The bottom line

The Bottom Line (Philippians 1:27-30)
Mobberly Baptist Church, Small Group, August 17, 2014

What is your favorite weapon? A sword requires hard steel to maintain a sharp edge. However, swords made solely of hard steel are found to be so brittle that they often shatter in battle. In contrast, soft steel does not break, but readily becomes dull, failing to be effective in fierce warfare. The Japanese, therefore, became skilled craftsman in the art of sword making. Their swords are the finest in the world. The Japanese create swords from both hard and soft steel. They combine multiple sheets of both strengths of metal, heating, folding, and pummeling them together over and over until they have up to 33,000 paper thin laminations of metal—each layer no more than 100,000th of an inch thick. The result is a finely crafted weapon of extreme pliability with a blade that will retain a deadly, sharp edge.

Just as Japanese sword makers repeatedly hammer together layers of metal to produce a sword that will be strong enough to withstand breaking, so God allows suffering to forge character into the lives of His children. Just as a sword made of hard metal will easily break in battle, so the independent believer will break in adversity. The hard steel in our lives is God’s Word; the soft steel in our lives is dependence on God and His church. These two components are both necessary to produce vessels that glorify God. Eventually, believers are shaped into beautiful weapons or models of usefulness.

Today, I hope to remind you of your privilege to model the gospel. Perhaps you don’t like the word model because you don’t see yourself as a particularly attractive person. I’m with you! I don’t get particularly excited about looking into the mirror either. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be physically attractive to be a gospel model; instead, you must be spiritually attractive. In Philippians 1:27–30, Paul exhorts you to model the gospel through perseverance, unity, boldness, and suffering. When you excel in these Christian disciplines, the world sits up and takes notice. Unbelievers in your life may not be eager for Jesus or salvation, but if you live a godly life, they may eventually become open to the gospel. Paul provides two challenges that will enable you to model the gospel.

1. Stand strong for Christ (1:27–28). You can stand strong for Christ by exemplifying courage and unity even in the midst of persecution. This section begins with the adverb “only” (monon), pointing to a sense of urgency and priority. I can see Paul holding up his index finger to signify “only” or “just one thing” as he adamantly declares his bottom line:“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” (1:27). Paul writes “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.” This command begins the body of this letter that runs through 4:9. Moreover, this command serves as the overarching theme of the entire book. So Paul gives the key command and then proceeds to explain and to illustrate what constitutes worthy conduct. The phrase “conduct yourselves” (politeuesthe) literally means “live as citizens.” The verb Paul uses (politeuomai) is related to our English word politics. It is a word built upon the Greek word for “city” (polis) and has overtones of citizenship responsibilities. Paul is making a play on the Philippians’ “dual citizenship.” The Philippians live in a free Roman city, and thus understand from their own experience what it means to live as citizens. Paul is picking up on that motif and elevating it to include their heavenly citizenship as well. This is especially clear by Paul’s use of the noun form ofpoliteuomai in 3:20a where Paul writes, “For our citizenship [politeuma] is in heaven.” Paul is suggesting that you are a citizen of heaven, and while you are on earth you ought to behave like heaven’s citizen.

To live your life as a citizen “worthy of the gospel of Christ” means to represent Christ in all you say and do. The term “worthy” (axios) pictures weighing something on the scales. The idea is that your manner of life should weigh as much as the gospel you claim to be committed to. People are not nearly as interested in discussing absolute, objective truth claims. People are even less interested in discussing theology or philosophy, but most people are interested in the practical questions of how to live.

It is not enough to just learn the Word; we must live the gospel out in every area of life, including our earthly citizenship. What type of citizen are you? Do you speak well of our President, our governor, and various political officials? Or are you critical of anyone who isn’t as conservative as you are? Obviously, this will not open doors to the gospel? Are you a law abiding citizen? Do you seek to have a positive attitude in your community, or are you a pessimistic doomsday soothsayer? Additionally, what type of spouse are you? Do your coworkers and neighbors see something different in your marriage? Do they come to you in the midst of their relational strife? Do those who know you see you loving your kids and spending time with them, while they are pulling out their hair and running away from their own kids? Perhaps they want to know how you can enjoy your kids so much. All that it takes is for you to live a different (notice I didn’t say odd) life before those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. Today, will you model the gospel before your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers? Will you help others learn how to live the gospel? Will you help others become citizens of heaven and learn to live like the King?
Paul expects great things from the Philippians whether he is able to come see them or whether he just hears a good report. What a great comment! Paul expects that the impact of a worthy church would be known far and wide. This should be your desire as well. It is critical to believe in your church and to speak well of your church. So many people are critical of their church and their leadership. This is easy for any believer to do. It doesn’t take any skill or spiritual maturity to notice weaknesses in the church. Anyone can be critical of the church! However, self-control and godliness come into play when you choose to believe the best about your church and her leadership. When you have a high view of what God can accomplish in and through your church, you will come with expectation. You will serve with zeal! You will talk to others with optimism! Who knows? The church may just rise to your highs hopes of her.
Paul yearns to hear about the church “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27b). The word translated “stand firm” (steko) described a Roman military formation in which the soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back with their shields up and their spears outward. It was the strongest possible defensive position. The word was also used of a soldier who defended his position at all costs, even to the point of sacrificing his own life. To stand firm means to hold your ground regardless of the danger or the opposition. Figuratively, it means to hold fast to a belief, a conviction, or a principle without compromise, regardless of personal cost.

