Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking one chapter of Philippians a week, offering some thoughts, questions and reflections for you to ponder as we wait out this crisis. I invite you to print out the emails when they arrive, get a coffee (or beverage of choice), sit down with your Bible, and take some time to read, pray and reflect on what God is saying through this letter that Paul sent. Maybe you could sit down together with your spouse, friend or children and use it together, or journal your answers to the questions for reflection. We hope this is a blessing and resource to you–however you use it through this season.
“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
” Philippians 1:21
The Rev. Dr. Susannah (Suse) E. McBay
Associate for Adult Christian Education and Prayer Ministries
Read Philippians 1:1
Paul writes to the church in Philippi, a city in northern Greece. It was a mixed city of native Philippians and veterans from the Roman army, along with their servants and slaves. The church itself is very near to Paul’s heart (for more on his history there see Acts 16). He describes how he is constantly thankful, for
of them, having witnessed their reception of the gospel and their growth in faith (vv.4
5). He speaks of wanting to see them again as well as his full confidence in God in continuing to work in their lives (v.6). Paul has a bit of a soft spot for the Philippians! Can you imagine receiving that letter and how heartwarming it would be to have someone say that about you?
Paul’s hope and prayer for the Philippians is that they would continue. Why? So that “love might overflow more… with
” (v.9). It is a strange thing to hear about. We don’t often think about love growing in knowledge and discernment. Usually, we think in terms of growth in compassion and sympathy. Yet here, Paul refers to something that is at the heart of discipleship:
learning the things we believe about the world, ourselves and even God, and
the way God’s love works, how He sees the world and how He sees you and me. Love, marked by our way of looking at things will always fall short. Love, honed in God’s school of wisdom and understanding, transforms us and those around us. Love that has grasped reality as God sees it is able to make wise decisions about how to live in this world, navigate through life’s challenges and keep in step with God’s will and purposes
all making us ready for the day of Christ (v.10)!
Now read Philippians 1:18
Paul knows something about life’s sufferings and then some. He is a man writing from prison and he has heard concerns from others about some preachers and teachers doing God’s work for all the wrong reasons. Paul also lived with a conflict in his heart: the desire to be with Christ and know the fullness of joy that comes with being raised fully to new life, and the desire to serve God’s people, who needed encouragement and instruction in where to go. Yet, at the end of it, Paul is focused in on the main thing: that the glorious, cruciform good news of Jesus is proclaimed. At the end of the day, the fact that people get the opportunity to hear about Jesus is key. (It doesn’t matter if the preacher is wrongly motivated.) Despite the suffering Paul is enduring, he sees an opportunity to do the work of God. Whether he lives or dies, Paul is stirred onward with the trust God will be glorified either way.
Paul’s perspective is very different than most. It is not about earnestly looking for a silver lining despite looming clouds, but seeing where God could be glorified even in difficult circumstances. He longs that his people would not simply love, but grow in a wise and discerning love that reflects God’s will for us and the world, that speaks to God’s kingdom. And that is prophetic! It is hope in a world where there is fear and bondage. It is a different ethic that our world needs. It is not ‘preachy,’ but stirs hearts and calls to people’s spiritual hunger, although some are bound to reject it. This is the work of God in our lives by His Spirit.
Questions for Reflection
- What have you had to unlearn about God and the world in order to understand how God sees the world and you? What do you find most challenging about the character of God’s love?
- Do you find it easy or hard to factor God into decision-making and navigating through this world? Do you pray first or as a last resort? What might help you grow in your discernment that your love might “abound”?
- We are in a moment of global struggle. Where are you struggling? Do you act out of fear of the struggle or faith that God might be able to be glorified in it?
- Where are those around you hurting and stressed? Where is there an opportunity to show the love of Christ and use this time to remind ourselves and those around us that the Gospel is good news and an offer of hope for the hopeless?
- A lot of people are afraid of death. Paul clearly was not! Why was this? What about you? What fears do you have around death? How can the truth that when we die we will finally be with One who made us and redeemed us give you hope?
- How does Philippians 1 encourage you or invite you to act differently in our present circumstances?
A prayer for this week:
Thank you for the example of the faithful in Philippi and for your apostle Paul. Thank you too for the work You have done in us revealing Christ to us and showing us how to follow Him. By your Spirit, continue in our hearts and lives the work You have begun. Give us grace for difficult days, not just to bear them but also to see the work you can do through bad times as well as good and respond in faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.