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As a frequently referenced story, the parable found at Luke 15:11-32 is familiar to many, but it is also familiar in the sense that so many people can relate to this parable. The “parable of the prodigal son,” or “the story of the lost son(s),” demonstrates the human experiences of wayward journeys in pursuit of self-gratification as well as deep resentment resulting from self-preservation. Jesus tells the parable in such a way that listeners can identify with the younger son, who squanders his inheritance on wild living, and/or the older son, who angrily refuses to accept the father’s decision to forgive and welcome home the younger son. Highlighting the lost state of both the younger and older sons, Jesus accentuates the extravagant love of the father. As a reflection of God’s redemption of humanity, this parable commissions the Church to join in the celebration of the lost being found and to actively participate in making God know
Developing his main thought in the letter, Paul describes in Philippians 2 how our horizontal relationships with our neighbors directly impact our vertical worship of God. As he continues on in verses 12–18, Paul highlights one of the biggest barriers in our relationships with others, which is grumbling and complaining. Verse 14 is an allusion to Israel— the people of God—during the wilderness wanderings. The Israelites were known for complaining against Moses and Aaron, the leaders God had placed over the community. But what is fascinating is that Israel’s complaints against Moses were taken as an offense against God. What Philippians 2 (and the allusion to the Israelites in the wilderness) is showing us is that grumbling against our neighbor is, often times, about a lack of faith in God. Why? Because our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ are the primary vehicles God uses as mirrors in our lives so that we may have a more honest self-perception.
Philippians 2 is one of the most important Scriptures in the New Testament for understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ. Consequently, this is what makes it one of the most well known and talked about texts in the entire Bible. Philippians 2 builds upon the theme Paul established in chapter one—living as worthy citizens of the Gospel of Christ by striving for unity amongst the community of believers—and Paul speaks candidly with his close friends to get straight to the point: unity is not an option for those who claim to be followers of Jesus. The way we are called to achieve this unity is by following the pattern of Christ, which is exactly opposite of the pattern of this world. The Christ Pattern shows that the way up is actually down; the path to life is only through death, the way to lead is to serve, and the path to glorification is through humility.
In the introduction to Philippians, Paul was setting the tone for the primary message he had for the Church at Philippi. The word “gospel” plays a prominent role in the introduction and will appear more frequently in Philippians than in any other letter written by Paul. As Paul gets to the point of clearly articulating why he is writing (Philippians 1:27– 30), we see that Paul’s primary motivation is, in fact, the gospel of Jesus Christ. He says to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” How are we to do such a thing? Paul goes on to say it is through living in harmony with one another. The way we are to live lives in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel is by being united in spirit and single- minded in purpose. Philippians is a letter reminding us of the centrality of the gospel— the one thing that is essential when following Christ—and reminding us that we cannot live on mission if we are not united as one in community.
As Paul—the author of Philippians—continues his thoughts on the Gospel being relational, he describes his present circumstances. Paul is “in chains,” most likely under house arrest in Rome waiting to be tried by Caesar’s court. Paul uses these difficult circumstances to remind the church at Philippi that the Gospel is, in fact, about being in right relationship (with God and the Body of Christ). In Philippians 1:12-26, Paul invokes the image of another righteous sufferer named Job, and by reminding us of Job’s story, Paul is reminding us that our relationship with God is not based on the things God does for us or gives to us. The implicit question being asked is this: “Is Jesus really enough?” For Paul, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” He says, “To live is Christ,” which is Paul’s way of saying that his whole life is about his relationship with Christ and Christ alone. The question is being asked of us, as well: “Is Christ, and Christ alone, really enough?”
Each and every one of us desires to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We were created to be a part of the story of redemption that has been playing out since God’s creation of the world. A highlight of this redemption story is the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples. This fulfilled the promise Jesus made to the disciples when he told them the Spirit would come and give them power as they went out and were witnesses. The first disciples had a role to play, and we have a role to play, too, as participants in the Gospel. Even though God doesn’t need us, God wants us to be a part of this redemption story. If we are going to see God working and join Him, we must allow the Spirit to be living and active in our midst.
Each of us experience success and failure throughout life. In 2 Samuel, we learned that King David was no exception. Many times, our failures come at a crossroads in life when we are faced with the decision either to love God and pursue Him or to love ourselves and pursue our own desires. There—in our failures at the crossroads in life—is where we forget about the God who created us and has sustained us. We forget about the deep and eternal satisfactions that come from knowing and following him. It is the point where all we can think about are the temporary pleasures found in the things the world says are good. In the first few verses of 2 Samuel 11, the author highlights a key factor that led to King David’s pursuit of earthly satisfaction; the author points out that King David had put himself in isolation. It isn’t until the prophet Nathan comes along and speaks up that David understands the severity of the situation and his own culpability. We cannot live in isolation, and we all need people who speak truth into our lives.
The introduction of Philippians functions like the introduction of most letters from the ancient world and like the introduction to many books in our culture today. It contains most of the primary themes the Apostle Paul will discuss at length throughout the letter. We see hints of Paul’s primary theme when he connects the word koinonia—meaning partnership, fellowship, or even communion— with the word evangelion—translated as Gospel or Good News. Paul is intentionally linking the idea of community to mission. In other words, he is saying that how we interact with one another is directly related to our effectiveness in sharing the Good News. Paul alludes to the idea again in verse 9 when he prays that their love would deepen so that they can grow in knowledge, wisdom, and insight. In the first eleven verses of Philippians, the focus is on developing our relationships, rather than our ability to mentally grasp lofty theological concepts.
Philippians is one of the most fascinating books in the New Testament for a variety of reasons. One reason many people are intrigued by this letter is because Paul, in the midst of suffering, was writing to some of his closest friends. Believed to be the first church Paul planted in Europe, the church at Philippi had a different relationship with Paul than every other church he started. There was a genuine friendship and camaraderie between Paul and this congregation that grew over the years. We see how Paul’s relationship with the Church at Philippi began in Acts 16:11-40. During Paul’s time in Philippi, we see an extremely diverse group of people become followers of Christ. Luke (the author of Acts) is pointing to the fact that the whole Roman Empire was being gathered into the Church. What we see is that this is not happenstance or an accident. Gathering a diverse group of His children to be part of His family was God’s goal from the very beginning.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ forever changed the course of history. In Ephesians 2, Paul describes what the resurrection means for everyone who is “in Christ”; as Jesus was raised from the dead, Paul says that we, too, are raised with Jesus. Once we have embraced the fullness of this resurrected life, we are to love and serve others freely because of what we’ve been freely given. It is God’s great gift of grace to live this life in service towards others! Christians don’t do good works in order to gain God’s approval. We do good works because we already have God’s approval. When we realize this, we can then begin to offer the same kind of grace God has extended to us towards others because we realize we have nothing to lose. This is the ultimate freedom we long for, and this is what it means to be free in Christ.