‘In the Lord’ – not ‘just a wee phrase’ that Paul ‘was going through’

We were all fond of Paddy and would smile at his occasional Malapropism, as when he reckoned that his pal’s erratic behaviour was ‘just a wee phrase that he’s going through.’

After reading straight through Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi I began to wonder why, instead of his more familiar expressions ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Christ Jesus’, he kept on exhorting them to behave in particular ways ‘in the Lord’. Was it ‘just a passing phrase’, or was he deliberately offering vital clues that all the Lord’s people should put into practice?

‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Philippians 2:11)

Of his many epistles, it’s in this letter that he elaborates on the lordship of Jesus Christ, its cosmic extent and how he attained to this supreme position (Philippians 2:5-11): ‘though he was in the form of God, … equal … with God’, he ‘made himself nothing’ by ‘being born in human form,’ and taking the form of a servant, … humbled himself by becoming obedient … even to death on a cross.’ For these reasons ‘God … highly exalted him … and every tongue’ will ultimately ‘confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God …’ 

Paul’s exhortations ‘in the Lord’

[] ‘Receive…my…fellow worker…in the Lord

When Paul informs his readers that he intends to visit them, he expresses his plans thus: ‘I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come,’ but in the meantime ‘I hope in the Lord to send Timothy to you soon’ (Philippians 2:10-24). And he is sending Epaphroditus back home to them with this letter, to reassure them that this beloved brother has fully recovered from his ‘near to death’ illness, asking them to ‘receive him in the Lord’ (Philippians2:25-30). By such turn of phrase Paul indicates that any visiting member of his ministry team should be welcomed among them, not merely socially as a buddy, but as an emissary advancing the rule of God worldwide under Jesus’ authority.

[] ‘Rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 3:1; 4:4), as Paul is doing himself concerning their timely financial support (Philippians 4:10-20). The sad alternative would be to wallow in anxiety ‘under the circumstances’ (Philippians 4:4-9), ‘for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content’ [literally ‘self-contained’]’ (Philippians 4:11-13). After all, Jesus is exalted far above all our circumstances – including Paul’s imprisonment.

[] ‘Stand firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1)

Be like ‘most of the brothers’ who ‘having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear’ (Philippians 1:14).

[] ‘Agree in the Lord (Philippians 4:2)

Thus Paul urges Euodia and Syntyche, his former fellow labourers, to see Christ in one another, beyond the clashing features of their individual personalities! He ends by blessing them all –including these two sisters – with ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your [innermost] spirit’ (Philippians 4:23), knowing that his grace would bear them both out of their being at loggerheads, like beached boats borne out of clogging sand.

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