The Apostle Paul’s amazing letter to the Philippians. Encouragement from his lockdown, to ours.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is one of the most positive and personal letters in the New Testament. Did you know that Paul is writing from his very own lockdown! He’s under house arrest in Rome and facing death or release, depending on a trial he has very little input to (Acts 28). This letter, the Book of Philippians, is written after nearly two years of Paul’s ‘imprisonment,’ so imagine the frustration, fatigue, anxiety he could have felt knowing that any day he could be summonsed and executed!
But this is no anxious appeal letter. From the very first verses we are treated to a thankful, joyful faithful appeal, not for help or sympathy, but to rejoice in Jesus! How does he genuinely turn his predicament from fear and worry to joy and hope?
There are several good reasons for Paul’s godly optimism, and today I will focus on just four points early on in the letter.
Our struggles can be a gift.
Paul reminds the Philippians that they are both engaged in a similar conflict (1:30), and in 2020 we are wise to remember the same truths – the world is a mixture of good and evil; bad things happen to good people; and Christians will regularly experience opposition for their views. It is healthy to acknowledge life’s struggles, and being Christian is no exemption from them. In fact, verse 29 says that both faith in Christ AND suffering for Christ, are gifts!
Somehow, in God’s mysterious way, struggle with opposition can actually be something that grows us and grows the Kingdom of God on earth. A key to this growth is the unity of the body of Christ. The word used for struggle (1:30) meant a place of athletic contest where people gathered to contend for something. It later became a metaphor for any kind of conflict. Paul’s intention is surely that we struggle ‘together’ against all sorts of opponents (1:28). This is a gift: to confront life’s challenges, united, side by side with other Christians, in a manner that is Christ magnifying.
Determine to trust God’s long-term work.
I love the way Paul says, “I am sure of this…” (1:6). This expression doesn’t mean he feels confident 100% of the time. But his determination to trust God is in his heart and therefore on his lips.
“…that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
From this place of resolve Paul can go on to say that what has happened to him (imprisoned and facing death) “has really served to advance the gospel” (1:12).
Whether we are unjustly treated, persecuted for our faith, or struggling with the common evils of life, God’s word invites us to trust this incredible promise, that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Not only is the world at work on us, but “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (2:13).
Though it is very hard to see this in the midst of tough times, let’s stand on our convictions and say with Paul “I am sure of this…” God is bringing to completion the good things he began in us.
Follow the example of Jesus’ attitude.
Quite possibly one of the greatest instructions in the New Testament is here in 2:5. Various translations put it differently:
- “Have the same mindset as Jesus Christ:” (NIV)
- “Think of yourselves the way Jesus thought of himself.” (The Message)
- My favourite is the ESV – “Have this mind among yourselves, …”
Notice how it is ‘ourselves’ plural who are to have a mind (singular). One of the key secrets to living a joyful, faithful, Christian life in the midst of struggle in the first and the 21st centuries is for a whole community of believers to think like Jesus: take a down-to-earth view of ourselves, and a high view of other people; look after ourselves AND other people; be humble, serve others, and obey God. (2:4-11)
Determine to enjoy Jesus.
When life is hard and the headwinds of opposition are pushing against us, it’s understandable that people seek comfort in things. God has given us great pleasures in each other, food, nature, there are all sorts of things in this life to enjoy. But God’s promise is that above and beyond all earthly pleasures is the immeasurable joy of belonging to Christ and being saved. As Paul puts it in this letter – life is about enjoying and announcing Jesus, and death is about being with Jesus (1:21). This kind of faith is a win win scenario.
With this conviction he states emphatically “I will rejoice” (1:18, 2:17), and commands us to do the same (2:18; 3:1; 4:4). Following Jesus is worth it! Being with Jesus for eternity is worth all and any discomfort in this life. Can we grasp the wonder of his sacrifice for us? God made himself nothing and took on human form in order to live among us, suffer for us, and pay the price of our sin to secure our eternal wellbeing and pleasure!
For these reasons and a few others, Paul is able to endure a long lockdown, and reach out to those around him with genuine affection and lasting joy.
Take courage, Matt.