June 22, 2011

Prisoner For Christ VII: Happy Happy, Joy Joy

A Precursory review of Philippians...

These are the insights and precursory thoughts that I have gleaned from reading straight through the Letter of Philippians that the Spirit placed on my heart. Please understand these are a general feel of the letter and are not meant to encapulate the entire meaning of the letter.

We must never forget that Paul is under house arrest in these prison epistles. Paul is under guard and is restricted it his ability to move about freely. Hardly a condition or situation conducive to joy and happiness. At least you would think this is the case. Strangely, as I read Philippians, this is not what I find. Instead I see (dare I say it?) joy. At least it is a happiness that is effervescent enough to have transcended two millennium and jump from Greek to English and still look like Paul is writing this letter in a positive frame of mind. No matter who you are, whether Christian or non-Christian, this has to be intriguing to the reader. How can a guy with such a sorry lot in his life at the time be so optimistic? Paul tells us right in Chapter 1:

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” ~Philippians 1:12-13

Paul’s primary focus is the advance of the Gospel. It should be mine (ours) also today. I lose sight of this often as I attend to the ordinary day-to-day tasks of existence and perhaps that is part of the Devil’s trap in this world’s system. It is the trap of “too busy” in combination with the incidental tasks of life or what we all call the “little things”. We convince ourselves that the tasks are required for our survival and well-being when in reality many of them a fluff and bluster with no value other than to take our eyes of the “prize” that Paul will later go on to speak of in in Chapter 3:

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” ~Philippians 3:14

Like Paul we need to “Forget what is behind” and straining toward “what is ahead” (v 1:13). So that God can complete a good work in us (v.1:6) and so we can work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (v. 2:12).

The next thing that is striking or attention worthy to me is the idea of unity through humility that shines like a torch in Philippians 2. I have known of this passage before but have somehow managed to miss its lead-in. The portion I refer to is Philippians 2:5-11 where God takes on the attribute of humanity is made in the form of a bond-servant. He humbles Himself. Not only does he take it on the form of a bondservant but He condescends and allows Himself to be humiliated and crucified on the Cross. What I failed to see in this passage is the context. Paul is talking about making his joy complete (the joy he has mentioned in Ch. 1) by “being of the same mind, maintaining love, united in spirit”. How? The how is what Paul explains in verse 5-11, by having the “mind” or “heart” of Christ. To make ourselves of “no accord” or to be humble. We are to do nothing from selfishness. If there is any single character trait that is completely unbecoming for a Christian or at odds with who and what Christians are to be, it is selfishness, self-centeredness and their ilk.

Lastly I see something that cannot be read without pause in chapter 4. As Paul did with Ephesians, he does the same here. He ties the holistic nature of the letter together in a required action. It is required of the reader not only for themselves but for Paul also. We see in the following verse that Paul is indeed “practicing what he preaches” not just blabbing nonsensical words. He is applying the philosophy that he has expounded upon in the very letter he has written to the church on Philippi.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." ~Philippians 4:4-7

Paul is clearly rejoicing in this letter as is evident in the first two chapters. The general feel of love and joy is evident first, for the circumstances Paul is in and then for the church of Philippi. This theme pervades the entire letter. Perhaps the word “saturates” is more apropos? This letter as a whole carries with it a unique unity in prose and it is all based in Christ Jesus. Paul is really good at writing to capture the “feel” or what he wants in words. The letter of Philippians itself is a model of what Paul wants with the people. Coherence, unity and continuity both in purpose and intent.

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