Yesterday we began a series by guest writer Marc Rader, in the book of Philippians. It’s written as a dialogue between Paul and Clement (an imaginary member of the Philippian church.)
In today’s section Paul shares his situation with his friends in Philippi. Somewhat surprisingly, he has a great deal to be thankful for!
Paul – As my dear friends, I really wanted to let them know about my situation here in prison. When the last contingent came from Philippi they informed me that there was a fair amount of concern in the church that my imprisonment would stifle the gospel. The very first thing I wanted to tell them was that this wasn’t the case at all!
[Read Philippians 1:12-14]
Clement – The gospel has prospered!? How is that even possible!? We had all been praying that Paul would be released so that the work of the gospel would be furthered. We hadn’t expected the gospel would continue so strongly while he was still in chains!
But of course, Paul wouldn’t let an opportunity go past would he? Four guards in four hour shifts – that’s a lot of soldiers who would have heard the gospel! He’s nearly a military chaplain! A real soldier for Christ.
And what good news about the brothers and sisters in Rome who are speaking more courageously! Even though we’re a Roman colony, there’s still a big difference between proclaiming Jesus as Lord here than in Rome where Caesar reigns as lord!
Paul – The courage of the believers here has been very inspirational. It is surely an answer to prayer! I had asked the Ephesians to pray that I might speak courageously while imprisoned. And I needed it. Speaking about Jesus isn’t easy. The concept of the resurrection is usually a big sticking point. That is, after you get past the fact of the crucifixion which is considered utterly shameful. And, of course, there’s the claim that Jesus is Lord; Caesar is described as lord. Augustus is actually deemed to have been a gift from the gods to humanity. To proclaim a message of crucifixion, resurrection and lordship here is difficult. I suppose there are quite a few obstacles!
Clement – If it was a bit surprising to hear that things were going well for the gospel in Rome, what followed was even more surprising!
[Read Philippians 1:15-18]
If we were cheered by the fact that the gospel was advancing among the soldier of Rome we were disappointed to hear that there were Christians in Rome who were trying to make trouble for Paul! We all felt a sense of outrage at this and a few people interrupted Epaphroditus as he read the letter, wanting more information about these so-called Christians! When he read Paul’s response to these brothers and sisters we were all silenced. He cheers them on!?
Paul – I expect they’ll be surprised by my attitude towards my “competitors”. It’s not a matter of bad theology; they proclaim the whole gospel and do so with boldness and courage. The fact that they do it in a spirit of competition with me… well, that’s different; especially since…
Clement – …this is exactly the problem here. Between you and me, there are a few people in our congregation who could bear to hear this. It’s not a theology problem. There are no false teachers in Philippi, though a few have tried to infiltrate our community. But there is more than a little competitive spirit. Not with Paul; or not really with Paul…
Paul – It would be nice to think that the cause of the gospel would be enough to unite God’s people but this doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t know what it was exactly, and to be honest, I don’t really care. They might not like my style, or my reputation, or my status as an apostle given my background.
They don’t really know me. If they did, they’d know that as long as the gospel – the whole gospel – is preached, I’m happy!
Clement – There was still something a little odd about Paul’s choice of terms. The motives, whether good or bad, didn’t matter. But surely, motivation is important!
Before we could dwell on that too much Paul provided us with some more food for thought.
[Read Philippians 1:19-21]
We knew that the appeal to Caesar that had landed Paul in prison in the first place had some risk associated with it. Depending on how that went, Paul could lose his life. A lot hangs in the balance as he goes to court.
Paul – I really wanted to assure them that, in the end, live or die, the kingdom of God would come. Call it an end times perspective. The plans that Christ has for me will be done and, buoyed by the prayers of my friends, like those in Philippi, I am confident, not only that these plans will bear fruit but that I won’t be ashamed when I defend myself.
And… I wanted them to know that being a slave of Jesus Christ brings its share of suffering. The suffering, is actually part of the plan. I’ve had plenty of time in jails around the Roman world to think this one through. It was one of the things that first turned me off following Jesus; to think that God’s representative would suffer and die seemed ludicrous to me.
Now, however, it makes more sense. The fact that Jesus followed the way of suffering has been deeply instructive for me; it has challenged how I think about life; especially hardship.
I mean, what sort of resume is it when the list of floggings, imprisonments and beatings runs to two pieces of parchment!? Normally, you wouldn’t think that was worth boasting in. But I follow the one who underwent much greater humiliation that I and was victorious! Vindicated by God!
In any situation I find myself, I am in the hands of Jesus. Nothing will undermine my confidence in him as Lord and in my call to proclaim him – in chains or not! Even in everyone with me preaches out of poor motives, it will turn out for my deliverance.
Clement – One of the things I appreciated about Paul from the very beginning was his knowledge of the Old Testament. As a god-fearer myself I had listened to the Hebrew Scriptures before and had even had a chance to read some from time to time. Not in Hebrew of course, but in Greek.
I was almost certain that Paul sounded a bit like Job in this part of the letter. There were some funny little parallels if you think about it. Paul was suffering for the right, just like Job; he was comforted by friends who didn’t prove to be that much of a comfort; and yet he looked to God for his deliverance.
Paul – I wonder if anyone picked up the reference to Job? In person it’s always easier to add those bits!
Clement – I suppose I may never know. The thing was, however, that if Paul could see his imprisonment as a good thing, perhaps we needed to see it the same way. And our suffering as well, which is getting more intense (and isn’t helping those little cracks of disunity!).
The next thing he said really got us thinking; about a lot of things.
To think about
Competition is built into our culture; it is an underlying feature of our economy and it is easy for a competitive spirit to enter our communities of faith too. Are there individuals or groups that you feel in competition with? A clue to a competitive spirit is how you respond when something goes well for your “competition”. Do you rejoice because the gospel is proclaimed? Or are you a bit threatened?
Pray for your “competition” that the true gospel would be proclaimed.