I have been thinking about Paul’s words at the beginning of the 3rd chapter of the book of Philippians.
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” (Philippians 3:1 ESV)
It is those last words that caught my attention. Rejoicing in the Lord is safe for us.
The book of Philippians can very neatly be divided into 2 sections. The first section, (chapters 1-2) are Paul’s words of thanks to a church that has supported him so faithfully in the past, and then so faithfully in his present imprisonment. They have sent a member of their congregation from Greece to Rome, to minister to all of Paul’s needs. The book is an expression of his gratitude to them.
But chapter 3 begins a new section. Chapter 3:2 contains a warning against the dogs, the evildoers who are seeking to subvert the gospel of grace with a gospel of legalism. “Look out for them”, says Paul. There is another matter that also comes up in this section of the letter. Paul is also concerned that complacency might set in. A lack of passion for Christ is just as deadly as the invasion of false teachers. And so, we might say that this section of Philippians might well be entitled,
This idea of keeping safe has led me to consider some of the contemporary threats to our faith. No doubt, some of us will make mention of the reality of living in a very secular culture, that often applauds values that are contrary to our faith. No doubt, the new sexual ethic has become a doctrine for contemporary folks. Added to that, is the secular creation myth of evolution which has become a doctrine.
Surely, faced with such daunting challenges, we must learn how to stay safe.
No doubt, we might identify with Paul’s concern that the church be active in identifying heresy and taking a strong stance. The lack of Biblical and doctrinal awareness among Christians is surely a matter of great concern.
But of course, if Philippians 3:1 is the transitional verse, leading from the first to the second section of the book. In the first section, Paul has been giving reasons for rejoicing in the midst of his suffering. It is so very important to understand the purposes of God when we go through suffering, lest we clench our fists at God and demand, “Why?”
This, of course, is very important as the world lives through a pandemic that might yet turn far more deadly than we have seen up until now. If a global suffering overcomes us, it is important for Christians to have a grounding deeply rooted in the goodness of God in the face of suffering.
We will want to stay safe.
But Philippians 3:1 does not indicate that the chief problem lies there. Paul’s great concern for a faithful and suffering church is that they continue to rejoice in the Lord. A lack of gratefulness, thankfulness and actively acknowledging the goodness of God is the portal through which we are led to the place of spiritual danger.
So, in this day in which we live. Stay safe. Rejoice in the Lord.