You can learn a lot about someone when you spend time with them.
That’s true of your spouse, your friends, coworkers – anyone with whom a relationship would be built. It’s also true when it comes to cultivating our relationship with God. Unlike any other relationship though, what we know (and can know) about God is ultimately rooted in what He has made known to us about Himself. Plain in the creation we see all around us, whether it be the grassy plains or the snow-capped mountains; the incredible creatures that dwell in the deepest parts of the sea to the countless stars and galaxies in the heavens – all are clearly marked with the fingerprint of a masterfully creative Mind (Romans 1:20); all declare His glory. (Psalm 19:1-6) Thankfully, He has chosen to let us know a lot about Him!
And, while the creation reveals a great many of the attributes of its Creator, there’s yet more – for God hasn’t only revealed that He’s there, but that He has invited us to know Him personally. Passages like Psalm 24:3-6, Isaiah 55 and John 1 make it known that God desires for us to enter into a real, genuine and personal relationship with Him – and that Jesus uniquely, through His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, forever opened the way for this relationship both to be, and to flourish:
“For God, Who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.” – 2 Cor. 4:6
In his commentary on the book of Hebrews, William Newell quotes an old Puritan preacher, who “used to say there were just two things he desired to know: ‘First, Does God speak (concerning any matter)? Second, What does God say?'” As for the first question, the Scriptures tell us that God has, in fact been speaking to man throughout the ages, and has now made Himself known in His Son, Christ Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3). The answer to the second is the pursuit of a lifetime spent humbly walking with the Word Who became flesh and dwelt among us.
Philippians is a different kind of letter than most of Paul’s other writings. It’s far more personal in most respects than his writings to other churches. By way of comparison, in his writings to the believers in Corinth, where there is an almost tangible sense of the love that the Apostle has for the believers there, it is also abundantly clear that Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church had a parental angle to it – that it was in many instances a labor of love. Like a good parent, Paul would need to bring firm correction and redirection to the carnal believers there, always seeking to turn them from their spiritually self-destructive ways onto the path of godly-maturity. It was worth it, but it was work…hard work.
In Philippi, there seems to have been no such effort required. Rather, the writing here would indicate a relationship that was a source of genuine refreshment. Partners in the Gospel from the start, Paul rejoiced at every thought of the Philippian believers, prayed for them often, invested in them – even seemed to confide in them, and received support from them.
The letter to the Philippians is one of four “prison epistles” written by Paul while incarcerated in Rome (Acts 28), prior to his subsequent trial and martyrdom; the others being Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon. As is true with each of his writings, there are number of poignant themes which emerge. While the most prominent theme would be the “high-tide” of joy, within these same pages, Paul also shares very transparently of his experience with the low-ebb of despair. He is both a prisoner in chains and yet free to be an Ambassador for Christ.
The letter also gives us some of the most well-known passages in all of Paul’s writings. He reminds us that God will complete that which He has begun in us (1:6); he encourages us to have the mind of Christ (2:5), urges us to press on in the upward call of Christ (3:14), and invites us to rest in Christ-anchored contentment (4:11-13).
For its relative brevity, the letter to the Philippians presents us with a deep well from which to draw.