“…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
“I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…”
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
“Do not be anxious about anything…“
The book of Philippians contains some of the most well-known and oft-quoted verses in the Christian vernacular. With its long-standing familiarity, there are several dangers and benefits to teaching and studying this short book in the local church.
- ARROGANCE: “I’ve heard this before!”
First, we could easily arrive at a familiar Scripture with a prideful attitude, thinking, “I’ve heard this before,” and becoming callous to the truth. We could approach the passage with preconceived ideas of what the main ideas are, or what we should take away, and fail to look for something new, recognizing that any and all understanding is a work of the Holy Spirit.
- APATHY:“I’ve seen this before!”
Second, we could come to a commonly-referenced passage with a degree of laziness, believing, “I’ve seen this before,” and not caring to apply ourselves to the careful study of the Word or forgetting that Scripture is always profitable, no matter how many times we’ve read it.
- ABUSE: “I’ve used this before!”
Third, we could take a recognized verse and pervert the meaning, suctioning it out of context without regard for the author’s original audience or intent. We can state, “I’ve used this before,” as an excuse for isolating statements and mishandling them for personal gain.
- APPROPRIATION: “I’ve made this say something it’s never said before!”
Fourth, we could try so hard to find a new meaning for a well-known verse, maintaining, “I’ve made this say something it’s never said before,” that we forget a text cannot mean something to us that it did not mean to the original author or reader. In attempting to make a verse say something different, we appropriate implications and risk misinterpreting the point.
- AMBIVALENCE: “I’ve applied this before!”
Fifth, we could hesitate to study a widely-recognized passage, saying, “I’ve applied this before,” ignoring the fact that knowledge should result in obedience. Our uncertainty in revisiting familiar verses begs us to consider whether we are consistently and completely living out the applications found therein.
- HUMILTY: “I don’t know!”
First, we can never grasp the fullness of God’s Word. We are frail and feeble and must regularly beg the Holy Spirit to be our Guide and Teacher. When we read a verse like, “I want to know Christ…,” we must approach it with submission and meekness, recognizing that we, as finite beings, can never wholly know Christ in all His glory; but, we can strive to know Him better every day.
- HUNGER: “I want more!”
Second, different seasons of life make different passages resonate in different ways. Having a solid foundation means there is something upon which to build. Studying a familiar passage in teenage years is going to look different than it does in retirement. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion…” takes on new, timeless significance when we have seen the good work unfolding in our life, and it should awaken in us a desire to see that good work continue until it is complete.
- HARMONY: “I see now!”
Third, there is something to be said about studying an oft-quoted verse within the broader narrative of Scripture. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” conveys a much deeper meaning when we understand that Paul is talking about contentment amid abundant prosperity or abject poverty, not dangling a good luck charm that gives unfiltered access to anything we desire. When we study context, we see the consistency of God’s words and correct false doctrine or bad teaching.
- HONESTY: “I’ve been there!”
Fourth, there is relational value in transparently sharing the way a passage has ministered to our spirit with fellow brothers and sisters. Flippantly quoting, “Do not be anxious about anything,” may or may not be helpful or encouraging when a friend is facing difficulty, but sharing personal insight and perspective rooted in experience with these beloved verses, especially with people who may not have considered them in that light before, could be extremely uplifting.
- HEART: “I love Him!”
Fifth, familiarity often produces affection. There is a reason, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” is cited regularly at the gravesides of saints who have gone to be with Jesus. There is comfort in clinging to memorable truths. Like old friends, verses that we know and love can continually refresh our spirits and make us long to know and love Jesus more.
Ladies of Immanuel, we invite you to join us this fall as we study Philippians together. May God grant us the grace to look at these familiar passages with fresh eyes, avoiding the dangers and embracing the benefits. May we prayerfully request the humility, hunger, harmony, honesty, and heart we need to grow in our love of the Living Word through our study of the written Word.