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Dwelling in Philippians

Find out what can happen when groups of people spend weeks immersed together in a book of the Bible.

The book of Philippians is shorter than the average TIME Magazine cover story. You can breeze through it in 20 minutes. Maybe you already quote tidbits such as “whatever is true, whatever is noble” (Philippians 4:8) or “I can do all things through Christ” (4:13).

But making its key themes—joy, fellowship, and unity in Christ—part of your lived experience takes longer. That’s why groups of people on campuses, in prison, and in churches are using the book Dwelling with Philippians: A Conversation with Scripture through Image and Word to marinate in Paul’s letter.

Slow down to savor

Dwelling includes the full passages, commentary, and reflection questions that you’d expect from any good Bible study resource. It also pairs artwork, poems, prayers, and insightful quotes with Philippians’ words, lines, verses, and themes.

“The book’s contemplative approach forced us to slow down. For some that was frustrating. For others it was like air flowing into the room,” says Aaron Winkle, a Calvin College associate chaplain who helped plan a campus-wide immersion in Philippians.

About 1500 Calvin College students, staff, faculty, and alumni signed up for study groups that gathered in meeting rooms, dorms, homes, and coffee shops. Winkle led a lunchtime group of people from ages 19 to 82. Most groups used Dwelling with Philippians along with Paul for Everyone: the Prison Letters by N.T. Wright. Chapels and Sunday services focused each week on Philippians.

“The book gave us a bridge to reach out to people who haven’t been part of traditional Bible studies or who live off campus,” Winkle says. People already playing lacrosse, producing media, or learning a language together found that exploring Philippians deepened their bonds.

Share stories of transformation

“What sticks with me after being in Philippians for 10 weeks is ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or

conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.’ I can’t get it out of my mind. Studying the same book gave us a common language. People would reference the Scripture study on the faculty discussion listserv,” he says.

One young man reported that doing Philippians released him from an addiction. A young woman felt free to share that she no longer believed in God but wanted her group to pray with and for her. Many groups decided to meet the next semester to study Ephesians together. “Some of us have been thinking about what it’d be like to have a campus-wide study every semester,” Winkle says.

Carol Rienstra, Calvin director of community relations, helped lead a Monday night study at Celebration Fellowship, a prison congregation in Ionia, Michigan. She shared prisoners’ perspectives in a Tuesday morning study with Calvin staff, faculty, and students.

“One man on the inmate leadership team absolutely loved Dwelling with Philippians. We had only purchased one book for each circle, usually six or seven inmates and one to three partner volunteers. This man took the book as his personal study guide and wrote notes on almost every page—not exactly what you’d think a coffee table book deserves, but he had been dwelling with that book,” she says.

She’s convinced that studying Philippians made “joy take root” in Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility. “It’s infusing the singing, testimonies, and prayers. I’ve noticed a lot more smiles. We’ve sung ‘Knowing You’ a few times. It captures some themes in Philippians really well. We often break out with, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.’” Rienstra adds that she misses the Tuesday morning studies because the students were such an encouragement to staff and faculty.

'And my God will meet all your needs'

Monroe Community Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is already the kind of home where people know each other well enough to hold someone else’s baby on their lap during worship. Their summer series on Philippians helped deepen congregational unity.

Monroe's worship team lined the warehouse-style walls with the entire text of Philippians, printed in huge fonts on sheets of paper. On a big border of paper underneath the Bible passages, worshipers of all ages inked prayers and pictures under relevant verses.

The congregation capped the series with a service in which, over the course of worship, every verse of Philippians was spoken aloud. Drama, projected images, body movement, and responsive readings helped worshipers connect Philippians with real life. Worship planners also drew from Dwelling with Philippians.

After the opening songs and prayer, a shadow screen revealed “Paul” at a writing table, while a voice spoke Philippians 1:1-11. Then a “letter carrier” brought a letter to a “new church” of worshipers gathered in a circle at center stage.

As one person read aloud from Paul’s account of being “in chains for Christ,” others chimed in with brief explanations to set Paul’s letter in context. One person quoted U.S prison statistics while the screen displayed an image of Rachel Durfee’s hand-colored woodcut “For Those in Captivity.” Worship continued to intersperse words of Philippians throughout communion, music, the offering, and congregational prayer. Co-pastor Amy Schenkel recited the final verses of Philippians as the closing blessing.

Learn More

Start a Discussion

Discuss how to invite people to linger long enough in Scripture for the Holy Spirit to break in with new insights.

  • Aaron Winkle says that many Christians approach Scripture (and life) as a checklist. Read this. Answer those questions. Pray that prayer. (Saved!) Done! Which cultural values about time influence your church’s worship or spiritual formation practices?
  • Share how an image, song, news event, or something else helped you understand something from the Bible in a new way.
  • What keeps your congregation from living so that others sense Christ’s community-transforming power? Brainstorm ways you could increase like-minded unity by dwelling in Philippians.

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