I want to start this sermon by challenging you to think through the issue of your perspective on life. Here’s what I mean. I don’t intend for this to be overly philosophical. So try to bear with me. What I want us to think through this morning are life circumstances, how we tend to view them, and how we respond to them.
For me, I know that I have found myself going through the day with blinders on. In other words, I can be so focused on “surviving the day,” caring for myself and my needs, that I may miss glorious opportunities to minister to others. I think that for many of us, we have been trained this way in North America. We learn how to be successful, self-sufficient, self-serving. And when things get in our way of our pursuits, we view them as obstacles to be avoided or conquered. We are focused on ourselves. So we make it our aim to make it through the day with minimal casualties, make some progress on our pursuit, and do it again the next day. If we’re honest, we would likely conclude that our lives are primarily concerned with the things of the present (or the present world) and the things that concern our well-being.
What I have found is that the Apostle Paul stands this thinking on its head. I hope that you will be challenged as I have with the perspective of Paul who wrote the letter to the Philippians. Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Philippians and we’ll pick up where we left off last week. Philippians 1.12-18. READ.
We began the study last week where we noted that Paul begins his letter speaking of himself as a slave of Jesus Christ writing to the saints in Christ Jesus. He spoke of his thankfulness for their partnership in the gospel because they were also partakers with Paul of the grace of God. They were spiritual teammates for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He demonstrated his personal affection for them because of this unique and eternal bond. This bond is secure because God will be faithful to complete the work done in those who have trusted in Jesus Christ. Despite his imprisonment, the believers continued to identify with Paul and his message. And in this Paul gives thanks to God and the glory and praise to God for his work in them.
The first point we will look at this morning is Gospel Unchained. The very first verse of our section, verse 12, should cause your mind to stutter just a bit. Paul begins by getting their attention. The effect is something like, “are you sitting down? I want you to hear this. This is important and I think that you will find it valuable for growing in faith and for your encouragement in ministry. This is profound and will serve as foundational for you all. I want you to know…” “I want you to know brothers (and in this context Paul is referring to brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ) that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”
So, he is speaking to spiritual siblings – those who have trusted in Jesus for salvation. And then he says that he recognizes that his imprisonment is a divine scenario established by God. So Paul acknowledges that he is passive in his circumstance. He doesn’t say, “I know. I messed up. Now I’m in prison. Maybe I should have toned down the message a bit so that I didn’t find myself in this unfortunate predicament. You really should learn from me so that it doesn’t happen to you as well.” NO!
Paul acknowledges that this seemingly unattractive situation is part of God’s plan for the gospel. Some of your translations (like the ESV) use the word “really” in verse 12. And it has the meaning of “actually.” It’s almost like contrary to “how things may appear.” “Actually, this is working out great!” The fact that Paul is in this situation beyond his control is a good thing. Because it has actually served to advance the gospel.
Can you see why I wanted to begin by addressing our perspectives on circumstances? Honestly, I could only hope to have the same attitude as Paul in prison. Perhaps God would graciously provide me with this perspective. But I complain about far less than imprisonment. How about you? Wouldn’t we be a bit discouraged? Wouldn’t we fight for our rights? Or a retrial? Whine and complain? Wouldn’t we see this as a major failure in our lives? Might we even be so bold to blame God for our unfortunate circumstances? ……….
Paul does not dwell on his suffering, only the gospel. This goal overrides all else. Any personal inconvenience he experiences, or sufferings, and imprisonment are secondary to the spread of the gospel. We will see in verse 21, that everything that Paul is about is Jesus Christ. Oh that I, too, would make this the theme of my life. When we can get to where Paul is when he says that “for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” we will find that we interpret our circumstances very differently.
Even when treated unfairly by the world, we can see the hand of God superintending all things for his glory. Remember the life of Joseph. Retracing the events that landed him in Egypt, we can cry “injustice” to his brothers over and over again. But Joseph can conclude in the end “as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” He didn’t fight for his rights, but understood his circumstances from a God-focused perspective. Romans 8:28–29 “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Paul and Joseph understood this concept. It would serve us well to become acquainted with this also. If all things work together for good so that we are more conformed to Jesus Christ (and likely to spread the gospel), this means that the long line at Save-on-Foods provides a glorious opportunity… or the incompetent driver on the Sea to Sky… or the difficult person at work, the neighbor… You get the point, right?
We need to interpret circumstances differently. We need to recognize the abundance of opportunities to speak of Jesus… that we miss… because we are consumed with ourselves. I’ve begun to work more fervently at this because it really helps. I would encourage you to take Paul’s admonition elsewhere to “pray without ceasing.” This doesn’t mean that it’s all that you do. It means that we have an ongoing conversation with God. As you develop this, you will find yourself more sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and you will find yourself praying for the dejected person you see walking down the street, the guy that ticks you off on the highway, and for the lost to find hope. And you will become increasingly aware of opportunities to speak of Jesus. You will be less consumed with your pursuits and more aware of circumstances that God brings into your life.
Paul elaborates in verses 13 and 14 what he means by the advance of the gospel. His imprisonment has effects on believers and unbelievers alike. The first two words of verse 13 indicate the results. “So that…” The Roman guards would have had a great window into the life of Paul. He was likely chained to at least one of them at all times. And the rest would have likely come in contact through other supervisory duties. Paul’s resolution to maintain convictions about Jesus and the gospel in imprisonment would have spoken volumes to the imperial guard. They saw the many visitors that came to him, the letters he wrote from prison, and must have concluded that Paul firmly believed the message he was imprisoned for. Acts 28:31 says that while he was there he was “31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”
The text includes Paul’s remark that his imprisonment was for Christ. This is interesting. One commentator makes this observation: “The palace guard would normally see chains on a prisoner as evidence of Caesar’s power. These chains were Caesar’s chains, demonstrating that Caesar was Lord, binding the prisoner for Caesar to fulfill Caesar’s will. But in Paul’s case the palace guard and everyone else associated with Caesar saw Paul’s chains as evidence of Christ’s power in Paul’s life. He was in chains because he was in Christ. Paul’s chains were the result of his proclamation that Christ is Lord.” Perhaps he saw this as part of his desire in Philippians 3.10 where he prays that he may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in death.”
We’ve talked about this in recent weeks. As believers cling to the truth of God’s word and seek to live a life that is consistent with it, we would look radically different than the world around us. And as we are persecuted for our convictions, our steadfastness will validate the message that we declare. Like Paul, we must regard our suffering for the cause of Jesus Christ. The world cannot take away our allegiance to the Savior.
In Oxford, England 1555 two English reformers, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were to be burned for their commitment to Jesus Christ. Even as the fires were lit, Latimer shouted, “Be of good courage, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out!” The only thing the world can do is to usher us more quickly into Jesus’ presence. And often such actions are counter-productive because the message spreads more powerfully through Christian martyrs.
And such endurance under persecution emboldens believers. In verse 14, Paul says that most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. I don’t think they were timid previously. Rather they become “much more” bold in their witness. Paul’s imprisonment served as a fresh stimulus for evangelism.
Isn’t there something that is kindled inside of us when we see brothers and sisters stand firm in the midst of suffering? I think of Matt Chandler in Texas who has been speaking the Word of God powerfully for several years. I think that it was last Thanksgiving in the States where he collapsed in front of his family, rushed to the hospital, and diagnosed with a brain tumor that may or may not take his life at any time. His already influential sermons became more powerful and meaningful as many believers and unbelievers observed his unshakable faith in suffering.
Rachel Barkey from Westside Church in Vancouver spoke of God’s glory in her suffering. Leaving behind a young family, she testified to God’s goodness and his sovereign plan in her life and death. And the world watched her unwavering faith.
If you’ve spent any time following the Voice of the Martyrs, you would notice that our brothers in sisters in other countries are daily persecuted and martyred because of Jesus Christ. And all this does is embolden Christians and raise the volume on the message of the gospel.
Paul indicates here that this confidence is not self-derived, but finds its origins in the Lord. Acts 4:31 “31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” 1 Thessalonians 2:2 “2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” And of course we know the difference in Peter when he was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He went from being a coward to a bold preacher of the gospel.
Our second point is found in verses 15-18a. Christ Proclaimed. Paul continues and provides subsets of those who are “most of the brothers.” And he indicates that these preach Christ from different motives. There are some that are preaching out of envy and rivalry and others from good will.
