3 Words That Will Carry You Through Any Season

Today marks “Day One” of your prison sentence studying a letter from Paul to the people of Philippi. I hope this doesn’t feel like prison, but it seemed like a fitting intro given how the Apostle Paul was in prison while writing this letter. Philippians is part of a collection called Paul’s Prison Epistles (his three other epistles were Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon). Orange wasn’t the new black for Paul (and no, I’ve never binge watched that Netflix series); he was a man familiar with suffering, which he reminds us of in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (NIV):

“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

Amidst the turmoil and pain, Paul excavated a sublime treasure available to us: joy. Divided into four episodes (chapters), you have the opportunity to become both Paul’s housemate and fellow bondslave to Christ. Paul wasn’t in a dark and damp chamber, but was under house arrest. During this two-year period, Paul was under guard, yet was permitted to receive guests and to teach freely. This puts things into perspective for us. This world can seem like a prison at times – it’s not our forever home or place of rest. Nevertheless, God commissions us to receive others and to teach them His word (Matthew 28:19-20). Let’s live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ by listening to what God speaks to us through the book of Philippians:

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 

-        Verse 2 names the Siamese twins of the Bible: grace and peace. Grace precedes peace. You cannot experience the unshakeable peace of God without first accepting His gift of grace through Christ Jesus. As you begin 2018, receive God’s unmerited favor toward you and move onward into the New Year free of the burden of “trying to be better.” Your legalistic list of Christian to-dos will leave you running on fumes. Trust that His work on this earth, and on the cross, was enough to provide a life that is “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be the glory” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

-        Do not pass go! Do not collect $200…until that message of grace is established in your heart. It isn’t your work, it’s Christ’s work for you and in you. Once grace is firmly rooted, it’s time for peace.

-        Verse 3 and 4 are peppered with continuous words like every and always. We have a rule in our house about using the words like never, always, and every time because they tend to accompany a complaint about how one brother “never shares” or “always takes my Star Wars ship.” Using words like that is usually a relationship killer and I have to watch myself because I can exaggerate, too. However, Paul uses it in a hearty way by talking about how the people of Philippi are on his mind unceasingly. {I’ve got plenty on my mind, but it usually consists of daily goals, the next appointment, when I’ll make time to work-out, and how I’ll get this or that marked off my “ta-da” list. If my mind were projected on a movie theatre screen, it’d make Hollywood’s Biggest Movie Bombs for 2017.} Paul learned how to change his mind, so God could change his heart. When someone pops into your mind, let’s be like Paul and renovate that thought into a prayer. It’s a discipline (meaning it takes intentionality and effort to establish), but it’s alwaysworth our time and never proves hurtful.

-        Let’s re-read verse 6 before we examine it: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” This ties back into our earlier study of the twins, grace and peace. Who began a good work in you the moment you accepted His grace? That’s right – it was Christ. Who will carry it on to completion until He returns? Yep – Christ. I’m sure you’re picking up what I’m laying down. So often we build our confidence from our own efforts, like how frequently we study our Bible, pray, or go to church. Don’t get me wrong, these are all godly habits, but they do not carry us or sustain us in Him. Christ is the One who did the work, and we can be confident that He’ll continue to work in our hearts. Should you study His Word, pray, and be in fellowship with other believers? Absolutely. But, these actions should be a natural overflow from the individual and intimate work Christ is doing in your life.

8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

-        I dig how Paul shares exactly what his prayer is toward others: abound in love, gain more knowledge, discern what is best, and be filled with righteous fruit. That’s a spiritual smoothie I want to drink each morning. If you separate these ingredients a bit more, you’ll notice it begins with love. The whole “love conquers all” verse from 1 Corinthians 13 has become a bit cliché; but, those who genuinely identify with God’s abounding love know it to be true. Let’s ask God to teach us to love like Him. I find when I pray for God to help me love someone, I gain more knowledge about who they are (and their history), and can then better discern how to best handle the situation. The result is a righteous fruit – and we know from Galatians 5:22-23 that the fruit of the spirit is love. All the other fruits (joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) are byproducts of love. Praying that we’ll abound in love takes us right back to the fruit of the spirit: love. And that’s how it conquers all. So there you have it – the love loop!

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And 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.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 

-        Verse 12 includes a statement we should copy and paste onto our hearts as we face life’s circumstances: “…What has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” That’s the outlook I want to have as I live out my “Here I am” prayer. One of my dearest friend’s husband experienced stage four of the “C” word this past year. She shared with me a few heartfelt words I hold close and it aligns well with verse 12: 

My 2018 phrase came to me 1/2 way through 2017 through the crucible of cancer. Mark 14:36 –  “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
  1. If it's gonna happen, the Father must allow it. Absolutely EVERYTHING is possible for the Creator of the Universe.
  2. Go ahead and ask, even if it feels selfish. The next step will cover the selfishness...
  3. Come full circle, recognizing no matter how painful, this thing is an opportunity to crucify self and follow Him more fully.

-        Even when it’s dark and seemingly hopeless, we can trust (even through the pain) that it is for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). [P.S. Her husband’s cancer is now gone, and we’re so thankful He allowed us to keep him longer! He does dynamite work for the Kingdom of God.]

18 But what does it matter? 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, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 

-        Verse 18 implies there were some individuals more concerned with creating a following than with preaching the message of Christ. Man, isn’t that the truth today. With social media platforms and living life online, it’s incredibly easy to focus on the numbers and “likes” instead of unabashedly proclaiming the unadulterated Truth.

-        Lord, keep our motives pure and our eyes fixed, fastened, and focused on living the message of the cross.

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

-        In case we’re apt to elevate Paul to a pedestal of divinity, verse 20 reveals his fleshly tendencies: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage…” By reading between the lines, this tells us that Paul – like each of us – experiences fear when it comes to preaching the gospel. What we can’t afford to miss is what Paul does in anticipation of the fear: he expects the good, he hopes for the best, and he takes courage in knowing God will be sufficient in the moment.

-        Friends, we could all afford to be schooled on this – myself included. Our imaginations can whiplash us with fear and before we know it, we’ve played out dozens of scenarios and events which haven’t even taken place. Anyone? Anyone? Yes, I am guilty.

-        Lord God, help us to expect Your good, hope for Your best, and take courage in knowing You’ve got whatever is coming in the palm of Your hand.

-             Paul’s mind-set toward his time on this earth is stellar. He was a “Kingdom single” (unmarried), but while he had no spouse, he did have fellow believers whom he loved like sons, such as Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus. Even though Paul viewed himself as their spiritual father, it did not cast a shadow on his view of the heavenly. It hurts my mama heart to think about not being here on this earth to help raise my four boys and be a helpmate to my husband, should the Lord decide to call me homeward. However, in the meantime, I’ll chose to live as Christ and to trust when this life chapter is complete, I will have gained. 

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

-        Whatever happens this year, let’s choose to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Just like you have a last name – or a namesake – you have a spiritual namesake, also. Think about your last name being “Christ Jesus” and how you want to uphold and not pollute that pure and holy name.

-        Our flesh probably doesn’t want to read verse 29. We’re never promised that we will have a life of rainbows and unicorns once we choose to follow Him. We’re actually told we will have trouble. However, we’re given the hope of knowing Christ has overcome the world (see John 16:33), which means that on that final day, we’ll be at Christ’s side. Let’s live expectantly, hopefully, and with great courage. Amen.