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Philippians 1:21-30

24 September 2023

Exploring the Scripture

Philippi was a small Roman city in Macedonia (now called Kavala in the Eastern Macedonia and Thrace Region of Greece), which had few Jewish residents.  Paul was successful in baptizing several Greek and Roman Gentiles as followers of Christ.  His letter to the Philippians reveals his love for the disciples and their enthusiastic support for Paul financially and personally.  

Scholars agree that Paul wrote Philippians from prison, where he faced a capital charge and the possibility of execution.  One of his purposes for writing was to assure his friends that he was well, strong in the faith, and committed to the gospel, regardless of personal consequences.  His assurance of well-being turned into an assurance the gospel was prospering regardless of Paul’s imprisonment. “For to me, living is Christ, and dying is gain” (v. 21).

Does “…living is Christ” represent a mystical spirituality or advocacy for action?  It is both.  At its deepest level, genuine spiritual practice leads us to discern God’s work in the world and take part.  In Christ, Paul found his spiritual identity and his purpose in life:  making Christ visible through his words, actions, and decisions.  

Paul wrote that if he survives his imprisonment, it will allow him to continue the work God has called him to do.  If not, he will unite with Christ in death, a result for which he longs.  Even as he struggled between the two conflicting wishes, he reassured the Philippians that he hoped to share with them again in mutual joy.  

Paul turned his statement of reassurance and continued support into a challenge. “Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v. 27), regardless of the result of Paul’s imprisonment. He assured them that he would know if they are standing firm in the spirit, in unity, in faithfulness, and with courage in the face of opponents.  In Philippi, Christians faced ostracism and persecution.  Like Paul, they paid a high price for their faithful discipleship (v. 30), but they considered it a gracious gift to be allowed to suffer for the faith.  Paul’s struggle between wishing for life or death was their struggle as well.  His words encouraged them toward life.

As we face multiple crises, some wonder if death would be preferable to the continued struggle of coping with an ever-changing, divisive, often violent world.   Some religious groups proclaim that Christians should abandon this world and retreat into isolation until God calls them home. Others choose to act compassionately to make a difference wherever they are.  

Community of Christ continues to affirm that God is at work in the world, and our task is to discern where that activity occurs in everyday life.  We are called to share in God’s work, not abandon it.   Like Paul, we find our purpose in supporting one another, building community, and standing firm against opponents of Christ and God’s kingdom.  Live so Christ may be seen through you.  Speak so Christ may be heard through you.  And act to support and help those whom Christ’s love enfolds when no one else cares. 

Project Zion Podcast

Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.


Central Ideas

  1. Paul struggled between wishing for death to unite with Christ or choose life to fulfill the work God called him to do.
  2. In Christ, Paul found both his spiritual identity and his purpose for living.
  3. Genuine spiritual practice, at its deepest level, leads us to advocacy and action.
  4. Paul considered it a privilege to pay a high price for faithful life as a disciple.
  5. Community of Christ affirms God’s action in the world and calls us to join in.

Questions to Consider

  1. “For to me, living is …” What?  How would you finish that statement based on your lifestyle choices and activities?
  2. How have you suffered for the sake of the gospel?
  3. How do you read the signs of the times? How are the crises of our day denying worth and relief to the most vulnerable among us?  
  4. How do you understand God’s priorities and desires for humankind?
  5. Where is God’s Spirit leading us to respond?

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