Philippians Study #2

The Blessing of Limitation      

Matt Destry – Communications Pastor

Philippians 1:12-30

As people made in the image of God, who follow after the resurrected Jesus, we are well acquainted with the idea of hope. The idea of possibility, the knowledge of a brighter day ahead of us, and the unbridled potential of human life connected with God’s life is something that we love and celebrate. As believers, we are also heirs of something else: of limitation and weakness. We follow a Saviour who ‘emptied himself’, who ‘made himself nothing’; we have faith in the eternal Word, who ‘became flesh and lived among us’. A study of Philippians 1:12-30 brings us into close proximity with this idea. It also shows us that not all limitation is bad, but can sometimes be the very thing that God uses to advance His Kingdom.

While he was in Ephesus, Paul’s desire was to get to Rome (Acts 19:21). In the course of time, Paul did get to Rome, but not in the capacity that he expected. When he got to Rome, it was as a prisoner, not a preacher. Even so, Paul is very clear in our text that his chains have served to advance the gospel, not to hinder it – indeed, the Word of God cannot be chained! What the enemy had purposed for harm God turned for good, and the Philippian church continued to grow, develop and rejoice. So, not all limitation is negative. Here’s a few reasons why.

Firstly, limitations cause us to see things from a different perspective – to see differently. In the second week of the Philippians series, Ps. Rohan talked about the idea of a ‘reframe’ – that is, seeing the same situation from a different perspective. A reframe does not change the situation, but it changes the way we see it and think about it. Have you ever met someone who, in experiencing a life-changing event, also had a change of perspective about the way they see their life and the people around them? Limitations can sometimes serve as an external force that acts upon us to cause us to think or live differently.

Secondly, limitations in our lives cause us to problem-solve and think creatively. Many amazing artistic projects; albums, books, films and visual media, have been created with little to no budget. A lack of time or personnel. An editor’s deadline. These limitations have been the cauldron out of which some of the most inspiring and incredible work has arisen. Walt Whitman’s epic “Leaves of Grass” was originally self-published, and the initial run of 200 books were pressed at the author’s expense. Australian film “The Castle” was produced on a shoe-string. Bruce Springsteen’s critically acclaimed album ‘Nebraska’ was recorded in his home with 2 microphones and a tape recorder. Limitation can be the birthplace of incredible thinking and new paths.

Finally, limitations cause us to work co-operatively. As we discussed last week, we were not designed to live in isolation. We were designed for each other. Limitation on our lives causes us to collaborate and work together, fighting for each other. We can see the power of community in this context. We can experience the wonder (and humility) of someone completing something we began, or helping us in a way when previously we had felt all alone. Limitation can bring us together, to find answers to our common problems.

Perhaps, by embracing the lessons that our limitation would teach us, we could move forward into a new sense of freedom and liberation. Perhaps we could see differently, think creatively, and work co-operatively. Perhaps we could say with Paul: “I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1:19).

Reflection Questions

1/ What would be one major ‘limitation’ in your life right now?
2/ What would you need to do, say and pray in order for it to become a blessing to you?
3/ How might God use that limitation to encourage the people around you and advance His Kingdom?