A Singular Passion
Have you ever talked to Trevor Dueck about NASCAR, or Margaret and Charlotte about quilting, or Eric Eidse about hockey or hunting or any mother about their children? Our passions show don’t they. Some people have so many things that they get excited about that they are always going from one thing to another. Sometimes our passions change. I can still remember when I turned 12 and was old enough to go duck hunting with my dad. I don’t get excited about hunting any more, but I am excited about going canoeing with my sons in a few weeks. I remember a lady I knew who was passionate about gambling. She didn’t admit it out loud and it was a problem in that it was an addiction and created financial and relational problems. Some passions are like that, they are hurtful and destructive. There is a degree to which all of us are passionate about ourselves, but some people are really passionate about themselves, to the point of being conceited, boastful and even controlling. So not every passion is a good thing. I have met people who do not seem to be passionate about anything. They are boring and uninteresting because they just don’t seem to care at all. At the other extreme are people who want to be elite athletes or professional musicians. If they want to perform at that level they have to have a singular passion. When they do, much time is spent in engaging that passion. What are you passionate about?
A few weeks ago, we began our study of the letter of Paul to the Philippians. I suggested at that time that it was a friendship letter. One of the things which identifies it as a friendship letter is that it discusses the situation of the author and that of the readers. That is much like what we do in letters which we write to friends or relatives. We tell what has been happening to us and write about what has been happening to them. Please look at the next section - Philippians 1:12-26. Please note in verse 12 that Paul says “I want you to know…what has happened to me…” He is telling them about his situation and commenting about what they have heard and about what has been happening to him. They had sent him a gift and so they obviously cared about him. He wants to relieve their anxiety about him. A moment ago we talked about passions. In the process of Paul’s discussion about what is happening to him, the passion of Paul is revealed. Paul had a singular passion and that was Jesus Christ. As we see his passion, it is an example for us of how we ought to live. It is a story which invites us to examine our passions.
The Important Thing – Christ Is Preached
What would you think about if you were in prison? I imagine that I would think about “how can I get out?” About “where is my next meal coming from?” About “Are the other prisoners going to hurt me?” About “How can I sleep on this hard floor?” Perhaps about “How many diseases are those rats carrying?” And I might well feel sorry for myself and consider that I am suffering so badly.
Paul was in prison in Rome at this time. He had gone to Jerusalem several years before and while there, the Jewish leaders tried to kill him but he was protected by the Romans. After several trials, he was sent first to Caesarea and then later Paul appealed for justice to Rome and was sent there. On the way, he experienced shipwreck and other hardships, but finally got to Rome and was put in prison and that is where he was now. Although the charges which were against him were about things that had happened in Jerusalem, there was a growing opposition towards Christians even in Rome and a few years later, that opposition became open and violent persecution. The conflict stirring in Rome was different than that in Jerusalem. In Rome, the issue which would become a cause of persecution was the declaration of who was Lord, Caesar or Christ? This was the situation in which Paul found himself as he shared with the Philippians in verses 7, 13,14 and 17 that he was in chains. What did he think about in prison? I suspect he may have thought about all the things we would think about, but he did not write about them or complain about them to his friends in Philippi.
We have a record of what he thought about. Please check your Bibles and see what he had on his mind. The first thing on his mind was what he says in verse 12 – “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” What was uppermost in his mind was the progress of the gospel.
How had his imprisonment served to advance the gospel?
As we read on, we find an answer to that question. He indicates that everyone, including “the whole palace guard” had found out that he was in prison because of Christ. It is likely that he had several guards with him at all times. As they rotated through their shifts, many of them would have had much time to listen to Paul and Paul had made sure that he had talked to them about Jesus as the reason for his imprisonment. The guards would have told others until a whole regiment would have heard, not only that Paul was in prison for religious reasons, but also about who Jesus was and what He had done and could do for them.
A second way in which the gospel was spread because of Paul being in prison is through his very reason for being there. Paul was there to defend the gospel in Rome as he mentions in vs. 16. Fee says, “From Paul’s point of view, the gospel itself is on trial, and his imprisonment is a divinely appointed ‘defence of the gospel’ at the highest echelons.”
