A Philippian Legacy

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. Philippians 4:10‑17 (NIV)

God’s people will always face times of trials and testing. Whether it was the early church, which faced times of trial and testing during the Roman Empire, or whether it is the church today in places where Christians are persecuted, God’s people will always be confronted with difficulties. Now, you may think, “Those places are centuries or continents away. What does this have to do with me?”

Times of trial and testing do not only happen on a large social scale. They also happen on an individual and personal scale, to people like you and me. The coronavirus pandemic has affected all of us in some way and changed the way we live. The political and social turbulence in our nation is concerning. Perhaps you are facing some sort of personal trial or difficulty now, at work, in a relationship, with your finances, with your health, or in another area of life.

Acts 16 tells about how God used Paul to start a brand-new work in a city that had never before heard the gospel. It tells the story of how Paul and Silas found themselves in prison when they shared the good news in the city of Philippi. They experienced both success and difficulties. Have you ever thought about that possibility? We can experience difficulties even during times of success. Some Christians might be tempted to think that the presence of difficulties means they are somehow living outside of the will of God. But that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes Christians can be right where God wants them to be, doing exactly what God has asked them to do and still face persecution, opposition, misunderstanding, and suspicion.

Do you know what Paul and Silas’ response was after being thrown in jail? They sang! Even though they were in chains, they worshipped the Lord in the middle of their trouble and pain. Through miraculous circumstances, Paul and Silas were delivered from their imprisonment and even ended up baptizing the warden of the prison!

We should keep this story from Acts in mind because it reminds us that we will go through trials. And this phrase is important: we will “go through” trials. Trials are made to be gone through: you will not remain in them. Trials are made to go through because our God is bigger than any trouble you could experience.

It is one thing to say, “God is in control,” and a completely different thing to really act as if God is control. In part, Paul learned this lesson during his time in Philippi and then years later when the Philippians came to his aid while he was in prison in Rome. When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi, ten years had passed since the account in Acts 16. Some things had definitely changed. The church in Philippi was growing in love and concern for each other, but they were also looking after the needs of people who lived very far away from them. Paul was one of those people! Because this much had not changed: Paul found himself imprisoned again, this time in Rome. The Philippian church had been persecuted since their founding, but they remained as one of the poorest and yet the most generous of all the churches that Paul planted (Philippians 4:14-16, 2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

The great lesson from Philippi is that our actions become the message. Our lives—individually and corporately—become the Good News. We can demonstrate to the watching world that we confidently believe God is in control. The Philippians are noteworthy because, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “They gave themselves to the Lord; and then, by God’s will they gave themselves to us as well” (2 Co 8:5, GNT) Their hearts became one with Christ and the blessings of their efforts will never be forgotten.