Baptistway Lessons for Sept. 7
Look at life positively
By David Morgan
My family and I met Georgia when she visited the church I served as pastor. She and her husband, Willard, became dear friends. They filled in as surrogate grandparents for our daughter at school functions. We came to love them deeply.
Georgia and Willard's positive approach to life impressed me from the moment we met. They simply loved life. I later understood that the basis for their attitude was their deep faith in Jesus Christ.
While many of us can maintain a positive posture during good times, Georgia retained hers through several years of battling the cancer which ultimately took her life. Her upbeat spirit embodied the positive look at life which Paul possessed and described in Philippians 1.
Life can be tough. Some people celebrate life amid its struggles, while others are shrouded by clouds of gloom and despair. A maturing and growing relationship with Christ, good relationships with other Christians and a confidence in God's future can foster a positive approach to life.
A foundation for positive living
Paul's opening words offer insight into why he looked at life positively. God had called Paul to be one of the Lord's chosen servants. God had transformed Paul from one who had been enslaved to sin to one who spent the remainder of his life as God's slave. Paul possessed in his life the grace and peace he desired for the Philippians.
The Philippians had tasted God's grace. Paul reminded them that as saints God had set them apart for service. God had taken the initiative in calling them, and they had responded affirmatively to that call. It takes both divine initiative and human response for one to become a Christian. In no way does “saint” suggest a super-Christian or a religious fanatic. All Christians are saints because God has redeemed them and given them new lives in a new community.
Paul expressed his wish that the Philippians receive continued grace and mercy from God. “Grace” is God's free and unmerited love and favor toward those who do not deserve it. God's grace makes possible salvation with its new relationship to God.
Flowing from God's grace is God's peace. “Peace” describes the believer's reconciliation to God, self and others. It is more than an absence of strife. It is a spiritual contentment in the midst of turmoil.
Grace and peace come from God the Father and God the Son.
Christian relationships nourish positive living
Paul's warm relationship with the Philippian church nourished his positive outlook. Paul jumped into the body of his letter with an earnest thanksgiving for the Philippians.
Paul's feelings for this church seem to have run deeper than for any other congregation. He established it during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-40). Paul received a vision of a Macedonian man bidding him to come and proclaim the gospel in Macedonia. Paul and his companions accepted the invitation and journeyed to Philippi. There they met a group of women who had gathered on the riverbank outside the city to worship. Lydia and her family were converted. When Paul and Silas freed a slave girl of a demonic spirit, her master filed charges and had them imprisoned. Paul displayed his positive approach to life when he and Silas were singing during the night they spent in the dungeon.
When God opened the bars to the jail and the jailer threatened to kill himself, Paul quickly reassured him no prisoner had fled. The jailer professed faith in Christ, took Paul and Silas to his home, and treated their wounds. The authorities released Paul and Silas the next day, and Paul left the city. But the foundation of a deep and abiding concern between the Philippians and Paul had been poured.
Paul offered this prayer of thanksgiving while a prisoner in Rome. Ephaphroditus had brought the apostle a gift from the Macedonian church (Philippians 2:15; 4:18). Paul's thank-you note gift allowed him to reminisce about their history together. He recalled his fondness for them and assured them of his habitual prayer for them. He joyously thanked God that they continued to show concern for him and to participate in his work.
The church first supported Paul financially when he went to Thessalonica from Philippi (Philippians 4:16). He prayed for God to continue to bless them. The apostle described their sharing with him as actually making them participants in the spread of the gospel. They were more than bystanders.
Paul voiced his certainty that God would complete in their life the work the apostle had started years earlier. He expressed confidence both in the Philippians and in God's faithfulness. Paul trusted God to guide them to experience all aspects of salvation. God would empower and enable them to complete their Christian pilgrimage until Christ returned.
The Philippians' support of Paul demonstrated they were developing as believers. Paul was pleased with this growth. Despite his chains and accompanying humiliation, the church remained committed to him. Memories of them encouraged him in this time of imprisonment.
Note that Paul referred to his imprisonment not as an ordeal but an expression of God's grace. Still, Paul was “homesick” for his friends. He loved them with the love Christ had planted in him.
Praying for continued spiritual development
Having expressed gratitude for them and confidence that God's grace continued to work in their lives, Paul prayed they might increase in love, knowledge and discernment. He knew of their unfailing love for him and for others. He prayed this love would gush forth in a search for sound judgment and proper moral discernment.
They needed a spiritual perception that would enable them to distinguish those things that were pure and spotless. By knowing those things that were excellent, they could live blameless lives, filled with God's righteousness. A blameless life includes not causing other Christians to stumble in their growth.