You must have a military mindset and hold down the fort of your church. Impacting the world begins as Christians stand together “in one spirit.” As followers of Jesus, we need each other. Like soldiers, we too, are to join arms and hearts, offering encouragement and hope in our struggles. We are not to divide. Unfortunately, we do, often over very trivial issues. There are already too many barriers in the body of Christ—barriers of race, geography, worship style, mode of baptism, and denominational affiliation. To make matters worse, we spend far too much time squabbling over non-essential issues (e.g., the charismatic gifts, end times, the timing of the universe, divorce and remarriage, etc) and not enough time preaching the gospel of Christ. This is a scandal that hinders God’s work. When will we understand that unity makes the gospel beautiful? Jesus promised that all men would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34–35).

Paul has just used political and military word pictures, now he moves to the world of athletics. All this in one verse! The word translated “striving together” (sunathleo) gives us our English word “athletics.” Paul pictures the church as a team, and he reminds the Philippians that it is teamwork that wins victories. It’s like a coach saying to his players, “We win together and we lose together.” The local church is not made up of superstars. The church is a team in which Christ is the superstar, and we are joined together with Him to compete. In this case, we play as a team to advance the truth of God and promote His kingdom. Our proper motivation and common goal is “for the faith of the gospel.”

One of Aesop’s fables is about a father who had seven sons. To each son he gave a stick. Each was asked to break his stick. No problem there; it was easily done. Then the father took another seven sticks and bound them together. He then asked each of his seven sons to break the sticks. Not one of them could break the sticks which had been bound together as one. Similarly, on our own, you and I will be snapped in two by Satan and our own flesh. We need the accountability, encouragement, and comfort that come from being in community with other believers.

Paul concludes this section in 1:28 with some unusual words that require a bit of explanation: “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 says that standing strong for Christ entails refusing to be intimidated by your opponents. The word translated “alarmed” (ptyresthai) is not found elsewhere in the entire Greek Bible (OT and NT). But it is used on occasion in Classical Greek of timid horses that shy upon being startled at some unexpected object. It could denote the uncontrollable stampede which ensues when a herd of horses are spooked or alarmed for some reason. It is obvious from this that these opponents were trying to throw the church into panic in an attempt to dismantle it. Yet, the Philippians were not to become frightened to the point of running from their opposition. As believers we should not go looking for a fight, but neither do we run away from it if it happens.

There has been a lot of ink spilled on exactly who these opponents are, but ultimately no one knows with any degree of certainty. The point that Paul is making is: Make no mistake, if you open up your mouth about Jesus Christ, you will have enemies. When you say “Jesus is the only way,” people will call you arrogant. If you declare, “You must be born again,” someone is sure to call you a fanatic. If you say the Bible is the Word of God, someone else will think you’re an ignorant hick. If you say, “I know I’m going to heaven,” you’ll be accused of thinking you’re better than everyone else. Finally, if you dare to call adultery wrong and homosexuality sinful, someone is bound to call you a narrow-minded, judgmental bigot. And so it goes. If you’re a bold Christian, you will annoy the world precisely because you are a citizen of heaven and live by different principles.
Nevertheless, your bold witness in the face of persecution serves two purposes. First, your bold witness is a sign to your opponents that they will be destroyed. How is it a “sign” (endeixis) to them? Because when they see you stand firm, deep in their heart they know it’s not natural for someone to stand against the ridicule or hostility of a group. Deep in their heart they know that when a group begins to browbeat and threaten or attack, people cave in. They know the normal human response is that when you see you’re going to be rejected for a view, you find some way to back off from it. When they see you continue to stand without being intimidated, it makes a disturbing impression on them, because something inexplicable is happening. They see a quiet strength inside you that they don’t have. They see a certainty and strength that can only be explained as coming from somewhere or someone else. And deep in their heart a convicting voice says to them, “He’s right, she’s right, and unless you change, you’ll be under the judgment of the God who is in them.” When you stand for the truth and are not scared off, a profound impression is made on them that unless they change, they’ll be under the judgment of God. Although most people deny and suppress the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, He still beckons them to consider spiritual realities. Knowing this, you and I must seek to model the gospel.

Your bold witness serves a second purpose—it’s a sign of salvation for you. Salvation from what? Whenever you come across the noun “salvation” (soteria) or the verb “save” (sozo), it is important to ask: What is the context of this rescue or deliverance? In Phil 1:27–28, Paul is likely referring to believers triumphantly glorifying Christ through temporal difficulties, whether they escape them or not. The salvation also points to our future hope of reigning with Christ. Throughout the New Testament, suffering is often connected with reward (e.g., Matt 5:10–12; Rom 8:17; Heb 10:32–35; 11:24–26). Thus, it is critical that you and I endure so that we experience the fullness of Christ’s reign (2 Tim 2:11–13).

