The Bible student must understand the most important thing in Bible study: context. Context is important because we tend to read the Bible with western eyes. The Bible was written in the east through eastern eyes. It is through these eyes we must understand the context. One can memorize all the Bible verses you can but without context they are worthless or even worse detrimental.
There are three contexts that we must understand in reading the Bible: the historical, social, and theological contexts. Each one of these contexts leads us to the proper understanding of the Bible.
The city of Philippi was founded year 359 BC in what is now modern day Greece. Augustus made Philippi a retirement center for retired Roman soldiers. He did this to ensure a strong Roman presence and influence in the region. The retired soldiers came from all corners of the empire and brought with them many different religions: Emperor Cult, Egyptian gods, Greek gods, and many local religions.
The social context was Paul writing to the church at Philippi from prison. It is not known whether Paul was imprisoned at Rome or Ephesus. Paul was in prison because he exorcised a demon from a girl who could tell the future. (Acts 16:16-24) Her owners were not happy because they had lost a source of income.
Paul was in prison and wrote the Philippians to thank them for their constant support. He wrote to express his appreciation and affection for the church of Philippi. This church more than any other had financially supported Paul’s ministry. Paul demonstrated his affection for the church throughout the letter as he continually encouraged the church to live out their faith in joy and unity. Philippi’s support for Paul was a true act of love simply because the people of the church were poor. They never received any money back.
The theological context is the sufficiency of Christ. The book of Philippians is Paul’s way of preaching the sufficiency of Christ to the church. Paul, while in prison, wrote to the Philippians to let them know regardless of his situation he depended on Christ. Verses 4:10-20 is a testament that Paul relied on Christ regardless of his situation. Through the financial fluctuations of life, Paul was content because the sufficiency of Christ was there. Verse 13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (CSB page 1889) Paul is not saying this verse is an inspiration to do anything and expect Christ to support you. Rather, Paul says I am sitting in prison and God strengthens me to handle the stresses of prison and surety of death. Christ strengthens him to endure the prison.
Paul was in prison and he knew inevitability of his death. When Paul said I can do all things through Christ, he was not talking about getting out jail or making a lot of money. Rather, Paul is talking about enduring the Christian life. The strength that Paul writes here is the sufficiency of Christ. It is Christ who give us strength to endure the Christian life. The ability to endure through the strength of Christ is everything,
Paul was telling us that we need Christ to endure any circumstance of our life. Paul is in prison. He has suffered at the hands of the Roman government. Paul knows he is going to die. Through all of this, Paul finds his ability to endure through the love of Jesus Christ.
Harold was a parishioner of mine of in Kentucky. He lived a hard scrabbled life. Harold always joked that his family never felt the effects of the Depression because they were always poor. He was drafted in 1942 during World War II. While overseas, Harold and his friend took a leisurely ride. Three hours later they were in Bastonge, Belgium in the middle of the infamous Battle of the Bulge. The Americans were surrounded and ensued the bloodiest battle in the Army’s history. This experience was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Harold’s life experience. Despite those memories, Harold could always crack a joke about his youth, the war, and the rest of his life. Early in my friendship with Harold, his wife died. He was absolutely devastated. However, his jokes just increased. I realized the jokes were Harold’s armor to protect him from the pain. I talked to him about it one day. He said, “Preacher, what you say may be true, but I have always had Lord to give me the strength to pull me through.” Harold taught me how to endure.
Joey Aderholt has served as a Pastor and other church positions for 30 years. He holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He can be contacted for comments or questions at Aderholt.email@example.com.