||There have been many attacks on the Christian community over the last
years. One of the foundation stones for the justification for this has been
the behavior of some so-called "televangelists." Now I don't care for the
description itself because of the negative connotation it carries and how
it is used to taint those who are serving the Lord, such as Billy Graham.
Unfortunately though, there are individuals who have made televangelist a
four-letter word. They have made a mockery and a joke of faith. We find it
easy to criticize them and hold them up to ridicule ourselves. But even these
individuals sometimes tell the truth. From their pulpits and over the air
waves, in the midst of appeals for money, teaching positive confession and
a whole plethora of heresies, may be buried the gospel message. And where
the word is given out we can rejoice because there is also the opportunity
for some unbeliever to come to a saving knowledge of the Lord.
So, even as we justly criticize the abuses and heresies of some of these
so-called televangelists, we can also rejoice that God can save in spite
of people, in spite of circumstances. And as we come to understand this truth
we will become free from the joy stealer circumstances, and free to praise
the Lord for the advancement of the gospel regardless of the instruments
He may use. After all He can use even us.
Last time we saw there are essentially four things that steal our joy, the
joy God intends us to experience. The stealers are circumstances, people,
things and worry. In chapter 1 of Paul's letter we see how he deals with
circumstances as a joy stealer. Paul's joy can't be stolen by circumstances
because he chooses to see circumstances only in the light of God's truth.
He has essentially one focus in his life, that of serving the Lord and
specifically the dissemination of the Gospel. He sees all that he experiences
in light of this work. Also implicit in Paul's life is the confidence that
God is in control. "And we know that in all things God
works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according
to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). As a result of these factors,
he is able to rejoice in his relationship and unity with the Philippians
even in the midst of his imprisonment.
Paul's attention isn't given over to his own troubles, instead he rejoices
in his fellowship with these believers. He holds them in his mind. As he
prays they were always in the forefront of his thoughts. And so he experiences
joy as he thinks on how God has blessed them. Paul holds the Philippians
in his heart. They are part of the body of Christ with him and had experienced
the same gift of God's grace. As he thinks on how blessed they are he also
experiences God's love for them.
Finally, He holds them in his prayers. The only way to maintain a unity of
focus and purpose is to hold a unity of prayer and fellowship. He prays for
them, that they would continue to grow in their love and spiritual wisdom.
And rejoices in the confidence "that he who began a good
work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
(vs. 3) Paul is joyful because of who his God is.
Paul sets an example that we could do well to imitate. He clearly experiences
God's joy even in the midst of great difficulties. How is it we can't taste
this same joy in the midst of our circumstances? This morning we will expand
on what we already discovered last time, that an intensity of focus, of purpose,
effects how we respond to all that occurs.
|II. The Single Mind Chapter 1
(Key Verse - 1:21)
|B. The Furtherance of the Gospel
|C. The Faith of the Gospel
Verses 12-13: I suspect that at least initially,
if we were the Philippians, we might be inclined to respond to Paul accordingly.
"Paul, we truly appreciate your love and prayers. You are a great man of
God. But we've go to ask. Why are you in jail? Why has God put you there?
You can accomplish many more things if you were free! Think of all you have
done. You have served God without reservation, therefore why does He treat
you this way?" Have you even felt like asking these kinds of questions
about what you have observed in the lives of believers? Is this a reasonable
Implicit in these questions is a fear. "If God treats Paul this way then
how will He treat me?" And second there is the belief that, bottom line,
the quality of life depends on the quality of circumstances. There can be
no joy unless circumstances allow for it. Can you give any examples of this
kind of thinking?
It certainly seems as if these were the questions the Philippians were asking
for Paul answers them. Why do you think he isn't overwhelmed by his imprisonment?
He makes it quite clear the reason God has allowed him to experience the
difficulties he is dealing with is because they will advance the gospel.
Paul's focus on God and His work causes him to see his suffering in light
of the carrying out that work … and specifically the spreading of the gospel,
which has occurred throughout the palace guard. As Paul was chained to individual
soldiers, he had witnessed to them. They were, so to speak, a captive audience.
