PAUL’S LETTER TO HIS SUPPORTING CHURCH
If you were here to worship on June 19, this year, you may remember that I began a series of messages on book of Philippians. In that message I spent quite some time looking at the book as a whole and then highlighted the special relationship of Paul to this congregation, who were supporting him in his mission endeavors. It was a very tight knit relationship due to their financial and personal care for the apostle.
In that first message, we looked more closely at the first chapter where Paul reveals his great appreciation and love for the church in Philippi and prays a wonderful prayer for them – a prayer which could be a model for our prayers for those we care about – and then we jumped to chapter four where we found the basis for this special relationship. We were also able to see from chapter 16 in the book of Acts more about this close relationship. Hopefully we learned that our support for the work of the church and missions, for the workers in church and mission, are graciously received by God. The support for Paul was personal, financial and in prayer. Like the church in Philippi, we can all participate in that way to one degree or another.
Today we are returning to chapter one where Paul shares his situation and how optimistic he is about the fact that in good times and especially in difficult times God is at work in remarkable ways. In the first message I spent a while explaining that June and I, like Paul, were missionaries and we also wrote letters to our supporters. Nothing like what Paul wrote. And one thing that promotes prayer is letting people know what is going on. This is what Paul is doing in this portion. “Facts are the fuel for prayer.”
As their missionary, Paul shares his present situation, his hopes and prayers, his expectations and it is a powerful testimony full of confidence in God to work out His will. It is intended to encourage his friends and supporters in Philippi and to challenge them to remain faithful.
The verses we are looking at today have three distinct purposes even though they are closely related. The first portion talks of how Paul views what is happening to him. The second is his dilemma while contemplating his future and what he would choose to do. The third has to do with his challenge to the recipients of the letter and their response to this whole scenario.
Please join me as we look at Philippians chapter 1 beginning at verse 12, where Paul tells his friends that he wants them to know that what has happened to him has really served to advance the gospel. This was quite a stark transition from his prayer for them. And it may have come as a surprise to them to hear that Paul considered his present situation as something positive. They knew that he was a prisoner in Rome, that he was in chains for preaching that Jesus Christ is Lord and saviour. That was heresy worthy of death in Rome because there, Caesar was lord and saviour. They had sent Epaphroditus to assist Paul in his difficult situation. He was there to meet Paul’s personal needs. Paul was not in a good place. No one wanted to be a prisoner in Rome, no one, not even Paul. But Paul knew that God had placed him there.
So, while it might have come as a shock to hear Paul make the comment that he made about these things that had happened to him, he goes on to explain what he means. Now, we can certainly understand that he did not say that the things that happened to him were pleasant or good or enjoyable. His emphasis is not on what has happened to him as much as on what has happened because of the suffering he is going through. This speaks to Paul’s commitment to doing whatever it takes to spread the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s read the verses here with this perspective of Paul in mind as he unfolds his ideas and thoughts about the troubles he is going through. (Read 12 to 18a).
12 I want you to know, brothers,[a] that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard[b] and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word[c] without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Paul’s first note is that everyone knows why he is in chains. They are all aware that he is in chains for Christ. Why is that good news? If it had not been for this situation most of the imperial or palace guard would have had no idea of the gospel of Christ. But here, now, inside the center of Roman leadership, people knew about Jesus. People were coming to know Christ Jesus, including many guards themselves. Paul was witnessing to the palace guards who were making sure he did not escape or maybe harm himself. How do you think they liked to be chained to someone who spoke so convincingly about the truth of the gospel? The guards may not have enjoyed it initially, but they took turns on duty being a captive audience chained to this able messenger. Think about the men who were in his presence as he dictated this letter talking about them and their fellow guards. At this juncture maybe some of them added an ‘amen’ to Paul’s words.
And Paul indicates that it is not just the guards that are aware of his chains and the reason for them. He comments that it is the guards and everyone else in the palace or maybe everyone in the entire city who are hearing about Christ. To Paul, this is really the crux of the matter!
Paul had written about his desired to go to Rome and preach the gospel, but even Paul, with all his experience, reputation, and power, may never have been able to reach into Caesar’s household. But now, as a prisoner, he was amid the most powerful people in the Roman Empire, people in the employ of Caesar.
And Paul notes that not only did everyone know why he was in chains but that the testimony being spread encouraged other believers to be bolder in sharing the gospel. The fact that the reason for his imprisonment was the gospel of Christ, and that this knowledge was on everyone’s radar, made the believers much bolder and courageous in sharing the truth. Fear of the consequences of sharing the lordship of Jesus in Rome where Caesar was lord just seemed to fade away among the followers of Christ.
There were, apparently, some in the church in the city who did not appreciate Paul. They also were bolder in preaching the gospel thinking that the more the city was focused on the gospel of Jesus, the tougher things would be for Paul. So, they preached up a storm hoping to make things worse for Paul. Maybe they thought that this was how they could get out of Paul’s shadow and share in the spotlight, who knows.
Paul’s take on this is very interesting. Who cares why they are preaching the gospel? The good news is that from good motives or bad, the gospel is being preached. That’s all that counts! That was all that counted for Paul.
So, Paul does not spend time complaining about his situation but rejoices that Christ is preached. And he is determined to continue to rejoice. (Read 18b to 26)
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Paul is so delighted in the Gospel of Jesus the Saviour being in the spotlight in Rome that he would continue to rejoice even though his future was unknown. It was a huge uncertainty. He could live and be set free, or live on in prison, or be executed. And this creates a dilemma of sorts for him. What would be the best outcome? It was a dilemma, in part, because his own desire was to go join Jesus in eternity. For Paul, that is far better. Far better! But he also knows there is another side to the options. For Paul, the servant, apostle, evangelist, he could not ignore how this would work out for others. The question is not simply what is far better for him alone but for the others; what would be best for the church? Check out his words.
