EPISTLES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

 

 

PHILIPPIANS, EPHESIANS, COLOSSIANS, PHILEMON

Prison Letters

 

From now on for the next three years, Paul's life was turned upside with the unintended and unexpected.  He had intended to leave Ephesus, but not in the way he did.  Late in his third year there, the shrine silversmiths of the goddess Diana were so upset by their loss of income that they started a riot.  His friends, Gaius and Aristarchus, were thrown into the ampitheatre (Acts 19:29), and there is some indication he had been in the past since in 1 Cor. 15:32 he says he "fought wild beasts in Ephesus."  But on this occasion, his friends urged him to escape, which he did perhaps the next day (Acts 19:30f, 20:1).

 

He now headed for Jerusalem but indirectly, traveling from Turkey up and over into Greece, then back down into Turkey, probably picking up the last of the donations for the poor Christians in Judea (Acts 20:1-6).  He was anxious to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost, the birthday of the church (Acts 20:16).  James, the brother of Jesus, was the only apostle left in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18). 

 

In the mean time the Jews from the area of Ephesus in Turkey (Acts 21:27) followed Paul and stirred up a riot against him in Jerusalem.  He was seized in the temple, dragged out to be beaten to death, then rescued by Roman soldiers who arrested and chained him (Acts 21:30-33).  Upon learning he was a Roman citizen, they allowed him to address the Jews which was really a sermon.  Instead, the Jews insisted on a formal trial the next day and plotted to kill Paul on his way between the jail and the Sanhedrin's court in the Temple (Acts 23:12-15).  Paul's nephew reported the plot to the Roman centurion.  So Paul was sneaked out of Jerusalem that night and transferred to Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, the Roman headquarters of Judea, escorted by 270 guards (Acts 23:16-24).

 

Five days later, when the Jews figured out what had happened, and the high priest Ananias (the same high priest who had Jesus executed some 35 years earlier - old!) went to Caesarea and hired a lawyer to prosecute Paul (Acts 24:1).  Governor Felix held court and Paul said he'd just gone to Jerusalem to "bring my people gifts for the poor" (Acts 24:17).  No decision came from the trial because Felix was hoping for a bribe from Paul (Acts 24:26).  Frequently Felix and his Jewish wife, Drusilla, would send for him in private to hear more about what Paul had to say.  He was kept in a minimum-security prison where he could receive friends and anything they brought him (Acts 24:23).

 

Two years passed as Governor Felix waited in vain for his bribe.  Finally Felix was replaced by Festus as governor.  Three days after taking office, Festus went to Jerusalem where the Jews said they wanted Paul transferred back to Jerusalem for trial, though they actually planned to ambush and kill him along the way (Acts 25:1-5).  A week and a half later, Festus returned to Caesarea and held court the next day, with the Jews accusing him of blasphemy against their religion and treason against Caesar.  Festus told Paul basically that he must either go to Jerusalem or Rome, Paul chose Rome (Acts 25:9-12).

 

A few days later, King Agrippa and his wife (who was also his sister!), Bernice, arrived and wanted to hear what this Paul had to say.  Paul's defenses both before Governor Felix and King Agrippa are published in full in Acts 24 and 25.  At the end, Agrippa said, "This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar."  But, Paul wanted to go to Rome, and this was how he was to go, for there he would be able to preach the gospel to Caesar Nero himself. 

 

The trip to Rome was nearly a disaster.  After sailing through storms, the ship wrecked and the passengers were rescued by people on the tiny island of Malta just south of Sicily, a large island off of Italy.  Six months or more after setting sail, Paul arrived in Rome.  There, he sent for the Jews in Rome to come see him at his place of arrest.  They hadn't even heard about his problems with the Jews elsewhere (Acts 28:21), but wanted to.  So a few days later, a large number of Jews went to Paul while he explained "from morning till evening" how Jesus had fulfilled the prophecies in the Old Testament.  "Some were convinced...but others would not believe."  As they left, Paul cried out after them, "God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!" (Acts 28:29).