The other way in which the gospel had been advanced is because the believers in Rome “have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” As they saw the courage of Paul to face imprisonment and as they had to admit that they knew and believed similarly to such a high profile prisoner, they had gained courage to speak about Jesus. Now Paul does mention that some of them were not preaching Christ for good reasons. For some reason, there were believers who did not like Paul. They thought that if they preached about Christ, they would stir things up and make things worse for Paul, but no matter what their motives were, they were preaching Jesus.
As Paul speaks about these things, we see what was uppermost on Paul’s mind. As he shares his experiences, he also shares his heart.
In verse 18 he says, “what does it matter.” What does he mean by that? He means that if people are speaking about Christ because they love him and want people to know about him, or if they speak about Christ in the hopes that they will make trouble for Paul, Paul does not really care. Why?
In verse 18 he goes on to say why. He says, “the important thing is that in every way Christ is preached.” This is the heart of Paul. He cares first of all and most of all that the name of Jesus will be proclaimed. He doesn’t care how it happens. He speaks about the gospel being proclaimed “in every way.” In I Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul spoke about how he was willing to become all things to all men so that in some way he might reach many. Once again all of this reveals the heart of Paul – the important thing to him is that the name of Jesus and the work of Jesus should be made known so that people will be saved.
What makes us rejoice? Is it health?, happiness?, friends?, family? What made Paul rejoice? As he says in verse 18, it is when Jesus is proclaimed. I know that we also care about this. A few weeks ago when it was mentioned that a member of this community had became a Christian, we all shared this kind of joy. Paul’s joy is not over his imprisonment, but that even in his imprisonment, the gospel is preached.
So as he shares with the Philippians what is happening to him, he reveals the deepest concern, the most important thing in his life and that is that Jesus be made known. Do we also care about making Christ known?
I spoke with someone a while ago who goes to the same restaurant at least once a week. He told me, “I’m on a first name basis with the New York Fries guy.” How many people do we know in casual, friendship contacts? Do we care not just to be “on a first name basis” with them, but also to share Christ with them?
I have to confess that sometimes I avoid contact with people because I like to be alone and don’t want to invest energy in more relationships. I ask myself, if making Jesus known is important to me, would I behave that way?
I guess the question I am asking myself and all of us is, “how would my life be different if making Jesus known was as important to me as it was to Paul?” At some times in my life, I have been made to feel guilty because I was not witnessing enough. As we see Paul’s life, it does not raise guilt in me. I do not want to promote making Jesus known as an obligation, but rather because it is such good news. If we love to make Jesus known, it will happen. We will not have to promote Operation Andrew because we will all want to engage in relationships which introduce people to Jesus. We will not cajole people into inviting others to the Franklin Graham Festival because we will want to give friends every possible opportunity to meet Jesus.
When Paul shares his heart by saying, “the important thing is that Christ is preached” in verse 18, may we see this as an encouragement to also see it as important.
Now As Always Christ Will Be Exalted
As we read in 1:18, making Jesus known caused Paul to rejoice. As we read on in verse 18, he says, “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…” Why such great joy in his life? What was it that caused Paul to love making Jesus known?
It is fun to watch a new romance budding. Even though the people falling in love sometimes deny it, other people often see it, sometimes even before the couple is fully aware of it, because you can’t hide love. What we love will come out. The reason he rejoiced was because of his singular passion. As we continue in the context of this passage, we come to understand what Paul’s singular passion was. What was that passion?
Paul was in prison for charges which came from incidents with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. As we have already mentioned, there were issues beginning to surface in Rome which would eventually make it impossible to avoid persecution as a Christian. Paul was aware of the charges, his innocence and the dangerous situation which was just beginning to brew. He was aware that prison had two possible outcomes. He would either be released or he would face the death sentence. A tribunal was coming which would decide his case. Although a strongly democratic and quite just society, he was not certain that the outcome of his trial would be release because of the justice of the issue. So as he was in prison, he was aware of two possibilities. He would either face life and deliverance and release, or he would face death. As we read on, we find that he is musing about these two possibilities. What was he thinking? When we muse about life and death issues, our deepest passions are soon revealed and as Paul meditates on life and death, his deepest passion is clearly displayed for us to see.
