Philippians 2:1 "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others."
Stress has a way of either bringing people together or tearing them apart. Parents who lose a child often end up losing their marriage too as the pain manifests itself as anger, or withdrawing or any other forms of reaction which are death on a relationship. The church in Philippi is stressed over Paul’s imprisonment. He is not just a preacher to them. He is the one who introduced them to Jesus who could heal any disease and walk on water, even raise the dead. It's likely they heard also of Peter's miraculous rescue from prison. Yet their beloved champion of the gospel is languishing in prison and the experience is causing individuals to doubt and the church to fracture.
This month marks ten years since cancer invaded my otherwise peaceful life. It came suddenly and by God's intervention it left just as suddenly. At the same time there was a precious lady in Cape Breton who had been battling cancer for years and through ups and downs was gradually losing. After my miracle which was an undeserved as her illness, I went to see her. She had heard about me being sick too and asked how I was doing. I didn't know what to say. Here she was struggling for years and my "battle" came and went in a few weeks. I could do nothing but share the truth. She squeezed my hand and told me how happy she was for me. Then she paused and courageously asked "Why doesn't He do that for me?"
I had no answer. I still don't. I can't explain my healing any better than I can explain her eventual loss. We hugged and cried. In that moment I would have changed places if I could have but the journey of life is not like that. We each have a road to travel and only when we reach Home will we understand why our journey had to be the way it was.
In Philippi they are struggling. Why is their Mighty Jesus doing nothing for their precious Paul? The stress is affecting relationships. The strained relationships are affecting the entire church. The pain and doubt is manifesting itself in a myriad of unhealthy ways. Into the stress comes a letter from the very one who is the focus of their angst.
What is his counsel?
First he has already assured them he is ok in chains. He is even ok if the chains end in death. Now he turns his attention to them. His solution is to pull together instead of apart. To be humble. To strive to see things from the perspective of another.
I've been around long enough to observe that in times of trouble 5 people in the same situation can react five different ways. One might use humour to diffuse the stress. Another from a sense of helpless frustration will react with anger. Still another might just cry. Another might withdraw into a sullen silence. The last might begin to try and control the other four as means of bringing structure and productivity and normalcy into the chaos and controlling to make up for being out of control.
These vastly different reactions are a breeding ground for misunderstanding and conflict. In this Satan rejoices. Paul knows the danger and calls them to press together and in humility consider the other person. When we choose to love and pray for others in the storm and determine to seek their good it is hard to fight with them.
They say finding joy is not complicated. Seek Jesus first, seek Others second. Consider Yourself last.
Joy in the storm.