Thursday, 6 April 2017

Learning through the Letters: Philippians

Ruins in Macedonia, where the church of the Philippians originated

I've been making a point of trying to study the Word of God each day. I try to do it in the still, quiet of the morning before my kids wake up, but spring break and a bout of the stomach flu and a nasty chest cold hitting my kids hard has meant that this Lent, things have been kind of hectic. However, even if it can't be first thing in the morning, I still try to make time to study the Scripture daily.

I've been working my way through the letters of the New Testament. I read a chapter a day, and highlight or underline (if my son has stolen my highlighter again -- my fault for leaving it out, but he loves it!) verses that I feel I can learn a lot from. Eventually, I want to pick a few of these verses and memorize them, but I haven't gone that far yet. I will incorporate these verses into prayer, though.

The first letter I read through was St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, written to the first church that he established in Europe, in the Roman province of Macedonia. St. Paul wrote the letter while he was still in prison, and was at the time facing opposition of other Christians towards himself and also dealing with false teaching in the church at Philippi.

St. Paul wrote the letter to thank the Christians in Philippi for a gift they had sent him, and also included reassurance and encouragement for them. He encouraged them to have a humble, Christ-like attitude and spoke of how their salvation was a gift of God's grace received through faith and not the Jewish law.

Here are the verses that I felt spoke to me -- verses I felt moved by, or encouraged by or even challenged by. I'll include my thoughts, and how I incorporated them into my prayers.

I pray that your love will keep on growing more and more, together with true knowledge and perfect judgement, so that you will be able to choose what is best. Philippians 1:9-10 I really love this one, because who among us doesn't need more growth, more love and more perfect knowledge and judgement? I use this verse to pray that God will enable me to grow in the faith, and learn more about my faith, so that every decision and choice I make in this life will be rooted in the love and wisdom of God.

Don't be afraid of your enemies; always be courageous, and this will prove to them that they will lose and that you will win, because it is God who gives you the victory. Philippians 1:28 I've been struggling with some things, and yes, some people lately. And I also struggle with fear. I love this verse because it encourages me to be brave, and it gives me a reason to do so: I will win, because I have God on my side!

Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. Philippians 2:1. This is just the first half of verse one, but I really like it. No, I love it. When you're a person who struggles with fear and anxiety, this is truly encouraging. I may not be strong on my own, but I am strong in Christ. I need to remind myself of this. Also, how often do we look for comfort in places that we are not guaranteed to get it? But in Christ there is all the comfort we need, and we need to run to Him first above all others.

Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation, because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose. Philippians 2:12-13. This verse jumped out at me because it backs up the Catholic view of salvation -- not "once saved, always saved", but a process -- a lifelong journey. And God will never give up on us while we make that journey. Isn't that wonderful? I pray that God will keep working in me and that I can be willing and able to obey Him.

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God's perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life. Philippians 2:14-16. This was a very good reminder for me. I think I can often fall into an ungrateful rut, where everyday things annoy me. "First world problems", if you will. And I definitely get down when I think about the world we live in today and what our current generation is like. I myself have personal dealings with people that could not be more different from me in a spiritual way, people who can make life complicated. This reminds me that I'm not to argue with them or even complain about them, but instead must focus on my walk with God, so that I can be an example of Christ's love to them. Isn't it amazing that God trusts us with this responsibility? It's like a parent trusting their child with a responsibility that will help them grow.

This isn't an entire verse, but at the beginning of chapter 3, St. Paul tells the Christians at Philippi to "be joyful in your union with the Lord." Lately, when I go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest has reminded me of the importance of being joyful in my faith. This has been a theme that has been echoed to me -- in devotionals, in scripture verses, in books and elsewhere -- since Advent. I think that God is trying to tell me something -- and I'm listening! St. Paul repeats this again in Philippians 4:4, one of my favourite Bible verses ever: May you be joyful with your union in the Lord. I say it again: rejoice!

In the second part of Philippians 3:13, St. Paul says "the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead." This is so, so apt. All of us have things in our past that can drag us down, that the enemy can use against us to make us feel guilt or shame or fear or worry. St. Paul tells us not to take part in any of that, but to focus on the future -- to focus on Christ.

As a mother, I want to instill a gentle, loving attitude in my children, and I want to share this abundantly; I want them to share it with the world they live in, with animals and nature, with themselves, with their peers and friends and family and with strangers. So I try to heed St. Paul's advice when he says, in Philippians 4:5, Show a gentle attitude toward everyone.

I've said it before -- I'm a worrier. So I love the following verse: Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7. This is a life-verse for me: what I mean by that is, this is a verse that I absolutely need in my life. It hangs on a wall in my kitchen in the form of a decorative plaque I picked up at a second hand store. This verse breathes life and courage into me, because it is a promise from God to keep my heart and mind safe and to grant me peace. What an amazing Father!

Another life-verse (wow, the study of this chapter has been very fruitful for me!) follows shortly after: In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. Philippians 4:8. Do I ever relate to this one -- I sometimes let my thoughts run away with me, and when people who have a tendency to worry do that, it can get us into trouble. This verse reminds me that it's okay to filter what I allow in -- whether it be from the media or even from my own thoughts. I'd like some wall decor with this verse featured, as well!

The last two verses from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians that I highlighted are as follows: I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. Philippians 4:11. This is a great reminder that we don't need to keep striving for more success, more money and more...things. We can be happy with what we have, because when we have Christ, we have everything! I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me. Philippians 4:13. It's true -- in Christ we can face whatever happens! May He grant us the courage to realize that.

photo credit: Troels Myrup <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/12245994@N00/30364929663">Philippi</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">(license)</a>

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