September 21st Scripture Setting: Philippians 1:21–30
Most scholars believe Paul was in prison in Caesarea or Rome when he wrote to the Philippians sometime between 55 and 62 AD. The letter is an expression of Paul’s love for the congregation he planted. It was likely delivered by Epaphroditus who had brought messages and encouragement to Paul in prison. Epaphroditus became quite ill during the visit, but recovered and carried the letter back home to Philippi.
Today’s passage (v.21) begins with Paul’s testimony that Christ is everything to him. It is an affirmation that no matter what happens to Paul in this life, whether he lives or dies, suffers or has joy, is kept in prison or freed to see them again, he is in Christ. Nothing else matters more. The clear message is that Paul is not depressed or weighed down by his imprisonment. He’s confident and living in hope!
Paul also affirms his deep love for the Christians in Philippi (vv. 22–26). He seems to be saying, “My deepest desire is to go now to be with God, but because of my concern and love for you, I choose to be with you and look forward to visiting you again so I can share my testimony of Christ and hear yours.” He reaffirms his special relationship with these members of the “flock” from whom he is now separated. He is deeply grateful for their support while he is in prison.
Having reaffirmed their relationship, he again assumes the role of pastor, guide, preacher, and teacher. First, there were conflicts in the congregation. He is likely addressing those divisions, among other things, when he admonishes them to live in a Christ-like manner. “Even if I can’t be with you, make me proud. Let me hear that you are living and working in harmony; that you are in agreement about the central beliefs of the gospel” (v. 27, adapted).
Second, some commentators say this passage is not just about life within the congregation, but about the congregation’s public life as citizens. The message from Paul seems to be, “though you are ostracized in a society that is corrupt and capricious, live in freedom because you are citizens of the kingdom of God. Live with boldness in the midst of the world. Model a new and better public life for others” (vv. 28–30, adapted).
Third, the congregation in Philippi had enemies. The people were being intimidated and persecuted, not unlike Paul. From prison, he was able convey this kind of message, “I know what you are experiencing. We are going through this together. Our enemies may think they are winning, that we are now on the losing side, but God is part of all of this. And, what others view as suffering, we can accept as privilege and honor because we are doing it with and for Christ.”
The theme today is “Live the Gospel.” Paul’s testimony here in the letter to the Philippians is an example of what it means to live the gospel of Christ. As we think about how this applies to us today, we realize that living the gospel in part means we work on our relationships with one another. Relationships in the body of Christ matter more than we can measure. The love and care shared in good times and bad, when we are together or separated, are the presence of the unifying Spirit with us.
Additionally, much like those in Philippi, we can feel we are on the margins of society. Even if we are persecuted, ostracized, or otherwise feel we are on the margins as a congregation, we are called to live in boldness and with a sense of freedom that is promised for those who know that beyond race, culture, or national identity, our most important identity is citizenship in the reign of God. It is there we live the gospel!
Since it is Heritage Day, recall those from our past who have lived the gospel with boldness and freedom. Certainly, our community of faith knows what it is like to be on the margins of society while at the same time remaining strong in our faith and determination to share the gospel. Sharing the stories of people from our own congregation or from the larger church would be most appropriate this day. (Worship Helps 9/21/2014)