The guard knew Paul was a prisoner for his belief. And, as we know, over
time believers were found in Cæsar's household. "All
the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Cæsar's
The second group affected by Paul's witness was made up of other believers
who, through Paul's example, were able to depend on God for the courage to
speak out for themselves. And so the gospel was spread even further.
I come back to an example in my own life, not given because I feel I'm a
good model, but because it shows how God brings blessing out of trials. Some
years ago, when Janette and my marriage was in trouble, I had to step out
of ministry, temporary. As part of a statement to that effect I let it be
known that we were going for counseling. Now while I wish we never had to
have gone through that period, our own lives clearly benefited from what
But also as we were willing to admit we needed help a number of other couples,
who also were in trouble, were finally willing to admit it and get help.
Through our trials others were able to deal with theirs. And so with Paul's
suffering for the gospel, others were willing to take on the same risk. The
important thing wasn't life being comfortable. The important thing was, and
still should be, the serving of the Lord and the carrying out of His work.
Verses 15-18a: What added to the burden of Paul's
circumstances was the voices of those who said he was getting what he deserved.
These critics were others who gave out the gospel. In fact Paul notes two
groups that were speaking out of different motives. The first spoke from
envy and rivalry, while the second spoke from goodwill and love. I appreciate
Chrysostom's observation of how Paul tells this readers about this.
"Note Paul's wisdom. He does not hurl around scurrilous accusations. He calmly
describes what has come to pass. … Though the aim and motives on which they
acted were corrupted, still the preaching itself was not corrupted. And the
preaching of Christ occurred despite it all. HOMILY ON PHILIPPIANS 3.1.1"
I pray that we can respond to adversaries in the same way. And while I'm
sure Paul was hurt, at the same time he could rejoice. Why? Because the gospel
was being given out even if by those whose motives were less than pure. Keep
in mind people have been saved under the ministry of those who aren't saved
themselves. Remember, it is God's word and the power of the Holy Spirit that
saves. They can do so even through someone who is lost. Even televangelists
sometimes tell the truth.
So Paul can rejoice, can be filled with joy. Why? Because he understands
that as he is obedient, as he depends on the Lord and trusts his circumstances
to Him, all that occurs will benefit the work of the ministry. Paul doesn't
have to understand how this will occur. All he needs to realize is that it
does. By truly trusting God he lives in the reality that God knows best and
that he isn't called to understanding, just faithfulness. Think of the freedom
of simply trusting, without being burdened by always having to understand.
We don't have to have answers to everything in life.
Verses 18b-26: Paul is so confident in God he is able to trust Him with his
very life. He praises the Philippians because he knows that through their
prayers and the work of the Holy Spirit, he will be delivered. But what is
unclear to him is will the deliverance be the freedom of death, or the freedom
of release from prison. After all for Paul there are three tenses of salvation,
past, salvation through grace, present, sanctification or the working out
of our salvation and future:
"And do this, understanding the present time. The hour
has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer
now than when we first believed" (Romans 13:11).
It is in these verses that we can see while Paul can be joy filled in the
midst of trials he isn't unaffected by them. He prays God will provide him
the courage to live or die in a way that honors God. We all need to be dependent
on God to live in a way that honors Him, just as was the case with Paul.
We see this because he makes it clear he would be much better off if he could
die and go home to be with the Lord. Have you ever felt that way? Is this
a reasonable way to feel?
What hits me here as the most important principle is: It may be great to
get out of a difficult situation for something better, be it life for heaven,
a bad marriage for peace and quiet, or poverty for comfort. But Paul is saying
what is best is being available to God for the advancement of the kingdom.
This is true even if it means being stuck where we are. What strikes me with
the WWJD "fad" is while it is good theology, I wonder if people remember
that what Jesus did, was put the will of the Father ahead of His own "needs."
And this is where true joy comes from.
But even as Paul speaks of going home, he isn't just talking of a benefit
that will come to him in heaven, but that there would be a benefit to the
furthering of the gospel through the agency of his death. So even here his
focus remains unchanged. If the gospel can be advanced by his continued presence
on earth, then he is more than willing, though not thrilled, to remain. And
if the gospel is advanced through his death then he can also rejoice. Paul
understood that, if for no other reason than to benefit the Philippians,
it was better he continue to live. While it was obviously much better for
his personal existence to die, it was better for God's work for him to live.
