"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God."
Philippians 1:3-11, NIV
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to physical distancing. Later in his life, after years of preaching the Gospel in person and starting churches, he was imprisoned for two years under house arrest in Rome. Paul could not leave his home for those two years and you might think that his ministry ceased during that time. However, Paul wrote letters upon letters to the churches he helped start around the Mediterranean. He wrote letters that would become books in the New Testament: Philemon, Colossians, Philippians, and Ephesians.
Paul is an encouraging example to us during this season of physical distancing from one another. He was separated from friends and co-workers in the faith and could not be a physical support to them, but his letters could. We are parted from one another, but we can be an encouragement and support to one another through snail mail, e-mail, phone calls, and video calls. We have so many ways to strengthen our social connections, even as we maintain our physical distance. Who can we reach out to in word or call to support and encourage today? Paul modeled connection with the meager resources he had at the time and we have so many more today that can help us maintain social connection.
Being isolated under house arrest is a dreary fate and Paul’s faith in God helped him to be content in each situation. Paul writes in Philippians, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (4:11-13). Circumstances in our lives change, but God remains a constant, and Paul relied on God for comfort and strength in the midst of good times and bad times.
He took strength from Jesus to not only endure his years imprisoned, but to find joy and have reasons to rejoice before God. Paul actually has reason to rejoice and praise God, even under house arrest. He encourages the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (4:4-6). We will not always feel like rejoicing in this season, but we can practice the spiritual discipline of gratitude. Can you find at least three things everyday that you are grateful for? This practice can uplift our spirits in difficult times.
Since Paul was unable to leave his home or to earn any kind of income, the churches and communities he was connected with supported him during this time. Paul gives thanks to the Philippians for they sent him aid “more than once when [he] was in need” (4:16). The Philippians shared in his troubles and sent Paul gifts and supplies through their mutual friend, Epaphroditus. It’s very important that certain populations remain inside and limit their trips, especially those over 60 and the immunocompromised. Yet others, like Epaphroditus, can be a support by helping bring groceries or food to those who aren’t able to venture out themselves. Which group do you find yourself in? Is it best for you to remain inside and receive freely the gifts and support or are you able to bring groceries to those who are in need of them?
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is an encouragement to me during this time of physical distancing. I am uplifted by the fact that even though Paul was physically isolated from his communities, he remained connected with them and looked with hope toward a time when they would be together again in person. May Philippians be an encouragement and a model for us in these times. And like Paul, I thank God every time I remember each of you and I look with hope toward a future when we are together in person again.