- Date: May 22, 2022
- Bible Reading: Philippians 1:1-18a
- Free Resource: Mural of Thankfulness (Cross+Gen Worship, NL)
- Unit Theme (May 15—June 5): Living in Hope
- The Point: The proclamation of the gospel brings joy and thanksgiving even in difficult circumstances.
Even in prison, Paul writes a letter of hope to the church in Philippi. This letter is a reminder that even though times are difficult, God isn’t finished yet.
Paul is writing from prison. There is no getting around the dire situation in which he finds himself. Yet, he is taking time to praise God and write to encourage and instruct the church at Philippi. In his writing, Paul writes prayerfully of the hope he has. He knows that God is not done with him or with the churches he started. Paul firmly believes that God is spreading the gospel through his imprisonment and that his story is spreading through the Roman guards and across the Roman Empire.
The people of Philippi likely heard of Paul’s imprisonment and may have been afraid, not just for Paul, but perhaps for themselves, as they might also fear imprisonment or death because of their sharing of the gospel. Yet, Paul encourages the people of Philippi not to lose heart, because God is with them, and he holds them in his heart. Not only that, he knows that they, no matter what, are also praying for him.
The Current Predicament
While you are not likely being imprisoned for spreading the gospel, your church may be facing some predicaments of its own. The reality of two years of pandemic precautions and anxieties has led to shifts in church life and ministry. In many places, church attendance has dropped and so has financial giving. In other places, people are less likely to be as involved as they once were.
Because of this, many are worried about the church dying or the end of Christianity. When people come to me with their concerns, I often point them to scripture, particularly scriptures that point to the reality that God is not done. Philippians 1:6 reads “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” This verse can serve as a reminder that we are not done, even if things don’t appear to be going well.
Predicament or Possibility?
We can think of the present shifts in the life of the church and the spiritual lives of Christians as a bad thing, or we can see it as an opportunity for spreading the gospel in different ways. However, we must heed Paul’s teaching, and ask ourselves: why? Why are we seeking to spread the gospel? Is it for selfish gain so we can have the numbers and finances we used to? Or is it for spreading the hope that Christ offers to all people and places?
Not only is spreading the message of Jesus important, the method of spreading it is also important and may need to change depending on our circumstances. Spreading the gospel might be through sharing our faith story, but it might also be through feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, advocating for justice, or marching for peace.
Praying through the Predicament
So many ministry resources focus on spreading this gospel for the sake of growth. So many people want their churches to grow so they can feel like things used to be or to look like the bigger church on the next street, in the next town, or on TV. These reasons come out of comparing our situation to the situations of others, instead of asking God what we can do with what we have.
Pinpointing Where to Spread the Gospel
As part of worship or small groups, have maps of the local community, state, nation, and world. Provide labels for folks to write down a potential place, concern, or opportunity where they might share the good news of Jesus through their presence, word, or deed. All ages can participate in this. Pray for these possibilities as part of your time together.
Defining the Good News
The message of love and hope that Jesus offers takes many forms in scripture and in our world. Of course, eternal salvation and forgiveness of sins are part of this, but so are a community of support, being able to care for ourselves and others, freedom from oppression, and so much more. As people engage this scripture, encourage people to share new ways to imagine the good news based on the perspectives of different people and groups around the world. You might even provide stories of local and global mission agencies to help explore this.
Praying for Each Other
Paul felt not only the love of God in his life but the prayers of the churches. He also prayed for those churches even as he was suffering. Consider partnering with another church, whether down the street or in another country and pray for each other. You might even share prayer lists, mission updates, and testimonies by writing your own letters. You can share this during worship as a form of praise.
Beyond the Predicament
Paul was not worried about his fate, he trusted that God would take care of him. He offered Christ to every person and community he could and in any way that he could. My hope is that our churches can do the same.
Jonathan LeMaster-Smith lives with his wife, Shannon, in Hildebran, North Carolina (District 12 of The Hunger Games movies). He holds a Ph.D. in Christian Education and Congregational Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary with a focus on Rural Ministry and Methodist Studies. His work includes presentations on Dolly Parton, articles on ditch lilies, and musings about the genius of mayonnaise.
During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Mural of Thankfulness” from our intergenerational worship product Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship (NL) though this can be used in any intergenerational faith formation setting