Commentary on Philippians 1:18-20

Have You Been in a Similar Scene?

It is hard to get people to have a civil, honest conversation that does not raise barriers and irritation. We have lost the ability to agree to disagree. From my personal experiences, some would even argue from out-of-context passages and even from personal opinions that it is more noble or righteous to make a stand for your beliefs (in other words, never agree to disagree). Such one-sided insistence which plays on our natural sinful propensities to self-worship makes a person master in his or her own echo chamber. Perhaps that is the reason why many are ignorant that their practical belief in the word “peace” is actually “being happy when I am in control over things around me”. At best, a person wishes for the tranquility of the above picture – to be in a scenic place where there is just no conflict and where everything just falls in place and you have the privilege to ‘soak up’ the calm breeze and scenery around you. In a world that has been touched by the curse of Adam and Eve, this is just an impossibility. Even the person who is placed in the above scenery would find it ‘boring’ eventually – and this would trigger irrational actions that leads to unpredictable problems and conflicts.

The picture below is a better description of what ‘peace’ is:

Peace while having to fend off both an imaginary Godzilla and Fireballs (very telling of my age and generation… I know).

The ability to remain calm, composed and inwardly tranquil in the midst of an unfavourable circumstances – that would be the type of “peace” that the apostle Paul seems to be talking about in this passage. The context of this short passage is the self-centered preachers and leaders who were out to “get” Paul. One can imagine how these preachers were using their offices and the pulpit to put forth their own opinions and biases to the listeners – “Paul is a troublemaker who came all the way to cause havoc to the Roman Christians!” But notice Paul’s response – in verse 18, his focus is singular – to the glory of Christ, that Christ’ name is proclaimed and sounded to the creek and nooks of Rome itself. Paul’s heart was centered upon Christ and Christ alone – for he loved Christ. Is this not a practical truth that the Lord taught in the Gospels? For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Luke 12:34). Paul’s treasure that made him glad and happy was Christ because his heart is with Christ. Here is one who did not take the Lord’s words lightly – Paul abided in Christ and Christ in him – thus he loved Christ with his all, and regardless of the ill circumstances and motivations, as long as his “TREASURE” is elevated and magnified – he had no sadness but joy.

As a parent – one gains a slight advantage in understanding this aspect. It takes an evil parent to be jealous over the achievements and successes of the son or daughter. It matters not the sweat, blood, opposition and disappointments – it is worth it when the loving parent sees the child standing tall, proud and happy. Likewise for the child and the parent: it is the same.

Thus, we do not doubt Paul’s joy that is anchored upon His Saviour. What can make a bond that is stronger than that of parent-child bond? Answer: an eternally gracious bond that is created, sustained, sealed and guaranteed by the Everlasting One. The practicality of this can only be realised by one who has experienced such a bond. Yes, there are many professing Christian believers who talk but do not walk the talk – why? Because they obviously have not experienced this special, unique bond that Paul has with his Christ! Though this peace may be shaken, it cannot be lost completely because the bond that the Lord has with the one He died for, and saved, cannot be broken. As the apostle writes else where in Romans 8:38-39 – “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What is the vehicle for Paul’s assurance of this bond with Christ? In verse 19 he sheds light – it is by the prayers and fellowship of fellow saints and the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit! When a Christian believer walks down the path of depression and the valley of the shadow of death, it is often caused by the neglect and the distance of the ‘community’. Certainly, the individual is responsible for his backsliding, but as Paul notes, a believer is often lifted and encouraged by the prayers of fellow believers in the faith! In a world where churches are run like corporations and man-led movements, it is no wonder Christians are quick to jettison any ‘troublemakers’ – as reflected in the modern-industry when corporate problems arise. The call given by the apostle in Galatians 6:1-3 is ignored: Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Paul had the backing and support of the Philippian brethren despite the hostility given by some of the Roman brethren – this helped him, and he acknowledges it.

The true sense and experience of union with Christ are ultimately Spirit-derived. It helps little to try to further what Paul describes in verse 19, except to confuse a young believer or to provoke differences of opinion. The Holy Spirit works to apply Christ into our heart – so that we truly feel Him in us and working our sanctification in us. If you have not tasted this, it is a good warning to check whether we truly belong to Him or that we merely appropriate an intellectual religion no different than the pagan choices.

True spiritual encouragement that makes the believer joyous is the certainty of their life being used for God’s glory. What a small thing it is for our temporary life that has been filled with sin and washed by Christ’ blood to be used for our precious Saviour’s Name? Paul is no seer yet he knows this truth: believers glorify God whether in life or death. Our lives are meant to be a living sacrifice on the altar flamed by the passion of Christ! It is our reasonable and singular purpose (Romans 12:1-2). It matters not what manner of the affliction we go through – as long as God is glorified – that is worth it! This frames everything in the proper perspective – in whatever phase of our lives. May Paul’s mind be ours as well.

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