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
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
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
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.