A Walk Through Philippians, Part 1: The Back Story
Anyone who says, “People don’t change,” never read the story of Saul/Paul.
Originally named Saul, Paul was number one enemy to all Jesus followers. He made it his life’s work to seek out and persecute Christians. And, when I say “persecute” I really mean he stoned, arrested, crucified, tortured and killed all those who believed.
He was not a nice guy.
To better understand Philippians, which is a letter Paul wrote to the people of Philippi, we first must understand who he was before he became a believer.
If you’ve ever wanted to have a deeper understand of the Bible, I hope you will join me on this mini-Bible study. A little disclaimer, I am not a Bible scholar. I don’t have a degree in theology. I am a woman who desperately wants to understand the Bible and develop a deeper walk with Jesus. I try my best to state truth and understanding. I pray that anything I say here that is untrue or misunderstood will be forgotten and only the good stuff is remembered.
Now, to help me along this journey, I use the Bible study tool called S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, & Prayer). I have found this a great way to dive deeper into scripture and remember it easier. See below for more information on the Bible Study Journal I designed.
Let’s get started…
Paul knew he was a great sinner. Let’s take a look at his life before Philippians:
- He persecuted and arrested Christians. (Acts 8:3) Note Saul “shamefully treated and laid waste to the church continuously…”
- Saul had a zealous obsession for punishing the faithful. (Acts 26:9-11)
- He took part in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58-Acts 8:1) and others (Acts 22:4).
- Paul admits how awful he was to the church (Galatians 1:13).
Side note: Saul was first mentioned by his new name of Paul by Luke (Acts 13:13 and Acts 13:9) after he starts his journey of missionary. Some believe (as I did) that Jesus gave him the new name of Paul when blinded on the road to Damascus. It totally spoils the idea of Bad Saul and Good Paul, but it’s important when studying scripture to understand it as it is intended, not think in Hollywood terms. I am guilty of this as well. I love a good redemption story. Actually the names Saul and Paul are the same–one being the Hebrew version and the later being the Greek version of the same name. (Read more about that here.)
Scripture: Now that we know that Paul was coming from a bad place, let’s read Acts 16:10-30 and Acts 28:11-31.
Observation: The book of Acts picks up where the Gospels left off. Paul has already recovered from his blindness and is now is a believer. He has a vision to go to Macedonia because the people need help. So, he sets off from Troas for Macedonia and ending in the chief city of Philippi. He is with Luke, Timothy, and Silas (probably others too).
They go out to a place to pray and meet Lydia, a fabric dealer. She is baptized and offers them a place to stay. On the way to her home Paul and his group meet a salve girl who is possessed. I can just imagine this scene.
The fortunetelling slave girl is following the group, shouting and harassing, “They announce to you the way of salvation!” (Acts 16:17) She does this for days. Then, Paul gets so annoyed, saying, “Enough, already!” and turns to her, commanding the spirit within her to come out. And it did.
Well, the salve girl’s owners get mad because now their “hope of profit is gone”. They drag Paul and Silas in front of the magistrates and accuse them of what? Practicing customs that are not Roman. Forget the miracle Paul just preformed, right? Silly Romans. When a crowd gathers, rulers have no choice but to tear “the clothes off of them and commanded that they be beaten with rods,” then they are throw in jail. But they were innocent!
Have you ever been mistreated by someone when you didn’t deserve it? Maybe it was a friend over a misunderstanding, or maybe it is a co-worker, or a family member. How do you feel? I feel hurt, angry, spiteful. I mean, who is she to treat me that way, I think. We all get that way from time to time. We get mistreated and our vengeful side comes roaring out. But, listen to what happened next.
Paul and Silas are thrown in jail. I know their flesh was broken and bleeding from the rod beating they just endured. I would have been in the fetal position in the corner crying, but not these guys. Nope, they started praying and singing hymns. (Acts 16:25) What’s that now?
They were praising God in all circumstances. Even in the worst circumstances.
Then there was a great earthquake, shaking the foundation and scaring the crap out of the jailers, and unfastening all the shackles and cell doors. The jailer, who was asleep on the job, woke and saw this “he drew his sword and was on the point of killing himself.” He thought he was as good as dead anyway if all the prisoners had escaped. But Paul and Silas had not taken advantage of the situation. The jailer realized this and bowed to them and asked, “what is it necessary for me to do that I may be saved?” And they answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…”
That’s it. Believe. I read on to find out what happened to the jailer (Acts 16:32-40). He took Paul and Silas out, bandaged their bloody wounds, fed them, and they, in turn, baptized the jailer. The magistrates did realize their mistake and released Paul and Silas, but not before they transforms the jailer’s life and family.
Application: Don’t you think that is a cool story? Me too. How can I apply this truth of “just believe in Jesus Christ” to my own life? How can I have joy in circumstances that are not so joyful? In my daily life, I can keep speaking the Word and it’s truth, and keep learning. Show grace to others that have hurt me. Be slow to react. Think first, speak second, speak in love. Let it go.
Prayer: Dear Lord, As I ready Philippians, help me to remember Paul’s story of redemption and truth. He stayed in the light even when it was dark. I ask that you open my heart and mind to these truths. In God’s name I pray, Amen.
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