 

Thereupon, Paul stayed for two years under house arrest in a house he himself chose and rented, and was allowed to receive any and all visitors, awaiting his hearing before Nero Caesar.  "Boldly and without hindrance he preached" (Acts 28:30-31).  Of course, his desire to meet the Christians in Rome was finally realized.  It was during this time that Paul wrote his "prison epistles" - Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (who lived in Colossae).  He wrote earlier letters to the Philippians which we do not have (Phil. 3:1), and he apparently wrote the church at Laodicea which we do not have (Col. 4:16).

 

 

 

Prison Epistles: I

 

 

PHILIPPIANS

Persistence

 

1:6           began a good work...carry it on to completion

1:19         what has happened to me will turn out

1:20         in no way be ashamed...sufficient courage

1:21         to die is gain

1:27         Whatever happens, conduct yourselves

1:27         stand firm

1:28         without being frightened

1:29         suffer for him

1:30         the same struggle

2:1           encouragement...comfort

2:12         continue to work

2:14         without complaining

2:16         labor for nothing

2:17         I am being poured out

2:30         almost died...risking his life

3:12,14    press on to take hold

3:13         forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead

3:18-19 even with tears...enemies of the cross...destiny

4:1           I long for...stand firm

4:3           contended...in the cause of the gospel

4:6           Do not be anxious about anything

4:7           peace of God...transcends

4:11         learned to be content

4:14         share my troubles

Philippi is nine miles inland from the Aegean Sea high in the mountains near the border of Macedonia, Greece to the west, and today's Bulgaria to the north.  Istanbul - the future Constantinople - was a couple hundred miles to the east.  Philippi was long known for his gold mines.  However, by the time of Paul, the mines had been nearly depleted and this important city reduced in size and eminence.  Dyed goods were imported from Thyatira to its parent city of Philippi to then be distributed to other parts of Europe.  Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth (Acts 16:13-15) was from Thyatira but had transferred Philippi.

 

Dionysus was the primary god of this region; a god of vegetation, dying and being resurrected every year.  He was associated with savage or wild living and did not often have kind things to say to humans.  He was associated with Apollo from whom oracles (answers from god) were received.  Nine months of the year Apollo was to be questioned for guidance, and Dionysus during the other three months. 

 

A priestess called the Pythia was the prophetess through whom the gods spoke.  The Pythia was normally a simple woman chosen from the local inhabitants; all she had to do was put herself into a convincing looking trance and speak the god's in known or unknown tongues.  Some ancient writers said she underwent violent convulsions to obtain divinitions.  She did not necessarily have to be at the temple to divine.  Men would write down what she was supposedly saying and give it to the inquirer - writings that were vague enough that they could mean most anything the inquirer wanted it to mean.  However, sometimes she dared to predict something on her own.  The young lady who could predict the future and out of whom Paul cast a demon might have been the current Pythia of Philippi at the time (Acts 16:16)..

 

The Jews seemed to have been practically non-existent in Philippi since, when Paul arrived, he had to go down to the river on the Sabbath to see if he might find some Jews there.  There he met and converted Lydia and her household.  Afterwards the local Pythia began following Paul around declaring him the "servant of the Most High God...telling you the way to be saved."  This Pythia apparently had a demon in her which Paul cast out (Acts 16:16-18). 

 

The fact that the few Jews there had to go outside the city gate to meet is some indication Jews were not liked or wanted in Philippi.  (Therefore, Paul did not speak about Judaism in his later letter to them.)  The Pythia's owners dragged Paul before the city magistrates merely accusing them of being Jews.  Paul was ordered beaten, then thrown into prison.  About midnight there was an earthquake that disengaged all the prison doors and everyone's chains.  But rather than escape, Paul stuck around and converted the jailor after he begged him, "What must I do to be saved?" Then Paul spoke to his whole household (obviously, he didn't speak to babies) and they were all baptized (Acts 16:25-24).

 

Perhaps thinking Paul caused the earthquake and wanting to get rid of him, the magistrates ordered him released from prison.  They met with the church meeting at Lydia's house, and then left, going on west through the rest of Macedonia, Greece.. 

