I have a YouTube introduction, but for some reason, WordPress isn’t letting me post it the normal way. So, ya gotta see it by clicking the link above.
I discovered that my pastor occasionally reads what I write, which I consider an honor knowing how busy he is. I discovered that because he made a comment about last week’s writing that made me think. He noted that many scholars are moving toward the belief that Philippians and other prison letters were written from prison in Ephesus. I did a double take because there’s no Ephesian imprisonment mentioned in the Bible. So, I did a little research. I’m going to link you to an article that makes the case for Paul writing Philippians from prison in Ephesus. After reading this article, I’m not fully convinced. I’ll have to do more research, but the idea seems plausible that a) Paul was in prison in Ephesus; and b) at least some of the prison epistles were written from that prison. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this issue.
Wherever Paul may have been in prison, without access to Twitter, Facebook, or any kind of internet support, he still got the news. He knew what was happening in the world around him. He knew, as noted in the first section of this chapter, that people were taking advantage of his imprisonment to build their own reputations, and that some of those preaching Christ were made bolder in their proclamation of the gospel in a positive way. He also knew that people were concerned for him. How would these false preachers affect him? What would happen to him in his trial? How would Paul react if he were sentenced to death? Throughout this letter we see Paul’s response to these, and other questions, coming from the faith he had in Jesus Christ.
- For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20. According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.
As people told Paul all the bad things that others were doing because of his imprisonment, not only did Paul rejoice, he realized that the long run, the endgame, was the important measure of circumstances. All these things, he noted, would result in his salvation based on their prayer and the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. That word “salvation” has a bit of a double meaning. Does Paul mean his salvation in the eternal sense or is he talking about salvation from Roman (or Ephesian) imprisonment. Or, is he deliberately alluding to both meanings of the word? I tend to think there’s a hint of both meanings of the word in Paul’s mind, although I doubt he would say that his salvation came because people preached the gospel out of envy. While this tradition is disputed, I believe that Paul was released (saved) from his first imprisonment in Rome. He would no doubt attribute that to those who were praying for him and the power of the Spirit of God. He also recognized that no matter what might happen to him, release or execution, he would never need be ashamed of his actions. He believed that he would always magnify the Lord whether through life or death. One things that Romans said about the Christians is that they died well – meaning that when they died for whatever reason, they didn’t go out in fear, but they left this mortal world in complete confidence.
- For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
This short little verse has such complicated ideas. What does Paul mean when he says, “to live is Christ?” I believe he’s talking about a quality of life on this earth that oozes the love of God wherever he goes. People may not agree with him. People may debate him. People may ultimately put him to death. In all those circumstances, they’ll realize that no matter how they treated Paul, he still showed them God’s love. I think it deals with the self-sacrifice that Jesus showed when He left His place in heaven and came down to earth so that people could enter into a relationship with Christ. Paul had a great world and a great life ahead of him as a Pharisee, but he gave all that up to suffer and serve Christ in His great plan to draw all people to Himself. Paul was willing to do these things, even though it was even better to die and go to be with God in person forever. Some of the concerns expressed to Paul might have been, “But Paul, you might die!” to which Paul would have asked, “And what’s the downside to that?” Paul understood that living forever in the presence of God wasn’t a bad thing. He didn’t fear death.
- But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. 23. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: 24. Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
Some would ask, why a person doesn’t go straight to heaven when they come to Christ. Why do we have to live in this sinful world? Paul made the point that life in this body meant that we could be fruitful labor in this world. The King James has a strange word in the next phrase, as part of an intriguing concept. “Wot” is a form of “wit” and the meaning here is that Paul doesn’t know (wit) what he would choose between life and death. Perhaps he’s wondering if he should just throw in the towel at his trial, plead guilty and accept the death sentence. For those people afraid of death, note that Paul welcomed death because departing this world meant that he would be with Christ – a far better alternative than living in this sinful world. As we face mortality, and many of us do, we encounter sickness, cancer, car accidents, and many other possible ways to die often. Still, we fight for life. Perhaps we do that because life on this earth is what we know. Paul fought to live because of a sense of responsibility. He recognized that it was better for him to stay alive as an encouragement and a helper for the Philippians and an evangelist for the rest of the world.
- And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; 26. That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.
As Paul dealt with the uncertainty over his fate, he came to the conclusion that God’s plan for him was to live in this world and that in so doing he would share the joy of Christ with the Philippians. While I have no doubt that he didn’t think that the Philippian church would have an exclusive hold on him, he would be able to help them continue to grow and they would share the joy of seeing God work in and through the church. The church, seeing that Paul was delivered would rejoice in what God had done to free him. The NIV notes that their boasting in Jesus would abound because Paul had been freed and come back to them. Their catch phrase might be, “Look at what God has done!”
- Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28. And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.
When the King James Version uses the word “conversation,” it refers to a person’s life. Everything about that life. Paul reminded the Philippians that everything about their life was supposed to be appropriate for someone who claims to follow the gospel of Christ. He wanted their reputation in Christ to be so overwhelming that whether he came to them or not, when he heard about them, he would hear that they were continually working together for the sake of the gospel. He would also hear that they were doing so boldly in spite of the threat that might come from their adversaries. Perhaps Paul was reflecting on the boldness of those who were willing to preach the gospel fearlessly because he was imprisoned. Whatever the case may be, their fearlessness in the face of opposition would be a sign that those who opposed them would recognize: those who opposed them would face destruction while those who followed Christ would be saved by God.
- For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; 30. Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
There are some things in the Bible that I don’t really like. This passage is one of them. It tells me that suffering for Christ is a gift. Like most of us, I don’t really want to suffer. So, perhaps the best commentary on suffering for Christ comes from a Chinese pastor, Wang Yi, who was sentenced to nine years in jail for being a Christian in late 2019.
Wang responded to his sentence in a message Early Rain church posted on Facebook, religious liberty advocate Open Doors USA reported Dec. 30.
“I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority,” the church quoted Wang, “and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
“Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever,” Wang said on Facebook. “I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.”
Wang Yi is suffering joyfully because he knows that his suffering will result in the proclamation of the gospel to people who might not otherwise hear about Jesus. He seems to have the same attitude that Paul had, and that Paul urged the Philippians to show. While the Philippians were beginning to see some persecution, Paul implied that it would get worse for them. Meanwhile, Christianity continues to be the most persecuted religion in the world. While we may not be facing it now, it’s likely that persecution will come some time in our lifetime. We may face uncomfortable situations because of our faith. Smile and accept it as a gift from God to be able show the love of Christ to others. We may be in a situation where we’re persecuted for our faith by individuals with a little power. Accept it as a gift of God and respond like Paul, like Pastor Wang, like Jesus.
Here are the passages I’ll be reading for my personal reflection next week. On a personal note, I’d appreciate your prayers as I finish preparation for a sermon I’ll be preaching on the 19th.
By the way, if you’re missing my daily devotionals, this is a link to free copy of my January-February Devotional eBook edition. Please feel free to a) download it, and b) share that link with anyone else who might be interested