This study and the following lessons, for the next eight weeks, will be a condensed version of Mining God’s Word – How To Study the Bible; Foundation Series by Bethlehem College and Seminary Press. I highly recommend that you purchase your own workbook at www(dot)bethlehemcollegeandseminary(dot)org – it would be a great tool for you to have!
I taught this lesson this past Wednesday evening and it was a delightful time. May God bless all of you with the same joy that the Wednesday Women experienced.
During this time together we will use the book of Philippians to teach us how to study our Bibles in such a manner that we can apply the methods learned here to all other books in the Bible. Of course, the longer the book, the more time required. Philippians won’t take us the same amount of time, as say, Matthew or 1 Corinthians. But the methods you learn here, will enable you to study there.
I would also like to point out that reading our Bibles and studying our Bibles are not the same thing. Reading is a more casual a pick-it-up, put-it-down kind of a thing. Studying asks us to pray, to labor, to be diligent, to be serious. And so, let us study God’s Word together. Amen!
Week one: Who is Writing to Whom?
A good practice for any inductive Bible study is to read through the book in one sitting, (if possible). Notice what you can about the author, and those he is writing to. Some books might contain more information about the author than others do, but that is OK. To help us understand what to look for in Philippians, we are going to look at Philemon first. It is short, clear and concise. So, please turn to Philemon in your Bibles and read it through. Once you have finished reading Philemon, continue with our study.
Now that you have read through Philemon, take a piece of paper, fold it in half length-wise, and then open it back up. You should have two columns lengthwise. At the head of column one, label it Observations on Author. At the head of column two, label it Observations on Recipient. Go back through Philemon, and underline all the things that talk about the author, Paul, and then write those same things you just underlined in your column Observations on Author, including the verse where you found it. (It will help you keep track of what you’re underlining if you use one colored pencil to underline for Author and a different colored pencil to underline Recipients.) When you have completed that, do the same thing for what you observe about those he is writing to, the Recipients. Then come back to the study and we’ll give some examples of each.
Now that you have written your observations down, I will give some examples of my observations.
Observations on Author
His name is Paul (vs.1)
Prisoner for Christ Jesus (vs.1)
He has the authority to command (vs.8)
He is an old man (vs.9)
He has recently become a “father” to Onesimus (vs.10)
Paul loves Onesimus – refers to him as his ‘very heart’ (vs. 12)
He is not alone in prison (vs.23)
Observations on Recipient
Addressed to Philemon, others and the house church (vs.1, 2)
Philemon’s house is large enough for the saints to meet for church (vs.2)
Philemon used to own a useless slave named Onesimus (vs.11, 15)
Philemon was a former convert of Paul (vs.19)
Philemon might be wealthy because he has a guest room (vs.22)
You might have more or less than the ones I have listed and that’s OK. This is to help train you what to look for.
Next, we should notice the relationship between the author and the recipients. Are they friends? Are they in disagreement over something? Is their relationship strained or taxed due to sin? What is the occasion of the book? In other words, what has happened to make Paul feel he should write to Philemon? What is the purpose of the letter?
We should note that there is a distinction between occasion and purpose. This letter is like listening to one side of a phone conversation. You cannot hear what the other person is saying, but you can make a guess as to what they are saying by how the person on your end is responding. We can deduce from the statement, “Yes, my mother is fine, thank you.” that the person on the other end of the phone had asked “How is your mother?”. So, the occasion is what happened previously, that Paul alludes to in his letter. The purpose is what does he want to accomplish with his letter?
Now, flip your paper over to the back and make two new headings for these back columns. Label column one Observations on Relationships and label the second column Observations on Occasion. Again, go back through Philemon, and using different colored pencils, underline words or ideas that talk to you about their relationship. Look for words like, ‘beloved fellow worker’. When you have finished that, move to the next column and underline your text words that show what might have happened in the past. Record your findings.
At the bottom of your paper write Interpretation of Purpose. After you have written your observations on relationships and occasion, now you can write down what you think the purpose of this letter is. Just a few sentences will suffice. (Sometimes purpose and occasion will sometimes overlap so don’t be concerned if something fits into both categories.) Then, come back to the study and we’ll go over this last part together.
Observations on Relationships
Paul and Philemon have a very close relationship “beloved fellow worker’ (vs.1)
Paul derives joy and comfort from the love of Philemon, ‘his brother’ (vs.7)
Makes his appeal based on their partnership (vs.17)
Paul is confident in how Philemon will respond to his letter (vs.21)
Observations on Occasion
Paul is writing this letter on behalf of Onesimus who was recently converted by Paul (vs.10, 16)
Onesimus appeared to have been a slave (vs. 16) who ran away from Philemon (vs.15)
Did Onesimus steel something from Philemon? (vs.18)
Interpretation of Purpose
Paul is writing this letter on behalf of Onesimus his ‘true heart’, urging Philemon to treat him as a brother, just as he would Paul, now that Onesimus has been converted, which Paul can attest to. Paul is sending Onesimus back because he is still the rightful slave of Philemon, and Paul wants Philemon to respond with love. Also, to let Philemon know that Paul is hoping to come to his house, and therefore, prepare a room for him.
Again, you might have more or less than what I have written here. But the point is the training of what you’re looking for.
For this coming week, at your homes, I would like you to do this same thing with the book of Philippians. (I would recommend that you make a copy of the Philippians text for this study. Your thin Bible pages might not stand up to the next eight weeks of study.)
Day 1) Read Philippians, underlining, and then recording, your observations on the author and the recipients, in your new Philippians columns.
Day 2) Re-read what you wrote on Day 1, and write a brief summary of what you notice.
Day 3) Read Philippians observing the details about the relationships between the author and the recipients, and the occasion, underlining as you go. Then write in your Relationships column and your Occasion column what you have observed.
Day 4) Re-read what you wrote on Day 3, and write a brief summary of what you notice.
Day 5) Read the complete book of Philippians for a third time, playing close attention to the purpose of the book. What was the author attempting to accomplish? Is there more than one purpose? Write a summary of your view on the purpose of the book.
And that is the end of our first lesson!
We will go over all these homework answers briefly next week when we meet.
Thank you, Becky, for allowing me the space on your blog. You are a sweet sister!
Thank you, ladies, for coming to ‘class’ and for working through your Bible with me.
May our Lord grant us wisdom as we read and study. May we bring honor to our God and to our husbands through our actions. May our words be filled with sweetness and grace as we raise up our children.
Blessings to you all, Eileen