There is nothing wrong with longing for the Rapture,
"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with
a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call
of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still
alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to
meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore
encourage each other with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18),
But we should long even more for the opportunity to serve the living God.
We will have an eternity to be with and worship Him, but we have only a very
short time to serve Him here.
Verses 27-30: Now Paul having answered their
question concerning his suffering moves on to them. Their responsibility
is the same whether or not Paul lives, whether or not he can come to them.
They too must rise above circumstances in how they chose to live, motivated
by the same thing as Paul, the advancement of the gospel. They must strive
for that same unity of focus and purpose, not being overwhelmed by circumstances
and the people that would interfere with the ministry, even though many of
those people were follow believers.
In the final analysis it is the testimony of the believer life, the confidence
in the Lord in the midst of circumstances that shows the nonbeliever what
is missing from his life. It is the centrality of focus that prevents
circumstances from stealing joy, and therefore that joy becomes a beacon
to the truth of the gospel, and the presence of God in the life of the believer.
Paul closes this section with the thought that suffering for Christ is actually
a gift from God. And if we understand that the gospel is furthered through
our trials, then we can understand how this is possible and how therefore
we can rejoice.
We can truly experience Paul's joy when we can say with him,
"For to me, to live is Christ…" (vs. 21).
If we say that to live is money, family, possessions, power, health, even
ministry, anything other than Christ, we are depending on circumstances to
provide our joy. Joy will never come from these. There can be no greater
joy that to live, or die for that matter, for Christ. Life comes from God
and no where else.
It seems that often it is our chains that give us the greatest opportunity
to advance the gospel. Think of someone like a Joni Erickson Tada who is
chained to a wheelchair, but still has an effective ministry for the Lord.
Think of the mothers chained to their children, but through their ministry
numerous souls have been added to the kingdom of God.
And all of us are chained to our personalities, never the less, God can and
does work through us in spite of ourselves. There are numerous ways we can
be bound, but we may rejoice because we are considered worthy to suffer with
Christ, and also because God uses our trials to advance the gospel.
"But even if you should suffer for what is right, you
are blessed. 'Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.'" … "And
the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after
you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong,
firm and steadfast" (1 Peter 3:14, 5:10).
The secret to joy then in the midst of circumstances, is clarity of focus.
We must walk in the truth that all life comes from God, that is, to live
is Christ. It is as we examine our life in light of this truth and the call
to advance the gospel that we can rejoice.
This doesn't mean we are talking about a life centered on the verbal
dissemination of the message of the cross, but a life that demonstrates the
reality of Christ's presence in how we respond to all circumstances. And
as we grow in our walk in Christ, we will find we truly will become freed
from circumstances. The joy stealer circumstances will find it much more
difficult to steal our joy.
Unfortunately though, we still have to deal with another joy stealer. Or
as one rack said: "This would be a great place except for the people." But
that's another story for next week..
Edwards, Mark J., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament
VIII, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1999, p. 225.
"Even Televangelists Sometimes Tell The Truth"
|II. The Single Mind Chapter 1
(Key Verse - 1:21)
|B. The Furtherance of the Gospel
|C. The Faith of the Gospel
(Romans 8:28; Philippians 1:3)
Paul, Why Aren't You Down?
And Then There's The Critics
(Romans 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)
What Are Your Chains?
(Philippians 1:21; 1 Peter 3:14, 15:10)
history people have given their lives for such things as God, country, family,
ideas, friends, love, science, adventure or compassion. For which of these
things would you be willing to die? What issues are involved in forming your
Prayer for the Week: Lord, I pray that Christ will be honored in the difficult
circumstances that I face. And accordingly, I also pray for brothers and
sisters around the world who are being persecuted for their faith.
Baker, Donald, Philippians, Jesus Our Joy, InterVarsity Press,
Downers Grove, IL, 1999, p. 17.
Ibid., adapted from p. 20.