Perhaps you have asked yourself why I maunder on so about the Letter to the Philippians. And as it only just occurred to me the other night, I thought I might share a little of my motivation in reflecting on Philippians.
We all have greater or less interest or love for different books of the Bible. Naturally the Gospels hold pride of place in terms of their compelling interest in salvation history and our understanding of it. But there are some books we come back to over and over again depending on who we are and how God wants to speak to us.
Those who have seen my comments and who have frequented this place know that , in general, I tend to have a "Pollyanna" view of the world. This is not an expression of pride, nor of sorrow, but an attempt to describe how, in serenity, I like to look at the people and things around me. One of Pollyanna's chief attributes (at least as conveyed to us by the Disney movie) is that she was always playing "the glad game." That is, she looked into all events to try to find something good, something to rejoice in. For the most part, she was successful. Even at the end, where things are in doubt, we are shown the "good" of a very, very bad thing indeed.
Within my limited human capacity, that is how I like to operate. I like to take people at their word. I like to think the best of people and their motivations. I refuse to allow journalism to cloud my mind with their vague hints and dubious gossip. These things make headlines, but they rarely reflect the reality of the people they gossip about. Listening to too much of it turns one's head in such a way that it is extremely difficult to return to a state of appreciation for our fellow-travelers.
That, in part, leads me to Philippians. Paul is imprisoned in Rome while writing it. I don't know the order of composition, but I'm of the impression that this is near the end of his sojourn in Rome. And yet, he is thankful for his imprisonment, for the people of Philippi, for the praetorian Guard, for God's will, for everything. The joy that radiates from this letter is the joy of one who has recently stood (almost bodily one might think) in the throne room of the Lord and seen all the good that permeates creation. Paul affirms this good, and then encourages us to move beyond it to the Best. He tells us that "to live is Christ and to die is gain." He tells us that he longs to return home, and yet, for the sake of those who need Him, he is willing to remain behind. The depth of his faith, his love, his hope radiates out through all the ages again and again in verse after verse.
"Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. . . . What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice. " (Phil 1: 15, 18)
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. " (Phil 2:1-2)
"Even if I am to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. " (Phil 2: 17-18)
"Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not irksome to me, and is safe for you. " (Phil. 3:1)
" But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Phil 3:20-21)
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. " (Phil 4:4-8)
Over and over and over again, we hear joy in the midst of adversity. Even addressing the central issues of the letter--a quarrel between two prominent church women, Paul is gentle in his admonishment and in joyful hope that the quarrel will see a rapid resolution.
So Philippians speaks to the way I see life most of the time and it is the model for how I would like to live my life all of the time. For me, it is one exemplar of the Christian Witness, a very attractive one, one likely to bring people flocking to Christianity with its love, joy, and hope.