Faith to Perceive the Work of God

I am shocked by and moved by the way Paul opens his letter to the Christians in the city of Philippi.  He writes to them, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you….”

Consider Paul’s words carefully: “I thank my God every time I remember you….”

As Paul sat in his prison cell in Rome, what kinds of things may have provoked his memory of the Philippians? 

Every time he felt the chains upon him and or looked about at the prison walls that enclosed him, he may have recalled the first time he was locked in chains in a dungy prison cell, and that would have reminded him of Philippi, and his first encounter with unjust imprisonment.  Every time he felt a pain in his back or in his shoulders, he may have recalled the beating he sustained in Philippi.  And then there was Epaphroditus.  The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to Rome to provide care for Paul in his imprisonment, but Ephaphroditus had become deathly ill, and it was left to Paul to care for Ephaphroditus instead. 

I fear that if I were in Paul’s shoes, I would have begun my letter to the Philippians quite differently.  I may have written, “Dear Philippians, I am sorry to tell you this, but every time I remember you, I am filled with disappointment and frustration!  My present surroundings remind me of the lousy night I spent in your dank prison.  My aching body reminds me of the cruelty I suffered among you.  And sick Epaphroditus is a constant reminder to me that with friends like the Philippians, who needs enemies!”

I may have been inclined to begin my letter with griping, but Paul began his letter by expressing gratitude.  How was he able to do that?

I believe the answer is found in verse 6 where Paul shares, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”    Paul perceived something within the Philippians that others might not have been able to see.

In 480 B.C., when the Persian army invaded Greece, the Greek commander Themistocles assembled the Greek ships off the coast of Salamis and waited there.  As the morning wore on, he simply sat there idly, not commanding the ships into battle.  The soldiers grew restless and confused.  They wondered whether he was afraid of battle.  But Themistocles knew what he was doing.  He knew that around 10 each morning, the winds and waves would change, and would turn the Persian ships sideways, making them easy targets for ramming by the Greek triremes.  Moreover, with the ships driven now by a strong wind, Themistocles would not need to waste half of his men pulling at the oars but could bring them all on deck for the battle.  As Themistocles trusted in a power that was not perceptible to his enemy, Paul had come to trust in a power that was not easily perceptible to others.

A story has been shared throughout the centuries that when Michelangelo began work on the statue of David, he brought a hunk of marble into his studio, and his housekeeper grunted at it.  But many months later, after chipping away at that hunk of marble, the magnificent form of David began to take shape.  The housekeeper walked back into the studio and stared at the emerging statue.  In amazement, she turned to Michelangelo and asked, “How did you know that beautiful man was hidden inside that hunk of marble?”  Paul, like Michelangelo perceived the beauty that lay hidden in the Philippian church, and he knew that Christ was doing his work among the Philippians and would not stop until his work came to completion on the day of Jesus Christ.

I pray for God to turn my griping heart into a grateful heart, with faith to perceive the beauty that God is producing in my life and in the lives of others.

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