Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
Since I talked about cartooning a couple of weeks ago in worship I thought I’d do one for today’s devotional. We’re looking at the book of Philippians for a couple of weeks. According to Eugene Peterson’s introduction to the book this is Paul’s happiest, most joyful writing. That joy does not come from his own experiences. He is tired, he has been shipwrecked, he’s in jail, and others are trying to take over his work. And even in these circumstances he is joyful.
Paul uses a plant metaphor to try and explain love to the people of Philippi. In verses 7-8 he talks about the “deep roots” of his prayers and affection for this people. In the Gospel of John, the 15th chapter Jesus talks about his disciples being the branches that are attached to the vine. He goes on to say that the root of the vine is love. Well, that root is DEEP. A grape vine taproot can go 30 feet deep. It is why older vines usually produce better wine.
In verses 9-11 Paul talks about love in another way. He prays that the people’s love will flourish, and that they will not only love much, but well. Then he goes on to tell them to test their feelings. This passage sounds a bit like Wesley’s quad. We need to use our heads, even when we are talking about feelings. But the goal is to live a “lover’s life”, a life in which we produce bountiful fruit.
These are people Paul loves a great deal. You have those people in your own life, I am sure. People who every time you think of them you are thankful to God. Paul finds this thanksgiving driving him to prayer for these people. Paul spends other letters addressing problems in different churches. He takes on the preachers who have moved in and challenged his teachings. These people also exist in Philippi, but Paul has changed. He has become more mature, he has learned to even give thanks for those folks who he thinks of as: “stepping into the spotlight”, “hoping to get something out of it” and that they are seeking the worst for Paul, that he would stay in prison and out of their way. But he ends up cheering them on! Their motives don’t matter. All that matters to Paul is that Christ is proclaimed. There is no longer a “them and us”, there is only “us”.
There is very little in our culture that would lead us to a more deeply considered life. So much seems to be focused on the new, the instant. This letter from Paul is an invitation to a deeper life, a chance to re-focus. Perhaps those we think are out to get us are our allies. Perhaps our feelings of being stuck are simply the process of setting down deeper roots. It is hard to be still and silent and to “do nothing” for periods of time, but it can be extremely productive.
Quotes for the Week
“Did you know there’s a difference between being busy and being fruitful? Did you ever stop to think that just being busy—running around in circles all day but not accomplishing anything—is the same as wasting your time? It’s frustrating to expend so much energy and time and not have any fruit from your effort.” Joyce Meyer
“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” Simone Weil
“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.” ― Fred Rogers
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” ― Charles M. Schulz
Lesson: Philippians 1:1-18 (The Message)
1 1-2 Paul and Timothy, both of us committed servants of Christ Jesus, write this letter to all the followers of Jesus in Philippi, pastors and ministers included. We greet you with the grace and peace that comes from God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ. 6 Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. 7-8 It’s not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality. You have, after all, stuck with me all the way from the time I was thrown in jail, put on trial, and came out of it in one piece. All along you have experienced with me the most generous help from God. He knows how much I love and miss you these days. Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does! 9-11 So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. 12-14 I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah. 15-17 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them. So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!
Questions for the Week Other than your spouse or partner, who is one friend who totally understands you? In what ways is your life fruitful? What might we as a church do to foster deep relationships?