While our current crisis differs in details, the letter of Philippians contains a message enabling us to navigate our own troubled waters. If we listen closely Philippians depicts an ancient church caught between a rock and a hard place. Yet what comes first to our minds when we think about Philippians? Is it not joy and rejoicing?
Let’s take a closer look at their problem. For if we agree points of commonality exist between our situation and theirs, then Paul’s message could lead us to rejoice in the midst of our adversity.
Paul’s words introduce us to the threatening pressures that bore down upon that early church (Philippians 1:27,28):
- “not frightened in anything by your opponents,”
- “it has been granted to you … to suffer for him,” and
- “you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face,”
Later in Paul’s letter we learn about their congregational turmoil. “I appeal to Euodia and to Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I say also to you, true companion, help them” (Philippians 4:2-3). Troubles from the outside. Troubles within.
How do people respond to adversity’s stresses and pressures? The language is familiar.
- “What are we going to do if ___________ ?”
- “I just know things are going to get worse.”
Do not such thoughts foster a deepening concern to safeguard one’s own wellbeing?
The feelings and response to danger are same, regardless of its source. Is there not a pandemic of fear to protect self? Has not this virus threat led to self-centered hoarding? Paul’s message is very applicable to our situation today.
Paul prescribed a godly pill for the ancient church at Philippi. We can sum it up in one word – love (Philippians 1:9). We can also sum it up in one person – Jesus.
Throughout this letter Paul underscored models of love to imitate. The nature of this agape love entails choosing to actively seek the wellbeing of others. Paul opened the letter by showcasing how he was focused upon the wellbeing of others. In chapter 2 he extolled the loving attitudes and actions of Timothy and Epaphroditus who rejected self-centeredness. And of course the epitome of love is found in Christ with his ultimate example to follow.
“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, … be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition ... Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:1,2,3,4,5).
Let’s cut to the chase. When people feel threatened, the tendency is to shift toward a self-centered focus. Thoughts turn to self and protecting self.
Paul counsels the church to chart a different course. Let Christ’s love shine even brighter in a dark world! Consider how to help others. After all, God is close to his people. There is no need to be anxious about anything. Instead, take it to God in prayer. Thus, God’s people can focus upon whatever is excellent or praiseworthy.
This brings us to Paul’s repeated command to rejoice in the midst of adversity and strife. Rejoicing is not possible if the focus and central concern is upon adversity and loss. Whatever the circumstances, whether it be life or death awaiting around the next corner, God’s person can choose to center life around God, holding onto his word and living out the ramifications of salvation. In Paul’s words,
“Even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice together with all of you. And in the same way you also should be glad and rejoice together with me” (Philippians 2:17-18).