As we noted in the previous post, Paul writes his letter to the Philippian church from house arrest in Rome, probably toward the end of the two years he was confined there. And that two-year period follows another two-year stint in confinement in Caesarea, all on the same false charge.
Four years. Four years of sitting and waiting for justice—punctuated by a shipwreck in the middle.
How’s your day going?
We would expect Paul to do some complaining in this letter—life’s not fair; what’s going to happen to me now; nobody loves me; so this is the thanks I get. “Scary!”
Right out of the gate Paul exudes confidence.
- He offers “grace” (the Greek greeting) and “peace” (the Jewish greeting) to this little church, followed immediately by a word of thanksgiving (Php 1.2-3).
- He tells them he prays for them with “joy” (Php 1.4) because they are sharing in his experiences—as will become clear later, with financial as well as other support (Php 4.18). Turns out it’s simply not true that “nobody loves me.”
- He’s confident that God will finish the work he has started (Php 1.6).
Ah. There, my friend, is the basis of his confidence in troubled and trying times.
There is a God in heaven, and he is sovereignly and certainly working his plan.
- Paul’s “trouble with the law” has advanced his calling, the spread of the gospel (Php 1.12). You see, he hasn’t just been sitting around for four years wishing he could be on the road founding churches. At least for the two years of Roman house arrest, he’s been tended by Roman guards, probably in 6-hour shifts, perhaps even chained to them. Four soldiers a day, a captive audience. Chained or not, they can’t leave; Paul is their military post. And apparently, some of them have listened to what their prisoner said; the “whole imperial guard” (Php 1.13) knows that he’s a prisoner for the cause of Christ. And they’re not just gossiping about the interesting prisoner; later in the same letter Paul sends greetings from “saints … of Caesar’s household” (Php 4.22). Caesar’s staff, his guard, maybe even his family include believers. It’s not likely Paul could have accomplished that by traipsing around the empire planting churches.
- Fellow believers, Paul says, are emboldened by his example and are speaking the word without fear (Php 1.14). Scores, perhaps hundreds, of believers are more than making up for the loss of Paul’s public voice. Where there was one voice, there is now a throng. The word goes forth with more volume, more power, than it had while Paul was free.
- Some people are even spreading the word in an attempt to supplant the now absent authority of the apostle (Php 1.15-17). Paul, not jealous for his personal position, simply rejoices that the word is going forth (Php 1.18).
- Paul thinks it’s likely that he’s going to win his appeal and gain release to preach again (Php 1.19). (I’m pretty sure he’s right—there’s good indication in the Pastoral Epistles that Paul engaged in travels not recorded in Acts, and there’s a very strong early-church tradition that he went to Spain.)
- But whether he wins or loses his case, Christ is exalted, and that’s been the real goal all along (Php 1.20).
Since God’s plan will be accomplished, and since the “worst” that can happen—death—is actually victory, what’s the reason for things to be “Scary!”?
But things look so … dark. We might face opposition, or deprivation, or suffering, or persecution.
Indeed. On the day Christ commissioned Saul as apostle to the Gentiles, he told him he would suffer. He told Ananias, the believer who healed Saul of his heaven-sent blindness,
“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Ac 9.15-16).
And Saul, now Paul the apostle, tells the believers in the little church at Philippi that this is the common fate—no, the “privilege”—of all believers (Php 1.29). Persecution means you’re confronting successfully the lostness of the world and contrasting it with the grace and hope that is in Christ. It means you’re doing it right.
Confidence. Not fear.
Go, in this thy might.