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Philippians 4

Notes & Transcripts

Philippians 4.

Please turn to [Philippians 1:20-30] [P] We have been looking at Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. He was writing from prison in Rome. Last time we saw how concerned the Philippians were for Paul in his situation. They thought that things had gone drastically wrong – they were partners with Paul in the Gospel but now he was prevented from carrying out his missionary activity.  But Paul writes to them trying to correct their whole perspective [P]. They saw the situation from a human perspective, were concerned for Paul and his suffering. But Paul held out a completely different perspective – the Gospel was actually advancing – God was furthering His purposes – He is in control and, even through adverse circumstances, He brings about His goal. This issue of perspective, the standpoint we view things from, also applies when it comes to making decisions. As we walk through life we have to make numerous decisions, there are various options before us. We all, I am sure, want to know God’s will. But how do we find guidance? How do you know what is the right thing to do? How do you make decisions, which option to choose? Do you lay out the pro’s and con’s? What would be most advantageous to you? What the disadvantages would be? Today we walk with Paul through his decision making process: [P] let’s pick it up with the verse we concluded with last time, (Phil 1:20), Paul speaks about: [“my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  (we saw that it was a no lose situation [P] – it didn’t matter whether Paul lived or died – either way Christ was exalted and that is all that matters. Once you are free from the perspective of self-interest and see thing from God’s point of view, when your only motive is His glory; your values radically alter). For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (it didn’t matter which, both were good outcomes) But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which to choose. (Paul was face with a difficult decision) But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”] [P] Paul is rejoicing and he will continue to rejoice in the future – why? Because God is sovereign, in control of all circumstances, working them out for good and ultimate perfection according to His perfect will and plan. Even the imprisonment of Paul was working out for the furtherance of God's purposes. It wasn't things gone wrong. If we believe in a God who is in ultimate control working all things out according to His perfect will – how can we but rejoice in all circumstances? [cf. Philippians 4:11 I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. Ephesians 5:20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God.]. God's purpose, that will not fail, is that Christ will be exalted, that Jesus be glorified. Hallelujah! If our focus is on our own situation and circumstances things can be regarded as going well or badly; but from the perspective of God's purposes He will be glorified and this cannot fail. It doesn't matter what happens to us – through whatever happens to us God will glorify His Son. In this we rejoice and we will rejoice. It is the needs of others that matters most, not what we would prefer. This is what determines our course of action – this is the deciding factor in the decisions we make. Paul found out what God would do with his life by seeing it from His perspective: He would not consider Paul's selfish desires but the good of others and the furtherance of the Gospel. By this reasoning Paul knew that he would live and be released from prison (cf. Phil 1:19). Paul did not pray for what he wanted, but found out what God was going to do by looking from His perspective and then aligning his own will with it. The Philippians were concerned for Paul’s welfare in prison, fearing the worst. Despite the peril of imprisonment, the situation has actually helped advance his cause rather than hinder it. At the close of the last section Paul made an audacious statement. He said that it really didn’t matter whether he lived or died; either way Christ would be exalted in him. Talk about a change in perspective! If seeing Christ exalted really is the most important thing in our lives, how will that change our priorities and perspective? What would it do to our outlook for the future? We see this in practice in this section we are looking at – it focuses on the practical implications of life and death, aside from what we think or feel. The big idea for this section is: to live is Christ and to die is gain [P]. What a perspective change! Paul says: “For to me, to live is Christ!” Notice that he does not say: “For to me, to live is Paul ….” But isn’t that how we think? We talk about “My life” – but for Paul, and for us, that is no longer the case: [Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;] Paul was totally sold out to Jesus! This was no mere theology, religion, this was life! This is not theoretical and metaphysical – it was real and very practical. Paul’s life was not his own – he was the LORD’s, even unto death! He had an utter disregard for his own life – it didn’t matter whether he lived or died, what mattered was Jesus being exalted. This had very practical consequences: he was at this point in prison; previously he’d been beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead. He could easily have avoided all that, merely by not being so devoted to Jesus, by considering his own life rather than the will and purpose of God. Paul said about himself: [Acts 20:24 But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the Gospel of the grace of God.] And about his fellow believers he said: [Romans 6:6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 2 Corinthians 5:15  He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Romans 14:7-9 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.] When I am seeking promotion or advancement, or status in society; seeking wealth or possessions; seeking honour, respect or esteem; when I am concerned about my health, my aches and pains, my suffering or circumstances – tell me: who is living Paul or Christ? If Christ is my life I will be seeking His honour, esteem and glory, not my own! What happens to me is quite incidental. [Colossians 3:1-4 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (that is the perspective change Paul is writing about) For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.] My life is not my own – Christ is my life, to live is Christ. [1 Corinthians 6:19-20 You are not your own! For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.] What