To start with the more positive example, it appears as though there were some who were propelled by love for the apostle. They recognized the approval of God on Paul’s ministry and they rallied around him and took up the task of proclaiming Christ. Paul says in verse 16 that they “know” that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. They correctly interpreted this as God’s sovereign plan. The “put here” indicates a divine appointment for the apostle Paul. And they lock arms together for the defense of the gospel. And this recalls for us the theme begun in verse 7 where the Philippians were partakers with Paul of grace in his imprisonment and defense of the gospel.
We have seen time and again that the gospel needs to be continually defended. Remember our study in the book of Jude? Jude had to encourage the believers in dealing with false teachers. He had originally desired to write a positive letter rejoicing in their common salvation. But in verse 3, he says that he found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Paul had to contend for the gospel in Galatians and 2 Corinthians and this book of Philippians.
Throughout history, the church has had to defend the gospel against false doctrines. This isn’t unimportant. For a false gospel does not save the soul from death and misleads the multitudes.
Back in April, I attended the Together for the Gospel Conference. The theme was “The Unadjusted Gospel.” If Paul were alive, I think he would have been there. It was characterized by the men who faithfully defended the gospel against many imposters in our day. Because there is often a temptation to either soften the message of Jesus Christ crucified or conversely to promote a works-based gospel, there is continually a need to contend for the faith. This is none other than the good news of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for our sin.
However, our text seems to indicate that there were others who were not properly motivated. The text indicates that such men would preach with motives of selfish ambition because of their arrogance. We know from Scripture that envy and rivalry are included in the works of the flesh. We see them listed in Galatians 5.20-21, Romans 1, 2 Corinthians 2 and elsewhere.
Who these men were specifically is uncertain. Some have suggested that they were leaders in Roman churches and were jealous of his success. But this is not provided for us in the text. And so we must focus on what is there.
I find a couple of things noteworthy in this identification. First, it appears as though their message was right. They were not in doctrinal error because we know what happens when Paul encounters bad theology. He zealously corrects it. Next, these same men were seeking to afflict Paul in his punishment. The best understanding of this affliction is not to cause him physical harm, but more likely some inward annoyance or to trouble his spirit.
Thirdly, Paul does not fight back and try to defend himself. Rather, he rejoices that Christ is preached in verse 18. THAT takes humility. This tells me that Paul considered his reputation and even his life as secondary to the preaching of Christ. As long as the gospel advances, Paul’s promotion or demotion matters little to him. He is not concerned with winning a popularity contest or achieving status. Paul is chiefly concerned that Christ is preached!
Doesn’t this challenge us today? Isn’t one of the reasons that we shrink back from sharing our faith with others is because of their perception of us? Don’t we often consider the labels we will inherit when we mention Jesus? Paul cares nothing for his life, not even what other Christians are saying about him as long as Jesus is being made known.
It takes great humility and courage to declare him to the world. Walter Hansen puts it like this: “Many words can be spoken in human discourse without the slightest risk or need for courage. But speaking this particular word—a Christ-centered word—always requires courage. The message of Christ’s humble obedience unto death on a cross (2:8) strikes a blow at every proud heart. The message of Christ’s exaltation to be the universal Lord over all creation (2:9–11) requires every knee to bow before him. Anyone who dares to speak this word outside the church, outside the comfortable circle of Christian admirers, will be inspired by Paul’s courageous witness when he was chained to the emperor’s bodyguard. Ever since Paul, the courage of faithful witnesses for Christ has ignited courage in the hearts of other witnesses.”
As I considered this text this morning, I was challenged right out of the gate with verse 12. I want to ask Kathy Auringer to come up and share testimony of someone who embodied Paul’s mentality so that we will be challenged in our walk as well.
(Kathy’s Testimony re: Danielle)
I want to be able to get to the point where I can view all of life’s circumstances as part of the sovereign plan of God for his glory. I want to be able to interpret life with eternity in view. I want to remove the daily blinders from my eyes and see the opportunities for the gospel. And I hope that you do too. Courage is contagious. And I believe that this is partly why God has established his church to testify to him. And courage comes from the Holy Spirit of God. I recently read a comment that encouraged me. It went something like “when we realize that we are inhabited, we will be less inhibited.”