"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Stand Firm in Joy

Having just reminded the people of Philippi of his own example of dedication to the gospel of Christ, his own willingness to grow (having not yet achieved all Christ has for him), pressing on toward the goal to win the prize, the Apostle Paul enjoins them to follow his example. Their citizenship is, after all, in heaven. They are to join him in eagerly awaiting the return of their savior Jesus Christ. The capstone of this discourse is welded in with strong affection:

“Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” Philippians 4:1

Those reading (or hearing) this letter, are people he considers his brothers. There is an enduring bond between them. Friends come and go, but family remains—that’s the idea here. Their relationship is no passing phase. They are bound together, not just for life, but for eternity.  Paul goes on to say that he both loves and longs for them. The ties that bind them together are so strong that he misses them when they are geographically separated. As if that were not enough, he calls them “my joy and my crown”. Joy, by now is a resounding theme in this letter to the Philippians, in which it has come to mean: rejoicing in our eternal relationship with Christ regardless of our current circumstances. Crown is a greek word stephanos often translated as reward or blessing, and is the root word for the name Stephen.  If all these endearments seem over the top to the modern mind (way to cool and sophisticated for our own good), then we will really wonder why he feels the need to end the exhortation with the words “dear friends!”

Paul is such a study of character transformation!  When we first see him in the book of Acts, he is full of zeal and full of himself. He was born and raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, a Jew of Jews by heritage and education. He had plenty of reasons to be proud, and was so sure of his position and training that he stood by in clear conscience, holding the coats of those stoning Stephen and others (did this occur to Paul as he called the Philippians his stephanos?). He literally breathed threats toward followers of Christ and wanted to obliterate this assumed heresy from the earth…Until the day he encountered the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. This encounter stopped him dead in his tracks and sent him full speed 180 degrees in the opposite direction. He became zealous for the gospel of Christ. Walking with Christ, his passion was tempered and guided by spiritual (agape) love. It is this love that binds him to his mission, to pour himself out for the bride of Christ at virtually any cost. And it bursts forth, unashamedly, in these words: “my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, dear friends!”

Tied up tenderly in this bundle of affectionate words is the reminder that they are to stand firm. They have seen his example, and they are aware of others who are enemies to the gospel of Christ. Their choice is clear, all the more so because they are citizens, not of this world, but of heaven. A savior is coming from there, so they are to live in eager anticipation of him. 

These are the ways they (and we) can stand firm: follow the example of Paul (and other faithful followers of Jesus); remember that this earth is not your home; eagerly expect to see Jesus face to face.; lean into one another with strong affection. This perspective causes all other illusions of what this world is about to dissolve, as we together find our foundation on the solid Rock of the gospel and promises of Christ.