One of the important questions in this passage is: What does the word “that” (“but of salvation for you, and that [touto] too, from God,” 1:28b) refer to? It seems clear whatever “that” is it comes “from God.” At first glance, it seems that Paul is referring to “salvation” as “that” which comes from God. This makes biblical and logical sense. Salvation is from God and the closest referent to “that” is “salvation.” However, in the Greek language, terms are given genders—masculine, feminine, neuter—so terms that belong together can be matched up. When the gender of the relevant terms in 1:28 is considered, it becomes clear that the neuter “that” does not refer to the feminine “salvation” but to the whole concept of striving and suffering in the preceding context (1:27–28a). What’s the point? Somehow, suffering comes from God. I’m not saying evil comes from God. But it is God who allows you to suffer. This principle will be fleshed out further in 1:29–30.
[If you want to live a worthy life and model the gospel, you must stand strong for Christ. Paul’s second challenge to live a worthy life is to…]
2. Suffer well for Christ (1:29–30). In order to suffer well for Christ, you must recognize the nature of suffering and observe positive examples of suffering. Paul states, “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 [agon] which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (1:29–30). Paul explains that suffering is “a grace disguised.” The word “granted” (echaristhe) is built off the Greek word for “grace” (charis). Paul’s point is: God gives two grace gifts—salvation and suffering. Of course, every believer wants the gift of salvation, but the gift of suffering is the “gift that nobody wants!” We’re tempted to look for the receipt. Like a Christmas gift we don’t want, we’re tempted to try and return this gift! But God says: “There’s no receipt. The gift of suffering is too important and too significant.” Suffering is a gift of God’s grace!
Paul doesn’t just offer up some pious platitudes; the man is a practitioner. In fact, in 1:30 he uses himself as an example and indicates the Philippians have seen him suffer. Nearly ten years earlier they had seen Paul thrown into a Philippian jail and then run out of town for his faith (Acts 16:19–34). And now at the time of this writing he is in prison in Rome. Yet, Paul counts suffering for the gospel a grace gift. The reason: Suffering changed his life and shaped his eternal perspective.

Indeed, nothing will facilitate growth quicker and better than suffering. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it’s true. From a human perspective, suffering stinks; but from a godly perspective, suffering is for your good. God wants to sanctify you. Like Jesus, we must be perfected through sufferings (Heb 2:10). Today, will you begin to see your problems as privileges? When you are rejected at work, at school, or in the neighborhood, will you rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer with Christ? When your spouse, your children, or you relatives call you a fanatic or a freak, will you bless the Lord and continue to exude love and compassion? Through your suffering, God will permit you to model the gospel to those who need a witness.

Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist, lived during the Holocaust and was a prisoner in a Jewish concentration camp during WWII. While seeking to survive the horror of this imprisonment, Frankl began observing his fellow prisoners in the hope of discovering what coping mechanism would help him endure this horrendous existence. What Frankl discovered was this: Those individuals who could not accept what was happening to them and could not make their present suffering fit with their faith, or couldn’t find its meaning in their world view, despaired, lost hope, and eventually gave up and died. Those prisoners who found a meaning from their faith, were then able to find hope for a future beyond their present suffering, and so could accept what they were enduring as a part of their existence. It was these prisoners who survived.
You may not find yourself in a concentration camp right now; nevertheless, you may be suffering for Christ. If so, ask God to enable you to have His perspective. Pray for the supernatural ability to receive suffering as a gift that God will use to grow you in Him and allow you to model the gospel to a hurting and confused world. Remember, the book of Philippians is about changing your mind. Words related to the mind, to thinking, and to remembering occur almost three dozen times! This is the most prevalent idea throughout the letter. Today, God wants you to encounter Him anew and afresh so that you see your need to depend upon Him and His church. He wants you to maintain courage and perseverance in the most difficult circumstances. As you do so, He will use you in ways that you never thought possible. Model the gospel and see what Jesus Himself will do in and through you.

