Thursday of Pentecost 17 – Philippians 1:12-30

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

I have long enjoyed the work of Gary Larson, creator of the Far Side. Did you know he grew up Lutheran? The image you see here is one of my favorites. I think Larson must have read this passage from Philippians at some point and been inspired to draw this cartoon. Paul is in prison. He has enemies within the Christian community (vss. 15-17). If you read a little further, he is facing capital punishment. His life might be poured out like a drink offering (2:17). But, like this fellow pushing the wheelbarrow in hell while he whistles, he is joyful.

I want some of that joy and right now. I could really use some of that joy which persists through terrible times. It seems like with pandemic, politics, social unrest, weather, and natural disasters, the world has a desire to deprive me of any joy. We had two days of hot, dry winds not long ago. Some of my favorite plants in my yard got scorched. Was that really necessary?

 Now, however, we come to the truth of the matter. What is the secret of Paul’s persistent joy? Perhaps vs. 20 is the best place to find it. Christ has completely displaced Paul as the center of his life. It is as if Paul is a planet which orbits Jesus now, instead of being the center of his own universe. For Paul that meant that the sufferings he endured, even the death which he faced, was not dimming the light which brought him joy. That Light, which is Christ, would shine no matter what happened to Paul and Paul believed that he would once more bask in that Light at the resurrection of the dead. This means that my sorrow at the death of the plant in my back yard needs to be reconsidered. Was it ever my plant and my back yard? Or does it belong twice to God? Once because he made it, twice because he redeemed it. I may not always be able to see how the events of my life or this world work bear their fruit. But it is not about me. It is about the Father and his Son, Jesus. That does not mean I am not important to him, but my rescue will not be on my terms or on my schedule. It may well also be at the resurrection of the dead. But that is OK. No one can steal that joy from me.

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