We’re living longer than ever
Google “living longer than ever” and you get any number of articles citing this phenomenon.
One recent story from ABC on the subject pointed out that longer life may not be a blessing for everyone. As the Baby Boomer (my generation) ages, the statistics can be overwhelming.
Which makes some people ask, “Is living longer a blessing?”
Longer life is not hyperbole. Scientists now predict that we will be able to live longer and longer. But the question remains, “Will it be worth living?” The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians reveals that for him, Jesus Christ made life profoundly worth living.[i] And so this letter becomes key to those who are trying to be followers of Jesus.
Therefore, before we jump into the text, let’s have a brief introduction to this letter.
First, the place: where is Philippi, and why is it so special? Philippi doesn’t seem like a special place to those of us today, but it would be like planting the first, the very first, Christian Church in London or New York City. Philippi was a city that was situated on the high road between the continents of Asia and Europe – there were gold and silver mines located nearby—a very strategic location. You can read more about Philippi here.
Second, the people that Paul is writing to are a unique mix. The story of the church being formed in Philippi is recorded in Acts 16 and highlights the amazing reality of Christianity, that it is open to all. The first person to receive Jesus was a wealthy woman, Lydia; then a Greek slave girl; then a middle-class Roman soldier.
Third is the purpose of Paul’s letter: it is a letter of encouragement... encouragement that was born out of the focusing environment of prison. If you have read some of Paul’s other letters, then you know he at times can be very direct when people are not following Jesus. This letter has none of that harshness and serves as an example for us as to how to encourage each other.
Some of the most powerful writings in history have been penned by leaders imprisoned for political reasons. Something about confinement, uncertainty, and (often) the mistreatment these prisoners have suffered seems to help them focus their minds on their fundamental convictions.
But whereas many imprisoned authors take a martyr’s posture and rail against whatever system is oppressing them, Paul sounded a radically different note in his “prison epistle” to the Philippians: he focused on the Christ-centered life, the hallmark of which is joy—a remarkable theme considering that he may have been facing execution (see Phil. 1:23), most likely in Rome (see 1:13, 4:22).
Can Paul’s message have any relevance to people who follow Jesus and who live in a free society without threat of imprisonment or death for practicing their religion? I think the answer is YES! This letter shows us what ultimately matters. For those of us who are free, in the midst of affluence and opportunity, it’s easy to lose perspective, to pay more attention to peripheral things that, while attractive, really have little value, rather than substantial things that have great value.
What I find amazing is the theme of Joy. Think about it. Paul is saying this is the central theme of being a Christian. “Joy” is often times confused with “happiness.” Joy, says C.S. Lewis, is the serious business of heaven. Joy is something that I would like not just to understand, but to more regularly experience.
When you hear the word joy what comes to your mind?
[i] Nicky Gumbel. A Life Worth Living. David Cook Publishing. Colorado Springs, CO. 1994.