Advent 2 • Philippians 1:2–11 • December 9, 2012
By Bruce Schuchard
Paul faces the first stage of his trial in Rome before the emperor. Whether or not he will be found innocent and released, or whether he will be “poured out like a drink offering” (2:17) and die at the emperor’s whim, he does not know. Not only does he not know, he seems singularly, even extraordinarily, unconcerned with which of the two possibilities will come to pass. For “to live,” declares the apostle, “is Christ; to die is gain” (1:21). What he therefore instead knows—what to him matters more than all else—is that what has happened to him has “served to advance the gospel” (1:12), so much so, adds the apostle, that “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard” (1:12), throughout “Caesar’s household” (4:22), and to all the rest that “my imprisonment is for Christ” (1:13), so that “most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:14). So what is there to fear? What is there for Paul to regret, or rue? What more is there for him to do, or to offer, than his salutary reminder and encouragement in the form of his letter to the Philippians of what singularly, what courageously, informs the mind and the heart of the servant of Jesus Christ whose only reason for living is the grace and the peace of the Son of the Father (1:2).
What he says, and how he says it, is nothing short of a marvel, as Paul bids those who are dear to him what he knows may be his final farewell. “I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (1:16), declares the apostle.
“Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (1:18). “I will not be at all ashamed” (1:20). Neither will he be afraid. “With full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (1:20). Be of the same mind, exhorts the apostle. Have the same love; be in full accord. “In humility count others more significant than yourselves” (2:3), like Christ himself, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:6–11).
Therefore, “do all things without grumbling or questioning” (2:14), urges Paul. “Shine as lights in the world” (2:15). For “even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (2:17). Whatever gain I otherwise ever managed to secure in this life, I count now “as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I counted everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (3:7–9), that “I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead” (3:10–11).
No regrets. No complaints. No warnings. No indication of any one thing being anything other than the way it should be for the one who lives in faith, who presses on, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (3:13), “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14). For “our citizenship is in heaven,” observes the apostle, “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (3:20–21). “Rejoice in the Lord always,” adds Paul, “again I will say, rejoice” (4:4). “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything” (4:5–6). “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7).
So “whatever is true,” concludes Paul, “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (4:8–9). “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (4:11). “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:12–13). “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (4:19–20).
May such courage, may such inspiration, born of Christ, in the face of all that continues to threaten and to trouble, inspire us still.