Advertisements

A Win-Win situation – Philippians 1:18b-26

Small group, Mobberly Baptist Church, August 10, 2014

“Have you ever dreamed something so intense you were happy to wake up?” When was the last time you had a really scary dream? Okay, call that dream to mind for just a moment. Was your dream so vivid that when you woke up you wondered if it was real? Those types of dreams are both disturbing and frightening. What was your dream like?
Were you grateful to get up? The relief I experienced was exhilarating. In those waking moments, my priorities became quite clear to me. Now, the question is: Why does it always take a bizarre dream or a dramatic event to really get my attention? Why can’t I see what truly matters in this life? Do you ever feel like I do? When you wake up, do you ever choose the newspaper over the Bible? When you come home from work do you ever choose TV over your children? Do you ever choose the computer over conversation with your spouse? Do you ever choose relaxation over church? Do you ever choose to increase your standard of living instead of your standard of giving? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions and you’re serious about Christ, you know what its like to shake your head and think, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get my act together?” Philippians 1:18b–26 will challenge you to reexamine your priorities. Paul will exhort you to live to die, die to live. In this passage, he also provides two key motivations for you to rejoice in.
1. Rejoice in your future vindication (1:18b–20). In 1:12–18a, Paul rejoiced in adverse circumstances because he recognized that his best witness could occur in his worst circumstances. Now, he transitions and explains: “Not only have I been rejoicing, but I will rejoice in the future.”2 Paul puts it this way: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this [i.e., my seemingly negative circumstances, 1:12–18a will turn out for my deliverance [lit. “salvation”] through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to 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” (1:18b–20). The reason that Paul can rejoice is that he believes his trials are advantageous to his Christian experience. The phrase, “this will turn out for my deliverance,” is an exact quote from Job 13:16 in the Greek Old Testament. ‘Job, you must have done something terribly wrong, or else these business reverses, these family deaths, these health issues wouldn’t have happened to you.’ Then Job shot back to them: ‘You are all dead wrong! One day when I am standing before God, you’re going to see how wrong you are. You’re going to see everything “turning out for my salvation.” You’re going to see my vindication, my validation. God’s going to deliver me and put His stamp of approval on me.’ In this same sense, Paul uses the word “deliverance” to refer to his future vindication at the judgment seat of Christ. The immediate context supports this view because Paul’s salvation is not dependent upon the prayers of the saints. He is saved, once for all by God’s grace. The prayers of the saints and the provision of the Holy Spirit are those things that strengthen Paul in his times of adversity and which gave him courage to stand firm for the gospel. Since Paul doesn’t want his words and behavior to bring shame to the cause of Christ, he relies upon the Philippians’ prayers and the Holy Spirit’s filling to grant him boldness in the midst of his trials.
I love how Paul concludes this section by saying that he wants Christ “to be exalted in his body whether by life or by death” (1:20b). This is how you should think and live. Despite your circumstances you can exalt Christ. The word “exalted” (megaluno) means “to make great, to enlarge, to make glorious.” We get our English word “megaphone” from this word. A megaphone makes your voice big. Similarly, a magnifying glass makes print big. We are to make Jesus big with our lives and lips! The verb “be exalted” is passive, which means that Christ receives magnification by our actions. There are two types of magnification: microscope and telescope. The microscope makes the little seem big. That is not the picture here. The telescope makes the actually big loom big. This is what Paul is saying: Your task as a Christian is to bring the immensity of who Jesus truly is to the forefront. Do you want your body to be a magnifying glass for the Lord Jesus? Do you want to make Him big to the world? Not life-size, but King-size. If you magnify Jesus, people will be attracted to Him and embrace Him as their Savior. Folks will sit up and take notice of Him. By this you will enhance the world’s estimation of Christ.
But in order to exalt Christ whether in life or death, you must make one mental adjustment: You must adjust your expectations. Yes, good ole’ expectations! You have them. I have them. All God’s people have them! Think about it: You expect your spouse to love you and respect you. You expect that people will be nice to you, that you’ll have good health, a great marriage, faithful friends, and a successful career. But how do you respond when life doesn’t live up to your expectations? If you’re like most Christians, you become outraged. Yet, I figure since you can’t choose your circumstances, you might as well choose how you will respond to them. My motto is: If you can’t beat them, join them. Regardless of what you’re going through today, God can use your adverse circumstances for His glory and your good. Why not say today: “God, whatever comes I am going to trust You to grant me grace to persevere through my trials so that I can be vindicated when I stand before Christ. Live to die, die to live.
[How can you survive your trials? First, you must recognize that God uses the prayers of His people and the power of His Holy Spirit to help you grow in Christ. God’s work in and through you then allows you to rejoice in your future vindication before Christ. The second key motivation is for you to…]
2. Rejoice in your future ministry (1:21–26). Paul continues his life or death theme, but now applies it specifically to his ministry in the local church. His conclusion: The only reason to live is to minister. Paul begins this section by penning the ever familiar 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The word “me” (emoi) stands first in the Greek clause for emphasis. Paul is saying, “I don’t care what anyone else does. Ultimately, I don’t care if I am released from prison. MY passion is Christ! All I care about is Him.” For Paul “to live is Christ” means to live out the life of Christ, which includes His sufferings. This is confirmed by studying the lives of Jesus and the apostle Paul. Both men experienced poverty, slander, rejection, and abuse. Yet, in the midst of their adverse circumstances, Jesus and Paul continually exuded joy and walked intimately with God.
The natural transition in 1:21 is the underlying truth that you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die.
Paul states that death is “gain.” He deliberately chooses the word “gain” (kerdos) because it means “profit or advantage.” Death is not loss; death is gain! Yet, this notion is foreign to most of our conversations. We talk about people “losing the battle” with disease. When a loved one dies we often say “we have lost them.” When treatments are exhausted doctors say, “There is nothing more we can do” in an attitude of defeat and resignation. We view death as the ultimate defeat. But this is not Paul’s attitude toward death. He sees it not as defeat, he sees it as victory. This should be your mindset as well. When the believer dies he or she leaves behind the suffering and groaning of this life, the rejection and persecution of unbelievers, and immediately enters the presence of God, where sorrow, sadness, and sickness do not exist. That is why death is gain! Our rewards are often not realized on earth—they are realized in eternity. This is why it can be said, “When a Christian dies, he has just begun to live.” So today, live to die, die to live. Live with the realization of your imminent death in mind; die to yourself so that you can experience the abundant life on earth and in eternity.
Philippians 1:21 is Paul’s life motto. It’s his abbreviated Personal Missions Statement. What is your mission? Why not make it your goal this week to write out a Personal Missions Statement? Just seek God in prayer and ask Him to reveal your Personal Missions Statement. It can be done in as little as an hour. I’d like to share my Personal Missions Statement with you. It may help you or give you some ideas of what you may want to write up. My PMS is this:
I will strive to serve God and grow in my relationship with Him.
I will love my wife as Christ loved the Church and gave (of) Himself for her.
I will love my children daily and strive to raise them to love and serve God.
I will work with an attitude of service and strive to find ways to share God’s love at my place of employment.
I will work to keep myself healthy and fit and commit to honor my body as God’s temple.
I will serve my church. I will pray for and support my pastor and staff.
I will seek to have fun every day and enjoy the life God has given me.
Here is what I have on my Linked In site:
