Shine like Stars!
Paul’s letter to the Philippians
I was much younger then, probably only nine or ten years old. I remember the excitement we all felt as we crowded into my uncle’s house. I could see that almost all of our church was there, including my two baby sisters and my many cousins.
A letter had come from Paul…. My father was a deacon and he had run to call everyone together. Everyone would want to hear what Paul had written to us all. A letter like this was a huge event.
The lamps on the table flickered as the hot evening wind blew through the window. My friend Samuel sat next to me on the floor. He whispered, ‘That letter’s come all the way from Rome! Remember the gifts we gave Epaphroditus? He took them to Paul in jail and now Paul’s sent us a letter.’
Uncle Zadok called everyone to attention. The excited chatter quickly stopped. Uncle Zadok prayed, then he held up the scroll and read aloud in his clear deep voice.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
He then read that Paul thanked God for us EVERY time he thought of us! He said that he often prayed for us. He even wrote: I have you my heart….I have you in my heart. My two aunties sighed in quiet agreement and joy. They’d met Paul when he first came to Philippi to teach about Jesus - he was their friend.
I thought that Paul must love us a lot! He was in prison because he kept telling people about Jesus, but he still thought about God’s family in Philippi – he loved us and was concerned about us – he even had us in his heart!
I can’t exactly remember what Paul said next, but I do remember this.
He was very clear that everything in his life was all about Jesus. He said: For me to live is Christ and to die is even better.
Later my father explained it like this, “Paul’s letter is all about JOY.” ‘Jesus Christ first, others second and then yourself. That’s how we find true joy. Jesus; others; yourself. There can be no joy in the life of a Christian who puts himself above Jesus and other people.’
I remember some other things Paul said:
Whatever happens, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Stand united
Don’t be frightened by your enemies
I knew there had been problems in our church – I’d heard the grown ups talking, but I didn’t really understand everything that was happening. I know some other people in Philippi were making it hard for Christians to get work and to talk about Jesus. Paul must have heard how difficult it was. We all knew friends who had left our church because they found it all too hard.
It was getting dark. Zadok moved over to the window to get more light and kept reading.
Paul told us we needed to agree with each other, to love and serve each other, to think of other people as better than ourselves, to forget ourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
When we got home our family talked about that bit of the letter and asked God to forgive us for the times we hadn’t helped other people. We told God we wanted to serve other people like Jesus did.
By now my legs were really getting stiff and sore – I’d been sitting still for so long. Most people had beads of sweat running down their faces, but you could have heard a pin drop as the next few lines were read. I’ll never forget what Paul wrote. It was the best bit of the letter!
He’d included a special hymn which we all knew. As my uncle read, everyone joined in, loudly praising God.
Though he was God…Christ the servant was born as a human being…he was obedient to death – even death on a cross.
Therefore God exalted him to the place of highest honour and gave him a name above all other names. At the name of Jesus every knee should bow - in heaven and on earth and under the earth - and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
My life changed that night. Paul’s letter made me want to follow Jesus, whatever that meant and wherever I had to go.
I remember looking across the sea of familiar faces - rapt and clinging to every word read to us. Some people were crying – tears were running down their cheeks and glistening in the fading light.
I knew that Jesus was with us that night as we listened to Paul’s loving letter. I’m sure my mother sensed it too. Joy radiated from her beautiful face. She smiled at me and cuddled my sisters close.
Paul wrote, Shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life – so that I might boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour for nothing.
Well Paul, I hope and pray that your joy was complete, because that light - the light of Jesus - has not been put out. It’s still shining, even in the darkness. In my heart it’s still as bright as ever.
The grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen.
(c) Don Stott Eliab.com