The senior pastor at my church is preaching through Philippians this month, and doing a fine job. He assumes the traditional location and circumstance for the writing Philippians, that is, the Roman imprisonment, sometime between 60 and 62. Paul is under house arrest while awaiting trial after his appeal to Caesar. The pastor made several excellent preaching points, great applications which were intended to spur us on to godly living, just as good preaching should do.
However….I am sitting there thinking that it is at least possible that Paul wrote Philippians from Ephesus quite a few years earlier. In fact, I have become more warm to that idea in this recent round of teaching Pauline Lit in the college classroom. If Paul is in prison in Ephesus and not Rome, is the fine preaching and application value of the sermon no longer valid? At the very least they based on some wrong assumptions, and therefore may be improper applications to draw fro this particular text.
This hit me more in my own Sunday School class, since I went to Philippians 4 in order to talk about joy in extreme circumstances. This is the obvious text to use since Paul is obviously in prison and can still talk about his joy in that rather difficult circumstance. Which circumstance? I had to say that he was in prison in Rome since that is what the congregation just heard, and that is the traditional answer that is in all their study Bibles, and I would have to take a half hour to explain the possibility that he was in Ephesus rather than Rome, and by that time people would not care about any “preaching point” I was trying to make. I simply assumed, for the sake of the congregation, the traditional, and quite possibly wrong background to the letter.
I suppose this was not too great of an academic sin on my part, but it did bother me that I was willing to set aside good scholarship in order to make an equally good point which was for the spiritual benefit of my class. It was not a lie, but I suppose it was a sin of omission.
This set me to thinking about all of the people every Sunday who preach and teach the word of God and simply set aside good scholarship in favor of making a great point. Usually this involves some abuse of the Greek language and most likely an inadequate understanding of the aorist tense. Everyone has heard that sermon. These preachers might very well have good intentions (bringing people to Christ, building people up in their faith), or very bad intentions (increasing their own influence, increasing giving to their ministry). Either way, it is a sin which must be avoided at all cost.
But if I knowingly and intentionally ignore what I know is true in order to make the sermon “work,” I have sinned because I have not been intellectually honest. I should never separate preaching from teaching, both must reflect a truthful understanding of the world of God.