We might be tempted to interrupt Paul and tell him not to fret about it because it isn’t his choice to make. But it was a real issue to Paul. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. It sounds as if Paul thinks that God may give him a voice in what happens in this situation. He seems to believe that there is an element of his own choosing being important. Perhaps this speaks to the very special relationship of Paul to the Lord Jesus. And he concludes that his desire is to depart and be with Christ which is far better. He has a deep and real desire to be at home with Christ, not just some sort of sentimental dream but a meaningful, thoughtful desire. It doesn’t sound like he just wanted to get out of his situation or as if he had had enough and was ready to quit. The depth of this dilemma maybe goes deeper than any that most of us have ever faced. The importance of his future ministry makes the question huge.
Paul knows that he could be executed, or set free, or imprisoned for a long time, but that does not deter his rejoicing or his confidence in God to work on his behalf. And because he is convinced that staying with the believers and helping them move forward, is the best path forward, he rejoices in that although that is not his best personal choice. He really likes the prospect of going to Jesus. But he will stay for the good of the others. He is convinced this will happen. And there is no negative response by Paul to the postponement of his home-going. In fact he says it is through the prayers of the church and the help of the Spirit of Christ that will secure his freedom
This leads to the third part of this portion, Paul’s challenge to the Philippians. Look at verses 27 to 30.
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,[a] striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Paul here again shifts the perspective on his situation. He has shown how it has impacted the sharing of the gospel. He has shared his thoughts about his own immediate future. Now he challenges his readers to excellence and to living out their faith in a manner pleasing to God. He encourages them that God is at work in them as in him. Together they have a role to play, a life of faith to live out.
Whatever happens, says Paul, life is uncertain and may be difficult; but live out your lives to the glory of God. Whatever happens to me, whatever happens to you here is my challenge: conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
Now this is a very reasonable challenge that Paul gives to the believers in Philippi. And because of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the recording of this word in the Bible, it is a reasonable challenge for each one of us who know Christ even today at Woodland Beach Community Church or wherever we may worship. But we may wonder just what it means to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Paul doesn’t leave it to us to fill in the blanks. He makes some clear indications of what he means.
He tells the believers who initially received this letter that he may or may not be able to visit them and observe them living in this manner. But whether he does return to Philippi or not he will still be able to hear about their manner of life as they lived out the gospel. He will hear and what he wants to hear is that they are standing firm in the one Spirit. Of course, that one Spirit is the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they will not be moved from the faith and the manner of worship and truth and witness that they were presently upholding. Their lifestyle will be in line with the truths they were taught and were living out. They will stand firm and not be moved from the truth that they know. And the ‘you’ in this statement is a plural word. We will stand together.
We are aware that there are many who are suggesting that we need to water down some of the biblical teaching to be more in sync with our culture or with science, so called, instead of holding firmly to what we believe and living it out in our lives. We will not be moved by the pressures of this world, though we are in the world we are not of this world.
So, standing is the first part of living in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. The second part is striving, striving together as one for the faith of the Gospel. I think we all know the relationship between standing and striving. If we do not stand our ground, we have no basis for striving to further the spread of the gospel to others. Do not be moved when under duress but do be moving in the outworking of the great commission.
We are to strive to get the truth out to the world, even that world that opposes us and the truth. And we do not do this solo. We strive together. We are to stand in the one Spirit and by that Spirit work together as one to accomplish the mission central to the gospel. Unity is an important part of the work of the gospel.
Early in our missionary career June and I lived in a small village in the mountains of Mindanao and because we did not yet have a vehicle, we relied on public jeepney that only went to the town on Tuesdays. But I once took a ride on a logging truck that ran right past our door. It was just a wooden cab built on a flat bed truck. The logs in behind us were huge. As we lived 3 km from the highway, pretty much straight downhill, it didn’t take long to get to the highway. And we were really moving as we approached the intersection. Surprisingly, the driver did not stop but just sped through a right turn onto the highway and, no surprise, lost control. About 75 or 100 meters away was a ravine with a creek at the bottom. We were quite literally speeding to our death.
To our amazement the truck pivoted on its rear wheels and pointed toward the bridge on the highway we would have missed. I know, I know trucks don’t pivot on their rear wheels, but it did. How and why? I can only say the driver was completely shaken. My immediate thought was, and I still think this way, that some of our supporters in Canada were praying for us and God sent an angel to spin the truck over the bridge. Otherwise, my missionary career would have been over and June a widow with three young children. We never are in service alone but always work together as one. Never think lightly of the power of your prayer for the work of the church and mission. Your prayers are a mighty tool in God’s economy/
Paul includes another aspect of this worthy manner of living. Those who oppose us do not make us afraid. He writes of, “not being frightened in any way by those who oppose you”. Again, it is made clear that there will be opposition and sometimes it will be fierce. Paul had been stoned and beaten and maligned in many ways. Even in prison he reminds us that we are not to be afraid of those who oppose us. We are not to be afraid in doing the work of the Gospel of Christ. And this lack of fear has a consequence; those who oppose us will understand they will be destroyed, and we will be saved by God’s help. How they understand that I am not sure but our lack of fear will deeply affect them.
Paul finishes this portion with an enigmatic sort of promise or blessing, writing, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” It is a privilege to suffer with Christ, and not just to believe in Him. Count it a privilege is you are suffering because you stand and strive faithfully for Christ without being afraid.
Paul was suffering in prison but thanked God that this has proved to be useful to God for the spreading of the Gospel. He truly wanted to go and be with Jesus rather than continue in this world but willingly stayed to continue to assist the Philippians in their Christian experience and encouraged them to live their lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. And he would ask us to do the same and together serve God fully today.