Meditation on Philippians 3:4b-14
Fifth Sunday in Lent
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Pastor Karen Crawford
Link to recording of the live-streamed service: https://fb.watch/c9Lo6AbNTo/
I have been having interesting conversations with some of my Christian friends, since I announced that I have accepted a new call. The one thing that comes up repeatedly is my feeling of things being out of my control. One friend laughs when I say that. That things feel out of control. We are never in control, not really, when we are following Christ. Our lives are not our own! We belong to him.
We struggle to surrender all of ourselves to the Lord.
I was inspired by a story of a widow’s faith this week. She lives in Central Europe in the city of Prague, in the Czech Republic. She says, “In my lifetime, I have experienced the rule of two totalitarian regimes. One was the German Nazis. The second was the Russian communists. The Word of God says 366 times, “Do not be afraid. Do not fear.”
“After 40 years of Communism here and the fact that many believers left the country, the Czech Republic has been called the ‘most atheist place in Europe.’ It breaks my heart.
“My name is Ludmilla. I am 82 years old. I have 7 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. My husband went to heaven in 2002. The Lord Jesus told me that now he is my husband, and he wants to continue to use me. He wants me to be his representative, his ambassador.
“Next to the door of my house, there is a bronze sign that says, ‘The Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven.’ My home is an extension of Christ’s Kingdom. It’s a place where people can come and look for help if they are in trouble or have a need. The Bible says the Kingdom of Heaven is joy and peace in the Holy Spirit. That is the atmosphere I want here at the Embassy.
“The visitors that I get, some of them have called ahead to let me know they’re coming. And some just come. The ones that haven’t called are usually the best ones because I’m not prepared for them. Everything that happens dependent on the Lord. …
“Whenever people enter this house, I just lay everything else aside and spend time with them. I have learned to recognize the inner voice of the Holy Spirit and give Him room to use me.”
Ludmilla never worries about tomorrow. She has a purpose for every day. Forgetting what lies behind, and not dwelling too long in the memories—happy and sad—she strains forward to what lies ahead—serving Christ with joy until she is with her Savior, face to face.
Paul was on his second missionary journey when he had a vision of a man who pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Macedonia is the northern region of modern-day Greece. The apostle obeys the Spirit and begins his European ministry in Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia. His first ministry encounter is not with the man of his vision, but a woman named Lydia. She is a God-fearer—someone who wasn’t born Jewish but came to believe in the God worshiped by the Jewish people and lived as if she were Jewish. Acts 16 tells us that because of the lack of a synagogue in the city, a group of God-fearing women meet by the river on the Sabbath for prayer.
Lydia is a merchant of luxury textiles made of purple, a costly dye derived from shellfish. Paul sees this group of women gathered for prayer on the Sabbath, and he, Silas, Timothy, and Luke join them by the riverside. Paul shares about Jesus with them. Acts 16:14-15 says, “The Lord opened (Lydia’s) heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”
Afterward, she and her household are baptized and she urges Paul, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.”
Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke are persuaded to stay for some time with Lydia. Since no husband is mentioned, we assume Lydia is widowed or divorced, as divorce was easy and common under Roman law.
As we study this passage, I hope you will imagine the Philippian Church’s humble beginnings in Lydia’s home. She would be forever remembered as the first documented convert to Christianity in Europe. I would like you also to consider Paul’s situation and frame of mind as he writes this letter, years later, from prison, perhaps in Rome or Ephesus—and how the years would have grown their friendship and his love for the congregation.
Being in prison for defending the gospel makes him bolder to preach the gospel. He talks about Jesus with everyone, not only to his fellow prisoners, but to the “whole imperial guard.” In prison, he has plenty of time to pray, write, and think about his own life—mistakes he’s made, wrong paths he has taken, and how God has used him, anyway. Remember his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus? Paul never forgets that he was once an enemy of Christ and his followers.
Prayer and honest self-examination lead to an incredible conclusion about his life—before and after knowing Jesus. He says,
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ.”
The apostle is worried about the Philippians, concerned that without him to guide and protect them, they might be led by others to turn back to some of the ways of Judaism they left behind. In particular, he is worried that they will go back to circumcision, which he sees as a kind of works’ righteousness. He wants all people—Jews and Gentiles—to come to know the love and grace of the Lord and the life-changing power of his resurrection that Paul has experienced.
Nothing else matters, now that everything Paul formerly valued in his life has essentially been taken away— except for his faith and his voice to proclaim it. He chooses bold action and holds onto one thing, he says, and urges the church of every age to do the same: Forget what lies behind. Strain forward to what lies ahead. Press on toward the goal of the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Dear friends, I hope you are inspired by the faith of Lydia and Paul and Ludmilla, who opens her home to anyone in trouble, anyone in need. Some call ahead but others just come, which is better, she says, because then she isn’t ready for them—and whatever happens fully depends on God.
Brothers and sisters, may we be empowered to press on. Forgetting what lies behind. Straining forward to what lies ahead. And what is it that lies ahead?
The Lord wants us to see beyond our immediate concerns and circumstances and look to the future. We have an eternity with our Savior, drawing others closer to him, seeking to know him and the power of his resurrection, more and more. Let us make the most of our days.
May we, each of us, be stirred to surrender ourselves and our lives to the will of God—leaning not on our own understanding, as Proverbs teaches us. But in all our ways acknowledge him, so that he may direct our paths. May we learn to recognize the inner voice of the Holy Spirit and give God room to use us, like he used Paul, Lydia, and Ludmilla in Prague.
“The Holy Spirit likes to take control,” she says. “Often, I listen to myself, and I say things I wouldn’t even think about. There is no problem to deal with the issues that people bring when they come here because the Holy Spirit is here. It’s an honor for me to be an instrument of God’s love and his wisdom every day. We often don’t realize that all believers are called to be representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven.
“We are all ambassadors,” she says, quoting Paul in 2 Corinthians. “The Lord Jesus didn’t choose to do it any other way. He simply entrusted us.”
Let us pray.
Holy One, we want to know you more and the power of your Son’s resurrection to change our lives today. Thank you for entrusting us with your good news, calling us to be your ambassadors for Christ, inviting the whole world to be reconciled with you. May we be like Paul and other faithful followers, such as Ludmilla in the Czech Republic, trusting you to complete a good work in and with us. Help us to hear the inner voice of your Holy Spirit so that we may know your wisdom and your will. Strengthen us to fear not for tomorrow or dwell too long in the memories of yesterday. Move us to press on to what lies ahead and see beyond our present circumstances, giving you room to use us for your eternal purposes, more and more. In Christ we pray. Amen.