12. Progress?

Short Meditations in Philippians: 12. Progress?

Phil 1:25  I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith

I sense this is the last of this little series of reflections from Paul’s opening words to the church at Philippi. They have been challenging thoughts about holding other people on our hearts (from v.7), praying for them (from v.9), yearning that the love of the church will grow and grow (from v.9), being a righteous people (from v.10,11) who glorify the Lord (from v.11), a people who can rejoice in the face of adversity (from v.18), empowered by prayer and by the Spirit (from v.19), and thus confident of His deliverance in trials (from v.19) and careless of death (from v.21) who, as long as we remain here can be resources in the hand of the Lord (from v.24).

Now I have recapped these things because in verse 25 there are three words that again grab my attention for us: “for your progress”. Paul assumes there is more for these believers; he knows that when we come to Christ that is only the beginning, not the end. Life from then on will be one of constant change (see 2 Cor 3:18 – “ever-increasing glory”)

In our previous studies we noted our love which is to “abound more and more”. (v.9) When he sp0ke of this love to the Thessalonians he declared, Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.” (1 Thess 4:10) To that same church he was to later say, “your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.” (2 Thess 1:3)

This is all language of growth expectancy. We started in these studies later than Paul having said, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (v.6) That again speaks of an ongoing process of God working in our lives, bringing ongoing changes in us.

If we are not sure what sort of changes He wants to bring in us, use the list of things in the first paragraph above as a check list or perhaps goals to set, heights to climb to with His enabling – an ever-increasing-in-love people, an ever-increasing-in-prayer people, an ever-increasing-in-observable-righteousness people, an ever-increasingly-steadfast-in-the-face-of-adversity people, an ever-increasingly-glorifying-God people, an ever-increasingly-empowered people, an ever-increasingly-available people, who are ever-increasingly-resources-for-other people. That should do for the time being! This is the confidence Paul has for the Philippians, that they will hear what he says and grow and abound in it more and more. May that also be true of us as well.

11. A Resource?

Short Meditations in Philippians: 11. A Resource?

Phil 1:24  it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body

Sometimes Biblical teaching comes indirectly out of the actions, or even reflections of individuals and that is what we find here. Paul is here in prison and expects to get out but is not so brash as to be absolutely confident. God may will something else and so he ponders on death and as he does so he makes this comment above, that if he remains alive it will be more beneficial for these believers.

Why? Because he is an apostle, a father figure who helped this church come into being and he has taught them and longs to continue teaching them, hence this letter. He is a resource for them. This is why he says, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me.” (v.22) i.e. I can carry on serving the Lord here on earth. Is that our desire? I know it is something I pray daily: “Lord please use me.” Paul is torn between life and death, so great is his perspective: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (v.23,24)

But it is his awareness that so far the Lord has used him as a resource to the church – to bring the church into being and to build it up – that I find challenging. It is too easy to let scripture remain words and leave it there. I find the Lord challenges me – and perhaps you? – will I be a resource to other people? Will I be a resource that He can use to draw others to Himself? Will I be a resource who, at the very least, He can use to encourage and strengthen and build up other people? Will I be a resource who, regardless of the faith levels of others, will remain faithful to Him and remain available to Him?

Are my resources His resources? Am I generous, hospitable, caring, compassionate in practical ways? I don’t find an automatic ‘yes!’ to every one of them; some of them I feel slightly hesitant about. These are areas for prayer and seeking Him for more grace because, at the end of it all, it is His grace in me that will enable these things to be. I can desire to be like this, but I still need His grace, His power, His presence to actually be like this.

We touch on a fundamental teaching here, that of the ‘body of Christ’ of which I am a member (1 Cor 12:27) and, I hope, you are a member. The concept is of something that Jesus can continue to use to do the will of his Father on earth – then and now. Am I a resource to the other members of this body? Can we collectively be a resource to the rest of the world, an instrument (to mix metaphors) in the hands of God, available to him, in some measure at least, like the apostle Paul, careless of death, available in life?

10. The End Game

Short Meditations in Philippians: 10. The End Game

Phil 1:21   For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

When a dictator puts a Christian in front of a firing squad only a Christian can smile and say, “Your loss, my gain.” There is one characteristic of all world religions – except Christianity – and that is uncertainty. There is uncertainty about the type of ‘God’, uncertainty about that ‘God’s’ intentions towards you, and uncertainty about what happens after death.

This little verse from Paul is dynamic. It not only has eternal meaning, but it also applies to everyday life. I will explain. First of all, let us consider death in the most simple way possible: it means the end of physical life, except for the Christian it is not the end of life, just a transfer from one dimension into the next. The next, the Bible indicates quite clearly, is more glorious than the present one, and it is the inheritance of all believers. In the next world, heaven, there will be no more pain, no more illness, no more suffering, no more struggle, no more stress, just the wonder of knowing the fullness of God and all that He has on His heart for us – and that with no restraint!

