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Paul and Timothy in the Book of Philippians (Part One)

Posted on January 14, 2013 at 5:54 PM Comments comments (0)
 “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,…”  (Philippians 1:1)

With my mission's lens, a careful look  at the book of Philippians, Paul’s missionary letter to the Church at Philippi addresses varieties of issues: The authorship, the historicity of the existence  of Philippi, and that Paul planted a church in that city.  In gratitude, Paul thanked the saints in Philippi for the gifts they had sent to him; he strengthened the believers by showing them that true joy comes from Jesus Christ alone. The word joy was used 16 times in the book; Paul’s thesis is “Rejoice always in the Lord...” (Phil 4:4).  He tells the Church that, to have the mind of Christ is to live for others (Phil 2:1-4). Thus, one of Paul’s motivational themes was God Who started His good work in them will accomplish His purpose (Phil 1: 6).

My intention in this text is not to discuss all the major themes mentioned above, but rather to focus on who Paul and Timothy were, the meaning of the word “servants” used to describe their walk with God, and his inclusion of Timothy in the introduction of his letter. Let’s begin with a background study about Paul: his birth, education, the persecutor of the Church, and conversion and calling from the prosecutor of the Church to defender and a prolific author of the Church.

First, Paul was a Jew born (around AD 10) in a family of Pharisees (Acts 23:6) of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil 3:5) in Tarsus of Cilicia (Acts 9:11; 21:39; 22:3). Tarsus was not a Jewish city; it was the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, a place where the Greek language was spoken, and Greek literature was cultivated. His ancestors were probably given Roman citizenship. Paul inherited both Tarsisian and Roman citizenships from his father: Saul was his Jewish name and Paul his Roman name.
Many had erroneously taught that Saul’s name was changed to Paul when he became a Christian. Paul was also a tent maker (Acts 18:3). He may have learned this trade from his father, or he may have selected it as a means of self-support, as was the custom of those in rabbinical training.

Second, Education: Paul testified to the Jews in Jerusalem that he had been brought up in that city and studied under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).

Third, Saul the Persecutor: He witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:56-8:1). But at that time, Paul was a leader of the oppressors of the Church. He breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (9:1ff); he persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it (Gal 1:13) by imprisoning Christians, both male and female (Acts 22:4), in many cities.

Fourth, Conversion and Calling: Paul had obtained letters from the high priest in Jerusalem to the synagogues in Damascus authorizing him to arrest the believers there and bring them to Jerusalem for trial (Acts 9:1–2). Paul traveled to Damascus for this purpose. Then, on the outskirts of the city, came the event that was to transform this law-keeping persecutor of Jesus Christ and blasphemous destroyer of the infant Church into the chief propagator of the gospel of grace and master builder of the Church (1 Cor 3:10; 1 Tm 1:13). This was the occasion of Paul’s conversion (c. ad 31–33). It was of such revolutionary and lasting importance that three detailed accounts of it are given in the book of Acts (Acts 9:1–19; 22:1–21; 26:1–23), and many references are given to it in Paul’s own writings (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8; Gal 1:15–16; Eph 3:3; Phil 3:12). At that time a light from heaven, brighter than the midday sun, shone around Paul and his traveling companions, and they fell to the ground (Acts 26:13–14). Only Paul, however, heard the voice of Jesus instruct him in his commission as a minister and witness to the Gentiles (vv 14–18). Temporarily blinded, Paul was led into Damascus (9:8). There, the disciple Ananias and the Christian community forgave Paul, baptized him, and helped him through the bewildering event of his conversion (vv 10–22). After a short time with the Church there, Paul was threatened with death by the Jews to whom he preached Jesus (vv 20–22), but he was protected by the believers and ingeniously delivered from his persecutors (vv 23–25). Following his conversion, the apostle Paul became a defender of the faith he once tried to destroy, and also became prolific author of the early Church.  God turns Paul from prosecutor to defender and a respected author of the Church. He can do the same for anyone today! 

To be continued.

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E. Fahlbusch  &  G.W. Bromiley.  Vol. 4: The encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill., 2005), 100.