Philippians 1:12-30 Standing Firm

The word "happiness" evokes visions of unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning, strolling hand in hand with the one you love on Valentine's day, being surprised on your birthday, responding with laughter to a funny comedian, taking a well earned holiday to some exotic location, or collecting your brand new "Y" reg car on August 1st. Everyone wants to be happy; we make chasing this elusive feeling a lifelong pursuit; spending money, collecting things, visiting places, searching for new experiences. But if happiness depends on circumstances, what happens when the toys rust, when the loved ones die, health deteriorates, possessions are stolen and the party's over? Often happiness flees and despair sets in when we have to get the hoover out, or try and remove those party stains from the carpet. In contrast to happiness stands joy. Running deeper and stronger, joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God's love and presence in our lives. Like a submarine cruising through the depths of the sea while a wild storm rages on the surface. Happiness depends on happenings. Joy depends on the presence of Jesus Christ. The letter of Paul to his friends at Philippi radiates this joy. He is excited about what God is doing in his life and theirs. The word 'joy' is used 16x in four short chapters. All this is so remarkable when you examine Paul's circumstances.

I was talking to a Bishop recently who lamented the fact that when the Apostles Peter and Paul travelled about they caused riots and were thrown into prison, but where ever he goes they invite him to open garden fetes. Whereas Peter and Paul were met with stones, he gets invited to tea. Perhaps that's because sadly many people see the church as somewhat eccentric or irrelevant. Paul's priority was introducing people to Jesus Christ. And it constantly got him into hot water.

That is why he wanted to visit Rome and why he went as a prison. Its why most of his time in Rome was spent chained in prison. Luke gives us the full story in Acts 21-28. It had all begun with Paul's illegal arrest in the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Jewish authorities were after Paul for talking about Jesus the saviour of both Jews and Gentiles. The Romans mistook Paul was an Egyptian terrorist. Paul was then imprisoned at Caesarea for his own safety when a fanatical group of Jewish fundamentalists vowed to murder him. Having refused to bribe the governor, Paul languished in jail. Then the new procurator Festus, a successor to Pontius Pilate decided to return Paul to Jerusalem for further questioning. Paul knew he would be ambushed and lynched on the way, so he appealed to Caesar. As a Roman citizen Paul had the right to have his trial heard before Caesar. Believing himself to be innocent, and believing the Roman judicial system would acquit him, Paul appealed to Rome. En route the ship was wrecked in a severe storm off Malta before finally arriving in Rome months later.

To many all this would have looked like a series of set backs, Paul's ministry a failure. How could Paul's imprisonment possibly serve the cause of Christ. But it did! Paul went so far in verse 12 to say "what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel" The word Paul uses for "advance" is a military term. It was used to describe the way the army engineers would pioneer a way forward into new territory ahead of the main body of troops. This was not a retreat, certainly not a defeat, but an advance. Instead of finding himself limited or confined in prison, Paul is saying that his difficult circumstances really opened up new areas of ministry.

God wants you and I to trust Him to fulfil the plans he has for us. Sometimes he arranges circumstances so that we can do nothing else but trust Him. That is precisely how the gospel had originally come to Philippi. The full story is told in Acts 16. What a difference it made in the history of the church, all because Paul wasn't able to fulfil his own plans. God sometimes uses strange tools to advance the gospel.

If we recognise them for what they are, we can maintain our joy and confidence in God's perfect plan. Then we will not be deflected from our first priority - to make Christ known. In Paul's case, there were three unusual tools that God used to advance the gospel. His chains, his critics, and his crisis.

1. Paul's Chains 1:12-14
If you were about to be imprisoned and knew you'd be there for a good while, what would you take with you? How would you use the time constructively? Gain a Open University degree? The Romans thought the chains on Paul's wrists would restrict him. Instead they released him. In another letter written from prison to Timothy Paul wrote, "I am suffering for the gospel even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained." 2 Timothy 2:9. Paul did not complain about his chains, instead he dedicated them to God. How could being chained up 24 hours a day serve to advance the gospel? First, being chained meant being chained to Roman guards.

