True Christians understand more than they see (1 John 3:2-3). They know the people and places they observe in everyday life; but they also know the reality of God's presence, with His love, help and comfort, which are invisible. Each day believers are right to expect that God will involve Himself in their lives, and especially as they engage with the business of His Kingdom. So, even before we pass through death, we learn to appreciate what we cannot yet see and to anticipate the glory to come (Philippians 3:10). Meanwhile, we live with confidence because the Holy Spirit assures us of the validity of God's Word so that we can fully rely on His promises (2 Peter 1:4).
Although Paul did not know his human fate, he was quite certain about his eternal destiny. But he was also clear-minded about his responsibilities until he saw the Lord. Life with Jesus meant living for Jesus. Receiving His grace necessitated a whole-hearted commitment to serve Him. Such service was the sacrifice of their lives - either in daily obedience, the deprivation and pain of persecution, or the willingness to be killed for their faith in Christ. Paul anticipates his own ultimate sacrifice (2 Timothy 4:6) but considers it equal to the living sacrifices of the believers in Philippi. He encouraged them that they were both making spiritual sacrifices of their own lives, whether in life or death (Philippians 1:20).
Despite the near-certainty of a violent death, Paul did not cringe in fear. He rejoiced that He had the privilege to suffer because He stood with Christ (Colossians 1:24). Joy is a theme of this letter even though its background was persecution with more persecution to come (Philippians 1:29). Like the Thessalonians, the Philippians had received the gospel with joy despite persecution (1 Thessalonians 1:6); and Paul saw his imprisonment as a joyful answer to prayer – enabling Him to witness for Christ in the middle of Caesar’s palace (Philippians 1:12-14). It is not the circumstances that bring joy but our focus on Jesus Christ in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
In some parts of the Western world, faith in Jesus is seen as a 'soft' option where church is a leisure activity, or a retreat from reality. That is so wrong. While our fellow believers around the world suffer greatly for confessing Christ, how can any Christian stand passively on the touchline of the church. No, we are all called to serve; we are called to give up serving ourselves in order to serve the Lord. This is not just the occasional offering of money or help on a duty rota. It is the daily commitment to gladly put Jesus first in every part of home or work life, even when others hate us for it. Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12).
© Dr Paul Adams