A reflection on Philippians 1:1-11 for The Second Sunday of Advent, December 5, 2021.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 2:1-11 (NRSVA)
Make no mistake, the Apostle Paul had his metaphorical eye firmly fixed on ‘the day of Christ’.
I suspect this reality is ultimately his source of gratitude and hope – even while he languishes in chains and a Roman cell.
Paul, the one dramatically called from darkness to light on the Damascus Road, still has a vision to take the message of Jesus as far beyond the border of Israel as he is able. They called him the ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’. Everything in him is given over to the spread of this Good News to any – from anywhere – who will listen.
For Paul there are no borders.
Yet these walls, we might imagine, keep him from this mission – this call of God. He cannot move from here. His contact with his field of mission must have felt agonisingly limited.
What will come of it all? Depression? Some kind of breakdown?
No. Considering these circumstances, Paul seems remarkably positive. Characteristically, he is keeping busy – remembering the community, thanking God for them, praying joyfully, reminding himself – and others – of the work God has begun.
Perhaps all this is why Paul writes – hoping to make one more small contribution to the spread of the gospel. Given that we are still reading and contemplating his words thousands of years later, I suspect he has no inkling of the significance of this small, seemingly futile, act.
Yet he writes, I believe, in faith. Paul is simply doing what he can – not lamenting what he can’t. In a season of uncertainty, Paul acts – not on what he does not know – but on what he does know.
And what does Paul know? That God is at work preparing people for the ‘day of Christ’. Read it again:
‘And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.’
Clearly Paul does not believe the kingdom-of-God journey of the community he writes to is complete – even if he never sees them again. They have more ‘knowledge’ and ‘insight’ to encounter. They are not yet ‘pure and blameless’. Their ‘harvest’ has not yet been gathered.
Yet, the hope that God is still at work among them is enough to keep Paul’s head above the rising waters of circumstance and his eyes fixed on the big picture of what God is doing.
I sincerely hope – in this season of hope – that the ‘day of Christ’ also infuses you with such…hope!
In what ways does the ‘day of Christ’ give Paul hope for his mission even while he is unable to engage with the world as he is used to?
In what ways does the ‘day of Christ’ give you hope in your unpredicted circumstances?