WONDERFUL THING IN THIS PASSAGE – “Life shouldn’t be this hard!” Who hasn’t whispered that when times got extra tough and lasted extra long? The Bible has both bad news and good news about difficulty.
For our outward lives, the news isn’t encouraging. Jesus was plain: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV). Peter echoed: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). We live in a fallen world. Our bodies get older, our societies coarser, and our governments more ungodly. Our outward, circumstantial lives are going to take a beating.
It is, or should be, very different for our inward lives. Here’s the good news: “Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). Paul’s experience was inward peace and joy in the midst of outward hardship. After years of beatings, imprisonments, and opposition, his theme remained “I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (Phil. 1:18). This is the normal Christian life of the Bible, and it’s meant for each of us. That’s part of what Paul’s letter to the Philippians is about.
We’ve learned low expectations of Christianity from two misunderstandings of the New Testament. First, we identify with the worldliness of the disciples in the gospels and forget that that was before they were filled with the Holy Spirit. When the promised Spirit came, they were radically remade in Christ’s image. That was normal Christianity.
Second, we read the reprimands and corrections in the epistles and see the same problems common in our churches, and we think that’s normal. It’s not normal. These letters were written when an apostle learned that Christianity in a church had fallen below normal. The apostolic response was quick and strong and insistent that the problems be corrected immediately and that normal Christianity be restored.
The Christians at Philippi required few such corrections, and we can learn much from Paul’s love letter to them:
Normal Christians bring joy to those who serve them – “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer… I have you in my heart … how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:3,4,7,8).
Normal Christians are working with each other to expand Christ’s kingdom in the world – “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now … you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil. 1:5,7).
Normal Christians are allowing Jesus to expand His kingdom in their own lives – “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus … And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you … may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God” (Phi. 1:6,9-11).
WONDERFUL THING IN MY LIFE – As I prayed through this brief list, I asked Jesus to freshly fill me with His Spirit so that I might be more normal. I hope you will, too.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:2).