02 December 2008

Verse-by-verse through Philippians (1:12-1:14)

Before we begin today's lesson, let me just reset the stage. Paul and his disciple Timothy started the church in the city of Philippi, we read about that in Acts 16. It started with maybe 10 people, some women who knew God, and one jailer who had no idea about the God of the Jews. A man who spent his life worshipping the Caesar. That took place in about 51 AD. Paul then spent many years travelling around the areas of Greece and Turkey, Syria and Israel, Jordan. Eventually he got arrested by the Roman authorities for teaching people to worship someone other than Caesar. So in about 62 AD he is under lock and key by the Roman government. And he writes several letters from jail. The books of Ephesians and Colossians and Philemon and Philippians. Rome thought they could stop the gospel by shutting up its greatest missionary. Yeah, right.

Some people might wonder why God would allow a man like Paul to go through as much as he went through. Listen to this list of persecutions that Paul went through, this is from 2nd Corinthians 6:3-10We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

He had been punished by local authorities for preaching Christ. Don’t think it won’t happen in this country some day. Some day, just as it happened with Paul, the wrong people will be offended by the truth, and the government will step in and tell us, “You can't talk about that any more.” It’s already happened in Britain, and in Canada.

A little later on in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives us another list of the consequences of preaching the gospel, this time he listed what happened to him at the hands of the Pharisees, who were still around at that time. 2nd Corinthians 11:22-28Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

So not only did he have to endure the physical strain of so many imprisonments and beatings and such—he had the mental anguish of having to deal with internal church struggles and false doctrines. There’s a question people like to ask sometimes, as they try and paint God as this mean, crotchety old ogre who looks down on us and doesn’t want us to have anything and gave us this list of rules and if we break one He’s going to destroy us on the spot. The question goes something like this: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I dare say if someone asked Jesus that question He would reply as He did in Matthew 19:17“There is none good but God.” There is no such thing as a “good person” in relation to God. We are all sinners, we are all creatures who are driven by our own flesh and we are in constant rebellion against God. The reason bad things happen to…people is because we are still in this fallen, decaying world that is speeding towards its inevitable demise, and because of sin-that is why bad things happen.

But there’s another, better reason why “bad things” happen to people of God. "Bad things happen to children of God? No, surely, God wouldn’t let anything bad happen to His children, would He? I mean, if we’re faithful to Him, doesn’t He owe us a comfortable life?" To most people, it doesn’t seem “fair” that those who are the most loyal to God suffer through some of the most heart-wrenching, most painful and difficult circumstances. But it is in those times when God is glorified the most.

And we find this to be true in today’s passage. Philippians 1:12-1412 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Does this sound like a guy who was having a pity party about his situation? It’s kinda like he was saying, “Hey guys, guess what? I got arrested. But wait, hold on, God’s getting glorified by my being here!” That was the whole aim of Paul’s life. We’ll see more about that in a few weeks when we look at Philippians 1:20-21, when Paul writes Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. It’s so hard to think of the trials in life being a blessing. It’s so hard to look at them—when we’re going through them—it’s hard to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on God. When the apostle Peter was walking on the water, he was headed straight toward Jesus. Anybody know what happened when he took his eyes off Christ and looked at the waves crashing around him? Matthew 14:29-30So [Jesus] said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” Because it’s like I mentioned last time, we can't see above our own situation. We can't get up on top and look into the future and see how or whether things will work out in our favor. But Paul—he didn’t care. “I’m in prison! This is so cool! Now I can tell the Roman guards about Christ!” I think most of us would be on the phone to our lawyer.

Verse 12. But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel. God allows things to happen to us so that we can glorify Him. What would you do if your son died, and then there was huge fire that wiped out half of Knoxville, wiping out your business and destroying you financially? Suppose you were going to move to California to start over, and you sent your wife and kids ahead, but they died in a car wreck on I-40 in the middle of Texas. Most people, today, in our society, would turn to some form of self-medication. Their therapist could go and get the new Mercedes they’ve been looking at. If they were a songwriter they would write some angry anthem that would be hailed as the expression of a generation.

But if you were Horatio Spafford, and your son had died, you had lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and as you were planning to move to Europe to start over, and you sent your wife and kids ahead, and their ship sank after colliding with another ship—and as you made the journey across the Atlantic, and as you passed that same spot where your wife and children had drowned, you would write these words:

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot thou hast caused me to say…what?

It is well, it is well with my soul!

Remember Joseph? You know, “Coat of many colors” Joseph? It was all good. Living at home, working for dad. Dreaming about his brothers bowing down to him. Then he goes and tells these brothers his dream and they celebrate...by throwing him in a pit and telling dad that he was dead. Gets sold as a slave to Midianites, they sell him to the Egyptians, he’s a servant in Pharaoh’s house—and every time he tries to do what's right, he gets thrown in prison. He finally gets a chance to get out and the guy that was supposed to vouch for him--he’s a turncoat, Joseph stays in there a few more years. But then he does get out and he’s Pharaoh’s second-in-command. There’s a 7-year drought and who shows up in Egypt? The same brothers that threw him in a pit. If Joseph isn't in the position he’s in, dad and the brothers starve. Because Joseph would not have heard about Pharaoh’s dream, and they wouldn’t have stored up seven years worth of grain, you can read it in Genesis 39-41.