Paul knew Christ had filled them with fruit of righteousness. God had declared the Philippians righteous when they trusted Jesus as Savior. Paul desired that the Philippians not only be declared righteous, but that they give evidence of this righteousness. God declares us righteous and then makes us righteous in action.
Paul fully expected that God would answer his prayer. As the Lord answered it, God would receive praise and honor because of the lives of the Philippian Christians.
Confidence despite imprisonment
That Paul could express a positive outlook because of what God was doing in the life of the Philippians seems obvious. That he could express one in his own situation is shocking. Paul had been imprisoned for more than two years and was facing a trial before Nero. While some people would moan over such circumstances, Paul rejoiced because God was using them to spread the gospel.
Paul had committed no crime for which he deserved jail time. He had been confined solely because he proclaimed the gospel. Paul had angered a group called the Judaizers. These men insisted a Gentile must become a Jew before becoming a Christian. Paul rejected this dogma outright. The Judaizers hounded Paul in his travels. While in Jerusalem at the end of his third journey, the Jewish authorities charged him with taking a Gentile into the temple with him. The Romans then arrested him for disturbing the peace, because Paul's Jewish opponents had incited a riot. The Romans took Paul to Caesarea after Paul's nephew informed him a band of Jews had plotted to assassinate him in Jerusalem. When Paul faced the possibility of returning to Jerusalem for trial, he appealed to Caesar.
The Praetorian guard, elite Roman soldiers who guarded him in Rome, realized he was imprisoned only because he preached the gospel.
Paul rejoiced that his imprisonment had advanced the gospel. Paul was blazing a trail for Christians to follow in his suffering. He could understand why the Philippians might not understand his attitude, so he explained it. Paul's example emboldened some Christians in Rome. If he could endure such hardship, they could preach without fear. On the other hand, self-seeking Christians preached with the intent to discredit Paul. Paul was not upset but was thrilled the gospel was being proclaimed, whatever the motive behind the proclamation.
Paul believed the proclamation of the gospel would vindicate him. While he apparently did not feel the preaching would lead to his quick release, he confidently asserted the preaching would authenticate his stand for Christ. Suffering and proclamation in Paul's case were intertwined.
Imprisonment for the sake of Christ would only strengthen and deepen Paul's relationship to Jesus Christ. His circumstances would propel him toward a fullness of his salvation experience.
Paul attributed his vindication to two things: (1) the prayers of the Philippians and (2) the provision of the Holy Spirit. Paul had repeatedly mentioned the Philippians' participation with him in his imprisonment and ministry. The Spirit would undergird and strengthen Paul with all the help he needed, both in his current and future situations.
Let's not forget that Paul was in prison. Although it appears that he was in a rented house chained to a guard and not in a dungeon, he was still confined. While many of us would be preoccupied with being released, Paul's primary concern was not freedom but glorifying Christ. He wanted to do nothing that would shame his Savior. He expressed the hope that he would remain courageous whatever happened to him.
Verse 21 finds Paul uncertain about his future. He had done nothing to warrant a death sentence, but with Nero as emperor, he could not be certain about his fate. His language suggests he was immersed in a great internal struggle. Should he live, Christ would continue to be his Lord.
However, he considered death better, for he would receive his heavenly reward and be forever in the presence of Christ.
As Paul further reflected on his future, he knew that living would be good, for he could continue his work as Christ's servant. Broken sentences again stress Paul's internal wrestling. My dad might translate Paul by saying that he was between a rock and a hard place. He wanted to cut loose the ropes of the ship of life and be with Christ, but to continue to dwell on earth would be “much, more, better” for the Philippians.
Paul's struggle appears to have ended with verse 25. God had revealed to him in some way that he would not be executed. We have no way of knowing if he received a direct revelation from God, favorable news or simply a further reflection on his situation. He would remain with the Philippians so they might rejoice in his deliverance and increase their joy in Christ when he visited Philippi after his release.
Lessons for life
Sooner or later, all of us face difficult times. We cannot escape them. How we address these times depends to a large measure on the support we have from the community of faith. We can cultivate that relationship by praying, thanking God for other Christians. Pray regularly for them.
Knowing that God uses suffering to further his kingdom work provides a different perspective on our struggles. Seeking to avoid them or denying they are part of the Christian life reduces our opportunities to know the fullness of God's grace. Graciously accept your struggles as a means of using your life to witness of God's grace and mercy.
Questions for discussion
Name someone who lives life positively. Identify as much as possible how that person's relationship to God has produced that attitude.
Name some ways in which support from other Christians has nourished your faith and confidence in God.
Does your approach to life demonstrate a positive outlook? Why or why not?
In what ways do your gifts and prayers for missionaries make you a participant in the gospel?
How can praying for someone else lift your spirits?
David Morgan is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Harker Heights