Committed to God and family, mentor to faculty and students, lover of learning and life
I crafted this Personal Missions Statement carefully. My purpose is first, intensely personal. I want to know Jesus Christ intimately and passionately. I don’t just want to know about Jesus, I want to know Jesus intimately. I want to have a love relationship with Him. I also want to know Him passionately. I want to be obsessed with Jesus. I want to be energetic, enthusiastic, and excited about who He is and what He has done. But my Personal Missions Statement also includes my responsibility to others. After the Lord has worked in and through me, I then want to use my primary spiritual gift of service and my calling as a teacher to equip others to know Christ intimately and passionately to the same degree, and Lord willing, to an even greater degree than I do. That is my Personal Missions Statement. This statement is the reason that I wake up in the morning. It’s what I live for. Granted, I don’t always succeed at fulfilling this responsibility, but it is my aim. It is my calling. Do you have such a mission? If not, I challenge you to write one up. Just complete the following sentence: “I exist to…” Do it this week. It may just change your life.
Paul continues his life/death motif in 1:22–24 where he writes: “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 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.” Paul is in a quandary. If he lives, he wins; if he dies, he wins. This is a dilemma between two wins! It’s like someone offering to give you a BMW or a Lexus. The choice is up to you. You can’t lose! For Paul, the two alternatives are whether he should continue his work in time or see Jesus in eternity. If Paul continues to live in the flesh he writes that it will mean “fruitful labor.” Notice that in Paul’s mind there is only one reason to live in the flesh and that is for further ministry. It is not children, grandkids, hobbies, or pleasure; it is ministry! And not just mediocre maintenance ministry, but what Paul calls “fruitful labor” (karpos ergou). Paul knows that if God grants him life, He will bless him with more fruit. How can you have “fruitful labor”? In 1:19, Paul refers to the prayers of the saints and the filling of the Holy Spirit. If you want fruitful labor, ask a team of people to pray for you and your ministry and ask the Lord to fill you with His Spirit (cf. Eph 5:18). Fruitful labor is the result when your passion is to see Christ made big in your body. This means you wake up in the morning to serve Christ and to show Him off. It means you see all that you do as ministry.
As Paul envisions the possibilities of an even more fruitful ministry, he concludes that he doesn’t know which to choose. In 1:23, he writes that he is “hard pressed.” The word translated “hard pressed” (sunechomai) is used in Luke 12:50 where Jesus speaks of the baptism of suffering that He must undergo. Jesus says that He is “distressed” (sunechomai) and will remain distressed until His death is accomplished. In His deity, Jesus longs to go the cross; in His humanity, Jesus longs to bypass the cross. In the same vein, the decision of life or death is distressing and agonizing for Paul.
Paul confesses that his “desire is to depart and be with Christ” (1:23). The word translated “desire” (epithumian) seems like a rather mellow word. You may be thinking to yourself, “I, too, desire to be with Christ.” However, you may be surprised to learn that this word is used numerous times in the New Testament, but is only translated in a positive sense one other time (1 Thess 2:17). Elsewhere this word is rendered “lust.” Lust is a burning yearning for that which is forbidden. Now this may change your initial take on the seemingly tame word “desire.” The point is: Paul has a strong and intense desire to depart and be with Christ. Thus, you could say that one of the “lusts” of a godly man’s heart is to be with Christ. Paul had an obsessive compulsion, an intense longing to be with Jesus. The implication is that you must share his desire—live to die, die to live.
Another key word that is easy to read over at first glance is the verb “depart” (analuo). However, in the Greek Old Testament this term was used of breaking up camp and reflects the camp-life of the Israelites in the wilderness in contrast with their permanent dwellings in the promised land. Likely, Paul, the old tentmaker, resorts to the language of his trade. In this term, he sees camp-life is exchanged at death for home-life with Christ” (cf. 2 Cor 5:1–8). What a beautiful and picturesque concept.
Paul insists that the prospect of being with Christ is “very much better.” He uses three Greek words (pollo mallon kreisson) that could be translated “better beyond all expression.” This expresses the highest superlative Paul could think of. The bottom line is: It is far better for a Christian to die than to live, although few of us believe it. We want to live long and prosperous and then retire, vacation, and help raise our grandchildren. Yet, Paul’s mindset is far different. He actually yearns for death. He beckons his dying day. He is able to do this because he is absolutely convinced that the moment he passes from this life, he will be in the presence of Jesus. As he says in 2 Cor 5:8, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. What a comfort! Paul understood the truth that you are not prepared to live until you are prepared to die.
Can you say that you have the same confidence as Paul? If not, you can. You can be 100% assured that you will spend eternity with Jesus. Simply believe in Jesus to rescue you from your sins. Transfer your trust from yourself and your good works to Jesus Christ’s work and person alone, and you will live with Him forever. If you make this decision, please contact me and I would be happy to send you some materials that will help you grow in your new faith. The greatest joy on earth is the clear prospect of heaven.
In spite of Paul’s godly lust for his heavenly home, he states in 1:24 that “to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” The word “necessary” (avagnaioteron) speaks of Paul’s need to be alive so that he can minister to others. God still has more work for Paul to accomplish in the lives of the Philippian believers. They need Paul more than he needs to go to heaven at this time in his life. Paul is willing to temporarily forestall his desire to go home to be with Christ in order to fulfill their need. The principle here is that as long as you are alive on earth God has a purpose for your being here. Therefore, you must ask, “Why does God have me here on earth?” The only reason Paul longed to stay behind is for the purpose of ministry.
This ties right into Paul’s conclusion in 1:25–26: “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.” After weighing all the evidence, Paul figures that he will probably live a little longer. He evidently believes this because the case his accusers had brought against him was not strong (cf. Acts 23:29; 25:25; 26:31-32). This conclusion is confirmed by the evidence in the Pastoral Epistles and the early church fathers, which points to Paul’s release from Roman imprisonment in A.D. 62 and several additional years of ministry until his second Roman imprisonment. Paul is saying he is “convinced” (pepoithos) that if he lives on in the flesh, he will do so for the Philippians. He says he will “remain” (meno) and “continue” for their “progress and joy in the faith.” The word for “progress” (prokopeen) means “to go forward and advance” (cf. 1:12). Paul desires not only the progress of the gospel but also the advancement in maturity by those who had responded to the gospel (Col 1:28). This is the reason God has Paul upon earth.
So I must ask the question: What are you doing to advance the faith of others? How are you presently bringing about others’ joy in the faith? Your answer to these questions is critically important, for this is why you’ve been left on planet earth. Have you ever considered that your marriage is ministry? Did you know that the most fulfilling fruit you can achieve is in your spouse? Another great ministry must be your children. If you impact and influence each of your children, you won’t just see individual lives changed. You may eventually see generations transformed.
Did you know that your work is your ministry? You are in full-time ministry whether you know it or not. You don’t have to be a teacher at a Christian university like I am. You may be a doctor, an engineer, a mechanic, a secretary, a housewife, or a retiree. It really doesn’t matter what you do. God has called you into the ministry—full time!
Of course, your church can also be a place of ministry. You can perform countless acts of service. You can work in the sound or video ministries, greet, usher, teach children or adults, serve in the nursery, or work on the grounds. Furthermore, you can also volunteer to cook meals, transport people in need, write letters to encourage others, use the phone to minister to those who suffer, pray, and give financially. The goal is that each and every person serves in one small way with excellence. Remember, the reason that you are still here is to serve God and others. Live to die, die to live.

