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.
“The grace of the Lord … be with your spirit.” (v.23) RSV
‘Greeting’ and ‘Grace’ are the two parting sentiments that Paul expresses to the church at Philippi. In fact ‘grace’ is the word he uses to end every letter bar two. Greeting and Grace go together to make a fulsome blessing.
Greeting is a human blessing and grace is a divine one. It is so good to be greeted and not ignored or overlooked or cold-shouldered. It makes us feel good to be recognised and treated as important. Some people have a gift of making people feel they are the only person in the world at that moment. Paul was insistent that “every saint” be greeted. With him there were no favourites or one category of people that he preferred. Everyone counted.
Grace similarly is for everyone. Grace is a little word with a big meaning. I remember it being explained as G-R-A-C-E: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. But whatever clever mnemonic we use, it basically boils down to God’s initiative of forgiveness and giving.
Grace comes from God; it is free and undeserved. As rebellious and sinful human beings, both individually and as humanity, we are deserving of death, eternal death. But God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). To that end he has sent prophets and finally his own Son.
Grace perseveres with us, even when we are wayward and obdurate. It costs God greatly to do so. But that is the price love will pay. When Jesus came to earth John described him as being full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14). This balance helps us understand that grace is no pushover. Grace wants repentance, and only truth will cause us to face that need.
When Paul blesses his readers with grace, he is wanting that grace to enable their lives to be strengthened and changed, so that they become more like Jesus. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with each one of us.
Thank you Lord for your underserved love and grace. May it transform me to be more like Jesus. Amen.
“… no church … giving … except you only;” (v.15) RSV
Hardly a letter of Paul’s goes by without the subject of ‘giving’ being mentioned. Is this because the churches were short of money? No. It was because followers of Jesus Christ have a duty and obligation to share with others some of the riches that God has bestowed upon them. “All things come from you, O God, and of your own do we give you”.
Now, of course, some of us are not experiencing ‘riches! Well, if that is the case then at this point in time we can only give very little. However, all of us should want to share with others who are in need or who are doing the Lord’s work.
Paul, however, was experiencing very little support for his missionary work. Most of the time he was quite prepared to fund it himself by doing his tent-making. But at other times he could barely support the work, and some of the time he was in prison! Only a few churches sent financial support to him, and one of these was the church at Philippi. But even they had been somewhat tardy: “now at length you have revived your concern for me …” (v.10).
Paul was anxious to distance himself from the idea that he was forcing them to give or was in any way making them feel morally obliged: “Not that I complain of want” (v.11), and “Not that I seek the gift” (v.17). If they were going to give he wanted it to be inspired by their own concern and love. And that is always the motivation for giving: concern and love.
Paul also is concerned that they give because they will become more fruitful in doing so. Also, God sees all that is done and it will redound to their credit (v.17).
It is a timely reminder that what is done on earth has results in heaven. We cannot simply measure results from what happens on earth. What we do will abide and indeed is part of building the eternal kingdom of heaven. Every little act, every cup of water given in the name of Christ will not be lost. Furthermore, we can never outgive God; he will always continue to supply our every need (v.19).
Grant me, O Lord, a giving and generous heart. Amen.
“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.
“Salvation” (last week) affirms our status and relationship with God through Jesus. But “sanctification” (this week) spells out the gradual changing process that takes place in us. As Paul says elsewhere, we “are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Salvation, or perhaps more correctly justification (peace with God) happens instantly when we hear and accept the good news of God’s love and acceptance of us. Sanctification is a lifelong process whereby we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), so that we become increasingly what we profess to be.
Paul makes it quite clear that despite his Damascus Road conversion and his joyous acceptance by the Lord, he has a long way to go to be perfect. He writes, “Not that I … am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own …” (v.12). he will continue to “pommel the body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others he should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Although he “knows whom he has believed” and though he has a “sure and certain hope”, he never presumes. Daily he seeks to improve and press on, lest he should fall away and be lost.
But none of this means that Paul is unsure or in doubt. He does not let past failures dog him. As he says, “forgetting what lies behind” he is “straining forward to what lies ahead” (v.13). Where he is at any moment of time is provisional. He must continue to be changed and to become more like his Lord and master, Jesus Christ.
This vision and goal truly energises Paul, and it will do the same for us. Settling down on our laurels will demotivate us. Like riding a bicycle we cannot stand still. We must forever go forwards and upwards. How wonderful to have such a worthwhile task in our life!
Thank you Lord that you accept me in my imperfect development. Inspire me to do better and be better. Amen.
Amidst all the social and ethical issues of seeking to be a person of faith we must not neglect the heart and soul of it all: Salvation. This ‘big’ word contains many strands which include salvation of a people (not just individuals) and salvation of the earth (nature). But it also definitely includes the salvation of the individual. Each one of us is able to know a personal blessing and deliverance from God.
Paul did not only speak in the first person plural, ‘we’, but also in the first person singular, ‘I’. Thus our text today reads, “… that I may gain Christ” (v.8). Whatever our future salvation contains it will not be the absorption or disappearance of the individual.
