Our church recently started a series on the book of Philippians, which Pastor Justin Miller preached on last Sunday. To help give us more context, during Life Group, Mitch led us in a Matt Chandler study of Acts 16, which describes Paul’s first missionary journey to Philippi. There he meets rich intellectual, spiritually-seeking fashionista Lydia, a demon-possessed slave girl, and an ex-Roman soldier-turned-jailer.
Through Paul, each of these three encounter God in very different ways:
1) Lydia, the “seller of purple dyes” and a “God-worshiper” is already spiritually seeking God and finds Him when Paul proclaims the gospel to her. She immediately receives the Word and is baptized, along with her entire household. Her conversion is largely knowledge-based and intellectual.
2) The slave girl–exploited, demon-possessed, low on the social ladder–believes in the gospel because of an undeniable act of the power of the Holy Spirit. She is delivered and is radically changed.
3) The jailer–torturer of Paul and other followers of Christ, ready to willing die for Rome and duty by falling on his sword–comes to Christ because he witnesses Christlike example in others. He hears the prisoners singing, though they are in chains; He sees them have the chance to escape prison and not take it. His personal sense of duty and calling is overshadowed by what he witnesses as a much higher duty and calling in Christ.
The gospel takes root in all kinds of people, regardless of wealth, social status, gender, race, spiritual condition. I love how clearly this is expressed in this story. Christ can grab hold of you intellectually, through a powerful spiritual experience, by simply through people showing His love and grace in action.
So this lets opening chapter of Philippians take on an entirely new meaning. Paul writes:
“I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
When he says “you” he means the Philippian believers. He doesn’t mean just generic “you”; he means Lydia, the slave girl, the jailer and the hosts of others that came to faith during Paul’s first journey. I love it because it helped put stories and names to faces. And now the text of Philippians carries so much more weight, knowing the people at this church.
Mitch challenged us to think about whether or not we are Lydia, or the slave girl or the jailer in our own personal journeys. I think I am a mix of all three, but I grew up in the church and was affected by the culture and examples around me so part of me is the jailer. I had to rediscover my faith intellectually while I was at college but I was always open, just questioning and seeking. In that way I’m Lydia.
This makes me think about the call that God places on our lives to grow in Him. And how difficult that can be. I like how Paul follows up with this prayer, because I like to think he had these specific individuals in mind when he wrote it:
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”
Paul references love (shown by Paul and the others in the prison toward the jailer), knowledge, and discernment.
Love is putting into practice to put others above yourself. To see the glory of God in each person, an image-bearer of Him and to treat them accordingly. To love your neighbor as yourself. Just as Paul demonstrated love and kindness to the jailer, we are called to love.
God wants our minds. He wants us to be ever-increasing in the knowledge of Him. This involves discipline, wise-decision making, commitment, humility. We recognize that there is no end to the depths of God and like Lydia, we are always pushing for more, hungry for more and it is our joy to continually discover God.
And finally, discernment. This I believe is a Spirit-led function. We rely on the Spirit daily through prayer and the Word to guide us day to day in our relationships, in decision-making, in all things. Just as the power of God shook this little slave girl to her core, freeing and redeeming her, that same power is at work within us.
This really got me thinking this week because it puts Paul’s prayer into context and makes me realize how much I need to grow in all three of these areas. I go through seasons where I am very intellectually thirsty and reading all the Tim Keller, C.S. Lewis and commentaries I can handle; or I’m focusing just on loving people; or I truly am drenched in prayer and seeking the Lord continually. But truth is, 100% of the time, I’m lacking in either one, two or all three of them.
The thing is, I know the call goes so much deeper than “oh, I should read the Bible more” or “oh, I should try harder.” This is really causing me to re-evaluate how knowledge, the Spirit and love should be playing out in my life each and every day.
Still trying to figure it all out. Thoughts?