The first Christian martyr, Stephen, (see Acts 7) saw heaven opening to receive him and he rejoiced in the face of death. Many other martyrs subsequently had similar experiences; it seemed it was one of the ways God gave them grace to face what was happening. We rarely get the grace before we actually need it, but it is always there when we do. When we grasp the wonder of heaven, it is not the fear of what happens after death but the means of death that troubles many people, yet when it comes to it, God’s grace will be there. The writer to the Hebrews wrote of Jesus, For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) i.e. Jesus looked beyond the awful experience of death on the Cross, and saw the wonder of being reunited with his Father in the glory of heaven, and that sustained him and helped him face that trial.

But there is another usage of the word ‘death’ or dying.  Jesus taught, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (Jn 12:24) There is a spiritual lesson here and it is that if we are to bear much fruit, all our natural, human, earthly desires, plans and schemes have to die so that Jesus can bring the Father’s will into being through you and me. Now in this present context, we can know the truth of this principle and that the outworking of it is ALWAYS good, but to face this ‘death’, to be willing to lay down our hopes, plans, ambitions etc. is naturally impossible. ‘Self’ survival instinct is so strong it is only as we pray and surrender and ask for, and receive His grace, is this possible.

9. Confidence

Short Meditations in Philippians: 9. Confidence

Phil 1:19b   what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance and make me dwell in safety.

So here is Paul in prison writing to the saints in Philippi and, speaking about his own circumstances, declares he is able to rejoice, both in the circumstances because of the things that are happening while he is still in them, but also because he is sure he is going to be delivered out of them.

Let’s try and apply this to our own circumstances which are not always, it seems, truly glorious! Hold these two things from above. Are we able to rejoice both IN them and also because we have an assurance that we will be delivered OUT of them?

What is the key to these two things? I believe it is a sure confidence in who God is.  In my studies over the last few years, I am absolutely sure that the Bible declares three things about God. First, He is love. Second, He is good. Third, He is perfect (meaning He cannot be improved upon). Now these three characteristics apply to everything God thinks, says or does. Now having said those three things I have to admit there are times in my life when I may struggle to reconcile what is happening to me with these three things, but I have concluded that they ARE true; it is just that for the moment I cannot see how my present circumstances are going to work for good – mine or others, and it may be that these circumstances are going to work for the good of others as well as for me (somehow they WILL always work for MY good). It may take a time to see this – and that may be months or years  even – but it will eventually come through.

Now the more we experience this sort of thing and see that this is God’s intent, the more, when the next set of trying circumstances come along, we can declare by faith what we have learned previously: God will bring good IN this and He will deliver me OUT of it.

Now these sorts of things are real trials of faith. When you cannot see the way ahead, when it seems impossible for any change to come or any good to occur, it is a real declaration of faith to be able to say, “I don’t understand how this can bring good or can change, but knowing the Lord, I KNOW He will bring good in it and He will deliver me out of it.  Now don’t try and out-guess God. Don’t try and work out how God will do it, because in an impossible situation only HE can do it. When wine runs out at a wedding, only He can turn water into wine. When too many ‘guests’ turn up, only He can extend the limited resources to feed them all. When a blind person asks for sight, only He can bring it. When death confronts you, only He can bring resurrection. Jesus proved it. He is the grounds of our assurance.

8. Prayer?

Short Meditations in Philippians: 8. Prayer?

Phil 1:19a   I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

There is a strange and often difficult-to-discern mix of the work of the Lord directly and the Lord through other people, when it comes to the subject of us receiving His blessing. Paul is looking towards his deliverance, which we will see in the next study, but he sees it will come as a combination of the prayers of the saints and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Now I have to confess we are wading in waters about which I am more unsure than most things. How God uses us in what appears to be answers to prayer is, I believe, a mystery which will stay a mystery until we reach heaven. Does God act without me praying? Yes He does. Does He appear to act to ‘answer’ my prayers? Yes He does. Do things sometimes appear to stay the same when I don’t pray? Yes, they do. Does God sometimes appear NOT to answer when I pray? Yes, that’s right. Now I have just set up various scenarios and they are all true and I don’t know why. I don’t know why God sometimes prompts us to pray, it seems, and He answers, but sometimes doesn’t seem to answer. I don’t know why sometimes God seems to let bad situations continue without intervening, and yet on other occasions He clearly does step in and bring changes.

So why is it such a mystery? Because God is an all-wise and all-powerful person who is sovereign Lord of the world, and He knows what is the best thing to do.

