Welcome back! Did you read through Philippians in one sitting? When you did (see, I have great confidence in you!) you will have seen some themes, big ideas on Paul’s heart. You saw that he’s a bit ga-ga over these people. His love and affection for them spill over throughout the letter. And you saw that Paul is full of joy and thankfulness.
Maybe you scratched your head, wondering how Paul could be so joyful when he was stuck in prison. Was he just crazy? A bit different than normal people? Super spiritual?
You’ll know from the first sermon in this series (Sept. 11) that in the middle of launching this church in Philippi, Paul and Silas got unceremoniously flogged and thrown in prison — even though they were doing God’s work, even though they were Roman citizens. So God should have been looking out for them, right?! And so should Rome have been. (For this story, see Acts 16:6-36.) That was when Paul and Silas planted the church in Philippi, and now ten years later, he is wishing he could spend more time with them, saying, “I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus” (v.8). But no, he can’t, because he’s stuck in prison again.
So what’s going on here in verse 7? “It is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favour of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.” Special favour of God?? This phrase is often translated ‘God’s grace.’ Either way, does it sound a bit off, based on his circumstances?
My question is “Why?” Why could Paul talk this way? And why did he and Silas sing hymns to God during their sleepless night, after being beaten and thrown in jail? (See Acts 16.)
Paul knew that God does amazing things. He had experienced it. He knew that God does amazing things, even in difficult, disappointing, seemingly disastrous situations. Remember this is the guy who wrote “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God…” (Romans 8:28). Some manuscripts translate this as “We know that in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good — with those who have been called according to his purpose.”
And in fact, that is what happened. There they were, bloody and beaten, and worshipping God, with the other prisoners listening, and God sends an earthquake and loosens all their chains. But wait! This isn’t the good news, yet. (What?) The jailer is about to kill himself. Paul shouts “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!” Everyone in the jail sees God at work. What is more amazing — the earthquake and the broken chains, or the fact that none of the prisoners ran away? They had heard Paul and Silas worshipping God. The jailer’s life is saved. He and his entire household rejoice because they all believed in God. So the Philippian church was launched based on love, and joy, and God’s amazing grace.
That is why Paul could say, “You share with me the special favour of God, BOTH in my imprisonment AND in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.” He knew that God does amazing things, in seemingly disastrous circumstances, to accomplish his purposes and reach people with his amazing, transforming love.