If Daniel had not gone into the lion’s den, he would not have glorified God the way he did. If Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—you probably know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego—had not been thrown into the fiery furnace, they would not have glorified God the way they did. And if Jesus had not gone to the cross, God would not have been glorified the way He was. And if we only have good things in this life, how are we going to say we depend on God? In Judges, Gideon is faced with leading 300 men against 135,000 Midianites. At one point he had 20,000 men. But God told him, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (Judges 7:2). It is by enduring the trials and afflictions that Christ is magnified and glorified in us.

Verse 13. …so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ… Who made the chains that were on Paul’s wrists? The Roman authorities. But you know, I think Paul wrote this verse the way he did for two reasons. One—the Holy Spirit told him to, OK three reasons. One, because one of the audience he wrote to was that fellow in Acts 16—the jailer who cried out “What must I do to be saved?” A man who knew what God could do for someone who was in chains. Number two—Paul might have handcuffs on his wrists, but that doesn’t make him a prisoner of Rome—he is a prisoner of Christ.

Philemon 1:1Paul and Timothy, prisoners of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul was in the custody of the Roman government, but he was imprisoned by the gospel. There are saints in China, and in Iran, and in other countries who are in the custody of that government—but that government only has custody of their physical body. These people are in chains for their Lord. And folks, when it comes to suffering, we can suffer the consequences of our own actions—that’s one thing. But listen to these verses that talk about suffering for Christ. 1st Peter 2:20-21But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps. 1st Peter 5:9-10But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Matthew 5:11-12“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

When we go through these trials and afflictions, we show the world who we belong to. The entire book of Job is about that very thing. Satan accused Job of only loving God because God had given him wealth. Then God allowed Satan to take away that wealth, and the first thing Job did was to sit in dust and sackcloth and say, “The LORD has given and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Paul showed the palace guard that although they could bind him in chains, they could shut him up inside his house, they could drag him before Caesar himself—but Paul’s loyalty was to Christ and Christ alone.

Finally verse 14. …and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. When there is some important task to be done, and there are 10 people standing around that need to do it, what do they all wait for? They wait for that first person to do it. In the 1800’s, there was a disease in Europe that was wiping people out by the thousands. With no known cure. A fellow named Edward Jenner decided to do something about it—by giving the virus that caused the disease to an 8 year old boy. Many people thought he was crazy. But if he wasn’t “crazy” we would not have the smallpox vaccine today. The apostle Paul went around preaching a dead man named Jesus whom he said was alive. People thought he was crazy. But if he hadn't been “crazy” the world may never have heard the gospel. You see, we know that when we tell people the gospel, they may react in a way that isn't very neighborly. But we still need to tell them. And sometimes it takes us watching someone tell the gospel and watch how they react to the reactions they get in order to give us the courage we will need.

Look at what Paul says here. Most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Many of these people, being frightened of what the Roman government may do if they were caught speaking the name of Christ, and leading people to worship Him—now they were saying, “Look at Paul! They’ve arrested him, they’ve imprisoned him. And yet if it wasn’t for him being arrested, the gospel may have never made it to Rome. We must take the gospel where it needs to go, even if it means we will be arrested.” Because it’s not about our comfort. It’s about God being glorified in us, and the gospel going to every corner of the earth.

Let me close with this. I've read passages from a book called “Tortured for Christ.” It was written by a man who was imprisoned and tortured in a Romanian jail for 14 years because he wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus. I believe this excerpt sums up these verses from Paul:

I saw in the shabby, dirty, weak martyr near me the splendidly crowned saint of tomorrow. But looking at men like this—not as they are, but as they will be—I could also see in our [torturers] a Saul of Tarsus—a future apostle Paul. And some have already become so. Many officers of the secret police to whom we witnessed became Christians and were happy to later suffer in prison for having found our Christ. Although we were whipped…in our jailers we saw the potential of the jailer in Philippi who became a convert. We dreamed that soon they would ask, “What must I do to be saved?”

It was in prison that we found the hope of salvation for the Communists. It was there that we developed a sense of responsibility toward them. It was in being tortured by them that we learned to love them. God sees things differently than we see them, just as we see differently than an ant. From the human point of view, to be tied to a cross…is a horrible thing. Nonetheless, the Bible calls the sufferings of martyrs “light afflictions.” To be in prison for fourteen years is a long period to us. The Bible calls it “but for a moment,” and tells us that these things are “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

It ain't easy to count it all joy when you go through various trials. But that’s when we rest on God, and His promises and we seek to glorify Him in those times and we show the world that we belong to Him.

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