Paul’s experiences in lockdown
At Bristo Baptist Church we have recently been reading the book of Philippians. Although we began in February, it took on a whole new meaning for us once lockdown began.
Philippians was written by Paul to a church in Philippi (in modern day Greece) which he had established during his second missionary journey. This book is one of the Prison Epistles, which were written while Paul was under house arrest in Rome. “Epistle” means letter or message and is often instructional, written by a teacher or leader. As we read, I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:8), Paul was very close to the Philippian church and must have found it challenging to not be allowed to visit those he loved.
We have also had to change our way of life – not meeting loved ones, not sure when we’ll be together again – and so we can find encouragement from Paul’s letter.
Paul was under house arrest for two years while on his third missionary journey, which involved travelling to Jerusalem with aid during a famine. However, the authorities at the time wanted to halt Christianity’s spread, and so arrested Paul.
Despite this terrible event, God had told Paul you must also testify in Rome (Acts 23:11). From this, Paul was confident God’s plan was for him to minister, whether to the guards around him, or by praying and writing to others. He therefore prayed that God’s plan would be carried out, rather than for his release – I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12).
God knew this current pandemic would come and, even though it has disrupted many plans, be assured that you were meant to live through this period. He has placed you in whatever situation you are in to work for His kingdom. Paul was able to pray and carry out God’s plan at a time when letters took weeks to arrive… how much more easily can we follow His plans nowadays!
“Perseverance” may imply that we have to ignore bad things that are happening. However, Paul doesn’t tell us not to doubt, but instead that we should hold onto God’s promises.
Times of doubt can come during times of conflict. For the Philippian church, conflict came from outside, through authorities and false preachers, as well as inside, through disagreements. For us, conflict may currently exist in news articles, social media and even within our homes.
Paul’s advice to the Philippian church was to not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition…present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6). We can do the same, knowing God will listen and relieve anxieties in a practical way – or change our perspective and bring us peace.
Doubt can also appear during times of suffering. Despite his suffering, Paul was excited to share the gospel with new people. At this time, our suffering may be emotional, such as grief, stress or loneliness, or financial difficulties. While we’re not promised that we won’t suffer, God does promise that He will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9). Think though of all His love that you’ve already shared during this period, and will continue sharing!
Paul tells his readers to stand firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1), creating images of the tortoise formation in which Roman soldiers would create a defensive shell with their shields. Even when the battle seemed desperate, the soldiers would still have to listen to their commander’s voice. Paul was certainly feeling desperate – For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! (Philippians 1:21-22). However, he held onto God’s truths and promises, all of which helped him to stand firm. For us standing firm also means listening to Jesus, especially His promises which never change…
His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 100:5)
The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble (Nahum 1:7)
Joy & optimism
Paul’s letter inspires us to find joy in any circumstances, something which may surprise us – I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12).
We, who are so much freer than Paul, can surely find plenty of things to be thankful for, even in our current situation. Pretty flowers, sunshine and beautiful sunsets are all given by God to enjoy – the same God about whom Paul writes I can do all this through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).
Paul clearly experienced many feelings during his house arrest, but we can see his genuine joy in God’s blessings. We see this even in his optimism about death - I eagerly expect and hope that I… will have sufficient courage so that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).
So today, know that you can trust God, even if His plans are different to yours. He knew this period was coming and has not abandoned you because of it – I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
Are there any parallels to our current situation you’ve been reading in the Bible recently?
*all Bible verses are taken from the NIV