Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Letter from Jail

Philippians and jail go hand-in-hand with Saint Paul. Paul wrote this letter from jail in Rome. If Paul didn't want the Philippians to look to outside circumstances as their source of well being, that's exactly what he demonstrated in his life; joy through adversity.

Often Paul's work for the Lord landed him in jail. While in jail Paul sang songs about God. He sang them to God, but everybody present in the jailhouse listened in. A strong earthquake shook the jail so hard that all the doors popped open. But Paul stayed in his cell which convinced a sleepy, suicidal jailer from killing himself. Instead, he converted to Christ. This was the beginning of the church at Philippi.

Paul learned that total self-abandonment to Christ is not only the only way to live, it has an incredible by-product: joy. Joy is the theme of his epistle to the Philippians. Joy is why Paul is a bottomless well of encouragement. Circumstances do not dictate Paul's mood or commitment.

Jesus Christ is a never ending source of both joy and encouragement and Paul is a conduit delivering both.

Paul doesn't derive joy from titles, although he's earned many. In his letter to the Philippians, he puts himself and Timothy, his pupil in ministry and the faith, on equal ground as servants. Paul addresses the leaders of the church in Philippi as elders and deacons; as leaders he submits himself to. Paul set an example for the leaders of the church and for Timothy, the young pastor in training that joy comes from being a servant to all, even those you lead and or are training.

Paul trademark opening in his letters are the words "grace and peace." It's been said that there can not be peace with God until you've experienced the grace of God.

Paul states that grace and peace flow from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It's a theological point that cannot be overlooked. The way he connects God the Father with Jesus Christ in this sentence puts the Father and the Son on equal ground. Grace and peace flows from both. It's significant because Paul was schooled as a Pharisee. Paul was an authority in the Jewish Scriptures and knew exactly what he was doing when he connected Father and Son with the conjunction AND. He made them equal just as he made Timothy and he equal servants. The Father and Jesus are equally God.

Joy is the product of a relationship with Christ. It can only come through experiencing grace and peace with God. When possessions and material riches are stripped away, joy abides if Christ is present in one's life. When titles like "apostle" or "king" are replaced with titles like "slave" or "servant," then joy present. It is the demonstration that Christ is indeed real and relevant in a person's life and deeds.

The motivation to serve and go deeper with Christ comes from encouragement and deep joy rather than loading burdens on someone's back or by heaping guilt. Which do we see at work more often in modern religious culture? Encouragement or belittling? Announcing joy or burdening with guilt? What are the techniques you practice: prayer or manipulation? Trust or sin management?

Philippians is a book of joy. The first time Paul was in prison, he was miraculously released. This time in prison, as he pens this epistle he is not. Miracles are not our source of joy. God is.

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