So where does this lead me in respect of prayer? Do it! What about when He doesn’t answer? Listen more attentively and try and catch why, but keep on praying. Why does He seem to wait on my prayers sometimes? I think it is because He wants to involve me in His activities, as His son. When we do pray – and wait, and wait – I suspect we always get greater insight into the ways of the Lord.

So for Paul there was a two-edged thing. On one hand the Gospel was being promoted by him being in prison, but on the other hand, he felt it was still something that limited him and the Gospel in a wider sphere, and so he wanted prayer and wanted to get out – and believed it would happen and it would happen when the saints kept on praying.

When it comes to it, it is not the prayers that will bring his release, but the work of the Holy Spirit; it will be God Himself who will bring about His deliverance. Presumably He would put it in the mind of some leader to release Paul. Why should the prayers of the saints move God? They don’t, He already intends to do it, but He wants His people to draw near to Him and catch His heart for this, and then He will act.

7. Confident to Rejoice

Short Meditations in Philippians: 7. Confident to Rejoice

Phil 1:18c   Yes, and I will continue to rejoice

We jump a few verses now and come to Paul’s outlook, which is one of rejoicing and, when you see it on context, it may appear at first sight somewhat surprising. Paul gives us a hint of his situation in verse 12: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel,” and then in verse 13 says, “I am in chains for Christ.”  i.e. he is in prison! For being a Christian! He is being persecuted – and he is still rejoicing!

Now Paul isn’t a masochist and so isn’t rejoicing just because he is suffering in prison. No, he sees that in his situation – as trying as it no doubt was – there were good outworkings for the Gospel – and he rejoices over that.

The first thing is that although he is in prison – and known publicly to be there for preaching the Gospel, it has emboldened other believers: “because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (vb.14) i.e. they see that being put in prison for your faith isn’t so terrible and it doesn’t stop the Gospel being spread.

Second, the overall truth is that, “what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” (v.12) He points out that the Gospel is being preached by various people and sometimes not for the best of motives (v.15), but if he is the cause for others to preach the Gospel, for whatever reason, that is fine and so he concludes: “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.” (v.18)

It’s a funny sort of passage of Scripture that doesn’t seem very enlightening at first sight, but then when you think about it, you realise it presents a real challenge to us: will I look for the good in whatever trying circumstances face me? The truth is that the Christian life isn’t always as comfortable and easy as we might wish it was, nor for that matter, is life in general. As we said before, illnesses strike, accidents can occur, jobs can be lost, things go wrong in relationships, we can receive opposition, and so on. In all such times life can be difficult.

But then there is that challenging verse: we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Not only will there be good things coming out of the bad, but there is God working on our behalf in the midst of it. Can we believe that? And if we can, can we rejoice, can we praise Him and give thanks in the midst of it, even before everything gets easier again?

6. A God-Glorifying People

Short Meditations in Philippians: 6. A God-Glorifying People

Phil 1:11b   to the glory and praise of God.

It sounds such a simple little phrase, this part verse above, but it is ultimately one of the key reasons we are saved, to glorify God. Yes, the Lord loves us and wants the best for us always and that is a fundamental reason behind all He does – He IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16) – and behind our salvation, but there is a secondary reason, if you like, that He will be glorified through our lives.

Now why is this so important, why I am even bothering to focus on this part-verse now? The answer is because I have come to see that throughout the Bible, God wants ALL the world to see and to know about Him so that everyone has the opportunity not only to know about Him but to know Him personally.  The world will see and know through us, those of us who are already Christians, believers in Jesus Christ, those who already have a relationship with God through Jesus. It is through US that God is to be glorified and seen as He truly is.

How does this happen? It should happen, surely, through those transformed lives that we have been talking about in the last two studies, lives that are radically different from the lives of everyone else around us. Be quite clear, this does not mean ‘religious’ lives, because there are plenty of other ‘religions’, and some of them turn off thinking people when they see some of the things with which their religion is associated. No, these are lives that, first and foremost, exhibit love and goodness, lives that are gracious and humble, lives that are caring and compassionate.

But even that is not sufficient, because there are a number of people who are caring and compassionate. No, our caring and compassion has to be within a God context. If someone shares with me a need – personal, emotional, physical or relational – and I offer to pray for them, this is the obvious opportunity to say, “Do you mind if I pray for you then, because I know that the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, loves you very much and would love to help you.” You may put it in a variety of ways, but that is a ‘God context’ so that when God’s power flows through you and they are healed, or perhaps their circumstances suddenly change dramatically, they will know that you at least attribute that to God, and that will leave them thinking. That opens the way for the Holy Spirit to speak further to them, helping them face their need of His love even more.

As you do this, so you fulfil Jesus’ teaching: let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) This is you letting Him shine His light through you so others can see.