The book of Philippians is a letter written by Paul to the church of Philippi .When he was imprisoned (Philippians 1:13-14) – a sort of house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:14-31), the church of Philippi sends Epaphroditus bearing some gifts to Paul and he sends this letter back with Epaphroditus to be read to all at the church of Philippi.
As I read Philippians 1:1-11, I am always struck by Paul’s attitude while he was not allowed freedom of movement outside his present home. Does this feel familiar to us at this time. We all might be at different levels of lockdowns and isolation but restrictions of some kind are upon all of us at the moment.
There is so much to learn from every passage in scripture, but each time we read scripture we tend to read it through the lens of our current circumstances and God teaches, reveals and reminds us of specific things through His words. And as I looked at this passage, certain things stand out for me.
- Is your Identity tied to Jesus?
As in all of his letters Paul starts off by identifying the sender, then the recipients and follows with a greeting.
How does Paul identify himself – he identifies himself as a servant of Jesus. A humbling identity. Paul often refers to himself as a servant of Christ.
In our times it can be hard to completely relate to all aspects of what being a servant meant in those times. But we can understand that a servant is submissive to his master’s will, he is one who sets aside His will and does the will of his master. He sets aside his desires and fulfills the desires of His master. He sets aside any excuses and obeys. A servant serves, that is his primary role.
He calls himself a Servant of Christ Jesus – of – He is not just a servant for Jesus, but a servant of Jesus.
Do you see a difference? Using ‘of’ can mean belonging to someone or something and ‘for’ can be in support of something or someone and can show the purpose of something. May we not just be servants for Jesus but of Jesus – belonging completely to Him, to the cause of furthering His kingdom purposes. May our actions be entirely under the directive of our master, obedience not lacking and all praise and glory attributed only to Him.
Paul identifies himself to the others in relation to Jesus – His identity is tied to Jesus.
What do we tie our identity to? To our job, our degrees, our relationships or our other worldly accomplishments? Yes, all of these are a blessing from God but our identity should always be tied to the one above. May we remember to always see ourselves through the lens that ties us to God and not define ourselves through the world’s lens.
2. Let not seasonal necessities become excuses for restrictions.
Paul served wherever he was placed by God. A house arrest did not stop him from being used by God. The house arrest allowed him to share the gospel with many of the roman guards assigned there. He not only got the opportunity to minister to those whom he might not have had the chance to otherwise but he continued to minister to those he used to, like the church in Philippi through his letters. He shows us that we do not have to just sit and wait for ideal circumstances or situations devoid of any difficulty to go about doing God’s work.
Although quarantining is restricting, it is also a necessity at this time. But let’s look beyond this time for a moment. Some seasons in life calls us to devote more time and attention to commitments with family, work or health. But do we allow those times to become a restriction in continuing to serve God. How often do we let something else which at the time is a necessity in our lives become a reason for an excuse in our restriction in serving God?
Christians have so beautifully shared with each other different ways of serving and sharing God’s love during this time. Let not any season be a wasted season in our lives. This time in our lives has taught us to look beyond conventional ways of worshipping and serving others. May we always remember that and continue to serve Jesus wherever we are and in whatever capacity He provides for us.
3. What are your words filled with?
Philippians 1:2 “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
What are the two blessings Paul desires to impart to the receipts of this letter?
Grace and peace. In a time, such as we are in now where we are reminded anew that words spoken have such an impactful role in uplifting one spirts, may we remember that our words spoken and shared with others be always filled with and reflective of His grace and Peace. And for our words to be filled with His grace and peace, we have to first fill ourselves with those from God.
4. Difficulties did not translate to distancing from God.
In verse 3 he says my God, a very personal reference, showing that he did not direct any dissatisfaction about his situation towards God. A difficult and challenging period in Paul’s life did not allow for room to distance himself from God. Paul took it as an opportunity to be a part of God’s bigger plan.
5. Drawing near to God cultivates thankfulness
As we read on in the next verses in Philippians 1, we see that Paul demonstrates such a wonderful attitude of thankfulness. We also see that although he was in a less than ideal situation, it did not deter him from praying for others. Drawing near to God through prayer and reading His word allows us to always look at situations through His perspective, keeps hope shining bright within us and also allows us to look outward towards others.
6. Is our joy self-centered instead of God-centered?
Feeling joy in trying times is not something I can automatically relate to. Paul here shows us to find our joy in Jesus. Paul’s joy was rooted in Christ and his circumstances did not curb the joy he got from seeing God’s work in others. Did Paul think, I am doing so much for God and yet I seem to get the short end of the stick. Let’s be real, we will feel things like sadness, unfairness, loneliness among other things but Paul here reminds us to push past those thoughts and realise that our joy comes from the Lord. So, is our joy more self-centered or God-centered? A reminder for us to keep our joy rooted in Christ, and let not our circumstances blind us to seeing the work God can do through us and around us.
7. Earthly needs and Spiritual needs
Paul’s prayer for them is focused on God’s work in their lives (Philippians 1:9-11). For God’s love to abound in them but with knowledge and insight. And he prays for them to be filled with the fruit of righteousness. We can all learn something from Paul’s prayer. Often when I pray for others, I am more focused on praying for their specific needs. I am not saying that we shouldn’t do that or that it is less important, but in praying for their needs, sometimes praying for God to continue working in them becomes a secondary thought. Praying for specific needs to be met in one’s own or other’s lives should not steal our focus from praying ardently for God’s work to continue within the person.
8. Let not challenges quench our fervour and Zeal to pray and serve.
Look how Paul ministered to the saints at Philippi even with no phone, email or live streaming facility. Did imprisonment lessen Paul’s fervour for His service to God’s kingdom purposes – No. Did distance or absence in sight diminish the zeal of His prayer for others – No. And did his imprisonment stir in feeling of jealousy of their freedom – No, he instead showed Joy in their growth in faith.
9. Willing to identify with Jesus
We can learn so much from Paul through this passage. But one thing about the church of Philippi that stands out for me in this is their lack of inhibition to associate with Paul even in his imprisonment. Do we hesitate to identify ourselves with our faith or someone with faith in any situation? What would we do if we would face unfair or unpleasant treatment because of our faith? I hope that we would not shy away from being bold in our faith and for our faith.
Paul was a man who knew what he was before and who he became because of Jesus. He valued the beautiful gift of grace that was available to him and that he received. His acceptance of Christ was the first step towards striving to be more like Jesus. He is often referred to as the greatest apostle but he himself said that he was the least of the apostles and whatever he did was possible because of God’s grace (1 Cor 15:9). May we remember to tie our identity and our service to God and not our circumstances and that as we strive to be more like Jesus, it is Him in us that makes it possible for us to be and reflect more and more of Him.