What Life Means to Paul
12My dear friends, I want you to know that what has happened to me has helped to spread the good news. 13 The Roman guards and all the others know I am here in jail because I serve Christ. 14Now most of the Lord's followers have become brave and are fearlessly telling the message.
15Some are preaching about Christ because they are jealous and envious of us. Others are preaching because they want to help. 16They love Christ and know I am here to defend the good news about him. 17But the ones who are jealous of us are not sincere. They just want to cause trouble for me while I am in jail. 18But that doesn't matter. All that matters is that people are telling about Christ, whether they are sincere or not. This is what makes me glad.
I will keep on being glad, 19because I know that your prayers and the help that comes from the Spirit of Christ Jesus will keep me safe. 20I honestly expect and hope I will never do anything to be ashamed of. Whether I live or die, I always want to be as brave as I am now and bring honor to Christ.
21If I live, it will be for Christ, and if I die, I will gain even more. 22I don't know what to choose. I could keep on living and doing something useful. 23It is a hard choice to make. I want to die and be with Christ, because this would be much better. 24-25But I know that all of you still need me. This is why I am sure I will stay on to help you grow and be happy in your faith. 26Then, when I visit you again, you will have good reason to take great pride in Christ Jesus because of me.
‘If only I had more time and energy, I could do so much more for the Lord!’ ‘If our church building were bigger / more central / had a better kitchen, we could initiate so many outreach projects.’ ‘If our mission had more partners, if our leaders were more imaginative, if our donors were more generous…’ Sometimes our dreams are blighted by constraints and complications. Our prayers flag between gospel possibilities and situational barriers.
The Philippians may have been perplexed about Paul’s situation. Their beloved itinerant founder was grounded, his reputation compromised by the shame of imprisonment and by malicious rival preachers. His travelling plans and his vital pastoral input seemed to be sabotaged.
Understanding something of their disappointment, Paul models an attitude of single minded confidence in God’s sovereignty. He has one yardstick by which to measure his circumstances: the progress of the gospel. He lifts their gaze from concern for him to what Jesus is doing. Evangelism has not been interrupted: in prison, every four hours, a new shift of elite guards, at the heart of secular power, hear the message. Outside prison, opportunities are being taken to speak of Christ, even if some motives are questionable.
Turning to the future, his benchmark is the same. Quite simply and movingly, the focus is on what will advance the gospel. As he weighs up execution or release, he cannot decide which he prefers. The emotional language of longing, confidence and joy contradicts any notions of indifferent stoicism or suicidal thinking. The centrality of Christ dominates his argument, his name appearing nine times to highlight his priorities and hopes.
With this one focus, Paul can be calm and trusting amid frustrating setbacks. It may not always be our problematic hurdles but our half-heartedness or our ego that get in the way of being effective for Christ.
First used in Encounter with God July – Sept & Oct – Dec 2014, written by Fiona Barnard, copyright Scripture Union. Used with kind permission.
Lord Jesus, forgive us for our half-heartedness. Forgive us for our habits of blaming other people or circumstances for failures and frustrations instead of taking responsibility ourselves. Help us to see where you are working, and to trust in your sovereignty. In your name, Amen.