It is easy to be happy when life goes well. But what would it be like to have a sense of joy that continued even in times of trouble? Paul doesn’t pen this epistle from a padded-leather office chair surrounded by books on how to be happy. On the contrary, he is a prisoner awaiting news that could result in his death. In this short letter of encouragement to his beloved brethren in Philippi (see Acts 16:6-40), Paul aims to inspire his readers to persevere in the work of Christ, and he tells them how to find peace, joy, and contentment in a perilous world. In four brief chapters, the apostle teaches us how to live joyfully in every situation. This week in New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs Reading Plan we, too, will discover the secret of Paul’s joy and experience his triumphant confidence in Christ.
A personal note: I took two weeks off from writing in order to complete several pressing task leading up to chaperoning my oldest son’s 8th grade field trip to Washington D.C. There was too much to do and I was certainly not going to write during the five hectic days we were away from home. The trip was exciting (we were evacuated from the White House by secret service), awe inspiring, and educational. I’ll admit that after not studying and writing for a number of days it was hard to get back into the swing of it. But here we are and I’ll soldier on for the remainder of the year. Over the next month or so (or the year) I’ll go back and write questions for the two weeks I missed. I’ll let you know when they’re done.
Lastly, I started this week’s questions on Tuesday since it was the first chapter of Philippians. May God’s blessing be upon you as you read His word.
Tuesday, Apr. 23 – Philippians 1; Proverbs 11:7-11
It is easy to be happy when life goes well. But what would it be like to have a sense of joy that continued even in times of trouble? Paul doesn’t pen this epistle from a padded-leather office chair surrounded by books on how to be happy. On the contrary, he is a prisoner awaiting news that could result in his death. Philippians is the second of Paul’s Prison Epistles (which include Ephesian, Colossians, and Philemon). In this brief letter, the apostle teaches us how to live joyfully in every situation. What things have happened to Paul that you would find discouraging? Looking back over the whole chapter, summarize the various factors which can transform difficult circumstances into a joyful, Christ-exalting situation? What are the difficult circumstances you are presently facing? How can Christ be exalted in that situation?
The main thrust Solomon presents in today’s reading from Proverbs is the social influence a person has for good or bad within his or her community. When have you seen the truth of these sayings play out on a national, state, or local stage? Think about your own community, not just your town but smaller say your neighborhood, church, your kid’s school, at work, or a social circle. When have you seen these truths demonstrated? How can you be an influencer for good in these areas of your community? Pray that God will make you an influencer for good and that He will rebuke those in your community that do evil.
Wednesday, Apr. 24 – Philippians 2; Psalm 48
Philippians 2:6-11 is perhaps the finest hymns in the New Testament and a foundational statement of the doctrine of Christ. Yet, Paul states it not to teach something new but to motivate the Philippians to action – humble service and self-sacrifice. Notice how Paul expects an understanding of doctrine to bring gladness and joy into the hearts of believers. How does Paul define humility (toward one another as typified in Christ) in vv. 1-11? To encourage you toward the humble life, Paul says you are to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12) because God “works in you” (v. 13). What difference should in make in your life to know that God works in your to “will and to work for His good pleasure” (v. 13)? In what way(s) should/does following the example of Jesus and humbly serving others through the power of God bring gladness and joy to your life?
Like Psalm 46, Psalm 48 is a hymn celebrating Zion as God’s special city, which He defends for the sake of the world. The central theme is the psalmist praising God for delivering Zion from her enemies. While the city may be heavily fortified, Jerusalem was secure and glorious because God blessed her with His favor. It is critical that God Himself be the defense of His people. I don’t see it as a stretch to think of the church (not a building but the collective body of the saved) as Zion, the place where God dwells on earth (ref. 1 Peter 2). With that in mind, how has and does God protect His church from her enemies? Are there times you, or your community of believers, are tempted to think that by your on wits and strength you have prospered as a church? Explain. In what way(s) does this Psalm call you to humbly praise God for His protection and the prospering of His people?
Thursday, Apr. 25 – Philippians 3; Proverbs 11:12-23
From all indications, the Philippians knew the gospel clearly, and so their task was to work together in accord with their identity “in Christ Jesus” (2:5). But false teachers threatened to undermine the church’s firm foundation. So, in 3:1-21 Paul reinforces key doctrines that are at the root of Christian faith and action. As you read over chapter 3, what kinds of errors do you deduce Paul was refuting? Acts 9 recorded the external facts of his conversion, while vv. 1-14 record the internal spiritual conversion he experienced. In the context of refuting false teaching, what’s the point Paul is making be recounting his conversion? How does a works-based salvation get in the way of know Christ and rejoicing in the Lord? On the flipside, how does a faith-based salvation open the way to knowing Christ and rejoicing in the Lord? Where do you find yourself today?
In this collection of Proverbs Solomon offers many insights on what happens to the righteous and the wicked alike (vv. 12-21, 23). Apart from the rest, v. 22 stands alone as a humorous, single line proverb. “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who rejects discretion.” What do you think is the warning that Solomon wants both women and men to see? Write down the name of someone you know who could benefit from this proverb. Why this person? Additionally, write a short prayer for them. For the next week continually pray for them and for yourself then go to them and lovingly share this wise saying and meaning with them. You may be rejected at first but keep praying and continue to be there for them.
Friday, Apr. 26 – Philippians 4; Psalm 49
Paul was living with many powerful stressors (he was in prison facing possible execution while defending himself against critics and heretics inside the church), yet he seems to be strangely at peace. In the closing chapter of Philippians, Paul reveals some of the secrets of his peace. What seems most significant to you of all that Paul says in this chapter? What is one implication this truth has for your life? Paul tells us to, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (v.9). In the coming week, how might you put into practice one truth he reveals in this chapter?
Often called a wisdom psalm (see vv. 3-4), Psalm 49 is an encouragement to the godly who are haunted by the power and influence of the rich. The psalmist states that he will not fear the rich enemies who threaten him, for despite their wealth, they are mere men who will die like everyone else. He is confident the righteous are better off because they have a sure hope for the future. Why is it so deeply disturbing to see arrogant, rich people thriving, especially those who exploit or hurt the little man or woman along the way? How does the psalmist contrast the state of both the rich and poor? What hope for justice does the psalm give to the one who has been taken advantage of by the rich? In what way(s) did you need this psalm today?