Philippians 3:1-14 – Stuart
- 25 October 2023
- Stuart Robinson
SHAP Philippians 3:1-14
That’s the number I came up with this week.
I’ve conducted more than 600 funerals over the years.
One ponders such things as retirement fast approaches.
And a recurring phrase (or variations of it) that I hear from grieving relatives and friends is this:
“Well, I hope she’s in a better place now”.
It’s an interesting phrase as it contains both longing and uncertainty.
There’s a longing for a life without pain and decay.
A longing for life without violence, injustice, inequality, and unrealised dreams.
Now they are longings to which we can relate, right?
UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated at the Peacebuilding Commission last year,
As we meet today, one quarter of humanity lives in conflict-affected areas. Two billion people. Last year, 84 million were forcibly displaced because of conflict, violence, and human rights violations. And this year, we estimate that at least 274 million will need humanitarian assistance. All of this is taking place at a moment of multiplying risks that are pushing peace further out of reach — inequalities, COVID-19, climate change and cyberthreats, to name just a few.
Yes, we get the longing for that ‘better place’ deal – especially if one’s current mailing address is Kyiv, or Gaza, or the community hospice.
I mentioned longing and uncertainty.
‘I hope she’s in a better place’.
‘Hope’ in this context is an expression of uncertainty; a lack of clarity; anxiety even.
Indeed, I read a piece from the National Centre for Biotechnology in Maryland that said this,
Uncertainty about a possible future threat, disrupts our ability to avoid it, or to mitigate its negative impact, and thus results in anxiety.
Uncertainty leads to anxiety.
Yes, people are anxious about death – not just because of its inevitability, but because of the uncertainty of that which lies beyond death:
The ‘better place’ – and will I in fact qualify?
I find the text of Philippians 3 most instructive.
St. Paul invites his friends in northeastern Greece to join him in rejoicing in the Lord (3:1) because – among other things, God has called him (and them) to receive a great ‘prize’ (his words) which is the heaven that, through Christ, God has prepared for them (verse 14).
So, Paul longs for, and looks forward to, a “better” place.
He places his confidence – not in his achievements, but in Christ’s.
You may have noticed as the text was read that if a person could somehow merit or earn their way to that ‘better place’ Paul must surely qualify:
- He had an impeccable religious heritage that started with him being circumcised according to Jewish tradition v5.
- He came from the right family…and describes himself as a ‘Hebrew of Hebrews’; he issued from a long line of God-fearing, zealously law-abiding women and men. V.5.
- He had the right education…indeed he was a professor of religion; a Pharisee – an expert in religious matters.
- He had the right attitude, and he knew the right people – in that he and his like-minded associates assiduously persecuted and hunted down heretics – people who followed Jesus. V6.
- He presented well…on the outside his conduct was above reproach – ‘faultless’, is the word he uses in verse 6.
One simple word describes Paul’s focus: ‘trying”.
He was “trying” to please God.
And the folly of that programme came into sharp relief the moment that Paul came face to face with the risen Jesus (Acts 9).
Paul’s focus and his trajectory changed in an instant.
He can now say of his “trying”, that it was utter refuse – ‘garbage’ (verse 8), compared to what he now has in and through Christ Jesus his Lord – verse 8.
Rather than trying, Paul is now trusting.
Paul is trusting in Jesus:
- the Jesus who ‘took a hold of him’ (verse 12). It means that Paul submitted to Jesus’ authority.
- the Jesus who offers his righteous standing before a holy God to all who place their faith in him v. 9.
- the Jesus who sends his Spirt to transform and empower people to serve God aright v.3 – and that may well be in the context of adversity and persecution v.10.
- the Jesus who will take people through this life, through death – and raise them to be with him (v.11). Their trajectory is heavenward – verse 14.
Can you see why Paul begins this section (3:1) with, ‘My brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!’
Paul’s lot won’t be easy.
There will be ongoing struggle, and vilification, and arrest, and imprisonment, and then death – but he is not anxious.
He ‘strains forward’ (v 13), he presses on (v 14) to receive the ‘prize’ to which God has called him – through Christ Jesus (v. 14).
No longer trying – but trusting, Paul eagerly anticipates that “better place”.
Trying or trusting?
As I did last week, I’d like to finish with a very simple prayer that either re-affirms our trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection or expresses, perhaps for the first time, our desire to respond to God’s call (v 14) and place our faith in Christ.
Let me read it first and then I shall pray.
Our Great God and Heavenly Father,
In these turbulent and uncertain times, I turn to you; trusting not in my own goodness but in your kindness and mercy.
Thank you that I can be right with you through trusting Jesus. His living, dying, and rising addresses my sin, enables me to live as your child, and opens a way into your presence – now and forever.
Thank you for this better way, to a better place.