We’re beginning a series of studies from the book of Philippians. We so often read letters like this (and rightfully so) from the viewpoint of those the letter was written to. Imaging, though, that Paul was writing this letter to us while he was imprisoned in Rome. This is in his later years, and Paul has fewer freedoms than he had when he was first taken into captivity in Rome. Yet he takes the time to write a letter to encourage Christians. He is still concerned about those churches he helped found, and his letter is preserved to still give instruction and encouragement to us.
A Thankful Letter
Paul talks about rejoicing several times in this letter. He gives thanks. He puts the needs of other Christians before his own. In verses 3 – 11, he thanks them for the support they’ve leant him, and he prays that Christian love will continue to grow alongside spiritual wisdom. He wants us to continually work together to grow the love we have one for another. In this way, we remain pure and blameless, filled with righteous, and filled with an excellence that can only come through love. If we love another properly, we glorify God in how we spread that love.
Spread the Word
Paul then writes, in verses 12 – 20, that his imprisonment has served to advance the gospel. His boldness in chains has encouraged others to speak the words of Christ. He credits Christ in his imprisonment. We should be so willing to stand up for Christ when and how we can so that we may increase others’ courage in the Lord. He spread the word so that others might take up the refrain. We can be that way, preaching from goodwill to defend the gospel.
Paul contrasts preaching in love with preaching for self-centered reasons, and Paul had some of that going on around him. Rather than becoming confrontational or seeking to debate and argue, Paul acknowledged that they still, despite themselves, testified of Christ. The core gospel message remained intact. That is not permission to tolerate false doctrine, but it should give us pause before we are quick to argue where Christ is being shared.
To Live Is Christ
As chapter 1 begins to wrap up, Paul speaks of his personal situation as a benefit to Christ. Rather than dwelling on how bad he has things, he recognizes that he can do God’s work without shame — even from prison. He knows that his life can be one of fruitful work, and he has faith that death will bring him greater joy in Christ. Verses 21 – 24 even show that Paul is torn between which is better. If we are convinced in our relationship with Christ and we have a real faith in something better beyond this life, we should be able to understand this.
To live is to do Christ’s work. To dies is to live with Him forever. Therefore Paul’s call to action is this: live worthy of the gospel. This means we continue to grow in love. This means we encourage each other and build each other up. This means we spread Christ’s message with joy and enthusiasm, and it means we keep the troubles of this life in perspective of eternity.
Live the Gospel
Paul exhorts us not to let this world frighten us. Rather we should always live a life that shows Christ in us. For him as well as for us, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. For the ending of this life means we are going home. Like Paul, we will face suffering in this life, but our true home is elsewhere. Our citizenship is elsewhere, and it is a gift that no one can take from us. That should give us joy. That should give us confident hope, and we should be wanting to share that hope and joy with others, doing Christ’s work while we still have time in this world.
lesson by Kent Ward