Pray: Father, please “open my eyes that I may see wonderful truths in your instructions.” (Psalm 119:18 NLT).
Read: Philippians 1:1-11, Acts 16:12-40
“Partakers with me of grace…. (1:7).”
“Grace, grace, God‘s grace” is what formed the deep and cherished bond between Paul and the Philippian church. A bond so strong he “yearned for them with all the affection of Christ Jesus” and “[held] them in his heart (1:7,8).”
Opposed minorities in a proud Roman city, they sought a different kingdom; feasted from a different table. They ate and drank holy mysteries—strength in weakness, deliverance from and through evil, and the supremacy of divine love. In other words, they partook of God’s abundant and lavish grace together.
Paul thanked God for them and their shared heartbeat for the gospel (1:3-5). Oh, to be a fly on the wall in Paul’s mind and see the reel of faces that passed across the screen of his remembrance: the brothers and sisters who burst his heart with joy and his lips with thanksgiving.
Was one of these faces, Lydia, the first convert in Philippi? Acts 16:15 states: “God opened Lydia’s heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul.” The author’s word choice here strikes me as a bit funny. I wonder if Lydia needed extra grace to “pay attention” and comprehend Paul’s words because Paul was “not a polished speaker” (2 Cor. 11:6); “Some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing (2 Cor.10:10).’” We also know that on at least one occasion, Paul requested prayer “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 6:19).”
Regardless of eloquence or in-eloquence, it seems safe to say that by God’s sufficient grace, Paul proclaimed the gospel boldly. And again, by God’s grace, Lydia had ears to hear.
Also, by God’s grace, Paul was emboldened to command a demon to leave a Philippian slave girl. By the authority of Jesus, “it came out right away” (Acts 16:18). We don’t know the end of her story, but I surely hope her face was in the Rolodex of Philippian believers that Paul gave thanks for: a sister who joyfully shared her story of deliverance and helped confirm and defend the gospel.
Or did Paul’s smiling remembrance involve the jailer (and his household) who came to faith after witnessing the miracle of Paul and Silas’ deliverance from chains. The jailer did not try to naturalize or neutralize the miracle but was given grace to see that it was God’s unseen hand at work. “Trembling with fear he fell down” and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
Or perhaps sprinkled through the Philippian congregation were members of the mob responsible for beating and imprisoning Paul and Silas in the first place. Maybe they heard how Paul and Silas-bruised and bleeding-lifted songs and prayers to heaven and how God’s grace poured down on prison doors and prisoners’ hearts in addition to the jailer and his family.
Whoever this bunch of Philippian converts were, they were together “partakers of God’s grace” and Paul thanked God for them from the bottom of his soul. He encourages them with a beautiful promise and a profound prayer.
The promise: “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6).
In other words, in all our fumblings and stumblings, weak and wrong desires, pain and sufferings, God’s perfect and abundant grace will carry us to the finish line. The same God who initiates these amazing stories of deliverance is just as determined to complete the deliverance He started in you, in me, in a wayward child, in a lukewarm friend, or in a zealous know-it-all. By grace (not by our eloquence, purity of motive, or track-record) He will finish what He started. Our job is to just keep on partaking of God’s grace together. To marvel at it. To share it. In a world (and a church) tempted to divide, His grace unites. His grace turns fighting into serving, complaining into thanking, hoping in a corrupting Rome to hoping in the glorious city of God.
The prayer: “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…”(Phil. 1:9-10)
Church, how desperately do we need this prayer today? In a world where we need to discern truth about vaccines, critical race theory, sexuality, and the best way to love the abused and marginalized, etc., we need the type of love that can sort truth, error, and “hold loosely” categories. On the one hand, resisting evil and error that this generation now declares as good and true. On the other hand, learning to absorb offense and minister God’s truth-not as a hammer, but as a healing balm. Ultimately, we need the Spirit of truth to reveal to us the thoughts of God so we can think clearly. Then from the soil of prayer and repentance, truth may just grow arms and legs in the form of a humble servant, embodying love.
The book of Philippians will help mature us toward this end. Let’s come eager and ready to receive all that the Lord wants to reveal to us.
What areas do you know you need God’s grace? (i.e. His special strength, His divine wisdom, His healing in a particular relationship, His empowering for ministry or to put off sin, etc.).
Pray: Take a moment to pray specifically and expectantly about this area of weakness. Remember, the Holy Spirit brings these things to mind because Christ is busy- even now- finishing His work in us! Be encouraged! It’s in this very area of struggle that we become partakers of God’s abundant grace. Let us feast.
For further study: