10 Ways the Lord Has Fed My Soul Through Philippians

When I was a pastoral intern in my twenties, my mentor gave me the privilege of preaching my first sermon series from the book of Philippians.  I had no idea what I was doing or how the Lord might work, and frankly, I’m not convinced that what I did those 13 weeks would pass for preaching.  But what I’ve never forgotten is a comment my mentor made at the outset of the series: “By the time you’re done preaching, this letter will become yours.” 

15 years later, I’ve experienced the joy, once again, of preaching through this letter, this time in the landscape of 2020 and with a congregation I love uniquely, 7 years in to our partnership in the gospel.  Once again, the Lord has made this letter “mine,” feeding my soul and applying the truth of this letter in powerful ways. 

As we prepare for our final sermon from this letter, here are 10 ways God has fed my soul through Philippians in 2020:

  1. I am not alone:  As Paul sits under house arrest, his heart moves in gratitude for the Gospel partnership he experienced with this church we loved so deeply.  He looks around and sees the ministry of Timothy and Epaphroditus, in addition to the Philippian church, and this becomes a source of sustaining joy.  As we’ve spent so much time apart, I’ve been encouraged to actively remember the ministry is not a solo act, but rather a partnership God has given us together, no matter the circumstances, and for that I am grateful.
  2. God is not done with me yet:  Paul’s tender words hit home in days, when it would be easy to give up and give in – “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6).  No matter our struggles in this life, we can rest assured, that the God who began the work in us will not grow weary or frustrated and give up on us.  He is infinitely committed to conforming us more and more into the image of Jesus, and he is not done with me or you yet!
  3. Every day is an opportunity to make Christ known:  “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21).  For Paul, as he considered his own mortality, he was reminded that as long as today dawned, his life belonged to Jesus.  When I open my eyes each morning, I have the opportunity for “fruitful ministry” (1:22), not in my own power, but in the power of Christ.  This means, God woke me up this morning to make Him known in word and deed to a world in desperate need of His grace.
  4. I’ve been served by Jesus:  I’m tempted to make life about myself and my desires.  I’m tempted to see others as a means to the end of making much of me and getting my own way.  Paul knows and God knows we’re all inclined toward selfishness, even in our service of others.  But we have a God, who in Jesus gave up His rights and privileges, not only to become man but to become a servant who willingly laid down His life so that we can be His forever.  The fact I’ve been served by Jesus should set me free from the tyranny of living for self and set me free to serve without equivocation.
  5. Christ’s light still shines in dark places, and it shines through His church:  Paul reminds us that the church is the light of the world, shining in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (2:15).  2020 has felt particularly dark, but Christ’s light shines brightest in the darkness.   God has reminded me in a fresh way that His work through His church has not been compromised by the circumstances around us, but rather we have an opportunity as His people to shine brightly simply by loving Him supremely and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
  6. God is always redeeming our story: As he often does, Paul chronicles his own story of Jewish identity, religious activity, and violent persecution.  Yet, he can say, he has left it all behind in order to gain Christ and be found in Him (3:8-9).  Someone with Paul’s resume might wonder if God could actually forgive, let alone use them for the sake of His kingdom.  But God in Christ Jesus is always redeeming those places of guilt and shame to become a story of His redeeming love.  In Christ, we aren’t defined by our past, but rather by the one who has replaced our guilt and shame with the robe of His righteousness.
  7. Christ has made me His own:  Paul’s simple phrase, “Christ has made me His own,” has captivated my heart for years.  Years ago, in a time when I truly wondered how God could love me, I read these words.  It was as if the Lord were speaking directly to my soul, “I have made you my own.”  Once again, in a time when life has been turned upside down, the Lord has used these tender words to feed my soul.  I belong to Jesus.  If you have faith in Him, you can be assured, you, too, belong to Jesus!
  8. Joy is a fight won by Christ:  In a season of difficulty, Paul’s on-repeat emphasis of joy has been a balm to my soul.  But, in the repeated commands to “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1, 4:4), I’ve been reminded that joy isn’t a passive activity but an active fight against the natural disposition of the heart.  Joy is possible, because it is a fight ultimately won by Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame” (Heb. 12:2).  I’ve been encouraged throughout these months, not only to engage in the fight for joy, but to fix my eyes on the one whose presence is our joy (Ps. 16:11).
  9. Peace is on offer by turning from anxiety to Christ in prayer: Anxiety has a way of enveloping our minds and hearts, either turning us inward or propelling us outward in a flurry of activity that ultimately only distracts for a moment.  Paul’s invitation is to take our anxious thoughts and turn to the one whom he describes as the God of peace (4:6-7).  As I prepared to preach through this command, “Do not be anxious about anything,” I found myself in the grips of anxious thoughts.  God used this gracious exhortation to turn my eyes from myself and to gratefully cast my cares on the one who cares for me.  This is not a one-time event, but rather a daily turning from myself to Jesus, and He promises to replace anxiety with a peace that protects my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
  10. True contentment is found in the gracious provision of Christ and not in what I do:  My heart is prone to discontentment.  I’ve been struck in fresh ways, by Paul’s words from house arrest, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (4:11).  He shares the secret of this contentment, “I can do all things through (Christ) who gives me strength” (4:13).  I am predisposed to believe that in order to achieve contentment, I need to accomplish new things, change my circumstances, or accumulate creature comforts for myself.  However, in Christ Jesus, I have reason for divine contentment – in Him all my needs have been provided, according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  This is as true in 2020 as it was last year and as it will be in years to come.