“..Being confident of this that he who begins a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6) I have stolen this line (with the footnote) more than any other when ending volunteer thank you notes. What’s amazing is Paul writes this after suffering severe beatings, and yet he has this spirit of personal gratitude and selflessness, thinking about and in thanksgiving for his co-workers in Christ, encouraging and holding them up in prayer. The word rejoice is used fifteen times in four chapters. At the time, Paul also had the joy of midwiving a Philippian jailer (Acts 16:22-34) to Christ. To pray for “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…” (Phil. 4:7) at the onset of this letter while he is in such a dire situation is a testimony and example of his faith. Philippians 3:20 points to eagerly waiting for the return of Jesus.
Paul’s joy cannot not be worthy of more comment. He talks about the joy of faith and the joy of the Lord (Phil. 1:25). As mentioned before in the chapter of Psalms, we get ourselves so off course on life goals when striving or desiring a happy situation. Happiness is fleeting, almost superficial based on its shelf life. Paul’s example in his attitude adopted is a decision available for everyone’s grasp. Joy is not negated by struggles or unknown future destiny. Particularly when it’s a biblical kind of joy. Joy: a feeling with a long shelf life because it never expires.
My first misrepresentations of Paul being too blunt and direct is further diminished through his illustrations of humility in his various letters. You can see how spiritually he grows in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes the Philippians in affectionate appreciation to the church in Philippi. He had visited there briefly. This congregation offered much support financially for Paul throughout his ministry.
I appreciate the outlook of foretelling your good works to completion statement. These are prayerful words to me, thanking God for the future consummation of His promises. There are a few things God can’t do: he can’t lie, change, be cruel or break his promises. God’s directed gyroscope (Ezekiel’s wheel) spinning is in play here.
At once a week, while sitting at my dressing table in the morning, I thank God in advance for the future relationships for me and the g-kids when looking at my family photos in front of me as I had done previously for my children before they found friends and partners in marriage.
For Paul to state that he shares in Christ’s sufferings also means to share in God’s comfort through that suffering. The greater the pain, the greater the comfort of Christ. In turn, the greater the ability to show empathy and consolation with others.
Paul had a colleague and fellow worker: Barnabas. There is no mention of Barnabas in this letter (he is found in Acts), yet he is an influence on Paul. Barnabas, the cousin of Mark, is known as the “son of encouragement.” He was a landowner who donated the proceeds of his land sales to the ministry of the apostles’ work. He was a person of influence and responsibility extending hospitality in his home to Paul. When Paul’s prominence grew, Barnabas quietly volunteered to fall back to a supporting role while still spreading the Gospel to Jerusalem and Cyprus. He and Paul had a bit of a falling out over Mark, but in later years their relationship reconciled (1Cor. 9:6, 2Tim. 4:11) through his references in scripture to them.
There can be a Barnabas-like person in everyone’s life. My two “sons of encouragement” were these godly elder men during different periods. They bring a smile to my heart every time I think of them. One was a bubbly optimistic man who was generous almost to a fault to many people, and the other was a joyful crusader/advocate for a parish school that barely kept their doors open financially.
Whenever being personally persecuted, my first instinct is not to comfort others but instead, my go to was a self-pity party. When I can see this self-pity party invitation dangling in front of me, I ignore it. I send my regrets to the invite and instead go to gratitude.
As a young wife feeling overwhelmed, I discovered I could go to my mother-in-law with good news, and she oozed and squealed encouragement and congratulations, rather thickly. Conversely, I found if I went to my mom when the news wasn’t so good, she was more stoic, would not react emotionally in a negative reaction consequently curbing my fears. She told me later she doggedly remained calm over whatever situation I brought to her, but, inside her stomach was churning with worry. Mom’s attitude resembled a duck on water, appearing calm as she is floating serenely but beneath the surface, her feet were moving as fast as they could. It was not a perfect formula for me yet it still gave me a sense of encouragement and validation that boded me well until I discovered that true validation comes from God. In reflection after writing that, I confess I am doing the same thing now with my adult children, going to each one because I know their particular response is what I need to hear (“do it! just-live-your-life”, “no mother you shouldn’t”, “meh?”, “you should consider [this or that]…).
Paul cites in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Is that Paul in denial of his situation? Is he living out the thesis of thinking positive thoughts to yield positive circumstances and negative thoughts negative ones? I don’t think so. Paul shows the root of his character in his humility and his solid footing of faith. There is always something to appreciate. Parker Palmer wrote to take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. “Let your altruism meet your egotism, let your generosity meet your greed, let your joy meet your grief…But when you are able to say, ‘I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light,’ the shadow’s power is put in service of the good. For an encore quote, Palmer says it another way when he is voicing dismay over world events and considers the other side of life, of beautiful things, “This too is happening in the world.” In one of his essays, he writes how disillusion is more of a blessing than a curse, depending on how we confront it. (Rom. 8:28).
This is along the lines of how St. Augustine explains evil (or a bad thing) as a privation on good, not a substance in and of itself but rather something attaching itself to good. Like a parasite. God takes it what bad thing tries to attach itself to anything good in order to distort it (like Jesus’s death) and God turns it into a greater good (like our salvation through the resurrection).
There is an account reflecting what Paul says in Philippians 1:6 from Fred Rogers’ mother, who would say to Fred as a little boy afraid when disaster struck. She soothed him by saying, “Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping”.
If not careful, the pace and the pressure of life can squeeze the joy out of life or inhibits us from finding it during a difficult circumstance. I remember once shortly after dad died, sitting cross-legged on the floor, right in front of the B&W tv (just dated myself didn’t I?) watching a half-hour comedy show. I remember it was funny and laughed, then remembered and looked over my shoulder at mom with guilt because the mourning was still too fresh. She smiled at me and said it’s still okay to smile and laugh.