These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v.21) RSV
There is no other way to live the Christian life than by first ‘dying’. Whilst we try as our priority to preserve our life or our reputation, we are going to be compromised in following Jesus Christ. Jesus has clearly said that we have to “lose our life to find it” (Matthew 10:39), and that we must “take up our cross and follow him”, and “he who does not lose his life is not worthy of him” (Matthew 10:38).
How can we do this? Surely we are hardwired for self- preservation? Yes we are, and to pretend otherwise is folly. If we try to act differently from our inborn nature then we are finally doomed to failure. But the gift of salvation is that we can be rewired. God will put a new heart and a new spirit within us (Ezekiel 36:26).
Paul had had just such a ‘transplant’. That is why he was able to say “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). He was freed from the fear of dying, that last great enemy that holds us in bondage.
Paul was free to follow Christ wherever that might lead and whatever the cost might be. He was freed from slavery to himself and had become the “bond slave” of Christ. This slavery was “perfect freedom”. The point and purpose of his life was to live for Jesus Christ. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v.21). This total love of and involvement in Jesus was not a result of endeavour or asceticism; it came solely from the Death and Resurrection of Jesus mediated through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in him.
Because Jesus is his passion, he is only too happy to die and go to be with him forever where he will see him face to face (1 Cor. 13:12 ). But for Christ’s sake and the sake of the churches he is prepared to continue on earth. Despite the cost and buffeting he will continue his mission. But if he dies in the process then it will be his gain: “to depart and be with Christ which is far better” (v.23)!
Lord, your calling is too high for me, yet I know that with you all things are possible. Help me follow you. Amen.
All things work together for good, even imprisonment for Christ! We are not perfectly sure where Paul is in prison, but it matters not. The effect is the same. His incarceration may be unpleasant for him and frustrating too, but its benefits for others are manifold.
His testimony has gone forth to “the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest” (v.13). Paul never fails to grasp the opportunity to witness for Christ. Even his guards were subjected to the gospel. Do you remember when he had been thrown into prison in Philippi together with Silas, he sang hymns in the middle of the night, and when there was an earthquake and the prison guard was going to kill himself thinking the prisoners had escaped, Paul led him through to faith (Acts 16:25-34).
Similarly when Paul was on trial before Herod Agrippa and the Governor (Festus) he boldly spoke for Christ. And when under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16) he “welcomed all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ … “ (Acts 28:30-31). Paul was nothing if not bold; he used every opportunity to commend Jesus Christ. What a challenge for us in our daily lives.
Another benefit of his imprisonment was that the Christians had been inspired by his testimony and had become bolder in preaching the gospel. Maybe Paul’s powerful presence had stifled others, but now with him ‘out of the way’ they were coming into their own. Unfortunately not all were doing it from the best of motives. Some were doing it for “love” (v.16), but others were scoring points over Paul (v.15). Yet Paul is big enough not to be concerned about his own status. He simply rejoices that “Christ is proclaimed” (v.18).
We learn from Paul that everything can be turned to advantage if we trust in God and love others.
Forgive me, O Lord, when I grumble. Teach me to see the positive in every situation, and use it to your glory. Amen.
1 How did Joseph see his slavery and imprisonment in Egypt?
“… he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion …” (v.6) RSV
Paul’s usual opening gambit in his letters is to say something positive about his readers. In this case the Philippians pose him no problem. They are doing pretty well in their faith journey. Though, as we shall see they had problems like troublers who were “enemies of the cross” (3:18), and the two women who were in conflict (4:2).
So Paul starts with affirming words and encouragement. He thanks them for supporting him while he is in prison. And he is full of praise for their “defence and confirmation of the gospel”. They are plainly “partakers of grace” (v.7) and are destined to stay the course (v.6).
The story as to how the Philippian church came into existence is told in Acts 16:11-40. There we read of Lydia’s conversion down by the riverside. Then the girl with the “spirit of divination” is delivered, which causes an uproar resulting in Paul and Silas being thrown into prison.
This is followed by a midnight earthquake and the conversion of the Jailor and his household. What a rip roaring start to the church in that city. Since then it had manifestly put down roots and grown. Thus Paul is writing to them from prison (again!) in order to guide and strengthen them.
There is one other reason that Paul is so thankful and encouraging at the start of this letter. Despite his imprisonment, he has discovered the secret of joy and contentment (4:10-13). No letter is as joyful as this one. Paul is obviously in a good place spiritually, and his joy is infectious.
His is a lesson for us. It is not our circumstances that will enable us to rejoice nor will they lead us to help others. Paul did some of his best work when in prison! Let us learn to rejoice and out of this abundance seek to bless others.
Thank you, Lord for those who encourage me. May I always speak good to those around me. Amen.
1 Was any other church in ‘Partnership’ (koinonia) (v.4)?
Over the last few weeks we have considered eight questions that the Israelites posed to God. We have also seen God’s responses. The result is that those with an honest and good heart realised the error of their ways. “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another; the Lord heeded and heard them …” (3:16). Thus the grace and mercy of God is revealed. Even though we may have been following God at a distance and allowing ourselves to go downhill spiritually, it is never too late. God will reason with us and try to bring us back into fellowship with him.
Do you remember his words through the prophet Isaiah? “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). If God ever seems hard it is only because he is trying to bring us to our senses. Sometimes he has to ‘shout’. All he does stems from his indefatigable love. His desire is that we become his “special possession” (3:17), or, as another version translates it, “my jewels”.
Though I said ‘it is never too late’, I only meant that to apply to this lifetime. “For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven” (4:1). This decisive moment is doomsday for those who have hardened their heart, who have despised the Lord, and who have been “evildoers” (4:1). This is a warning. But it need not trouble any of us if we “fear his name” (4:2). This is not craven or ignorant fear. It is respect and awe. We do not want to disrespect, ignore or disobey. In no way do we take God lightly. We love and serve him with an all consuming passion!
The result will be incredible. God will bless us beyond our wildest dreams. We will “leap like calves from the stall” (4:3). His joy will well up within us. “The day” of the Lord will be “terrible” (4:5) for those who reject God’s love, but “great” (4:5) for those who respond to his love. The Lord will give us every opportunity to choose; he will send Elijah (or Malachi or some ‘prophet’) to warn us and to call us.
May I be ready for the Day, so that for many and me it may be a great day. Amen.