Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Part 2 Joy through Endeavor

 A study of the Biblical Book of Philippians
Part 2 –Joy through Endeavor
Chapter 1: 12 - Chapter 2:2

In our previous study we were introduced to the church in Philippi and explored the story of its founding by Paul that we are given in the Book of Acts, before taking a look at some of the initial verses of the letter. We saw how Paul rejoiced in the way that the Philippian Church had blossomed and was delighted that the work was still going on. He was also thankful for the way the church there continued to show their love and support for him.  We titled our first session ‘Joy through participation.’

In this second section, which I’m calling ‘Joy through Endeavor’ we’ll see how Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi to enter into the struggle for the faith with him. In doing so he suggests that they would find their discipleship deepened and lives enriched.  He invites them to consider his own struggles as evidence that God could work out God’s purposes in the most unlikely ways.

He begins by addressing some of their concerns. He knows, because of the joy he shared with them in their participation in the gospel, that they are worried about his situation in prison.  How could that be part of God’s plan? It’s almost bringing us to that age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Or even the nagging thought that if God were so good and great why did things ever have to go any other way then total blessings for those who sought to follow His way with all their hearts?

But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Phi1:12-18NKJ)

Paul is anxious for his Christian friends to understand, that from his perspective, what had happened to him, far from being to the detriment of the gospel, was actually aiding it's growth. Everybody around the prison knew that he was there because of his refusal to give up speaking about Christianity. This obviously raised questions in their minds. Was he just another religious nut case, or was there something to this message that he proclaimed?

He gives the impression that some among the palace guard had gained a strong interest in the message, maybe even accepted it for them selves. This new climate of acceptance and questioning was a positive thing, because it gave others the boldness to speak out about their own Christian faith. He is convinced that God was using his situation for some higher purpose. What seemed like a major setback was turning out to be a great leap forward.

I find it interesting that he does not say; “That’s the way that God planned it”. Rather he talks of the 'things which have happened to me'.  There is a huge gulf between the two. Suggesting everything that happens in life is somehow exactly what God desires... even suffering, disease, disaster and all the rest, can make God appear to be anything but love.

The alternative view is to suggest that in life there is joy and there is pain. That such is just the nature of things. Leave God in or out of the picture and the joy and the pain are still there. There is chaos. There is Creation. And we live out our lives in the tension between the two.

The mystery of faith is when God appears to turn the chaos towards our favor. As Joseph says to his brothers, after they had left him for dead, in Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (NLT)

Paul even applies that principle to reports that there are preachers out there declaring the message who were of questionable integrity, alongside many who were the real deal. His reaction? To rejoice that  “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached”. He seems to have this unquenchable addiction to finding the positive where most of us see only the problem.

Yes... he hopes to be out of prison... yes... he would rather be visiting with the Philippians than writing to them, but he recognized that genuine discipleship involved the calling to face hardships. That was how it was for Jesus. Should he expect anything less? Indeed he counts it as a joy that his Lord and Savior deemed him worthy of sharing in His sufferings!

Most of us, I believe, find that hard!  But we are not Paul and we do not possess that perspective on faith that Paul was experiencing. He continues…

19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.

Paul is full of hope.  He senses his deliverance is at hand. He is captivated by a sense of expectation.  His overwhelming desire is that events, be they negative or positive, will ‘magnify’ the work of Christ that is going on in his ‘body’. (The word used here by Paul for body is the Greek ‘soma’ which meant more than just the physical being, but the whole person).

The resources that he seems to be drawing upon are firstly, his own prayer and devotional life, secondly, the prayers of others and thirdly what our passage describes as  ‘the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ’. These are what bring to him a sense of joy as he endeavors to move in faith.  Should it not be the same for us?

Through personal devotion our expectations and hopes can be deepened. Through our participation in a community of faith, we can be encouraged and lifted up by others prayers and concerns. God can supply us with the impetus to go forward through the Holy Spirit acting within us and around us.

