I had a good day this past Friday. I got to go to Mesquite to have lunch with Paul Mints, the mentor I told you about last week who planted a church south of Arlington in Mansfield, TX.
The lunch was good and the discussion was lively, but what was really cool was that I got to listen to several different pastors preach. I love long car rides because I get to listen to these pastors that I don’t normally have time to listen to during the week.
One of my favorites is Francis Chan. He’s the author of Crazy Love, the book the ladies are studying on Wednesday evenings. As I was driving to Mesquite I put in one of his sermons and was immediately floored by something he said.
He opened by saying he was going to pray for the people in the audience and then he paused. He asked if anyone was overwhelmed by that. As he went on I was astonished by what he had to say. His point was that we’ve become so used to praying that it doesn’t mean much to us anymore. We take for granted that when we pray we are talking to the Creator of the universe. He remarked that in worship services we often use prayer as a transition or a segue into the next phase, either to get the band off the stage or to get them on it. Instead of thinking of prayer as remarkable, it has become ordinary. Let us never cease to be amazed by prayer. We get to speak with the Almighty, the Holy God, the Creator. How incredible is that?!?
I admit to you as we get back into Philippians that these passages today are an incredible challenge to me. I preach this morning not as a man who can live up to this, but as one striving to be what Jesus has called me to be. There’s a verse we’re going to cover (and I won’t spend much time on it right now) in which Paul says “…let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” I’m sure that most days my life isn’t worthy of the gospel of Christ. I’m not worthy to be a pastor. I’m not worthy to get to share the gospel. Most days I’m overwhelmed at the place God has put me and the role in which he has me. I’m preaching from a place of tension because I long to be worthy of the gospel but know I am not. I strive to live a life pleasing to God, but know that without his help I simply can’t do it. Perhaps this is why Paul said earlier that he who began the work will be faithful to complete it…
As we continue our descent into Philippians, I want to go back to last week for a few moments just as a refresher on what we talked about. We introduced the book of Philippians, talking about how much Paul loves this church. He is overwhelmed with affection for them, proud of who they have become in Christ and thanking God every time he remembers them. We went back to the book of Acts and looked at the formation of the church itself in the people of Lydia and her family, a demon-possessed slave girl, and a jailer and his family. We talked about the diversity of this group and how beautiful the picture is when God builds his church.
None of this would have happened if Paul hadn’t been obedient to the vision he had of a man pleading with him to leave Asia and come to Macedonia to preach the gospel. It’s amazing to me how God builds his church. When he calls and we are obedient, he builds his church. I doubt very much if Paul would have selected Lydia, a demon-possessed slave girl, and a blue-collar jailer to start his church. If you read the latest tomes on church planting, they give you all kinds of advice on how to build your “launch team” and how to develop them into the leadership that will guide you through your initial launch phase into the formation of your church. They will also give you strategy on how to market your church and how to develop your “target audience.” Paul didn’t do any of this. He had a vision, went to Macedonia, preached the gospel, and took whoever came.
It’s at this point in Philippians that Paul made sure to say “…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He was encouraging these believers in Philippi to be faithful because God was continuing to work in their lives and would complete the work he had begun. You can almost hear him speaking to the three from Acts 16. “I know that God will complete the work he began. Be steadfast in the faith.” Why would he need to say this? I think many of us believe that the people in the Bible were supernatural. We look at the characters in scripture like once they encountered God they never had another negative thought or sinful action. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians seems to imply otherwise. These were people. They had setbacks just like everyone else. Paul’s encouragement to them would be my encouragement to you. God is the one who saved you. God will continue to develop you into the person he created you to be. He began the work. He will complete it.
This leads us into the passages we are going to look at today.
Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison. This shouldn’t be too surprising to us. Paul was always in and out of prison, being arrested for preaching the gospel, causing disturbances among the Jews, and basically being a nuisance just about everywhere he went. In these few verses he was encouraging the Philippians not to be terribly discouraged by this. We tend to think that every negative turn is God punishing us for not being perfect. We cry out “Why God have your forsaken me?” This couldn’t be further from the truth. In scripture, whenever someone made this inquiry of God, there was always real angst behind it. It was David being pursued by Saul, it was prophets being persecuted for preaching truth, and it was Jesus bearing the weight of our sins hanging on a cross. Paul didn’t feel like God had left him because he was in prison.
Last week we talked about how Paul was singing and praying at midnight while he was in the Philippian prison. To Paul, prison was just a different opportunity to share the gospel. We see it in these verses. He says in verses 12-13, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” What Paul is basically saying is that the people who put him in prison thought they would stop him, but he just used it as an opportunity to preach to a different audience, one he wouldn’t have had the chance to preach to except for that circumstance. In fact, not only did the other prisoners and the guards hear Paul’s message, but his imprisonment and subsequent demeanor about it gave other brothers confidence to preach all the more boldly.
You never know how God is going to use a circumstance if you are unwilling to use it for the glory of Jesus’ name and the advancement of his kingdom. So often we find ourselves in troubling situations and we cry out for deliverance never once thinking about the opportunity. In another letter Paul suggests that every situation will be made good by God if we love him and are obedient to his calling on our lives. God works all things for good. Instead of being frustrated by our circumstance, be glad that you have the opportunity to preach the gospel. God may use it to encourage another brother or sister to do the same.
