On Saturday evenings, we’ve been getting together with a group of friends to share a meal and fellowship. We’ve also been discussing the book of Philippians. Instead of choosing a particular passage from Philippians to discuss, we’ve been reading the entire book each night and talking about the entire book.
Last Saturday was our fourth time to read through and discuss Philippians. Interestingly, we continue to find things that we need to talk about. The topics drifted toward a conversation about death, afterlife, resurrection, hades, end times stuff. We realized that Paul talks about death, suffering, and resurrection alot in Philippians. Here are a few passages:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. (Philippians 1:12-13 ESV)
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:18b-24 ESV)
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:29-30 ESV)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. (Philippians 2:17 ESV)
Indeed he [Epaphroditus] was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. (Philippians 2:27 ESV)
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV)
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)
In these passages, and others, Paul talks about death, suffering, resurrection, etc. We had noticed before that Paul also talks alot about unity in Philippians – specifically having the “same mind” or “thinking alike”. I won’t list all of the passages, but here are some of the references: Philippians 1:27; 2:1-4, 21; 3:15-16, 18-19 (negative example); 4:2-3.
As our discussion progressed, we wondered aloud if some of the Philippians were thinking wrongly about death and suffering. Perhaps this is why Paul had to focus on these two concepts: thinking the same way and death/suffering. Perhaps, some of the Philippians were beginning to question the wisdom of following Christ, because those who follow Christ were being persecuted, imprisoned (like Paul), and even killed.
Thus, they were attempting to follow Christ with a wrong understanding of what it means to successfully follow Christ. In this letter, one of Paul’s intentions, then, was to help them think rightly about what it means to follow Christ – even to the point of suffering and death. Yes, Paul and the Philippians were suffering. Yes, Paul was in prison. Yes, some believers were turning their backs on Paul. Yes, Paul was often in need.
But, God had shown himself faithful in all of those circumstances. And, as Paul pointed out, all of this was worth knowing Jesus Christ. Plus, Paul says, the Philippians should recognized that even though Christianity seemed to be “losing” from the world’s perspective, in fact many in the Praetorian Guard (think, Secret Service) and many in Caesar’s household (think White House residents and staff) were beginning to listen to the gospel and follow Christ (1:13; 4:22).
What an encouragement for us today! Many times, it seems that our walk in Christ may be in vain. We don’t necessarily see “fruit”. But, our goal should be to continually follow Christ and know him, regardless of our circumstances and situations. We should be honored to suffer for Christ just as we are honored to believe in him.
Also, this is a warning. Perhaps the church has been looking at success from a worldly perspective. We want to control governments and law making. We want to force people to live in certain ways. We want to make our lives easier. But, this is never the focus of the gospel. “Success” is measured as obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord… even to the point of suffering and death.
So, how do you measure success? Do you look at suffering and death as defeat? Or, like Paul, can you look at your circumstances and trouble (assuming your are suffering for Christ and not your own bad decisions), and praise God for his faithfulness?