 

There is a possibility that Luke, the writer of Acts, was from Philippi.  He did not use the pronoun "us" and "we" until Paul's vision to "Come over to Macedonia and help us."  Some even think that Luke was the man in the vision since Paul immediately understood he needed to go to Philippi, but that is stretching it a little.  Apparently Luke stayed behind after Paul left to go through the rest of Macedonia (Thessalonica), then into Achaia (Corinth), then down to Ephesus in Asia of Turkey, then back to Macedonia.  In Acts 20:5-6 Luke once more included himself in Paul's group.  "These men went on ahead and waited for us...we sailed from Philippi."  Since Paul was in Corinth 1-1/2 years (Acts 18:11), Ephesus three years (Acts 20:31), then traveled through Macedonia and Greece three months (Acts 20:3), Luke would have stayed in Philippi five or six years.

 

When Paul left Philippi and went on to Thessolonica, he received gifts of money on two occasions from the church at Philippi (Phil. 4:16), and again when he went on farther south into Greece (2 Cor. 11:9; Phil. 4:15).  The strength of this church could be attributed to the encouragement of Luke, if he did indeed stay there.  They also had elders (overseers) and deacons (Phil. 1:1).

 

While Paul was in prison in Rome, the church at Philippi sent another gift by Epaph-roditus (Phil. 2:25; 4:10, 14-19).  In fact, while there Epaph-roditus went through a serious illness which seems to be associated with working to support Paul while he was sick and making himself worse, or possibly torture. since Paul said "he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me" (Phil. 2:30). 

 

 

1:7       Paul wrote them while he was in _____________________________.

 

1:12-14 Paul said his imprisonment had served to advance the gospel in two ways:  (1) Because throughout the whole ___________ ____________________________ everyone knew he was in chains for ________________________; (2) It _______________________________ the brethren to speak more courageously and ____________________________.

 

1:15,17 What were the bad motives of some to preach Christ:

 

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1:18     But Paul said ultimately motives didn't matter because at least Christ is ___________________________________.  (This gives indication that even hypocritic preachers can do some good.)

 

1:21     "For me, to __________________________ is Christ, and to ________________________ is gain."

 

1:23     In a word, what did Paul desire to do so he could be with Christ?  _______________________

 

1:28     We are not to be _____________________________ by those who oppose us when we share Jesus.  Their fighting us is a sign that they will be ___________________________, but we will be __________________________.

 

1:29     The Philippians had been ______________________________ the privilege of believing and also ______________________ for Christ.  Opposition by the ungodly is one sign we are saved!

 

2:3       Here's a good recommendation for working on committees in the church:  "Do nothing out of ________________________ ___________________________________ or __________________________________________________________."

 

2:7,9    When Christ made himself ____________________________________, God ____________________________ him to the highest place.

 

2:14     No matter how bad things, we are not to _______________________________ or _______________________________. n That puts us on the same level as people arguing and fighting with us.

 

2:19-20  Who went to Rome with Paul and was helping him during his imprisonment?  _________________________________  He was going to send him as soon as he saw how things went for him (in court).

 

2:25-27  Paul was also going to send back to them _______________________________________________ because they heard he was _________________________.  Indeed, he almost ___________________________.

 

2:30     Epaph-roditus had __________________________________ his life to help Paul and the work of Christ.

 

3:2-3    Paul knew they didn't take kindly to Jews, especially those who wanted to circumcise them.  Paul called them ___________

 

3:6       Paul had previously persecuted the church and been ________________________________________ righteous, but it profited him nothing.

 

3:8       Everything Paul accomplished for himself he considered ___________________________________ compared with Christ.

 

3:12-14  Referring to the olympic-type games at Philippi, Paul said he forgot what was behind and __________________________ toward what was ahead - the goal to win the ________________________________ that was heavenward.

 

3:18-19  How did Paul react to people who lived as enemies of Christ?  __________________________  Their god was their _________________________.

 

3:21     Our citizenship is not here, but heaven.  There, God will transform our _________________________ bodies to be like his.

 

4:2-3    He begged Euodia and Syn-tyche to at least agree with each other in the _____________________.  After all, they had stood by Paul to contend for the gospel.

 

4:7       "The __________________________ of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your ____________________ and _________________________.

 

4:8       What kinds of things are our minds supposed to be on?

 

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4:11     Despite his chains, Paul had learned to be _________________________________.

 

4:12     Paul was content being in ________________________ or plenty, fed or _________________________.

 

4:13     We can do ________________________________ through Christ who gives us _______________________.

 

4:22     Paul had converted people in whose household?  _________________________________