One hand, he was hopeful towards release and further ministry. He is not being a Polly-Anna as he is hopeful toward release, nor is he hopeful because there is no real case against him. His hope is based on sound God oriented reasoning. He is hopeful towards release because the believers are going to pray and the Holy Spirit will do his work. Notice in verse 19 that it is “through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” What a great lesson we find in this statement. It reinforces the importance of prayer and reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit to work because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. As we realize the challenges to faith we are experiencing in our church and community, we are encouraged to prayer and realize how significant it is to do so.
He is also hopeful towards release because he is aware that his remaining will mean fruitful labour. He knows that there is work that he has to do yet. His life is a life dedicated to the work of Christ. If he dies, he will not be able to continue to do that work and he is confident that it is necessary that he continues to work. Indeed, he believes that for the sake of the Philippians themselves, it is necessary for him to remain. They need to progress and learn about joy in the faith and he believes that he has something to contribute to that.
However, in that hope, he is not arrogant. He is fully aware that it could turn out differently. He knows that the tribunal could hand out a sentence of death. The passion of Paul is fully revealed as he contemplates that uncertain future. He says in these verses that if he remains, it is a good thing – it will mean fruitful ministry. But he also says, if he dies, it is also a good thing because then he will be with Christ. He has total peace about what will happen to him. No matter what his circumstances, it is all good. Why? Because of his singular passion and that is Jesus Christ. He loves Jesus more than anything else in the world. That passion is revealed powerfully several times in this text
In verse 20 he says, “now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Then in verse 21 he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” To die is gain is not a death wish, it does not arise out of a dissatisfaction with life and it is not there because of a desire to be done with troubles and trials. Rather, it is the clear assertion of one whose life is uncertain, but “whose ultimate future is both certain and desired.”
Why this singular passion for Jesus Christ? Because he knows that he is the recipient of a powerful love which comes to him in Christ. Because he knows that his very life is found in Christ. Because he knows that he has a clean slate because of Christ. Because he knows that he has eternal life because of Christ. All he is, all he has, all his hopes are found in Christ and so he is deeply in love with Him.
Do we so love Christ?
What we notice about Paul and what is a model for us as well is that if Christ is the singular passion of our life, then we can live in the same hope. Paul is ready to engage in future ministry because Christ is his passion. Paul is anticipating heaven because Christ is his passion. Paul’s greatest joy and desire is to introduce others to Jesus because Christ is his singular passion. Gordon Fee says, “Such singular focus does not make him otherworldly; rather, it gives heart and meaning to everything he is and does as a citizen of two worlds.”
Not that it is all clear and easy for Paul. He mentions in vs. 20, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage…” The only thing that would shame Paul is not his own imprisonment or trouble, but if Christ’s name was slandered because of him. As he says this he reveals that it is possible to fail. The words “hope” and “courage” reveal that his ongoing desire is the singular passion of his life – Jesus Christ, but this statement also indicates that a measure of seeking and striving for this is important.
As I read this, I ask myself, “Is Jesus the singular passion of my life?” Fee says, “One wonders what the people of God might truly be like in our ‘post modern’ world if we were once again people of this singular passion.”
I have to confess that there are a lot of things that I care about. Sometimes those things distract me. Sometimes other things than Jesus are my passion. Sometimes I am my passion, but deep down, I know that I love Jesus. I love Him because He has forgiven my sins, because He has given me life that is abundant and eternal and because He guides me in life by His Spirit. I deeply desire to live a life completely in love with Jesus. The singular passion of Paul expressed in this passage moves my heart and speaks to a longing deep in my soul. I do not feel condemned by this passage, it calls my heart. It raises in my soul a desire for a singular passion. Not that I would stop enjoying many of the good things God gives us, but, over and above everything I enjoy, I desire to have this singular passion for Jesus.
What are you passionate about?