There’s a ritual that takes place at the beginning of every professional ball game called “the pre-game speech” or “chalk talk.” Before the players take the field or court, the coach gets everyone together and reminds the team of the basics of their game. Typically, these speeches take place in the locker room with a dry erase board that allows the coach to draw up some plays. He then makes statements such as: “You guys have worked hard and prepared for this moment. I believe in you. You just need to play your game and take it to them!” Every week the coach says the same stuff but one way or another he gets the team focused and fired up for the game.
Like the apostle Paul, I consider myself a coach who is called to rally a team to victory. I want you to know that I believe in you and have high hopes for you. I also want to pump you up! Tragically, you may wrestle with this type of “emotionalism.” You may say, “Just give me the truth of God’s Word. I don’t want a lot of emotionalism that will fade by Sunday evening or maybe Monday morning.” While I can appreciate this, I believe one of the grave dangers in Bible churches is truth delivered without passion. This results in dry orthodoxy and can lead to arrogance. However, God calls you to a passionate pursuit of all that He is in exchange for all that you are. So what do have you to live for? What is your ruling passion? I’m confident that if you live to die, die to live, like Paul, you too may be used by God to affect the entire course of human history. If your church adopts this mentality, she can touch the world for Jesus Christ. Today, will you live your life for Jesus Christ with the expectation that He may come today or you may pass from this life? Will you deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Christ? This is the only way to live—live to die, die to live.

Delight in the midst of the disaster

Delight in the Midst of Disaster (Philippians 1:12-18a) Small Group, MBC, August 2, 2014
(Favorite song to encourage you?) When Handel wrote the “Hallelujah Chorus,” his health and his fortunes had reached an all-time low. His right side had become paralyzed, and all his money was gone. He was heavily in debt and threatened with imprisonment. He was tempted to give up the fight. The odds seemed entirely too great. And it was then he composed his greatest work—Messiah.
Today you may be going through one of the lowest seasons in your life. Perhaps you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer and you’re wondering what the future holds for you and your loved ones. Maybe you just lost your job and you don’t see how God can provide for you and your family during this time of economic uncertainty. Perhaps your parents are getting a divorce and you’re scared and angry. Maybe a family member or friend just passed away and you don’t know how you can carry on. Whatever you’re going through today, I want you to know there is hope. God wants to work in and through you in the midst of your pain. But as you know, the Christian life can be bittersweet. It’s bitter when you experience suffering and loss. Let’s face it, trials and tragedies are awful! No one loves suffering and hardship. Nevertheless, the Christian life is also sweet in the sense that our suffering is never wasted on God. He works His purposes even in the midst of your pain. In fact, God will do some of His best work in and through you when you are in the midst of personal crisis.
Paul shares from personal experience that your perspective in times of pain makes all the difference. You’ll see that the question Paul asks himself is not, “Is what’s happening to me fair?” Rather, he poses this question: “Is what’s happening to me accomplishing something for God? Is it furthering His purposes in the world?” If you reflect on this question, you will discover that you can have your best witness in your worst circumstances. In passages today, Paul shares two encouraging realities about adversity. These realities will give you even greater confidence in the power of the gospel.
1. Adversity advances God’s kingdom (READ Philippians 1:12–14). Paul is going to challenge you to view your adversity in light of its kingdom contribution. In doing so, he insists that adversity does not stymie the gospel; rather, it advances the gospel. Paul puts it like this: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else” (1:12–13). Paul opens with the important phrase: “Now I want you to know.” This phrase introduces something important. Here, it functions as a topic sentence for all that follows through 1:26. (Paul begins the body of his letter in 1:12 and it runs through 4:9.) In 1:12, Paul explains that his “circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” What are Paul’s specific circumstances? He is serving a prison sentence in Rome and is most likely in the custody of the “praetorian guard.” These are elite troops housed in the emperor’s palace. They are a specialized, handpicked, military group. They were Caesar’s own personal bodyguards—strong, courageous, brilliant, sophisticated, young men—kind of a mixture of West Point and the Secret Service. They served in the palace guard for twelve years, protecting Caesar and guarding the prisoners, who, like Paul, had appealed to him. After twelve years they transitioned into other influential careers. Some went on to be the commanding generals of large forces. Others went into public office and became senators or ambassadors to other countries. Still others advanced into the top echelons of business and industry. As a group, they were the movers and shakers of the future, the opinion leaders, and kingmakers of the next generation. They were a powerful and strategic group of young men. If you wanted to influence the Roman Empire, you couldn’t pick a better group to start with. Every day Paul grinned to himself because, for two years, one of them wore the other end of his chain, and for six hours, had to stay within four feet of him. He wasn’t chained to them; they were chained to him! Literally, Paul had a captive audience with whom he shared Christ, which led to a chain reaction of conversions throughout the whole Roman palace.
Paul’s imprisonment led to “the greater progress of the gospel” (1:12). The noun “progress” (prokope) means “cut before” and speaks of the cutting of a path by pioneers to open the way for an army to advance into new territory. Even though Paul’s imprisonment may have seemed like a setback, it actually served to advance the gospel among those in Rome. In God’s sovereignty, the Lord ordained Paul’s imprisonment in Rome so many people would hear the gospel who would not otherwise have heard it. Furthermore, many of these people are significant and influential people, who in the future, have a great impact for God. Although God closes a prison door behind Paul, He opens a new door for the gospel. Always remember, Jesus is Lord even in prison! He has His people behind bars so they can spread the gospel! This is why Paul cares more about the progress of the gospel than his own problems. He is confident that God is always at work. And he believes that you can have your best witness in your worst circumstances.
Similarly, God uses your painful circumstances to advance His gospel. You may not like your job, your school, your neighborhood, or your marriage, but God has you “chained up” to some people who need Christ. Have you realized that God gave you a particular job in order for you to share Christ with your boss and coworkers? Are you cognizant of the fact that God directed you to buy a house in a particular neighborhood with neighbors who need to hear about His Son? There are no mistakes or coincidences. God has a plan and He is advancing His kingdom through YOU.
Adversity will come to you sooner or later. Unfortunately, you’re not given a choice about most of the things that happen to you. I hate to break this to you, but you’re in one of three situations: (1) Either you’re in a trial right now, or you’re (2) just coming out of a trial, or you’re (3) about to enter a trial and just don’t know it yet. Such is life this side of heaven. But opportunity knocks whenever you experience a tragedy or trial. Thus, you must train yourself to see every tragedy as a divine opportunity to advance the gospel. You may one day lose a child, yet God can use that tragedy to open doors for the good news of Christ. Your spouse may leave you one day for someone else, and God may use your loss for His gain. Yet, God may open new doors to reach more students with His gospel. The question is not, “Is what’s happening to me fair?” but instead, “Is what’s happening to me accomplishing something for God?
Is what’s happening to me being useful to God in some way?
Is it furthering His purposes in the world?

