When in the midst of suffering we discover God. (Part 1)

philippians

Intro

Today, we are kicking off our series on Philippians. We have titled this series, “A rebel’s guide to joy.”

Joy. We all want joy, right?

We sing songs about it.

We name our kids after it.

However, the difficult truth is we don’t always know how to find joy.

Joy, for us, is mixed up in so many things. Achievements. Satisfactions. Success. Comfort. Accumulation of goods. Friends. Family. The list goes on and one, right?

How do we find that real, true, soul quenching joy that seems to always elude us?

This is the question we’re going to be searching to answer in our time walking through Philippians. I promise, it won’t be an easy answer. I promise it won’t be a simple answer. However, Philippians will being our journey towards real, life-sustaining joy, and I promise it will be real.

Let’s begin by reading our passage together. Philippians 1:3-6, 9-14, 19-26:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may 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.

A little background on Paul and the church in Philippi:

The book of Philippians was a book written to a church in the Roman city of Philippi. Now, Philippi, was one of the leading cities in the district of Macedonia. It was of extreme strategic importance (located near important resources and trade routes), and as a result, Philippi enjoyed important privileges within the Roman empire: autonomous government and immunity from tribute. This was a destination city. It was a city where others wanted to live.

philippi

Traditionally, scholars agree that Paul drafted the epistle during his two years of house arrest in Rome (though, because Paul was imprisoned more than once, there is some debate as to which imprisonment Paul refers to throughout this book.

The church in Philippi was, for Paul, an extremely important and deeply loved congregation. This being the case because Paul himself had established the church in Philippi approximately 10 years prior, during his second missionary journey recorded in Acts 16. Thus, his tender love for the believers in Philippi is apparent in this, the most personal of all Paul’s writings.

The Philippian church represents the best of what he experienced as a missionary and pastor. In other letters (or what we know as the Pauline Letters in the New Testament), we see Paul’s writing reflecting the range of emotions. There are some churches which disappointed Paul. Others left him disappointed, while still others were in need of strong rebuke.

This wasn’t the case with the church in Philippi.

From the moment pen touched parchment, Paul’s love bursts from within him as he writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

As far as new churches go, Philippi is one of the good ones.

And for all of this church’s success, Paul had to earn every bit of it.

The issue of suffering:

As we dive into the book of Philippians, it takes all of 12 verses for us to get at one of the two major themes of this book; suffering.

The other theme? We mentioned it at the beginning: Joy.

From the first lines written to the church in Philippi, we witness a story, and it’s a story that finds its roots planted firmly in suffering, and through Paul we see this beautiful interplay between suffering and joy.

The history

Paul’s history with the Philippian church started with imprisonment. It started with Paul and his partner, Silas, casting

Photo Credit: Falln-Stockout a demon that was in a slave girl. This miracle upset the locals, they arrested Paul and Silas, flogged them and threw them in jail. However, through a miracle, Paul and Silas were freed.

Soon after, they met and baptized Lydia, a local dye merchant, and thus began the church in Philippi.

This was a church started with literal blood. It was a church that cost literal pain to begin. It wasn’t cheap. It wasn’t easy. It was very, very difficult. Not only did the Philippian church survive, it thrived, and it grew, matured and came into its own over the course of 10 years.

Paul in Chains

Then they hear about Paul, and it seems as though this reminds the Philippian Christians of what happened ten years prior. Maybe they had grown complacent. Maybe not. However, with Paul’s imprisonment, the true cost of following this “Jesus” and being part of his group of Jesus-followers was brought back to the fore-front once more.

Death. Persecution. Pain. Suffering.

These were all options on the table. And they needed to understand and be willing to accept this. The church members, though, most likely afraid (and understandably so).

I’m guessing their minds raced with questions…like:

What do we do if Paul is killed?

What do we do if we are killed?

Who will teach us? Who will lead us? Who will protect us?

Is this really the way we want to spend our life?

Philippian church in fear because of Paul’s imprisonment. What will happen to them?

Paul dives right in and meets these fears and questions head on:

(12-14) Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

In this first chapter, Paul begins by reflecting on his troubles

Paul says, yes, I’m in chains. Yes, I’m in prison. I’m not currently able to travel, preach and teach as I had hoped, or as I feel called to do.

To not do what you’re called to do/passionate about. This is a bigger deal than we often let on, right?

How many here have been in a situation where you were unable to do the one thing you love to do, or the one thing you felt called to do?

These dark moments are an invitation, written in neon lights, for pity and self-loathing to take hold. These emotions lead us into a place of darkness, and leave us unable or unwilling to see how God is at work in the present moment.

(Our discussion will continue tomorrow!)

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One thought on “When in the midst of suffering we discover God. (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Finding joy in the mess of community. (Part 1) | Michael Palmer

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