Paul’s personal salvation was so important to him that he described it as “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. This is why some people correctly affirm that God has no grandchildren; each of us needs to come into that saving knowledge of Christ Jesus for ourselves. As far as he was concerned everything else by comparison was “refuse” (v.8).
This is also why he was so furious when anybody had a message that effectively robbed people of their salvation in Christ. In today’s passage he refers to the ‘circumcision party’. These preachers would not allow faith in Christ alone to be the means of salvation; they had to make people into Jews (by circumcision) and impose Jewish rules and regulations upon them. Paul explained that he himself had tried to be saved/justified by those means. It simply had not worked!
Through his Damascus Road experience he had come to realise that the death and resurrection of God in Christ Jesus was the only means of salvation: forgiveness and new life – a gift. This same gospel is for us too. We cannot add to or make more secure our acceptance with the Father.
Thank you, Lord, for the great gift of salvation in Jesus. May my life be one of honouring and praising you. Amen.
No one should try to live the Christian life on his or her own. We are social creatures, and are designed to live with the encouragement and correction of others. This does not mean we all have to live in community! Many people are quite solitary by nature or can only cope with other people on a limited scale. However, to eschew all company is not healthy.
Other people bring a breath of reality into our lives. On our own we either become depressed or deludedly perfect. Other people enable us to see ourselves as others see us. This can be salutary and challenging. At other times friends can encourage and stimulate us. And this is what Epaphroditus was able to do.
Paul found it costly to send him back to Philippi. He had been sent by them to minister to Paul whilst in prison but in due course he himself was pining for ‘home’. Paul had been strengthened by his presence, but now it was time to release him and send him home. This was especially so because the young man had nearly died! We do not know how this came about, but it was a result of fulfilling his mission to Paul.
Helping others can be far more costly than we might imagine. But Epaphroditus was willing to go that extra mile. However, now he could go home; this would bring comfort to him and joy (v.28) to his home church in Philippi. We need one another. The Lord loves us and his Spirit strengthens us, but so often he works through other people. We should never be too pious or too proud to let others minister to us.
Similarly, is God prompting us to minister to someone? It may be costly, but it will be a privilege. As the Bible says: “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Thank you, Lord, for friends and for those who love me. May I also be a good friend to others. Amen.
How do we “hold fast the word of life” (v.16)? We don’t want to be tricked out of it or deceived. We don’t want to water it down. We don’t want to forget it. But most of all we don’t want to know it and yet fail to put it into practice.
Paul writes: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” (v.12). This does not mean that we are responsible for saving ourselves! We cannot do that. Our salvation is a gift from our loving God. However, it does mean that we have to work out, what he has worked in. If he has given us his life, his word and his Spirit, then we are responsible for our response; we need to allow our lives to be transformed.
It is not usually ignorance that lies at the root of our lives, but disobedience and neglect. Ignorance will rob us of much that God wants to give us or warn us about. But disobedience “grieves” the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), or “quenches” the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
If the Spirit of God within us is grieved or quenched, he withdraws and recedes. His heavenly influence becomes fainter and we succumb increasingly to our unreformed ‘old’ nature.
Paul believes that his time left on earth may be short, so he is concerned that his endeavours on behalf of the Philippians (and other churches) are not going to be ruined by the Christians under his oversight cooling off and falling in love with pleasure or money or any other distraction. So far they are doing well, but they need to be kept up to the mark; it is so easy to lose one’s first love (Revelation 2:4) and to let things slip; they need to hold fast.
Paul is a good and prayerful pastor who tries to pre-empt problems. We will find the Scriptures will have a similar caring and nurturing effect on us.
Lord, take from me a lukewarm heart and renew my passion, my zeal and all that I need to serve you. Amen.
“Have this mind … which you have in Christ Jesus” (2:5) RSV
This is a rich passage that can only receive scant treatment this week. Paul’s plea is that Christians live up to their high calling, “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v.27). The result of doing so does not sound too tempting for it will involve “suffering (v.29) and “conflict” (v.30). But the fact is that it is the path trodden by Jesus Christ, and if we are to follow him then we cannot expect better treatment.
We are, in other words, to have the same “mind” or attitude as our Saviour. The word “mind” is used three times in this passage (2:2, 5). The Philippians are to have the “same mind” and “one mind” which they “have in Christ Jesus”. And what was that “mind”? It was, “To empty ourselves of all but love”.
Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross” (v.8). Jesus travelled from Heaven to Hell and back again. It was excruciatingly costly. But he did it out of love. No other motive could have paid the price. The temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness at the start of his ministry and in the Garden of Gethsemane at the end of his ministry show us the painful process of fighting the battle against the Evil which has this world by its throat.
Of course the sacrifice of Jesus (who was God in human form vv.6-8) was not the end of his story. Any sacrifice done out of love will have a happy ending. Jesus died, yes, but Jesus rose from the dead, “death could not hold him” (Acts 2:24). Jesus “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2), endured the cross.
God is no man’s debtor. If we give to him and for him, then he will give to us. Eternal and everlasting life lies before us. Let us keep that strongly in mind, as did Christ; it will strengthen us in our time of trial.
May the mind of Christ my saviour live in me from day to day. And may I have the courage to live it out. Amen.
“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.