Tackling Philippians in church these past few weeks has been both quite a joy and a challenge. The emphasis on the context, that the epistle was written by Paul while in prison, has brought about a new and proper perspective for me to use in this all-too-familiar book.
Though consensus often assumes that Paul was simply under chained and guarded house arrest while writing this letter, (as opposed to actually being in a dungeon as when he wrote 2 Timothy) it will still be safe to assume that his circumstances were a bit lonely, and his movement, definitely limited. I could empathize with Paul’s circumstances while being here in self-exile, often in solitude whenever I am not at the Plant; being away from family and friends, movement restricted by the fare I have to pay and the limited time I have for travel. Hence I cannot really seem to be of much help to those far away.
Any regular believer under these circumstances woud have given up, denounced Christ, or simply wallowed in self-pity, but not Paul. He did not let this setback rob him of his joy nor veer him away from his mission:
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)
Heck, Paul did not even consider his circumstance as a setback:
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. (Phil. 1:12-14)
It is often the prisoner who is lonely and in need of encouragement. Yet in the book of Philippians, the prisoner is actually the one encouraging others and telling them to be joyful. He did not allow his chains to rob him of the passion and opportunities to advance God’s kingdom and shepherd His people. Instead, he recognized the opportunity to deepen his faith and experiential knowledge of Christ. From that few square meters of space he could move in, he was able to still teach, rebuke, correct, and edify the people of God. He witnessed to his unbelieving audience of mostly Roman guards and perhaps certain people who visited him for whatever reasons. He has, through his way of life, reached out and strengthened those (me included) who read his letter even up to now- ninenteen and a half centuries later.
Such is the impact of a single person fueled by a single passion for the glory of the One true God. He used whatever resources he had (like prayer and his disciples who were allowed to visit, payri and ink, etc) at hand to reach out (both in fellowship and proclamation) to as many as he possibly could.
For us today who have both the Old and New Testament, various methods of communication (cellphones, email/FB, word-of-mouth), and a general freedom to move about freely, how could we take advantage of whatever resources we have to strengthen each other and proclaim the message of our Lord?
What ‘boundaries’ or excuses are we using to limit ourselves? Are these legitimate? Or are they opportunities in disguise that we must recognize and exploit to our advantage?
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11)