Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will result in my deliverance.
As we’ve touched on already and will see again and again, one of the significant questions Paul’s letter prompts is just how in the world he finds it possible to rejoice in his circumstances. He is, after all, in prison, stripped of both his friends and usual support. And while in this verse he talks with confidence of being delivered, the coming verses seem more ambivalent about the ultimate outcome of his imprisonment. Paul, that is, may very well die in his prison cell or, even if he evades this fate for the time being, be sentenced to death at a later time.
How, then, can he talk about rejoicing? Goodness, if we could figure out how to emulate Paul’s confident joy it’d surely be worth the price of the book – not just his letter mind you, but the whole Bible it comes bound in!
Actually, I think by reading Paul’s words carefully, we can “lean into” the joy Paul both exhibits and exudes. Two clues toward that end lay right here, tucked into this brief verse and a half. First, Paul says that he knows that “through your prayers” he will find deliverance. Paul, in other words, knows that he is not alone. And one of the most important ingredients to a joyful life is cultivating a sense of connection with others. Paul both knows, and is known by, the Philippians. He has lived with them, worked with them, suffered with them, shared himself with them and received their sharing of themselves with him as well. These are he necessary elements of connectedness – mutual sharing that involves allowing ourselves to be truly seen so that we might see others as the children of God that they are.
A second clue to Paul’s confident joy comes in the second half of the same sentence. Not only does he count on the prayers of his friends, but he also depends on “the help of the Spirit of Jesus.” Paul, that is, knows that he cannot endure his situation alone and counts on the support of the Spirit.
This may not seem like much of a confession coming from Paul. He is, after all, often called “the divine Apostle” and even “the second founder of Christianity,” so perhaps we expect this kind of pious talk from him. But I think this statement, like the last one, shows a profound vulnerability. Paul is willing, after all, not only to recognize his own limitations but also to admit them, even embrace them, inviting the support of both the Spirit and his friends.
To imagine that we can get by without the support of friends and God may seem foolish, but at the same time admitting our need, even our dependence, on this support can often be hard. We live a culture that celebrates the “self-made” man or woman, and so even while we know that none of us is truly self-made, yet admitting our vulnerability and need can be intensely difficult. Yet only by doing so can we find the connection that helps us, as it did Paul, to rejoice even in the most challenging of circumstances.
Prayer: Dear God, remind us that we are your beloved children so that we may find the courage to let ourselves be seen, to see others as your children, and to trust in the help of the Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Post image: Ayesha Hilton, “Connectedness,” pastel.