Today we read Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. It’s a letter of encouragement and thanksgiving for their partnership in the spreading of the Gospel. Paul wrote this letter as a prisoner in Rome.
I don’t know about you, but if I were in prison on trumped up charges like Paul, my thoughts would be on me and MY troubles. Paul, however, was rejoicing over the folks at Philippi. It’s odd that he thought about them so fondly. There were conversions, of course, but there was also this:
…they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. Acts 16:19-24 (ESV)
In Philippi, Paul’s chains led to the conversion of his jailer. In Rome, Paul was literally chained to a guard which rotated every 6 or so hours, so Paul had quite the captive audience. Had Paul been a free man, he would have been unable to testify to these guards. Because of his chains, more people came to Christ.
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Phil 1:12-14 (ESV)
If Paul could make the best of it while chained to another human 24 hours a day, can’t we make the best of an unpleasant work situation, or living conditions? How can you use the chains that bind you to become “more bold” and “speak the word without fear”?
Paul takes the time to remind us that we are all servants of Christ. However, Christ isn’t just our Lord – He became a servant to die for our sins and live a life that we should emulate.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:1-11 (ESV)
We are to work out our salvation – which doesn’t mean that we can be saved by our works. Our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We are to show our love for Christ by what we do.
I’m built to see the big picture. I can imagine all kinds of disasters befalling just about every action. Yet, I’m not supposed to be worried or anxious. Paul was sometimes “anxious” :
…I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. Phil 2:28 (ESV)
But we aren’t to be so anxious that we forget Who is in charge…
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7 (ESV)
The words that most resonate with me talk about contentment. I watch very little television – in fact, I have neither cable, nor satellite, nor even “rabbit ears” in my home. It’s much easier to be content when you are not constantly bombarded with advertisements aimed at separating you from your money. Our society is completely discontent because we are told that we need a new this or an improved that to have a satisfying life. Things don’t satisfy. We frequently hear a part of these verses as an encouragement – but reading them in context may change your outlook. I pray that they will resonate with you as they did with me.
For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Phil 4:11-13 (ESV)