Note that he refers to the Holy Spirit here as ‘the Spirit of Jesus Christ’. We see here the beginnings of what eventually became theologically known as the ‘doctrine of the Trinity’. Paul links the work of the Spirit directly to the work Jesus Christ.  The implication is one of a deep unity. The work of God… is the work of Jesus Christ… is the work of the Holy Spirit, distinct, but one in purpose and application.

Paul then reveals his deep devotion to Jesus Christ, as being one that went beyond the boundaries of life on earth.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again. (Phi1:21-26NKJ)

Paul has this tremendous sense that whatever this life is … ‘we ain’t seen nothing yet’. For Paul death is not the end, but the new beginning. In our current life we are not able to be all that we could be, but in the next we will finally be free and see Christ as He really is.  Such he maintains is “Far better!” than anything this world can offer. Yet whilst heaven was an incredibly desirable destination, the fact was that there was work to be done here on earth.  As it reads in the NKJ “To remain in the flesh is needful”.

‘Needful’, Paul suggests, in order that his beloved Philippians’ may progress towards having an even more joy filled faith and that their joy may be even greater when he gets to be with them again. He’s not letting this idea that a life of faith should be a ‘joy-filled’ endeavor pass us by!  In order for us to experience such a life it involves following a certain path. Paul continues;

27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me. (Phi1:27-30NKJ)

In verse 27 Paul uses a Greek Word ‘politeuomai’ which has it roots in the idea of ‘political citizenship’. Philippi was a very Roman town.  Some translations have ‘live your life worthily of the gospel’ or speak of ‘conducting yourself’ worthy of the gospel; neither of which truly capture the nuance of Paul’s words.  It is as though he is saying to them…  “You know that citizenship of Rome requires certain obligations and requirements. So in your community life reflect the values of the Kingdom of God in all your affairs.”

What were those values? He speaks of ‘standing fast in one spirit’ and ‘striving together for the faith’. Notice how these are community actions, not actions we are called to endeavor to achieve alone.  There is a tendency in modern religious life to see the spiritual quest in very individualistic terms. Yet Paul keeps bringing us back to the idea that joy is found when a community pulls together.

It is also as a community that opposition and persecution were best resisted. Paul was in prison.  The community were aware (in a way that we are not aware today) that embracing the gospel could bring hardships and suffering at the hands of those who saw the Christian message as a threat. Eugene Petersen’s transliteration “The Message” captures well the sense of the first chapters final verses.

Your courage and unity will show them what they're up against: defeat for them, victory for you — and both because of God. (There's far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There's also suffering for Him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.) You're involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter.

As we travel into Chapter 2 the first verses of the chapter serve as a link between where we have been and where we are going.

Philippians 2:1 Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. (Phi2:1-2NKJ)

This is an ‘if’ verse! In other words Paul is asking… “If this discipleship journey we are on together has blessed you in any way, if love has made a difference to your life, if being a part of your church community has been in any way positive… then make my day by taking it further, going deeper, sharing and caring like you have never done before.” And that seems like a good place to finish!

Let us recap where our journey has taken us. Paul begins his letter to the Philippians by stressing the joy he received through participation in the gospel. He is thankful for the way the Philippians have cared for him and takes great joy in seeing how their life together has blossomed and flourished.

He then moves on to encourage them to find joy in their endeavoring together. To allow themselves to be nurtured by each other’s prayers and presence. To not be discouraged by events like his own imprisonment but see how God was using even that situation to the good purpose of proclaiming the Good News.

He encourages them to adopt an eternal perspective to their lives, using the memorable phrase; “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain”. Yet he offers this not in an escapist way, but in a way that reminds them that there is much to be done and that by endeavoring to be a community of faith, much could be accomplished.

As we move into chapter 2 he will invite us to consider Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of service and speak of ‘Joy through Obedience’.

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