We’re currently in 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.)
Today Paul reflects on the possibility of his death but in so doing he demonstrates the attitude that he desires the Philippians have to the needs of each other.
[Read Philippians 1:22-26]
Paul – There are times when the longing to be with Christ is almost overwhelming. Not because I have despaired of hope, but because of how poignant my hope has become to me. My longing to know more of Christ will not be satisfied until I see him clearly. What a glorious day that will be!
Clement – From the very beginning, one of the great hopes of The Way is the resurrection of the dead. As Jesus was raised from the dead, so we will be raised with him in glory. There are times, when it is really difficult to persist in our witness, that some in our community have expressed a similar thought, though not quite as poetically.
And knowing that Paul sometimes looked forward to his reward in heaven too, thought about the wonder of being with Christ, was somehow comforting.
At the same time, it was a reminder that we might never see him again; that his trial might end in death. We were really pleased when Epaphroditus read the next lines that expressed Paul’s confidence that we would see him again.
There was actually cheering. Epaphroditus broke into a broad grin and had to stop reading for several minutes as we all got caught up in how great it would be to see Paul again.
In the midst of it all, I realised what Paul was saying to us. That for our benefit, he was willing to put off being with Christ in heaven. And for what reason? Not only his love and concern for us, but because of what we were going through! Which is nothing compared to what he is going through.
Paul – I could just imagine the smiles on their faces to hear my confidence that I will see them again. But I also knew there was no guarantee and I didn’t want things to wait until I was released. So I just put it out there.
[Read Philippians 1:27-28a]
Clement – Paul’s understanding of our situation was really evident in this section of his letter. We knew then that he knew exactly what we faced. The language of citizenship is particularly important for us Philippians. When Caesar Augustus had won his victories over Julius Caesar’s murderers he had settled the honoured veterans of those wars in Philippi. Since that time our city had really moved up in the world. While we weren’t the capital – that honour was for Amphilonius – we were the leading city and a Roman colony. That meant that we were governed by the laws of Rome. To be a citizen of Philippi was to be a citizen of Rome! It was a great honour.
It was why, when Paul first came to us, there was such a stink when he and Silas were flogged and imprisoned without trial even though they were Roman citizens! Some of us still can’t believe that Paul didn’t make a bigger deal about his humiliation!
Paul – As a proud colony where citizenship was so important I knew that using the language of citizenship would strike a chord. Conduct as a citizen is always an important consideration. How citizens act; their conduct – is crucial to the unity of the city.
Clement – And of course, the military language of striving and standing firm was very apt for our congregation. We had several veterans of Caesar’s wars who had joined The Way and were familiar enough with the Roman garrison that the language of contending, of not flinching or dodging really hit home.
That’s how any army is successful – only if they contend for the same thing, not flinching away or dodging when the blows come. And again we knew that Paul knew quite a bit about the situation we were facing. The various agendas; the mixed motives.
Paul – They needed to be reminded of what their decision to follow Jesus meant. It meant that they had a new vision of what was worthy in life. Many in Philippi would say the same things that those mockers said to Christ on the cross, seeing his death as defeat. But instead it was a victory. For my friends in Philippi, their alignment with Christ changed the way they see suffering from a bad thing that is to be avoided to a gift; something that is given to us!
Read Philippians 1:28b-30]
Clement – I tell you, Epaphroditus could have just stopped reading right there and then. We had more than enough to think about. A reminder about our partnership with Paul in the gospel; its joys and its sorrows; the world-changing perspective of the cross and our unity together in that cause.
Paul – I figured by this time, they’d be pretty raw; I’d given them a lot to think about. But I wouldn’t be me if I left it there!
I had been carefully building to this point; the point where I could shift the focus away from my circumstances and away from the external tensions to the internal ones. Being united against external forces is one thing; being united when internal pressures exist is another.
[Read Philippians 2:1-2]
I called them to reflect on all that they had received from following Jesus; to consider the difference it had made to them; to remember the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit that had given them new birth into a new community; to think about the love that they had enjoyed from one another in a new community of faith.
Clement – We had received so much in Christ, along with sufferings; we had all experienced the remarkable difference that Jesus made; had witnessed the love of God in a community of faith that contained men and women, slave and free, rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles. Even a moment’s thought reminded us that we owed a great debt to Paul for being willing to respond to a vision to come to us. We were ready when he asked.
Paul – I carefully posed my desire as a favour to me; an appeal from the heart.
Clement – When Epaphroditus read those words, asking us to make Paul’s joy complete; to assist him in his suffering, we were prepared to do just about anything. Knowing that he was in a situation where others were seeking to do him harm by preaching the gospel through a competitive spirit; if we could ease his burden (even though he said he didn’t care) we’d do it!
To think about
When we are under pressure it is often our relationships that suffer. The stress of a deadline can spill over into being short-tempered or withdrawn from friends and family. This is no less true in the church. We need to guard our relationships within the community of faith so that the gospel might be clearly proclaimed.
Pray for your church and the relationships within it and for the persecuted church around the world that they might stand united in the face of great suffering. Pray that the gospel might be reflected in their relationships.