What is the most uncomfortable you’ve ever been?
Fun Fact: The other most uncomfortable place I’ve ever been was also in South Sudan, when I took a multi-day road trip crammed with 3 other people and a baby in the back seat of a vehicle. I wrote about the experience for World Next Door in case you’re curious about how miserable I was! http://www.worldnextdoor.org/magazine/october-2013/ignite/the-value-of-time/
Paul wrote the letter to the church in Philippi from prison. Ancient prisons were an awful place to be, and he would have been entirely dependent on friends or family to care for his even basic needs. Thankfully, Epaphroditus from Philippi brought Paul money to care for him while he was in prison. Even so, his experience in prison would have undoubtedly been quite a hardship.
And yet, his mindset in the letter shows us anything but despair.
IT’S NOT ABOUT ME
And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.
It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.
Despite his circumstances, Paul is confident that the good news of Jesus is spreading.
1. The palace guard now knows about Christ
2. Local believers have gained confidence to speak without fear
3. Even those trying to preach with “selfish ambitions” are managing to get the word out about Jesus!
Fun Fact: As I mention in the message, scholars are divided about where Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this letter. Some believe he was in Rome, due to the mention of the “praetorian guard” in 1:13. However, there is good evidence Paul was also imprisoned in Ephesus for a time, and this may make more sense with some of the other contextual clues in the letter.
How is Paul able to be content (and even hopeful) while in prison? Because he knows it’s not about him! It is about Christ.
Paul builds much of his worldview off of his understanding of the example of Christ.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Christ “emptied himself” of his divine nature in his love for humanity. Paul, modeling his life after Jesus, chose to “empty himself” as well of his personal desires or ambitions. Thus, he is able to not only accept but delight in his challenging circumstances.
For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.
Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.
Paul actually looks forward to his eventual death, because he knows he will then be able to be with Jesus. But his attitude is so self-giving that he is willing to keep on living because he knows it will help others come to know Christ better!
His logic in vv. 24-25 is amazing: “even though dying would be better for me, since living would help you, and since it’s not about me, then I am convinced I’m going to survive this imprisonment!”
Fun Fact: When I think about people with ridiculously selfless mindsets, my maternal grandfather always comes to mind. He lives almost entirely for the wellbeing of others and would gladly suffer any hardship if it meant making someone else’s life a little easier. He once drove himself to the hospital after having a heart attack because he didn’t want to bother anyone. His selflessness is over the top and annoys my mom but I love it and want to be just like him. J
WHAT REALLY MATTERS?
As we look ahead to the rest of 2021, Paul’s “self-emptying” mindset is an amazing challenge to each of us to ask ourselves some significant questions: is it all about me? Or is it all about Christ? Are we focused on what really matters?