matters is Christ being exalted, not ourselves. How can Paul say that Christ will be exalted either in his life or death? He lays it out as a choice, options to weigh up. [P] Living means continued work for Christ, and dying means going to be with Him. Paul says: “To me” indicating that this values system reflects his own perspective on the matter, but the implication is that we should adopt it as well. Paul has a dilemma – he doesn’t know which way to go, what to choose, what the way is that God would have him go. This is no trivial decision – it is between life and death! Paul gives us insight into how he weighs the decision, cataloguing the advantages and disadvantages of living versus dying. Since Christ is glorified in him in either case, and since the Gospel is advancing whether he is free to participate or not, should he stay or should he go? He could have simply told us his choice, but instead he walks us through his decision-making process. On one had there is the option of living in the flesh – that makes sure that we know that he is talking about his present life and not about living in a glorified body after physical death. Departing is better than remaining [P] Based on the first pair of factors considered, dying sounds like the better option. He would no longer have to be in pain or suffer imprisonment, nor would he have to deal with problems in the church. It would not be his problem anymore. On the other hand, remaining means more fruitful labour for Christ [P]. Which will he choose? At this point, it sounds like he is leaning toward departing as the better thing. Paul makes clear that this is no easy decision. Why is it so hard? Because life is hard! The prospect of departing from the pain, suffering, and hardship of earthly life in order to be with Christ is clearly better. Who wouldn’t want to be in heaven, to be with Jesus? Well to Paul the prospect of heaven must have sounded even better: five times he received thirty-nine lashes, three times he was beaten with rods and shipwrecked, and he was even stoned once (see 2 Cor 11:23–29)! He knew hardship. If anyone deserved a break, it was Paul. It’s no wonder leaving this life to be with Christ had a certain appeal. Despite the potential for fruitful work if he remains being with Christ is far better than having a successful ministry. After all, if Christ is exalted in either case, if the Gospel advances with or without him, why not be with the Lord? He leans even more to the idea of leaving life in this world. The scales are tipping further an further towards the option of departing this life. Paul said that remaining in the flesh and ministering would be fruitful – but remaining is not just about fruitfulness—it is necessary for the Philippians’ sake. Just as his imprisonment was of less concern than the advancement of the Gospel (see Phil 1:18), teaching the Philippians is higher priority than going to be with Christ. Their needs are what tip the scales in favour of remaining in the flesh [P]. What is most desirable for Paul is secondary. Even though departing and being with Christ is desirable and better, Paul chooses a different path. What is more he knows that this is the path that God will choose for him. God’s will will come to pass, and through this reasoning he has found what God’s will is – so he knows that he will be set free from prison. Paul paints departing to be with Jesus as the more attractive option to use it as a backdrop for disclosing his decision to remain and serve the church. If he hadn’t gone through the options and his process of reasoning, but had jumped ahead to deliver his final decision, we wouldn’t realise what it cost him. Departing from his circumstances and being with Christ, while desirable, would have been selfish on his part. Instead, he opts for the same kind of sacrificial service that we will read about Christ offering in (Phil 2:5-11). By showing us his decision-making process he challenges us to follow in his path. How do we decide to get involved in a ministry or not, to minister to someone else’s needs or not? Do we consider only our own interests? What about the interests of others (see Phil 2:4)? Convinced that the Philippians’ needs outweigh his own desire to depart and be with Christ, Paul chooses to remain serving them. He considered the best interests of others, not what he would prefer – isn’t that Christian love in action? The idea of remaining is actually stated twice in the Greek, with the second reference adding the sense of continuing to live and serve. He remains to serve others, for their progress; for Paul, their joy in the faith is top priority – to what end? What Paul wants to see increase is: “that which they may be proud of” – what he wants to see is their confident growth in Christ – and that is what his remaining in the flesh will accomplish. More specifically, he wants to return to the Philippian church to work with them directly. The focus of this section is on weighing our decisions: are they based on our own comfort, or are they a ministry to others? The lure of gratifying the flesh, even in non-sinful ways, can distract us from choosing something better. Tell me: do you receive more spiritual fulfilment from lying on the couch or from helping meet someone else’s need? So Paul’s decision to stay, or rather Him finding out that God’s will and purpose was for him to stay;  resulted in things to do: [P] Firstly he was staying to help them progress then in: [Philippians 1:27-28 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear things concerning  you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.] Paul announced his decision to remain to serve the believers rather than depart to be with the Lord. Now he didn’t put any conditions on him remaining: “I’ll stay if you do ….”  