Under “House Arrest”
For most of us being in “self isolation” is unsettling and uncomfortable. New phrases are being coined for it, like quarantine fatigue. It produces anxiety and frustration. This is compounded when our income is affected by being unable to work. It is further compounded when we are deprived of the nearby comfort of family and friends.
Tips from Paul While Under House Arrest
Philippians was probably written around 60 -62 AD, from Rome, while Paul was under house arrest. (Three other “prison letters” were also likely written around the same time: Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.) Keep in mind that in addition to the time that he had already been imprisoned in Rome, Paul had previously spent 2 years imprisoned in Caesarea. He had every human reason to be upset, angry, and anxious. Paul knew he had done nothing to deserve imprisonment or death. In reading this letter we can see that anxiety was not his frame of mind. We can learn something from him! This letter is a “master class” in how to handle difficult circumstances.
While he was confined, his needs were not supplied by the state, so we see that his friends needed to provide for him. If not confined to his house, Paul could have worked to pay for his own expenses such as food and rent for the house where he was allowed to live (Acts 28:30). But because he was under arrest, he was not able to do that. Timothy was with Paul and is named as a co-author so Timothy was clearly supporting Paul. Epaphroditus was sent by the believers in Philippi with funds to support Paul, and also to assist Paul during his visit. (This is not unlike the situation with neighbors who need to self isolate for 14 upon returning to Canada. Friends need to supply groceries to them.)
What can we learn from Paul’s outlook and frame of mind while being confined? Here are six tips.
Paul Can’t Lose (1:20-24)
- Paul could be executed at any time but either way, living or dying, he wins!
- Being with the Christ is better by far for him, however,
- It may be more necessary, for others, for him to remain in the body for a little longer.
Long Term View (3:14, 20-21)
- Paul is a Roman citizen but that citizenship has earned him only arrest and unjust confinement. His real long term citizenship is in heaven. Paul is “eagerly awaiting” his Saviour from there who will transform his lowly body into a glorious body like His.
- Paul’s objective is not based on earthly matters. He says “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. (3:14)
Antidote to Anxiety
- Paul experienced anxiety when Epaphroditus became ill and almost died (2:25-30). Here was a “front line worker” who, in meeting Paul’s needs, had fallen ill and nearly died. However ….
- Paul’s prescribed antidote to anxiety is prayer in every situation (4:5-7)
- Paul reminds us that “The Lord is near” (4:5). One who is near understands. One who is near is in a position to help.
- Note that Paul instructs us to include thanksgiving in every prayer. Thanksgiving shifts our mental focus from what we don’t have to what we do have.
- The result is the peace of God which transcends all understanding.
Adjust Your Thinking (4:8-9)
- Focus on whatever is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
- Turn off the depressing news. Don’t start the next episode on Netlix or Prime. Instead, study a passage of scripture, read a book by a great Christian author, read an update from a foreign worker, or listen to a YouTube video by a sound Christian teacher.
- Whatever praiseworthy things we learn, put into practice – and the God of peace will be with you.
Learn the Secret of Contentment in Any Circumstance (4:10-13)
- It is not a natural human response to be content in difficult circumstances. It is a frame of mind that needs to be learned.
- The secret is to rely on Him who gives us strength
- Rejoice is mentioned 8 times and Joy is mentioned five times, in the NIV! In fact, joy is a major theme of Philippians.
- How can there be any joy in circumstances like this?
- Paul’s joy comes from outside of himself or his circumstances
- Paul prays with joy because of the Philippians partnership in the Gospel (1:4)
- Paul rejoices because the Gospel was being preached, even though some preach from mixed motives. (1:18)
- His joy comes from others, the Philippians, who are his joy and his crown (4:1)
- Paul commands us to “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1, 4:4). Note that this is more than a recommendation. It is a command. In order to rejoice we need to mentally dwell on a matter. Paul views “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” as being of “surpassing worth” (3:8). Everything else is “garbage”.
- Paul’s joy comes from outside of himself or his circumstances
Philippians a letter that allows us to peer into Paul’s thinking and frame of mind during trying times. It is indeed like a “master class”. His short letter covers basic foundational matters like how to think about life death (to live is Christ, to die is gain). It moves on to practical ways to refocus our minds through prayer and by deliberately thinking about admirable and praiseworthy things. Then Paul covers what I would call the more “advanced” topics of practicing joy and contentment while in circumstances where those attitudes don’t come naturally.
We hear the word “unprecedented” used a great deal in reference to the current pandemic. A pandemic like this is NOT unprecedented, of course. There have been many before, and Christians have taken comfort from Paul’s writings in the same way we can today. Here is an example from a plague that lasted some 13 years starting in 249 AD. What pathogen caused the plague is unknown but some have speculated that it may have been smallpox, measles, or a disease like Ebola. At it’s peak, thousands died daily across the Roman Empire.
By Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, on the Plague of 249 to 262 AD
How great is the advantage of going out of the world, Christ Himself, the Teacher of our salvation and of our good works, shows to us, who, when His disciples were saddened that He said that He was soon to depart, spoke to them, and said, “If ye loved me, ye would surely rejoice because I go to the Father;” teaching thereby, and manifesting that when the dear ones whom we love depart from the world, we should rather rejoice than grieve. Remembering which truth, the blessed Apostle Paul in his epistle lays it down, saying, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain; “counting it the greatest gain no longer to be held by the snares of this world, no longer to be liable to the sins and vices of the flesh, but taken away from smarting troubles, and freed from the envenomed fangs of the devil, to go at the call of Christ to the joy of eternal salvation.
Taken from “The Early Church Fathers and Other Works” originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland beginning in 1867