismatics (ISSN 1098-4046). If you would like to receive a copy of the San Francisco Charismatics, e-mail us your snail mail address. Sorry, only USA mail where we mail bulk rate.

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