Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
We all face different kinds of “prisons” as we go through life. Illness can be a prison. So can the loss of a loved one. Toxic relationships, broken promises, addiction…there are many experiences that can restrict our freedom. So often we are paralyzed by the impossible circumstances in front of us.
Most of this book will be written from my son Luke’s bedside, either at home or in a hospital room. It strikes me that lengthy stays in the hospital have a lot in common with incarceration. You’re confined to a small room. You can’t leave. The food is lousy. You feel helpless. You can see the outside world, but you can’t participate. You’re not free. It would be easy for Luke to believe he’s being punished, because he feels like a prisoner so much of the time. The truth is, Luke did nothing to cause his sickness. It’s just something awful that has happened. His time in the hospital, though extremely trying, is actually meant for his good. Often times the circumstances of our lives can bring undeserved heartache.
How do we respond when life confronts us with painful situations beyond our control?
The writer of Philippians, Paul, penned the letter from a jail cell in Rome. Paul was not a criminal. He was a noble man, a leader, and a man of deep faith. In fact, he devoted his entire life to spreading the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, to as many people as possible. His “crime” was that he lived fervently for Jesus, and that bothered many of the religious and political leaders of his day. Wanting to silence Paul, they put him on trial and threw him in jail, even though the charges against him were bogus. Paul, an innocent man, finds himself in a first century Roman prison alongside the murderers, thieves, and other villains of his day.
How does Paul respond when life confronts him with a painful situation beyond his control?
Well, his response is both fascinating and inspiring. In the midst of Paul’s miserable conditions, it would be easy for him to be concerned about himself and to be completely focused on his own plight. Instead, Paul sees his imprisonment as an opportunity to be a blessing to others. Being in prison, Paul has a lot of time on his hands, and he knows a lot of people who could use a word of encouragement. Paul loved visiting churches, but he no longer can do that, so instead he begins writing letters. Most scholars believe that not only did Paul write Philippians from his Roman jail cell, he also wrote Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon, and perhaps others from there as well.
As Paul opens his letter to the Philippians his words immediately bring comfort. Paul starts by saying, “I’m praying for you!” Right from the outset he emboldens the saints in Philippi, saying, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3). Paul then gets very specific with his prayers. He prays for their love, their wisdom, their holiness, and their righteousness all to increase for the glory of God (Philippians 1:8-11). Out of his pain, Paul lifts up his friends in prayer. I have found that seeking the best for others in prayer allows us to dwell less on our own trials and more on the trustworthiness of God.
Paul also provides comfort with his words of encouragement. He says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Paul is suffering, and he seems to sense that the Philippians might be weary as well, but he maintains an eternal mindset. He urges his readers to persevere, expressing confidence that God will continue to work in them to grow them in Christ. This eternal, Gospel perspective will be a huge emphasis throughout Paul’s entire letter, as he seeks to encourage his friends to press on toward Jesus.
- Describe some “prisons” you have faced in your life. What opportunities for blessing did these circumstances present?
- How much of your focus is on eternal things? How does an eternal perspective affect the way you handle your daily life?
- Who are you praying for? How can you best pray for others?
Think of a person or group of people who are an encouragement to you, and/or might need encouragement from you. Take some time to pray for them, as Paul does for the saints in Philippi. Then, write a brief letter thanking them for their faithfulness and send it to them today.