Experiencing Christ During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Part 2
Paul in Prison: Experiencing Christ in Isolation
Paul was in isolation in Rome, jailed for no legitimate reason. What did he do? We have a letter he wrote to Phillippian believers. What Paul expressed is a lesson for any today suffering, isolated, and locked down.
**The key message: Enjoy Christ through your difficult circumstances.**
1. He had time to give thanks for those he knew and to pray for them (1:1-11)
"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, ...praying with joy in my every prayer for you all"
Often our lives are so busy with the cares of this age that it chokes the word of God in us, as the parable of the sower explained (Matt 13:22). Being separated for a time from the noise of life may help us remember people who need our prayer with thanksgiving. One role of the Holy Spirit in us is to bring us to remembrance of people. Take advantage of your alone time to pray!
2) He expressed Christ even in his limited and suffering environment to others around him (1:12-30)
".. my circumstances have turned out for the advancement of the gospel, .... Christ will even now, as always, be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain"
When people heard of Paul's imprisonment, they were watching to see how he would respond. His enemies wanted him to be put to shame. His friends were wondering if he would maintain his faithful witness. The same holds for us under this new Covid-19 suffering and isolation. How will we respond to shortages of toilet paper, unemployment, sickness, and even death? In ourselves we will surely fail. But the Spirit of Christ in us has already passed the supreme tests of suffering and death, and came out in resurrection! Jesus on the cross exclaimed "My God why have you forsaken me?" as He, the sinless one, was made sin on our behalf (Matt 27:46; 2 Cor 5:21)
3) He encouraged other to realize Christ in a deeper way (2:1-30)
"Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus,... He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, and that the death of a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him.., "
"...just as you have always obeyed, ...work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is operating in you, both the willing and the working for His good pleasure."
It is very easy to be a superficial person in this age. Our experience of Christ can deepen with hardships, if we open to Him and His word and the fellowship of the Body of Christ. Jesus was God, yet He became man. He lowered Himself from the heights of glory to the most despised path of death and humiliation. This same Spirit of Jesus is in us. Paul said that this very mind of Christ, with its self emptying and self humbling and God obedient nature, now dwells in us. It is not a matter of our fleshy effort to get us through this current struggle. Rather our responsibility it to turn to the God who operates within us, to obey His grace within. It is not passive, where we just wait for God to do something. Neither is it active in the sense that it is all up to our effort and skill. Rather, it is a divine-human cooperation and mingling of our spirit with His, to bring us into oneness with this marvelous Christ.
4) He made clear the priorities of life: gaining the experiential knowledge of Christ (the goal) for the coming kingdom (the prize) (3:1-21)
**" I count all things to be loss on account of of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but refuse so that I may gain Christ,... that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;.I pursue toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
What is it all about? Many think that the pleasure and blessings of this material life are what we are here for, and may even complain to God that their comfortable lifestyle has been disrupted. Others think of the afterlife in heaven is the goal. Neither of these are the divine revelation. Our goal is to become one with Christ today, to be transformed into His image and likeness (Romans 8:28-30; 2 Cor 3:17-18), through our experiential knowledge of Him every day. This is our goal for this current crisis. The prize, the reward, for this transformation is the rich entrance into His kingdom in the next age, which is Christ ruling and reigning on earth as a grand wedding feast (2 Peter 1:5-11; Matt 25:10; 19-21; Luke 19:17; Rev 20:6; 22:12, etc.)
5) He experienced Christ in a deeper way as the secret to true peace and fulfillment (ch 4)
"**Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!...The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you...I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. ...I can do all things through Him who empowers me."
Today's Covid 19 Shutdown is an opportunity to know God, know others, and know ourselves in a deeper way. Christ Himself, who dwells within us, through the fellowship of the Body of Christ, can enrich us greatly if we use the time wisely.