Paul and the Philippians

There is a “contagious joy” that overcomes the flesh.  This thought permeated the reading of Acts 16 and Philippians as I feasted on it numerous times with a prayerful heart before the Lord.  Nehemiah gives us insight into the believer’s strength.  Paul lives it out for us in the midst of persecution and trials.  Paul’s ability to rejoice despite the darkness of the inner prison cell, the open wounds on his back, and knowledge of false teachers distorting the gospel, makes his joy in Christ infectiously contagious.

A jailer desires it.  The Philippians seek to imitate it.  Anyone desiring to be released from captivity of the flesh must discover it.  It was revealed to me that before the hardships of real life come at Paul, he knows Christ in such an intimate way that he experiences enormous pleasure and satisfaction “in Him.”  Paul’s joy in Christ provides the magnitude of strength necessary for him to say that if he lives he receives more of Christ!  If he dies he simply gains Christ!  (This attitude is one of my goals for biblical change.  If it kills me, I gain Christ!)

Personally, there have been a few times I was somewhat “prepared” when life came at me.  During such times I have known the “rare and wonderful species of joy that flourish only in the rainy atmosphere of suffering,” as I read from the pen of John Piper years ago.  I find that if a trial is short-lived I seem to fare better than long trials that drain my joy and strength to endure.  More and more, however, I’ve learned to lift up my soul to the Lord, delight in His presence and learn to be completely satisfied, like a weaned child (Psalm 131:2).  The immense joy derived in experiencing the Lord Jesus through worship sustains me when I am betrayed, persecuted, misunderstood, or tempted.

Sustained joy is what I see and desire while pondering Paul’s misfortunes.  More than the ability to rejoice in all things, or the strength to endure trials, however, I am attracted to the profound defeat of flesh I see in Paul as I read Acts 16 and Philippians.  May the joy of the Lord be contagious and highly potent for overcoming sin so that I “put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).   There is a contagious joy found in Christ alone that overcomes.  This certainly provides reason to rejoice with Paul!

 

Dwelling Together in Community

It is grace, nothing but grace that we dwell together in community with brethren in Christ.

My heart delights as I reflect sweet occasions with brothers and sisters who share in faith and values. Together we have richly experienced God through His Word, through prayer and intercession, at the Lord’s Table, and certainly in lifting up our hearts in song as we worship our precious Lord.

As I learn to live this outrageously blessed life of unity with the brethren, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together, could not have come at a more appropriate time.

Christ invaded my comfortable world as I read and pondered the fellowship of the cross: “The Ministry of Bearing.”

When has it been a sacrifice to help a brother precisely because he is a Christ- follower?  Do I effectively bear other’s burdens?  Little did I know the Lord was about to give me a major-league opportunity to discover the answer.

The very evening I asked myself these key questions, we received an email that sent my heart racing.  My husband and I received an email from a Christian brother that simply stated, “It’s all over” with a blank subject line.

I sat staring at the computer screen wondering what to do next.  What did it mean?  This 55 year old man, due to a lifetime of bad choices and alcohol abuse, had previously lost his job, his health, his wife, his relationship with his children, (for the most part), and now was about to lose his home.

The last we had heard, the mortgage company was foreclosing, and he had no place to go.  Soon after, we had lost touch with him.

I shared the email with my husband, and together we attempted to reach our burdened brother, (who had turned his life over to the Lord and been sober for approximately one year).  Although we had helped our brother financially before, we had made a firm decision that we could no longer do so.

We prayed while we waited to reach our brother by phone, (since he lives a couple of hours away).  During this time the Lord brought to mind the words that resonated with my spirit earlier that day, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” (Gal. 6:2).

I had just discovered that, according to Bonhoeffer, the law of Christ is a law of bearing.  Never before had I heard it worded this way.  The brother is a “burden to the Christian, precisely because he is a Christian,” (Life Together, p100).  Lord, what would You have us do?  What would most please you in this situation?

With great relief, having feared the worst, we did reach our brother in Christ that night.  We discovered he was to lose his home the following Monday morning, the power had already been cut off, and he had no money for food.

He even sold his refrigerator and other household items for money to live on, but all of it was now gone.

Because he had been visiting different churches, he had not yet connected with a local body of Christ, and therefore, did not have anyone he felt he could turn to at this critical time in his life.  Perhaps for the first time, he realized the importance of “dwelling together in community,” and having a church family where needs are mutually met.

The following day, my husband asked me what I thought we should do.  “Bear his burden,” was my response as I communicated what the Lord is presently teaching me.  We sought to help in a number of ways, but the most sacrificial of all was sending several hundred dollars that we do not have to give.

Several marvelous things occurred.  Less than a week later the Lord repaid our family the exact amount we gave!  This past Sunday the pastor of the church we were visiting, (Perimeter Presbyterian, in Atlanta), spoke on Philippians 4:18-19.  “God has always delighted in the appropriate sacrifices of His people,” he said.  “The Lord will supply all of our needs, and there is joy in giving and bearing other’s burdens.”  Our family experienced this joy together.

We experienced the Lord’s pleasure together as well in bearing another’s burden.  This led to a sweet sense of unity in this relationship and with others who know the story and are also praying for and attempting to help this dear man.

He who is bearing others knows that “he himself is being borne, and only in this strength can he go on bearing,” (Life Together, p103).  Bearing with one another is one of the essential elements of dwelling together in rich community and, I have discovered, is done through Christ alone.