As followers of Jesus, we have heard the call to love God with all that is in us and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In this letter, we get a vision of how we should feel about other followers of Jesus and how we should express these feelings openly to them.
All throughout history, people have been writing love letters in an attempt to express the passions of their heart. But a few notable examples stand out above the rest. As a young military officer, Napoleon Bonaparte met Josephine in 1795 and fell in love with her. He wrote letters to her while he was at war, though she rarely wrote back to him. In one of these notes, he stated, “A few days ago I thought I loved you; but since I last saw you, I feel I love you a thousand times more. All the time I have known you, I adore you more each day.”
Ludwig van Beethoven was a famous German composer who works rank among the most performed in all of classic music. He first began writing music in 1802 and continued to compose works until his death in 1827 — even in spite of increasing deafness. Beethoven’s passion rang out in his music, but as it turns out, he could be passionate in his words as well. After his death, an unsent love letter was found among his papers in which he expressed these sentiments: “My thoughts rush to you, my immortal beloved, now and then joyfully, then again sadly, waiting to know whether Fate will hear our prayer—to face life I must live altogether with you or never see you.” The intended recipient of this letter remains a mystery.
But the most famous love letter of them all is found in the Bible. The book known simply as the “Song of Songs” is a passionate dialogue between a man and his beloved. In one section of the letter, the man uses this descriptive language to describe his beloved:
How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from the hills of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. each has its twin; not one of them is alone. — Song of Solomon 4:1-2
The book of Philippians is also an ancient love letter. But it is not a letter between a man and a woman. Rather, it is a letter sent from the heart of God to His Church, His people, His Bride. The words are inspired through the apostle Paul to the church in the city of Philippi. But the words of this letter are clearly a message from the heart of God to His beloved… to you and me.
Who is a person God has placed in your life that you have deep and sincere affection for (other than people in your small group)? What have you experienced together that has forged this kind of rich relationship?
Play the video for session one. As you watch, use the following outline to record any thoughts, questions, or key points that stand out to you.
The setting and the writer of Philippians
Hermeneutics is the science of interpreting Scripture (Pardes)
Peshat… Simple, plain, devotional Bible reading
Remez… Cues and clues in the text of Scripture
Deresh… Connecting the dots as we interpret Scripture
Sod… When the Holy Spirit speaks to us through Scripture
The when, where, and who of Philippians (Philippians 1:1-2)
A Love Letter (Philippians 1:3-8)
God closes one door and opens another (Acts 16:6-25)
Responding to hardship… whining or worship?
A serious challenge: Prophecy your praise… praise God before He does it
Take a few minutes with your group members to discuss what you just watched and explore these concepts in Scripture. Use the following questions to help guide your discussion.
- What impacted you the most as you watched Mark’s teaching on Philippians 1 and Acts 16?
- Some people regurgitate what they hear from culture, media, and society. They act like a thermometer that reflects the world around them. Others declare the revelation of God and, like a thermostat, they raise the temperature and change the environment, the conversation, and sometimes the world. What do Christians sound like when we are simply regurgitating the prevailing voices of our culture? What will we sound like when we are articulating the timely revelation of God’s Word in a bold and transformational way?
- Read Philippians 1:3-8. What do we learn about Paul’s relationship with the believers in the city of Philippi from this passage? As you think about the Christian community where God has placed you, what can you thank God for about this body of believers (God’s church)? What are ways you can show affection and love to the members of your church?
- Read Acts 16:6-10. Tell about a time you had your plans and future all laid out and God surprised you with a whole different agenda. How did you see God work through this process? How did God bring glory to Himself (and blessing to you) through His divine change of your plans?
- Read Acts 16:16-18. Mark talks about how the enemy of our soul wants to dominate and control our lives, and that we must exercise spiritual authority and fight back. What are ways we can resist, push back, and overcome the enticements and work of the enemy? Tell about a time you did this and saw God win a battle.
- When times of hardship, suffering, or loss hit our lives, what are some of the very real ways (good or bad) we respond? What do you learn from the response of Paul, and how can you follow his example?
Each session, you will be given a key verse (or verses) from the passage covered in the video teaching to memorize. This week, your memory verses are Philippians 1:3-4:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy . . .
Have everyone recite these verses out loud. Ask for any volunteers who would like to say the verses from memory.
Paul’s relationship with God’s people in the city of Philippi was forged through struggles, pain, public turmoil, and partnership in ministry. Why is it that some of our deepest and longest lasting relationships have included times in the furnace of life together? How did God forge a deep relationship between Paul and the Philippian Christians through difficult and painful times?
Close your group time by praying in any of the following directions:
- Thank God for the people He has placed in your life who you love deeply and for whom you have sincere affection. Ask for God’s blessing on their lives.
- Pray for courage to learn from the apostle Paul’s example so that you can express your love and appreciation for the people God has placed in your life.
- If you, or someone in your group, are in the middle of a spiritual battle, pray for God’s victory, for awareness of the tactics of the enemy, and for the power of the Holy Spirit to be unleashed.
* * *
Let us know your thoughts on Philippians: Embracing Joy. We’d love to hear from you!