4 August 2021Philippians 1: 18b-30
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. (v. 21)
In this rather complicated part of the letter, three things emerge as very important to Paul, which keep him going through this time of persecution and imprisonment: 1. his relationship with the risen Christ; 2. his fellowship (koinonia, partnership) with other Christians; and 3. the reputation of the gospel (the good news) which he is proclaiming.
Paul feels able to rejoice despite his sufferings, because he bases his joy on the bigger picture of what God is doing through him. The Holy Spirit ministers to him (verse 19) and he is constantly aware of the prayers and support of many Christians, not least this church in Philippi (who have sent him money and a messenger who has travelled a long, dangerous journey at great personal cost – as we will see later in the letter). He wonders if he will be released, and hopes that he will, but at the same time he is torn between that and the promise of eternal life that Jesus offered. “Today you will be with me in Paradise”, Jesus said to the criminal on the cross (Luke 23: 43), and Paul feels that promise too. One way or the other, Paul knows, God will be glorified, because he keeps speaking of Christ and will do so until he dies. So, which is better? At the end of this, Paul is fairly convinced that to live and continue his ministry, encouraging the churches by his presence, would give staying alive a slight edge over ‘going to be with Christ’.
But, in Paul’s mind, this glorifying of God only works if he practises what he preaches. In verse 27 onwards, he urges the Philippians to do likewise, and not to fall away from a life worthy of the gospel of Christ – the example Paul himself has set them. Keeping up the reputation of the gospel is not about hypocrisy, nor is it about perfection, because we know that we all have a tendency to slip up at times. But it is about showing the care, dignity, hospitality, humility, generosity, forgiveness, kindness in speech, and willingness to serve one another, which were the hallmarks of the Christian community, and should still be today. When we cultivate these things as expected practice, the Church can become an attractively different type of community that stands out against the more corrosive norms of society. And in a culture of such care, we can appropriately deal with one another’s mistakes in an attitude of grace. This is not without its struggle, but it is through such Christian community, Paul believes, that the gospel of God’s love will not only be heard, but seen in action, and felt by all who come near.
- This passage puts equal emphasis on sharing the gospel and church community. How often do we separate the two, or prioritise one over the other?
- Our Methodist Way of Life invites us to commit to evangelism, by speaking of the love of God, living in a way that draws others to Jesus, and sharing our faith with others. We are asked:
- When was the last time you were able to talk about God?
- How have you responded to opportunities to share your faith?
- Is there anyone you might invite to consider the Christian faith?