Reflections on Philippians 1:12-18
We most often unwittingly divorce ourselves from the historic-cultural context of the passages we read. We read and read and give little if any consideration to the contextual reality from which the author communicates. Consider for a moment, Paul the Apostle being under house-arrest in Rome for approximately two years (Php 1:13-14, 17). Consider that he is essentially an appendage of a Roman soldier. What complexities would result from such an arrangement? Wherever Paul went in the dwelling there the soldier would go, chained one to the other. Off to the ablutions. Off to bed. Off to pray. Privacy was certainly not on his menu.
Such realities are entirely foreign to our average western experiences that are usually disposed toward relative privacy and, dare I say it, naivety. Our world has been tempered to believe that an environment of tranquillity, space and privacy really belong in a category that would also include other elements of basic human rights. Yet, we don't have to go very far to discover that these realities do not permeate all contexts within our immediate surroundings. There are many who cannot afford such luxuries not too far down the road. Our personal biases have blurred the texts so that we fail to see the contextual significance. We might read, but we do not always see.
I fear that 'self', within the context of our faith, has gorged itself on the basic spread of human rights. Mankind has so elevated his expectation from life so to demand these 'rights', and all of this despite his state of inherent sinfulness and lifestyle of sin being an affront to a holy God. The language of submission, humility and death-to-self are becoming foreign to the modern Christian psyche. 'Self' appears to reign supreme in today's organised church demanding adherence to matters involving personal preference even before matters of biblical truth.
Let us learn a lesson. Paul is not distracted by the needs obviated from his incarceration. Instead, the privileged commission to disseminate the gospel remains priority. As he describes his situation to the Philippian believers he draws attention, not to the unfairness or unjust nature of his imprisonment but rather, to its contribution to gospel witness. The gospel took action by infiltrating the Roman garrison (Php 1:13). The gospel spread by motivating other gospel proclaimers to be bolder in the face of persecution (Php 1:14). Opposition continues but the advancement of the gospel message remains priority. Paul's objective is not complicated with selfish expression. No, the gospel must be proclaimed no matter the cost. No matter the cost to self.
Consider Paul's testimony: "But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
What is encouraging about such resolve is the consequence thereof. As he progresses in the gospel task he is met with joy: "What then? Only that in every way whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice" (Php 1:18).
What an easy rut to fall into, that we see personal 'rights', comforts and ease as priority in life. This pattern is everywhere as we see the world around us pursuing 'self'; the pursuit of happiness and success for self. Shall we instead declare with Paul that our lives are of no value or purpose except to advance the glorious gospel of grace? Being bound to a system or regime may bring despair, but our bondage to Christ is paradoxically delightful. All of our members and means totally resolved to this gospel commission. Perhaps then we shall truly find the joy that we all so desperately search for.
Ps. Deon Lombard
Being a servant of Jesus makes it a delight to reflect and write about all that God has revealed about Himself in His Word.