Sometimes it’s easier to interpret events around us as pointing to “the end of the world” rather than asking how a situation maintains or furthers God’s never ending vision for “the redemption of the world…”
…one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time, onenation at a time…
When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, it was approximately AD 63. As we have the benefit of looking through an historical perspective, Paul was living out his last 4 to 5 years of life on earth. When we look a step beyond his natural lifespan, we see that “the world as the Jews knew it” was about to come tumbling down approximately three years after his death with the Siege of Jerusalem, in 70 AD.
Why is this relevant? Because Paul was surely not ignorant of Jesus’ prophetic warning regarding the Temple, that “…not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” (Matt. 24:2)
It seems logical to me that Paul knew some history-changing event would be unfolding in the foreseeable future. Yet even with this insight, and locked in prison chains, Paul never lost sight of the fact that God’s vision was for the reconciliation and redemption of people from the snares and jaws of the enemy, from the deception, from the lies that separated them from God’s boundless love for them. He continued on the path assigned to him despite the distractions, the fears, the unknown.
He writes to the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. ” (Phil. 1:21-24, NAS)
He follows this with the admonition, “…conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents – which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you…for to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…” (Phil. 1:278-29, NAS)
We suffer the effects of the earth’s corruption; we suffer with one another; we suffer the ramifications of decisions made by others. Merriam-Webster (online) defines “suffer” as “to experience pain, illness or injury; to experience something unpleasant; to become worse because of being badly affected by something.” In frequent instances, Paul’s suffering was more tangible than ours – whipped, beaten, thrown off ledges, left for dead.
Nevertheless he gained comfort, and extended courage, by focusing on the “encouragement in Christ…consolation of love…fellowship of the Spirit…” as he encouraged the Philippians to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own interests, but also the interests of others…” (Phil. 2:1,3,4)
Paul chose the “suffering of life” over being with Christ, which he described as “very much better.” Why? He was still pursuing the “goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) He knew that devastation could be just around the corner; yet he never lost sight of the fact that God’s ongoing and never ending vision was for redemption…
….one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time….one nation at a time….