How do we keep our spiritual focus during the current pandemic, when so much of our normal routine and our ways of engaging in relationships have been turned upside down? How do we continue to endure in our walk with God and through any suffering we might be experiencing now that we are more isolated and quarantined at home?
The book of Philippians offers some powerful lessons! Why? Because it is not only a book which oozes with joy, faith, gratitude, and perseverance, but it is written by the apostle Paul at a period in his life when he is experiencing circumstances similar to our own. At the time he writes to the disciples at Philippi, Paul is under house arrest in Rome. Like us, he is not free to go “out and about” like he is used to or as he wishes he could. He is somewhat isolated from the church. He is a bit “quarantined” if you will.
Like us right now, he was able to see people in a limited way. He could receive a few visitors at a time. But he could not interact with them as personally and as often as he would have liked. He could not fellowship with large groups. Sound a bit familiar these days?
And yet, as mentioned, Paul’s letter to the Philippians is quite joyful, optimistic, and full of faith! His endurance and his spiritual focus is very evident! So how did Paul manage to remain so focused? Where did this spiritual fervor at such a challenging time come from? His relationship with God? Yes! But even more than that. It came from something his relationship with God had produced in him.
Paul’s joy and spiritual zeal came largely from his willingness and desire to FOCUS ON THE CHURCH, NOT HIMSELF! His relationship with God produced a love for the church much like that held by God himself.
That’s right, at a time when his forced isolation would have made it tempting to focus on himself and simply enduring his own incarceration, Paul chose to deliberately focus on and reach out to the very people from whom he was being kept–his brothers and sisters in Christ! In order for us to remain strong and do well in our faith at this time, we too must deliberately choose to focus, not only on God, but on his people, the church, as well.
Note Paul’s heart. How did he view the church (his brothers and sisters in Christ)? It says that Paul viewed them with Thankfulness (verse 3); Joy (verse 4); and with the Affection of Christ Jesus (verse 8). Is this how you view the church? Does this describe the heart you have for the community of faith of which you are a part as a baptized disciple of Jesus? Do you love the church as much as Jesus who died for it?
As disciples, we no doubt should desire to have this heart. But what if we don’t? What if we find ourselves falling short of having this kind of love and affection for God’s people? What produced such love in Paul’s heart? What can we learn from him which might help us to imitate him in this area?
First, Paul viewed his brothers and sisters as Partners in the Gospel (v. 5). Brothers and sisters who together are involved in Jesus’ Great Commission to go and make disciples inevitably build strong bonds and affection for one another. They are united by a cause greater than themselves and their differences. Whether the person they strive to save together becomes a Christian or not–win or lose–the disciples forge a bond and emotional connection as they get to know each other and lay down their own lives in an effort to proclaim the gospel together!
What about you? When was the last time you were partnered with other brothers or sisters in sharing your faith, teaching the Bible, and helping someone who does not know Jesus come to faith in him as their Lord and Savior?
Second, Paul remained Confident that God was edifying the disciples (v.6). Paul believed in his brothers and sisters! No matter what the circumstances, mistakes, challenges, failures, etc., Paul knew that, with faithful endurance, repentance, and trust in the Lord, the church was being made more into the image of Christ. God would complete his good work! He would never give up on or leave the church!
What about you? Do you trust that God is at work in the spirits and lives of your brothers and sisters, completing his good work in them and in the body? Or do you become frustrated and disenchanted with the church because of people’s mistakes, shortcomings, failures… even to the point that you are skeptical of their expressed repentance or efforts to learn from their mistakes and do better in the future? Do we forgive, support, and continue to encourage and love one another, confident that God is working in our fellowship, or do we give up on one another, pulling back our hearts and abandoning our hopes and expectations for one another? Remember, Paul addresses this letter to “all God’s holy people.” He was not selective in who he loved. His love extended to all the brothers and sisters.
Read 2 Corinthians 5:16-7. What is Paul saying here? Note that the context indicates that Paul is addressing how we should view others in the church, not how we should view ourselves.
Third, Paul was always aware of the Grace the disciples share (v.7). He recognized that the common faith and experience of salvation through Christ that they all shared was far greater than any ethnic, racial, socio-economic, or personality differences which might divide them. They all knew what it was like to realize you were a sinner and that Jesus had died for your sins. They all knew what it was like to give their lives to Jesus! When you view people through such a lens, it is not hard to feel love for, respect for, and a sense of fellowship with them!
Read this passage closely. What should our love for one another produce? Knowledge, depth of insight (wisdom/understanding), discernment to determine what is best… And what is this wisdom and discernment meant to lead to? It is meant to lead to righteousness, being pure and blameless for the day of Christ Jesus, helping us to become more like Christ. Ultimately, it is to result in making us into individuals and a community which glorifies God!
The point is this: you cannot learn all that you must in order to become more like Christ unless you are loving your brothers and sisters as God desires!
So what are some lessons? First, an important key to endurance and maintaining your focus in challenging times is to focus on loving the church, not merely surviving your circumstance.
Second, you forge this kind of love through partnerships in the gospel, believing in your brothers and sisters (God is edifying them), and remembering the common bond of grace you share.
Third, you must desire becoming more like Christ and glorifying God. Thus you must be determined to love like Jesus so that you can learn the lessons necessary to attain these objectives.