It’s hard to be a parent. We’re accustomed to being around our children and being there for them, and it’s difficult for us when we can’t do that anymore. On top of that, we know that we’re all a little more likely to act up when wise mentors and guides are not present. When the teacher is out of the room, the children are more likely to act up.
Paul Cared For His Spiritual Children
The Apostle Paul felt some of these same kinds of worry when he thought about his friends in the church at Philippi. He used words relating to family circumstances several times in Philippians 2, and he was probably experiencing some of the same kinds of emotion a parent feels when a beloved child goes off to summer camp, or—more significantly—when a child leaves for college.
Paul’s anxiety for his spiritual children drives so much of this section of the book we’ve been studying together (Philippians 1:27-2:18). When you read this passage, imagine a parent imparting what may be his last words of wisdom to his beloved children. Paul knew that he might well be killed in Rome, and he wanted to build up the Philippians so that they would keep going strong both in his absence, and in the event of his death.
Paul was concerned about the persistence, perseverance, and survival of the church at Philippi. That may sound odd because the church had been established for a number of years. The Philippians had sent contributions to Paul for a number of years, and he even wrote that they had a fellowship with him in the preaching of the gospel (Philippians 1:5). Still, there is evidence that he was concerned about their ongoing existence.
Paul Had Reasons to Feel Afraid
Paul’s anxiety was caused by at least two factors.
First of all, he was not able to be with the Philippians in person. Several times in this letter Paul referred to the fact that he might soon die. He hoped and believed he would be set free from prison and able to see them again, but he nonetheless admonished them to stand firm in the Lord and not be intimidated by their opponents. (Philippians 1:28)
Second, Paul’s absence was especially difficult because both he and the Philippians were experiencing persecution when he wrote this letter:
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (Philippians 1:29-30)
Paul Helped Keep His Fears From Coming True
You can usually discern a Pauline letter’s themes by looking at the opening prayer section. In the opening verses of 1 Thessalonians, for example, Paul prayed that the Thessalonians would persist and persevere. He thanked God for their labor of love, for their steadfastness of hope, and for their faithfulness and endurance.
In other words, he prayed for and praised the kinds of behavior he wanted to see in them.
Parents do this all the time. We praise behavior we want to see continued. Paul expressed to the Philippians his confidence about and praise for the actions he wanted to make sure would happen:
I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonmenet and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all partakers of grace with me. (Philippians 1:6-7)
By writing his letter to the Philippians, Paul was strengthening them in the midst of some very serious conflict in their city and in their churches. He longed for them to persevere, even in the event of his own death.
The previous was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon featured on Dr. Sloan’s radio program, A Higher Education, on July 26, 2013.