I have discovered a rich comfort in the Scriptures during the spring of 2020. Although the world has been shut down, the Word of God has been opened to me in a rare and exciting manner.
I have not been allowed to eat at restaurants, but I have feasted at a table set with the rich and nutritious Word of God. I have been prevented from enjoying the companionship of dear friends, but I have delighted in the company of the greatest teacher of all time—the Holy Spirit.
One of the books in Scripture that has served a veritable banquet of sumptuous truth during the COVID-19 pandemic is the book of Philippians. Perhaps you know that Paul wrote this short yet powerful book from a Roman prison cell.
Paul was in isolation and was forced to live a very small life during his tenure in prison, just as I have been doing during the last three months. However, Paul's relationship with Christ and his ability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit have left an eternal impact.
"Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved" (Phil. 4:1, NASB).
Although Paul was addressing the church at Philippi, he had no idea of how greatly these anointed words would echo through the ages in the first part of the 21st century. Paul longed to see his friends who lived in Philippi, just as we all long to see our friends who might live only a street away.
We long to see our children and our parents. We ache to hold our grandchildren and to have a cup of coffee with a friend. Paul missed his people, and he refers to them as "beloved."
Paul also calls his friends in Philippi his "joy and crown." Do you know what I love about this phrase? Paul uses the word "joy" every possible time that he can! He peppers his speech with this one word even while his life is on hold and he is being held hostage in Rome.
In the four chapters that belong to the book of Philippians, Paul uses the words "joy" or "rejoicing" no less than 14 times! As I ponder Paul's favorite word, it has caused me to examine my speech patterns.
I have been forced to think about the words that I have used most often during the pandemic of 2020. The truth is that I have been forced to repent. I have not used the word "joy" as often as I should have but instead have used words like "lonely," "food," "politics," "media" and "stressful." Paul's default word was "joy"; I want to be like Paul!
Paul also referred to the church at Philippi as his "crown." This is the Greek word stephanos, which was also used to describe the crown that was bestowed to the victorious athlete at the Greek games or the reward given at a prestigious banquet for public service or to the military.
People are your crown in life. One of the most important commitments you can make is to lead people to Christ and to disciple them. People are of greater value than earthly rewards, paychecks, championships, diplomas or titles you may attain.
People's lives are our reward today and tomorrow—in earth and in heaven. Never underestimate the value of a phone call, writing a note or sending a meal to someone.
And finally, in this single verse, Paul instructs all of us to "stand firm in the Lord." As you can imagine, this term was a strategic military term that commanded a soldier to stand firm in battle even when under enemy attack. It was an injunction not to lose any ground but to stand against the forces that were coming against the soldier.
I have discovered that it is easy to stand firm when no one is attacking me or coming against those that I love. During the easy days of life, I am able to consistently stand in faith and to stand on the promises of God. However, when all hell is breaking loose, I must remind myself that I am not standing on an opinion, on my emotions or on my checkbook. I must stand in the Lord and on His promises.
As I choose to stand firm during the difficult days of life, I always choose a battle Scripture and then I commit it to memory. I quote it, I sing it and I share it. It is the power and the stability in the Word of God that gives me the strength to stand firm in the Lord.
Although I am sure that spending time in prison was a cruel hardship for Paul, I am grateful for the wisdom that it cultivated in his life. As we continue to stand firm during the days of this pandemic, remember that the God of Paul is the God of you!
He is speaking to you even when your circumstances are difficult and demanding. I choose today to love the people I have been given, to default to joy and to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit.
What will you choose?
Carol McLeod is an author and popular speaker at women's conferences and retreats, where she teaches the Word of God with great joy and enthusiasm. Carol encourages and empowers women with passionate and practical, biblical messages mixed with her own special brand of hope and humor. Carol has written 11 books, including Significant, StormProof and Guide Your Mind, Guard Your Heart, Grace Your Tongue. Her teaching DVD The Rooms of a Woman's Heart won the Telly Award, a prestigious industry award for excellence in religious programming.
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