but notice he began [Phil 1:27] with “only”. Now when you were a kid, if your Mum said to you: “You can do anything you like while I am out—only you need to get the dishes done, tidy your room and finish your homework.” In reality, you can’t do anything except what she had instructed. The only statement placed constraints on what sounded like an open-ended arrangement. Paul’s offer to remain in the flesh comes with an obligation on the Philippians’ part. If Paul is indeed going to remain, then the Philippians are expected to live in a certain manner—one that is worthy of the Gospel (emphasized in Greek). Why should they do this? So that he could hear about the things concerning them, and perhaps even see them.. When he mentions the things, it would have made the readers listen more closely to see exactly which things he meant – “The things concerning you” refers to them standing firm in one spirit. What does it practically look like to stand firm in one spirit? [P] Paul provides both a positive and a negative component. The positive part is contending for the faith—and not just in any old way. He wants them to contend with one mind—not every person for themselves, but a concerted action. If there was a problem in the church in Philippi it was: working together – Paul talks about: “one spirit”; “one mind”; striving together”. Individually we are a great bunch, each wanting to go on for the LORD, but what about working together? Even the action of striving includes the idea of unity – it means: doing something side by side. The negative part has to do with how we respond to opponents as we strive for the faith. Opposition to the Gospel will come both from outside and within the faith – this should not come as a surprise, the key question is: how will we respond when it comes? Will we be alarmed and cower? Will we allow ourselves to be intimidated? Since we know that opposition is inevitable, it’s critical to decide how we will respond now, before our backs are pressed against the wall. We can’t just strive for the faith and cower before opposition; nor can we can’t just hunker down against resistance without moving forward – both are necessary components – both going forward and not being pushed back. Together they provide a strong platform for the Gospel and firm foundation for the faith that will not be shaken. So we must do one thing while avoiding doing something else – what we must do is: contend for the faith with a united spirit. What we must avoid doing is: being intimidated by those opposing the Gospel. We shouldn’t neglect either part – with both together we will stand firm.  When we encounter opposition it can make us question: should I have done that? Was it all a mistake? If I had done things differently, would things have gone more smoothly? These doubts arise because we’re relying on our own perspective. Paul addresses this once again by recasting things from God’s perspective. The Philippian church’s struggle is a sign of destruction to their opponents. But God will triumph in the end—putting their opponents on the losing side. Paul wants the Philippian church to think of their struggle as a sign of salvation – the fact that you are opposed shows that you are troubling the enemy – but who is going to win, ultimately? Not the enemy – we are on the opposing side, the side that is going to win! Hallelujah! The fact that we are being opposed shows that we are on the side that is going to be saved. It is for the same reason that Paul said in [Phil 1:19-20] that the opposition he faced would lead to deliverance and salvation (same Greek word as in Phil 1:28). Remember the no-lose proposition he outlined in [Phil 1:20]? [P] This same principle applies here. Everything happening is from God – He is in absolute control of all that is happening. Nothing comes as a surprise to Him. Here again it boils down to whose perspective we will adopt: our own or God’s? God’s will will be accomplished and it is good, acceptable and perfect! Not only can adopting God’s perspective change the Philippians’ view of Paul’s situation (Phil 1:12–18), it affects how they view their own circumstances (Phil 1:27–28). Paul has one last bomb to drop. He will bring the whole discussion around full circle—back to where they began in [ Philippians 1:12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the Gospel.] Recall that Paul’s main goal has been to make them understand that his suffering and imprisonment are not a mistake, but part of God’s larger plan for the advancement of the Gospel. In light of this, he adds one final piece in [Philippians 1:29-30For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.]. Paul is not looking for empathy from them; he is preparing them for what lies ahead. We are to stand firm and not be intimidated. We will suffer from opposition – but Paul phrases as though it were a special invitation [P], Paul discloses that there is more to following Christ than believing. It has been graciously granted to them to suffer on behalf of Christ. The word translated as granted is more often used in the context of forgiveness, sharing the same basic root as grace – God has graciously allowed us to have the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Christ. From a human perspective, not many people want to suffer. Suffering is often viewed more as a burden to bear rather than as a gift to cherish. But phrased as it is, Paul presents suffering as a special thing graciously granted by God. It’s like the difference between an invitation saying, “Come to our place!” and one that reads, “We graciously request the pleasure of your presence.” Paul has laid some pretty heavy truths on the Philippians in this chapter. So far though, all of the references to suffering and sacrifice have referred to Paul. He now turns the tables on them, saying that these things apply to them as well. To be sure, believing in Christ is indeed desirable, but there is something more – it has also been appointed to us to suffer. In what way? In just exactly the same way Paul was. It is nothing strange or unusual, or things going wrong. Jesus suffered opposition, Paul suffered opposition, the Philippians would suffer opposition, so too will we. This is the gracious gift of God – the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Christ [Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings  …. filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. ]. This is much more than marketing – putting a positive spin on a bad situation to make it look good; it has to do with change of perspective [P].  As long as we insist on viewing the world through our own perspective—with our own comfort, security, and happiness as the benchmark—we will never accomplish what God desires. For Paul, the key is exchanging our view for God’s. That is how he determined God’s will and direction for his life; that is how we face what we encounter in life. Paul processes his circumstances through God’s perspective, and he challenges the Philippians to do the same. We shouldn’t just accept the fact that we may suffer for Christ; we should embrace it – God’s will is good acceptable and perfect; and He is in control of all. We are His, whether we live or die, for Him to use in the way He chooses to accomplish His purpose and bring glory to Himself. Let us align ourselves with His will and purpose – whether it be by life or death – since for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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