7You have a special place in my heart. So it is only natural for me to feel the way I do. All of you have helped in the work God has given me, as I defend the good news and tell about it here in jail. 8God himself knows how much I want to see you. He knows I care for you in the same way Christ Jesus does.
9I pray that your love will keep on growing and you will fully know and understand 10how to make the right choices. Then you will still be pure and innocent when Christ returns. And until that day, 11Jesus Christ will keep you busy doing good deeds that bring glory and praise to God.
Gauguin’s ‘The Vision after the Sermon’ (1888) depicts a group of meditating Breton peasants in white bonnets. On the right, the address they have just heard is portrayed by Jacob wrestling with an angel. The contemplative domesticity contrasts with the violent, mysterious, elusive struggle of the deeply flawed patriarch.
The moral dilemmas of modern living require us to throw off our starched white bonnets and wrestle with sweaty, painful discipleship. How can a politician or a financier walk Jesus’ path amid secular negotiation and compromise? How do pastoral leaders guide broken people in the way of holiness amid complicated sexual relationships? How does a missionary support an African or Asian believer facing the demands of family loyalty through ancestor worship? There often does not seem to be an obvious way forward.
These verses give us the prayer we need. The profound affection that Paul feels for the Philippians, with its source in the agape care of Christ, is poured into his constant prayer for them. In sticky discipleship quandaries, it is not a choice between demonstrating love and doing what is right, although superficially it might seem like that. A pastoral heart craves discernment and wisdom that can only be worked out through devotion to Jesus and a dogged refusal to let go of his compassion in a messy world. It enables us to determine what really matters. We are encouraged to remember that, even if we are wearied and confused in the struggle, as our passion for Christ deepens and grows our lives will overflow with a godly harvest to the praise of God.
We may disagree with fellow believers in how this works out. We may fail spectacularly or miserably. But perhaps it is in clammy wrestling rather than in clear-cut answers that our engagement with God gives us a deeper understanding of him and his grace-filled ways.
First used in Encounter with God July – Sept & Oct – Dec 2014, written by Fiona Barnard, copyright Scripture Union. Used with kind permission.
Lord Jesus, we live in the midst of difficult and complicated moral problems. Please give us discernment and wisdom as we serve you. We pray that as we live in fellowship with you we may learn to have your mind. In your name we pray, Amen.