Our reading for this Sunday is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Though it is not, perhaps, as well-known as his Letters to the Romans and the Corinthians, it is an unusual letter. And it’s well worth spending time on.
This Letter is the only one to a congregation that contains no censures, either stated or implied. In this letter, Paul is unreservedly joyous. The tone throughout is affectionate and warm. The Philippians readily acknowledged Paul as an Apostle; he returns their favor heartily.
Above all, it’s a letter of love.
Written, probably, about 49 CE, it is, like many of Paul’s Letters, addressed to congregations that he founded. Some strife and contention surrounded the founding of the faith community at Philippi. But, by the time of the Letter, Paul is rejoicing in the faith community there. He discounts his own sufferings, and the ups and downs of his life. Though Paul was in prison, probably in Ephesus, at the time he wrote it, his faith and love are undiminished. And he praises the community they’ve built. He commends them for their fidelity to Jesus Christ, the Gospel, their humility and their loving kindness to one another. He exhorts them to meditation on the favors God confers. And he praises them for their fidelity to each other, and most of all, to Christ Jesus. There’s no trace of the admonishments, scoldings and impatience Paul shows in his letters to other congregations.
In the passage that we’ll hear on Sunday, he says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.” Let us, too, press on for the goal of the heavenly prize.
Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington