May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ[b]—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.Philippians 1:2-11.
While reading and meditating through the message, my heart leaped with joy and a smile was etched on my face. This message is a message is a message of love and care from a friend and brother in Christ. It seemed that while writing, the author was beaming with pride and joy as he has been hearing good things from the people he was writing about and he thought of giving all the good wishes he could relay to them.
For us, at least, this message is a message of someone who genuinely loves the people he is writing to – and with good reason! Yet, if we could dig deep into the context of this letter, we will be surprised how weird it really sounds. You see, the author of this bit is none other than Paul. Paul wrote the book of Philippians and Colossians while in prison. That is right! Prison.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been to prison?
I imagine myself writing to my parents or my friends if I was in prison and probably, happy wishes would not be in that letter. I would definitely be more like “Mom! Dad! Come visit me here! I want to go out!” I remember back in college. While preparing for our Voice Of Youth, our group suddenly had to halt our preparations to visit a brother who was in prison. The story was, on his way back from serving the Lord through a ministry project, his car slammed onto the central island of a relatively busy road. He was uninjured but he inadvertently slammed into the street sweepers on that side of the road. If I remember right 3 people were killed and sent him to prison. It was a very daunting idea, much less when you see it yourself – someone so young in prison for something that he did not mean to do.
What I am pointing out here is that the prison is not a good place to be in. It is not a place where you can find happiness or joy. Rather it is a place where neglect, hunger, pain, and suffering could come from. Yet here in our verses, we see a man in prison – a Roman prison for that matter – writing a letter full of well wishing, blessing and joy to the people he is writing to. The irony of it all, is that while in a place of despair, sadness and pain, here was Paul, thinking of other people, being happy with what they have and thinking that everything is fine. This message, attitude and life could also be ours today, if we put our hearts in what Paul is actually telling us:
Think of others rather than yourself
Imagine the emotion of Paul being poured out to these people. The longing to see them is evident. And while seeing the Philippians is impossible at the moment, he wished them to grow more and more in Christ.
Paul’s Pointers for Living Well
1. Love to abound more in knowledge and all discernment.
2. Approve things that are excellent
3. Be sincere and without offense till Jesus comes
4. Be filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ.
This kind of care and thoughtfulness to the congregation is missing not just to pastors and Bible workers but to most Christians as well. We care too much of our own condition, our own prisons. Paul was talking to not just people he knew personally but to strangers who have just been converted to Christendom. The love that wishes another person every good is only given to close friends and family, but not so much to total strangers.
I learned this for much of the year when I was given charge over new clinicians in our company. I found it actually easier to lead in church where I am leading people whom I have grown up with. But in a secular environment as a company with people that I barely knew, it was a challenge. For one, I have always doubted my capability to share my experiences as a clinician. Have I learned enough after all those years? How do I share it to them? However, I learned that though I may lack in technical knowledge, the easiest thing for me is to accept these new colleagues with love and compassion no matter what background they may have come from. I have to accept them and their quirks, in the same way that they are also trying to adjust to me and my quirks (I have a lot of quirkiness to boot!). I learned to follow Paul’s recommendations and hopefully this would allow me to help them not only with work related issues but in life as well.
Wherever, whenever, and whatever condition we are in, our sole focus should be sharing Christ.
Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 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.Philippians 1:15-18
In the opening of his letter, Paul revealed a shocking condition of the Philippians. Some of them are at odds against each other. Pride has prevented them from getting along. They preach Christ, but they do so in competition against each other. There are those who probably strive to preach Christ in order to gain fame, or power as heads of a Christian group.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
You and I both know that this does not happen only with the Philippians, but even to us. Yet, in whatever circumstance, our sole focus should be that the message of Christ is preached. What Paul probably wants to tell us is this, it is not our role to stop people from sharing the message of Christ especially if we know the motives of the people sharing these messages. Instead, we need to put all our efforts and focus in making sure that the Lord’s message, Christ’s coming and second coming, would be sent throughout the world. That includes your world and mine.
No matter what prison you are in, Christ is always the source of joy and hope.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21
Paul’s predicament was whether he will be release from prison or be executed. Like any man, he desires to be released but he does not worry if he is executed because for him, both will be advantageous. Dying would allow him to be rest from his work, knowing that the moment he wakes up, it will be Christ that he will see. Yet if he was to remain alive, his work for Christ will continue. He finds it more advantageous and beneficial to live because then, he can continue the work he started. He finds dying as not so bad either.
Considering the attitude of Paul, he never finds it a loss to die or to live as long as he knows who lives in his heart. In contrast to many of us, we struggle to live that we may hold on to the things we afforded in life. “Things” being money, possessions, power and any other things that prevents us from having that relationship with God. These things are our prisons. These things have the illusion of freedom when in fact it is enclosing us and restricting us from the real freedom that God is giving us. Most of us are afraid of dying because we think of dying as a loss for many things that we hold dear. Despite being told that we are not to fear, we do not act as if that is true and instead invest our time, energy and power in staying alive. Because we love it in our prison and we worry that we might lose all of the things we worked hard to get. On the other hand, Paul spent all his time, energy and power in serving Jesus Christ that in the process, death is nothing to him because He is serving the God who conquered death.
Paul’s first set of messages from the prison cell for us: Death and Suffering is nothing. He shows this by wishing other people well while in prison. He tells us live well and focus solely on Christ and His work so that even if we are bound in any prison cell, we are free and we are alive in Christ. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we are in prison, but Paul tells us that we can be free. Let us be truly free by turning our hearts and minds to Jesus Christ.