Gilbert Lennox looked more closely at Philippians 1 to see what gave Paul confidence and courage, even in the midst of that battle! Here’s what he had to say:
I encourage you to read Philippians as you would a letter (from beginning to end) once a day during NH. I realise we don’t all have the same relationship with the printed text. Sometimes we can listen to it being read. It will be eternally worthwhile to invest the time in reading or hearing the word of God. It is not a race. It is not scan reading. We need to learn to read slowly, carefully and prayerfully. (There is a book by John Sire called How to read slowly– great title!)
We saw yesterday that Paul begins and ends the opening paragraph by talking about prayer. When the theme of your letter is partnership in the Gospel then prayer is a great place to begin. God has indeed started a work in them and Paul is confident that what God has started, He will complete. Paul expresses his deep affection for the Philippians and in his loving concern, he prays for them and he tells them what he prays.
How would we have prayed for the Philippians? Do we love people enough to think through what we pray? Paul did. He prays for their progress, their maturing in perception, character and works. He prays for their love to increase in knowledge and depth of insight.
Partnering in the gospel requires us to use and develop our mind. Growing in knowledge and the wisdom of how to apply that knowledge in wise ways. A growing understanding of the gospel, of our culture, of people and of the language we use. We can attempt to impart the Gospel in unwise and unloving ways. Loving communication speaks in language that people can grasp. We need to listen and understand people. Our culture is changing rapidly, we need to keep listening.
I’ve seen so many students who made the critical mistake of developing their minds in chemistry, etc. but leaving their minds undeveloped when it comes to spiritual understanding. Don’t put the Bible away on the shelf. Worship God with your mind as well as your heart and spirit. Use the same amount of energy to engage and to growing in knowledge and depth of insight.
There is an old farmer in Armagh in the days before GPS who used to give directions… and he would say, “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.”
Sometimes we can say, “If only God had put me in different circumstances, with a different body, with a different community or set of friends…”
Don’t we understand that we are who we are and where we are for a reason?
Listen to Paul: I want you to know that my circumstances have turned out to advance the gospel. He was probably under house arrest in Rome but there is no hint of self-pity. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every person could be content in their own skin.
The circumstances might look negative. Paul may was in prison but he never allowed the prison to get into him. Many of us are in prisons – circumstances, physical limitations or other issues. I’m not saying this to minimise what we are going through. Let’s be real. Paul understood that God was still in control.
Has life turned out as you had hoped? When adversity hits we can instinctively make a list of the impact on our ambitions, on our relationships, on our finances… but what about the Gospel? That was what Paul was concerned about. Amongst the many legitimate reason for changing our lives, do we ever shape our decisions in terms of the advance of the Gospel? What might seem difficult might be precisely what is required.
Paul got to share the gospel with people who otherwise he might not have met. Imagine the assignment of being chained to Paul as his guard? Soldiers were coming to Christ. Paul told everyone that he was in prison for Christ. He announced the good news of Jesus to those he encountered.
In addition, Paul’s imprisonment emboldened others to share their faith. His chains galvanised others – a chain reaction!! What an interesting strategy for evangelism… lock up the preachers and others will start to do the work!
God is the God of your circumstances today. See how those circumstances can be turned to the advancement of the Gospel.
Here’s the disappointing part – some were preaching in order to make trouble for Paul. Their motives were envy and jealousy.
In my late teens I was starting to do some teaching. My motives were all over the place. I wanted to be the person standing in front of the big crowd. I started to be critical of those who were doing this. One of them was the preacher Derek Bingham. I knew that my motives were wrong so I wrote to him to apologise. He wrote back a kind and gracious letter and said, “The world of Christian ministry is riddled with jealousy.” These attitudes are desperately corrosive and damaging.
Listen to what Paul says: “What does it matter?” Paul realises that it doesn’t really matter because the Gospel is still being preached.
The temptation would be to react to this kind of thing in selfish anger. He could have come across as hurt and embittered. Paul does not fall into this trap and dishonour the Lord for four reasons:
- Their prayers for him – Paul relies on the prayers of others. And perhaps praying for Paul would also be a healthy and positive antidote to the rising envy and jealousy.Think of your conversations so far at New Horizon – if we were to remove from those conversations everything that was critical of others, how much would be left? When we find our minds moving in this direction of criticising those who are seeking to serve God, why don’t we replace it with prayer?
- The strengthening of the Holy Spirit – the security of God’s love helps us keep going.
- The settled direction of his life – for Paul to live is Christ (not personal ease, or reputation… but Christ). It wasn’t about Paul; it was about Christ. He was the hub around which Paul’s life revolved. Paul wasn’t simply “not angry,” he chose to rejoice. He was able to let go of the hurts and minor offences.Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. Preach Christ. Make Christ the issue. Put Christ at the heart of the Gospel. Don’t assume that people know Him. Don’t replace Christ with the nuances of your particular theological persuasion. Be aware not just of the selfish and sinful motivation of others but the selfish and sinful motivations within yourself. Get on with preaching Christ and rejoice when others do the same.
- The Gospel truth that to die is gain – why would he get upset if all this leads to his death? Paul’s way of thinking about death is so startling. He would prefer to die, not because he was old or tired of life or even because he was suffering but he knew it that to die is gain because dying means being with Christ. That is the goal, the fulfilment, the supreme conclusion. He didn’t express it like we do (going to heaven) but rather that he would be with Christ and that was far better than being on earth.
An old preacher wrote, “I’ve raced you to heaven all my life, see you there!”
Jesus is preparing a place for us! But what was better for Paul wasn’t necessarily his primary consideration. He was concerned about the spiritual joy and progress of others might tip the scale of choosing to hang on to life for a while.
How do you think about death? Can you identify with Paul’s approach? Do we actually believe the gospel? Why is it that churches and individuals hardly ever talk about death and heaven and eternal realities?
Have we forgotten that this world is not the only one there is? There is an eternal reality. Paul wasn’t desperately clinging on to life. He wasn’t raging against the dying of the light nor was he submitting stoically to death’s inevitability. He recognised that by His death, Jesus abolished death. Our gospel message is an answer to death, not just to life, and that changes everything.
Death wasn’t the dying of the light; it was about going to be with the One who is the light of the universe.
Maybe some of us are thinking, “I’m not ready.” Well why not? What are we living for? What is the point of my life? Let our focus be different. Lay up treasure in heaven. Invest in eternity. Partner in the gospel. Build into the lives of others. Practice radical hospitality. Even a glass of water, Jesus said. Could He have made it any simpler?
So whatever happens, this is the one thing: “Live in a way that is worthy of the Gospel.”
And here we come to the issue of courage. It was not easy to be a Christian in the Roman Empire. It was a brutish regime. In Philippi, they were obviously being attacked quite viciously. Paul encourages them not to be intimidated by the pressure.
I was brought up in a different world. It is tougher now than it was for me. Our young people need understanding, sympathy, support and the investment of older Christians to walk with them and to help them to put first things first.
When the Gospel came to Philippi, a girl was being exploited for her money making potential. Paul set her free but the result was costly for Paul and Silas.
Can I encourage you to spend time in the last chapters of Acts? Have you ever wondered why Luke moves from the news of conversions at the beginning of Acts to stories of the trials and perseuctions at the end of Acts?
Stand firm. Be united. Be steadfast. Have courage under fire. A house that is divided cannot stand!