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.
“I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (v.13) RSV
Last week we learnt of the positivity of adopting a spirit of rejoicing. This week we learn the need to adopt a positive spirit as to what we can do by God’s strength. This is not the same as the power of positive thinking. This is not boosting our trust in our own ability. But it is strengthening our trust in God’s ability through us: a very different thing.
As Paul says, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (v.13). We note that he is not saying that he can do all things. He can only do those things that the Lord is strengthening him to do. It doesn’t mean therefore that he can win any race and pass any exam. It does mean, however, that whatever he should be doing, the Lord will be with him in doing it. Even this is not guaranteeing success; for instance, he may be a Spirit-filled and powerful evangelist but still no one may respond.
What it does for Paul, and what it can do for us, it to liberate us to be confident and proactive in any situation. It will stop us being limited by our natural ability (or lack of ability) and will inspire us to press forward and have a go. How many of us are limited by self-imposed limitations?
Paul has come to this the hard way. Mind you, even before his conversion he did not seem to lack confidence and self- assurance. However, he had to learn to fail and he had to learn how to rejoice in prison. He had to learn how to live on very little. It was a hard lesson, but now that he is writing to the Philippians he can finally assert, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.”
The Lord wants our minds renewed to understand this. He wants us to believe that his Spirit within us can give us the strength to abound in any and every situation in which we find ourselves. He doesn’t guarantee us success or prosperity, but he does guarantee us his presence.
Lord, thank you that I can do all things in Christ. Create in me a calm faith and confidence in you. Amen.
We have already mentioned that this letter is the most uplifting and joyful of all Paul’s output. So now we arrive at the peak of peace and praise. “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice” (v.4). What could be clearer?
The word ‘rejoice’ comes all of nine times in this short letter (1:18-19, 2:17-18, 28, 3:1, 4:4, 10). And the word ‘joy’ appears five times (1:4, 25, 2:2, 29, 4:1). So Paul says things like “… and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I shall rejoice.” (1:18-19), and “I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” (2:17-18).
It seems that Paul has learned to adopt the attitude of rejoicing. Whatever his circumstances (and often they were dire), and whatever the problems of the churches (and often they were in conflict and riddled with issues) he would rejoice.
We are not simply subject to our emotions. Normally speaking we need not give way to gloom and despondency (I am not talking about clinical depression). We can, by the presence of the joyous Holy Spirit within us, cultivate a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. Our ‘old nature’ may have learned patterns of negativity and morbidity, but our ‘new nature’ is fully capable of exulting in the Spirit.
This is what Jesus did. For instance it said, “In that same hour (Jesus) rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said …” (Luke 10:21). This is what the Psalmist prayed for, “”Fill me with joy and gladness … restore to me the joy of my salvation” (Psalms 51:8, 12).
The result of rejoicing is that we trust God and we don’t have a care in the world. This is how we “cast our anxieties upon him” (1 Peter 5:7), and how we learn to experience “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” (v.7). Why not set your mind to practice this day by day?
Thank you Father for the gift of rejoicing. Forgive me when I fail to put my whole trust in you. Amen.
Discord in the fellowship is grievous and hurtful to everyone. It also hinders the work of the Holy Spirit. It is essential that those responsible for pastoral care should be proactive in sorting out the problem. But how often do we ignore discord, hope it will go away, think it doesn’t matter or think it is none of our business?
Paul, however, is anxious to help the two women who have their horns locked in mortal combat, to sort out their disagreement or personality clash. We have no idea what was the problem of Euodia and Syntyche, but there is no need to know. Problems and disagreements abound in any community. Paul is more concerned that they are helped to work it through and come to an agreement.
People who are highly charged often reach a deadlock. They cannot see how to get out of their conflict. They are usually persuaded that each one of them is in the right. It is amazing how religion stirs up such deep feeling.
Maybe also these two were suffering from a personality clash. For all we know one of them could have been a ‘Martha’ type and the other a ‘Mary’. One felt the other wasn’t pulling her weight and the other felt her counterpart was unspiritual.
The matter was made worse by the fact that these two women were missionaries in some shape or form. Paul says that they had “laboured side by side with (him) in the gospel” (v.3). We are all responsible to pray for and help where we can if there is conflict in the fellowship.
Despite this running sore Paul is still positive. He refers to the church as “my joy and crown” (v.1), and that their “names are in the book of life” (v.3). He does not let a particular problem cloud his judgement. The people of the church are still God’s chosen ones, loved and special.
Thank you Lord that each one is precious in your sight. Help me to treat others as special and to resolve discords.
We need human examples to imitate. Paul told the Philippians they should imitate him (v.17), and he added they should also imitate others who imitate “us”, that is, Paul and his leadership team.
Mind you even the members Paul’s team were not always paragons of virtue. For instance Demas, who is mentioned in several earlier letters is finally said to have deserted Paul’s team because he was “in love with this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10).
We know that it is sadly true that some of those ‘over us in the Lord’ (priest, vicars, ministers, deacons, etc.) have let the side down. The distraction or even lusts of the world have gotten the better of them. Plainly we are not called to follow their example!
What we do need are good and godly people who are consistent in their walk of faith through this life. We can learn by observing them, seeing how they cope with pressure and temptation, how they deal with people, and how they worship. Flesh and blood exemplars are vital.
Have we been blessed to have godly parents or teachers who inspired faith in us? And are we being good models for others to imitate, especially (if we are parents) our children?
Paul warns, and warns repeatedly, against “many” (v.18) in Philippi who “live as enemies of the cross of Christ” (v.18). This does not mean that their preaching is against the cross, but that their lives are not taking up their cross daily. They are not denying themselves and following the example of Jesus. Instead, they are following the desires of their flesh: “their god is their belly” (v.19). This is a cautionary tale for those of us in leadership. If our minds are “set on earthly things” then we are in danger of leading others astray.
Lord, lead me to imitate Jesus, Paul and others who follow you. Keep me from wrongful worldliness. Amen.