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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, September 14, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Philippians 1:21–30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (NRSV)

Paul’s letters are no stranger to sharp shifts in tone, but his letter to the Philippians certainly serves as a glaring example! Biblical scholar Ronald Hock notes that the words joy, rejoice, and be glad appear sixteen times collectively in the letter’s four chapters, but we also know from Paul’s own words that he wrote Philippians from prison. We don’t know the exact circumstances around this imprisonment—Acts makes it clear that Paul was no stranger to jail cells throughout his ministry—but these prison stays certainly took a toll on Paul. In our verses this morning, Paul cites that “dying is gain” and writes of the “privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.”

While I reject the idea that human suffering could be viewed as a privilege or something to aspire to for oneself—after all, even Jesus prayed to avoid the cross—Paul’s words nonetheless speak to his unshakable belief in the importance of sharing the message of Jesus Christ widely and fully. Paul saw his own needs as secondary to this greater mission and was willing to recast his grim circumstances through that lens. That fervency of belief—Paul’s commitment to share and to serve—carried him through circumstances that many of us could scarcely even imagine.

This idea of holding fast to our mission, particularly amid challenging and heart-rending circumstances, feels as prescient today as ever. So may we indeed, as Paul writes, “live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”—both for our sake, and the sake of our world.

God of all compassion and care, remind me that you are there even in, or perhaps especially in, dire circumstances and unknown futures. Help me to live my life in a way that honors you and your creation. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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