Philippians 2-4 - What does your jail look like?
Several months ago, after a 3 month recovery period from surgery, I came back to work with a singular thought. I didn’t want to be there!
Now for some, you would just begin looking for other work -- not a problem. For me, it was my company and I couldn’t easily walk away. So I started creating my “get out of jail” plan. Now I wasn’t in a real jail and to be fair, I love my work. But I felt trapped. Trapped by having to earn enough to keep others employed, trapped by a need to “deliver” to my consulting clients on strict schedules and trapped by the sheer demands on my time.
In Philippians, Paul and Timothy are in a real jail. They are trapped by real bars and no doubt by oppressive treatment from their captors. Yet, they take the time to encourage others. Wow.
Looking back to Philippians 1:6, it says “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finishon the very day Christ Jesus appears.” I don’t know about you, but this week I desperately needed that encouragement. I love the thought of a “flourishing finish” to the work that God has begun in my life.
I love Philippians 2. A very dear friend of mine John Stangle from my early days as a Christian used to sing a song from this chapter. It was a bit of a paraphrase, but talked about how we should think about ourselves as Christians, walking in His image.
Have that mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus
He who was in the form of God, counted it not wrong to be equal with God
But He emptied Himself, becoming a servant
I know that this sounds awfully spiritual and I’m not sure that I even got this before now. The beginning of Philippians 2 in the Message translation says:
1-4 If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand."
Boy, did I need this one this week. Can you think of someone that you need to be deep-spirited friends with? As Christians, that is what we are to be to each other.
In the end of Chapter 3, Paul likens our walk as Christians to a race and he encourages us to keep our eye on the prize. In verse 14 he says “I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.” In beckoning us to Jesus, he is beckoning us to love – to really love.
Chapter 4, versus 6-7 urge us to let go and let God manage our lives. “Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life."
Then in verses 8-9, Paul says “Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies."
Sign me up for that! I love to sing and I have always loved singing harmony. I love the fact that if I put Him first in my life and do what He has called me to do, that everything – the good and the bad – will work together for good. My life will be like the most perfect harmony.
And back to being in jail – whatever your jail might look like – Paul admonishes us with his statement “I've learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”
Lord, help me to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself in. Teach me to love.
And now, as you go into the long weekend, I admonish you with what Paul says to the Philippians in verse 23:
Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus
Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.