1.1 Contact with the Lost 1:13
Paul was chained to a Roman soldier. The shifts changed every six hours. That meant Paul had contact with four different soldiers every day. There were 9,000 soldiers in the Imperial Guard, so news of this unusual prisoner would have spread. Can you imagine being chained to Paul, a man who prayed without ceasing, a man who couldn't stop talking about Jesus, a man who was always writing letters to church's and individual Christians. Imagine being chained to such a man for six long hours? Paul couldn't get out, so God brought the audience to Paul. A captive audience. Its interesting to realise that a handful of pagan Roman soldiers probably read the letters of the New Testament even before the churches got them.

But it wasn't just Paul the guards would meet. Life could be very bleak in prison if there were no family or friends brave enough to admit to knowing you and being willing to visit and bring food and clothes. Paul, a stranger to Rome had one of the largest and diverse and unusual families in the whole of Rome. It must have been quite a witness to those Roman guards. "Hello brother Luke, meet my guard Thomas. Yes Thomas, Luke is another of my brothers. I know he doesn't look like me. But he's a Christian too, and that makes him my brother - Yes, you too can become our brother." And so it went on day after day. Paul's strategy in reaching people was this: When you are single minded, you look upon your circumstances as God given opportunities to tell others about Jesus. You rejoice at what God is doing, instead of complaining about what God is not doing. Instead of praying "Get me out of here Lord", pray "Who do you want me to speak to Lord?" Paul's chains not only brought him into contact with the lost. It also brought,

1.2 Courage to the Saved 1:14
Many of the believers took fresh courage when they saw Paul's faith and determination. Adversity builds character, adversity reveals character. As we are broken the life of Jesus is revealed in us. So when the Roman Christians saw how Paul was influencing the Roman guards for Christ even from inside prison, it gave them strength to talk about Jesus outside the prison. I wonder whether you feel "chained" or restricted by your circumstances? If only I were younger, older, single, married.... if only I could get out of this dead end job, if only I could find a job.... if only I had another £5,000 a year, if only lived in a different neighbourhood... if only I had a more supportive partner.... then I could really serve God. No matter what our chains might be, realising they are actually tools in God's hands is a liberating and joyful experience. And remember, how you respond to adversity will be an encouragement to others. Paul's chains. Secondly, notice,

2. Paul's Critics 1:15-19
There was a poster on the underground recently for the magazine Marxism Today. It carried a warning, "Vicars, social workers and other do-gooders may find the content offensive." Criticism comes when ever Christians speak out. The hardest criticisms however come from other Christians. Its nothing new. There were believers in Rome doing just that. Some were sincere. Others tried to make Paul's life more difficult. Perhaps embarrassed that a Paul was in prison. Perhaps they were legalists who criticised Paul for not keeping all their Jewish rituals and traditions. You hear it today when someone says, "He's not a very good Anglican...." Instead of asking, "Have you trusted Christ?", they asked, "Which denomination are you?" How should we handle this kind of legalism that sets one Christian against another? John Wesley and George Whitfield were two evangelists. It was well known that they disagreed on many theological issues. Both of them were very successful, preaching to thousands and seeing many people come to Jesus Christ. One day someone asked Wesley if he expected to see Whitfield in heaven. The evangelist replied, "No, I do not believe I will see Whitfield in heaven." "Then do you not think Whitfield is a converted man?" "Of course he is a converted man!" Wesley replied, "I do not expect to see him in heaven-because he will be so close to the throne of God, and I will be so far away that I will not be able to see him!" Although Wesley disagreed with Whitfield on many issues, there was never any envy in his heart, nor did he try and oppose his ministry. Paul shared in the work of making Christ known in Rome - through his chains and his critics. The third tool God used was Paul's crisis.

