Philippians: Discovering Joy Through Relationship, by Sue Edwards
[Note: This book has been provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.]
I had not been familiar with the author’s work before this, which does not surprise me given that she is a Dallas Theological Seminary professor whose works are focused at women in the (Protestant) ministry and that she writes mostly, as is the case here, for an audience that is assumed to be female. I suppose the author does not expect too many men to be interested in discovering joy through relationship in this insightful and worthwhile Bible study approach to the book of Philippians. Short on commentary, and long on integrating Philippians into the rest of the Bible, especially the part of Paul’s journeys where he founded the Church at Philippi, where she makes some comments about Paul’s obvious respect for women that I have written elsewhere in a slightly different context  and connects it to Jesus’ obvious respect for women, a respect that is lamentably not always present among Christian men in leadership positions within the home and other institutions.
In terms of its contents, this slim volume of about 75 pages offers a great deal of worthwhile material despite its diminutive size. This is true for several reasons. For one, it divides the context and contents of Philippians into eight Bible studies with a short commentary at the beginning and about twenty insightful questions for each section that closely resemble the questions about the meaning and relevance of the passage under discussion that are asked by my local congregational pastor in his Bible studies . In addition to these thoughtful questions, there are between an hour and two hours of excellent online videos that give discussion about the subjects discussed in Philippians dealing with the distinction between happiness and joy, the problems of envy and jealousy, and notable and touching examples of self-sacrifice that illuminate the text under discussion. Additionally, the sidebars of the book are filled with thoughtful cross-references to other scriptures, notable quotes from various writers on the themes and content of Philippians, and some personal discussions that the author makes about the importance of good communication and the struggle with envy that resulted from the author being raised in a home atmosphere of negativity that make the author more relatable because of her own struggles.
Although many writers have commented on the fact that Philippians is noteworthy for the joy that Paul expresses in it about the self-sacrificial ways of Jesus Christ and the love that he and the brethren of Philippi had for each other. Where the author excels is in pointing out that the joy that Paul had and that we should have as Christians is not mere happiness at the shifting circumstances of life but a deeper and more profound joy that endures despite the hardships of life that is formed through loving relationships with God and with each other. The fact that the questions, the commentary, as well as the supplemental materials are all devoted to this end suggests not only a deliberate focus on relationships that is striking and unusual, but also a deliberate attempt to leverage the presumed greater interest of women in such matters to provide a space for leadership for women and legitimacy for their insights in relationships that may often be ignored by many professed Christians. The book is a thoughtful set of Bible studies that rewards deep thought and reflection on the state of relationships with God and with others, especially other believers, in the hope that such reflection may lead to bettering those relationships as best as possible. It is a shame only that the author considers this particular focus and aim to be of interest only to women, rather than being a focus that should be present for all Christians.
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