Paul concludes this section in 1:14 by explaining another way that God is using his imprisonment: “and that most of the brethren, trusting [having gained confidence23] in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Paul’s prison sentence brought about greater boldness among the Roman Christians. Rather than laying low and hiding out, these believers felt inspired by Paul’s courage. Consequently, they are standing up boldly for Christ and proclaiming Him in unprecedented fashion. Apparently, they figure, “If Paul can share Christ in prison, why can’t I do it as a free person?” Likewise, when I hear about my brothers and sisters in places like Sudan, North Korea, China, and India courageously sharing their faith amidst severe persecution, I get motivated to boldly share Christ.
Do you realize that your commitment to boldly share Christ in the difficult circumstances of your life will embolden others to do the same? As a public school teacher, if you find ways to creatively share Christ, when other Christian teachers find out about what you are doing, they are going to want to do the same. As a state employee, if you host a Bible study and other Christian state employees find out about this, they may attempt to do the very same thing. You can have a powerful witness because God emboldens us to proclaim Christ by observing the witness of other believers. It will not be easy, but you can have your best witness in your worst circumstances.
[Adversity advances God’s kingdom because the world is all eyes and ears when Christians suffer. They want to know how you will respond. When you trust Christ in the midst of your adversity the gospel advances in and through you. A second reality of adversity is…]
2. Adversity reveals our priorities (READ Philippians 1:15–18a). In the midst of trials and suffering, you find out what is really important to you. Adversity serves as a true gut check. In these verses you will see how Paul’s true passion and priorities reveal themselves. In 1:15–17 he writes: “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” If you read through these verses carefully, you ought to be exclaiming, “Can you believe this? What in the world is going on here? It’s not bad enough that Paul is in prison, now he has some preachers who are hoping to rub salt in his wounds! Who are these devils? First of all, we must recognize that these are not false teachers; they are selfish teachers. Paul is clear in 1:15 and 17: these preachers “preach Christ,” but they do so from “envy and strife” and out of “selfish ambition.” The word translated “selfish ambition” (eritheia) was used to describe a selfish worker interested only in his own pay or a politician in the self-seeking pursuit of office regardless of means. In the same vein, with Paul in prison, there is now a perceived vacancy, and these preachers are all seeking to be the top dog. They are petty, territorial, calculating, and focused on self-promotion. They aren’t anti-Christ, they are anti-Paul.
What bothered these preachers was that Paul was getting too much attention. As far as they were concerned, he was just a little bit too famous—the big shot apostle who came to town as an imperial prisoner, guarded by Caesar’s personal bodyguards. All the Christians in Rome were talking about him and singing his praises. As a result, some of the local pastors got a bit envious of all the attention Paul was getting. Who was he to come into their city and get all the praise after they’d been there for years? So, some of them took advantage of the situation so that they, too, would become more prominent. It was kind of a rivalry with them. Perhaps they said things like this:
“You know how much we love and respect our dear brother Paul. No one loves him more than we do. However, it seems as if Paul causes trouble wherever he goes. Someone stones him, or they arrest him, or he has to sneak out of town in the middle of the night. We don’t like to mention it, but there are bad rumors about him back in Jerusalem. I personally don’t believe them, but we can’t reject them out of hand. It’s possible he’s guilty of the charges against him. He’s a wonderful preacher, but he seems to stir up trouble in every city. Frankly, I think it’s extremely embarrassing to have an esteemed apostle in jail…and in Rome of all places. Perhaps it would be better if Paul had never come to our city. In any case, he can hardly be our spiritual leader while he’s in jail. Let’s agree to pray for him and ask God to release him and send him somewhere else—preferably a long way from here.”
Fortunately, Paul could always fall back on those preachers who proclaimed the gospel from goodwill and out of love for him (1:16). These pastors recognized that God had placed Paul exactly where He wanted him. The word translated “appointed” (keimai) was a military term indicating a military assignment or orders. In other words, the good pastors knew that God had assigned Paul to his chains and to a courtroom appearance before Caesar; God had ordered him there to defend the gospel at the highest level in the Roman Empire. They wanted to do their part where they could.
So how does Paul respond to these two types of preachers? In 1:18a, he closes with some astonishing words: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.” The phrase “What then?” means, “What do I say about that?” or even, “So what?” This question refers back to 1:15–17. Paul is essentially saying, “All that I know is the gospel is being proclaimed…it is advancing! And that thrills my heart! I rejoice!” His sentiments are that it is better for people with impure motives to preach Christ than they not preach Him at all. After all, “He who is not against you is for you” (READ Luke 9:50). Suppressing Paul is like trying to sink a cork in a bath!
Paul can exude this attitude because he is consumed with the gospel. Ultimately, he is not concerned with his own reputation, ministry, or happiness. Rather, Paul wants the success of the gospel—he longs for it to advance. What an example! All kinds of issues cry for our attention: abortion, pornography, media bias, economic injustice, racial discrimination, classism, sexism, to name a few. These are important issues, but the great danger is that we become so passionate or concerned about these issues that the gospel is marginalized. This has been happening in the Protestant church for years! But when the gospel is preached by gospel-focused people, God transforms the culture. The key is “to keep the main thing the main thing.” Life does not revolve around being happily married, raising the perfect family, making a lot of money, or being successful in your job. Life revolves around preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. For Paul, the “main thing” is the gospel. And in the gospel, Paul will rejoice!
Undoubtedly, though, the slander of these preachers hurt Paul deeply. It must have broken his heart to know that some of his brothers were using his prison time against him. Nevertheless, Paul has a big heart and broad shoulders, and he knows people often do the right things for the wrong reasons. This is why in READ 1 Cor 4:1–5, Paul himself says, “I don’t judge others or myself; I leave that to the Lord Jesus Christ (paraphrase).
It is critical to follow Paul’s example and not get caught up criticizing the methods and motives of other ministries. This is counterproductive for several reasons: (1) Criticism is addictive, because it can turn you away from your own faults and breeds a spirit of self-righteousness and intolerance. I don’t know about you, but I have enough sins and weaknesses to worry about in my own life and ministry. (2) Criticism diverts an extraordinary amount of time and energy away from the positive proclamation of Christ. There are too many Christian witch hunters who are known for who and what they are against. We ought to be for Christ and His gospel, (3) Criticism stirs up divisiveness and disunity before the world. This leads unbelievers to say, “I’d rather be at the bar or the country club where people love me. The church shoots its own wounded and is full of backbiting.” We must be sensitive to this objection and change the world’s perspective. Let us begin by contending for the faith and not with the faithful.
As you contend for the faith and proclaim Christ, you can experience joy.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS? It’s been said, “If we see Jesus in our circumstances, then we will see our circumstances in Jesus.” Paul lived this!
Remember, Paul is writing this letter from a Roman prison. Furthermore, five of Paul’s thirteen letters were written from prison. Paul would not let himself give way to self-pity. He knows that in order to exude joy in the midst of adversity he must see adversity from an eternal perspective. The key to his joy was between his ears. Over thirty times in Philippians Paul refers to the mind or to remembering. When joy has leaked out of your life, the leak is between your ears. You must change your thinking so that you can experience joy once again. May you do so today. You can have your best witness in the worst of times. THEME
Don’t think for a minute that God can’t or doesn’t use your difficulties for a purpose larger than yourself. He does.” God can use your adversity in the same way. Whatever you’re going through today, pray: “Lord, help me to submit to You and trust You in the midst of my pain. May I only care about how my trial advances your gospel.”