3. Paul's Crisis 1:20-30
Because of Paul's chains Christ was "known" (1:13); and because of Paul's critics, Christ was "preached" (1:18). But because of Paul's crisis, Christ was "magnified" (1:20) Paul probably knew that at his impending trial he might be found guilty, a traitor to Rome and be executed. Paul did not believe he had anything to be ashamed of. He was convinced that it was possible to be a loyal citizen of Rome and a Christian. But if Caesar didn't see it that way then fine, Paul was willing to magnify Jesus as much in his death as in his life. Hugh Latimer was one of the greatest English Reformers. On one occasion he was asked to preach before the Monarch....... How do we magnify Jesus? We tend to think that we magnify Jesus by praising him. We even sign that song, "We will magnify..." The way we magnify Jesus is by talking about him. That's precisely what Jesus said the role of the Holy Spirit is. In John 16:14 Jesus says, "He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you."

In astronomy, telescopes are essential. For they bring the stars closer. A telescope enlarges distant objects, and brings clarity and precision. Have you ever considered yourself like a telescope? That is what we are here for - bringing Jesus closer to people. The PCC made an important decision this week concerning clerical robes. Vote 50:50. Do they hinder or assist people coming to know Jesus Christ? In order to reach more people I voted for the freedom not to wear them when I seems appropriate. To the average person Jesus is a distant figure in history who lived 2000 years ago, and the image of the Church is not far behind. But as the un-saved person watches the Christian go through a crisis, they will see Jesus magnified, and brought so much closer. It is often only when we experience a difficulty or suffer a tragedy that we go beyond our human resources, and find supernatural strength through Jesus. Then the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian stands out. In Chapter 2 we are told to "shine like stars" in a "crooked and depraved generation... hold out the word of life."

Paul was not afraid of either life or death! Either way he wanted to magnify Jesus Christ in his body. "For me to live is Christ to die is gain." Paul was not worrying about his trial or the possibility of being executed. He had no fear of what the Romans could do to him, because he had died to his own ambitions already. Judgement had past, because Jesus had taken Paul's judgement on himself when He died on the cross. Paul describes death in verse 23 simply as "departing". This word is rich in meaning. It was used in at least three ways,

3.1 Of Soldiers on the Move
It is a word used by soldiers on the move who carried all their supplies with them. The word meant "to take down your tent and move on." What a picture of Christian death. The tent we live in is taken down at death, and we go home to God in heaven. A soldier on the move.

3.2 Of Prisoners set Free
The word "departure" is also a political term. It describes the setting free of a prisoner. Paul knew he would be set free one way or another. Freed by the sentence "not guilty" to serve Christ on earth, or freed by the sentence "guilty" to serve Christ in heaven. A soldier on the move, a prisoner set free.

3.3 Of the Farmer who Unyokes his Oxen
Paul was carrying many burdens for the sake of the Church. The prospect of death and being with Christ would be a release from those burdens, his earthly work completed. A soldier on the move, a prisoner set free, an oxen unyoked. "For me to live is Christ to die is gain" 1:21. Life is what ever you are alive to. For me to live is... and to die is....." How will you finish the sentence? "For me to live is money and to die is to leave it all behind." "For me to live is fame and to die is to be forgotten." "For me to live is power and to die is to lose it all." Or "For me to live is Christ to die is gain" Paul's chains, Paul's critics, Paul's crisis. Rather unusual tools for God to use to advance the Gospel? But look at how God has used those tools to advance the gospel.

The Church in Mozambique has seen phenomenal growth in the last 20 years amidst a concerted persecution. In an interview with Dinis Sengulane, the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Lebombo while he was in Britain recently, he was asked to explain the reasons for the incredible growth. This was his reply. "In 1979 we had our churches closed. Some of them were reopened in 1984 and in June 1988 the government reopened all the remaining churches. But when we reopened we had a problem because we could not fit everybody in. Many people had become Christians in spite of the churches being closed. We had decided that in response to the problems we faced then, each one of us should pray and fast on the first Friday of the month and each person should aim to bring at least one other person to Christ each year."

So what's special about the Anglican Church of Mozambique ? The simplicity of their strategy. The World Christian Encyclopedia tells us that every year there are 330.000 Christians martyred. That is over 900 a day. One might think its not particularly popular becoming Christians in such countries, but the reverse is true. The church is growing fastest where the battle is fiercest and faith is tested. Read 1:27. Seeing the hand of God behind his circumstances enabled Paul to rejoice. A heavenly perspective will enable you too also. If you are not ready to die, you are not ready to live.