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.” I had a hard time understanding this verse for a long time. How does one preach Christ from envy or rivalry? I heard another pastor put it this way: because of Paul’s circumstance with him being in prison, it’s possible that many tried to fill the vacuum of leadership by attempting to take over what he was doing. Anytime there’s a vacuum of leadership there is this possibility. If you think about any charismatic, popular, ambitious leader that died, you can usually find a power struggle immediately following. When Alexander the Great died, all of his generals fought for control of the empire. If you think about Julius Caesar’s murder, all the powerful senators and military leaders tried to claim his legacy and authority. The same might be true for Paul. When he was thrown into prison, possibly some of these other preachers came along to try to usurp some of his popularity and fame. What was Paul’s response? What do I care? Jesus is being preached.
I think sometimes we get so caught up in style we forget that in churches all over the world Jesus is being preached. We may not like the way he’s being preached, but the gospel message is getting out. It’s true, there are plenty of preachers who preach because they like the spotlight or they simply like telling people what to do, but many, many more preach the gospel out of their humility, thanking God they have the chance to be a part of his Kingdom. I say “Praise God! The gospel is being proclaimed!” I love Paul’s attitude towards the whole thing. “If I’m in chains, I get to preach to those in prison. If I’m out of chains, I get to preach to everyone else. If they preach because they like to hear themselves talk or because they love Jesus, at least Jesus is being preached.”
Is Jesus being preached in your life? Are you living a life that screams “Jesus is King!”
“…with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Going back to Friday, I’m always challenged when I listen to other preachers. It’s hard when you’re a preacher not to steal things from other guys that you like to listen to. I’ll admit that I take things from other guys all the time. It’s really impossible not to. You start listening and you hear someone say something you like and you just have to add that to whatever it is you’re doing. I was listening to Francis Chan and he was talking about humility. During the course of his sermon, though, he referenced a group of pastors who had been tortured in Turkey several years ago. As he talked I couldn’t help but think that I don’t really want to be tortured. I’ve hurt myself on many occasions. I fall down a lot just walking through the house. I’ve almost cut the end of my thumb off with an axe. I just about had my ear ripped off by a paintball before. In all of that, I can assure you that I’m not a fan of pain. I don’t want to be tortured.
Fortunately for me, I live in the United States. It’s very unlikely that I will ever be tortured for my faith in America. I probably won’t ever be imprisoned or killed in America because I preach the gospel of Jesus. This wasn’t the case for Paul, though. He faced death on a regular basis. He was beaten, shipwrecked, thrown into prison, and bitten by snakes. And his greatest hope was that Christ would be honored in his body, whether by life or by death. This is the culmination of a humble life. Humility isn’t thinking poorly of yourself, but not thinking of yourself at all. The next verse is equally stunning. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
I was recently reading a book in which the author was describing a time he was preaching in a third-world country. The situation he described was remarkable. People had walked for miles and miles just to be in the place where he would be preaching. Some arrived hours early in anticipation of the message and because they had to stagger their arrival times so the authorities wouldn’t get suspicious. This was an area in which it was illegal to profess Christ. They packed into a tiny room with a single naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. They met to be encouraged with the gospel and to hear the truth preached so they could return home and preach to their own villages.
To live is Christ and to die is gain. I so want this to be my mantra for life. I want to live this out. I want to be able to say that I count it a privilege to suffer for the gospel. I think we look at the life of Paul and we think about these believers in foreign countries and simply think they are radical Christians. I would suggest that perhaps these are the people who will be counted simply as followers of Jesus. We at Cornerstone want to see you take the gospel into your context and make disciples. Over and over we’ve talked about making disciples. We believe that you can be the remedy for a broken world. In order to make disciples, though, you have to be a disciple. You have to follow Jesus yourself.
I think it may be possible for us to be able to say that to die is gain. I think if we really thought about it long enough we might could agree that death would result in an improvement for us. If we really considered what occurs for Christians at the moment of death, we possibly could see how it would be to our benefit. I think, though, we have a problem with the whole “to live is Christ” part. I think we think we are living faithful lives, but when compared with other believers around the world, we seem not to really match up that much. You might say that this is just too radical for you. I’m not sure that God makes the distinction. It doesn’t seem that Paul even makes the distinction. Paul is sitting in prison, writing a letter to the Philippians encouraging them in their faith, and he writes that life is all about Christ. Life is about Jesus. If you are a Christian, if you claim to follow Jesus, life is about Christ. Life is about being a disciple and making other disciples. Life is about Christ. To live is Christ.
If life is all about Christ, then death means nothing. If life is all about Christ, then death is just a transition. If life is all about Christ, then torture and pain mean nothing because they are fleeting, they end at the moment of death. If life is all about Christ, then death really is gain.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. Earlier I spoke of my desire for my life to be worthy of the gospel. So many times my life isn’t worthy of the gospel. So many times my life doesn’t match up with what Jesus wants for me. So many times I fail in my pursuit of Christ. I pray that my life would be worthy of the gospel. I pray that your life would be worthy of the gospel, too. “…that I may know him,” Paul says in a later chapter of this letter, “and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” Oh, that my life might be worthy of the gospel of Jesus.
How many times does your life not match up with how Christ would have you live? How many times are you living life in an unworthy manner? It is true that we can never measure up to God’s designs for us, that’s why grace and mercy are so huge. However, there is a standard to be upheld. We were saved, we were set apart so that we might proclaim the truth of the gospel to the nations. We were commissioned to go and make disciples. Making disciples is your profession now. No matter what your job or your career is, making disciples is your profession. May your life be worthy of the gospel of Christ so you can be a light in dark places. May your life be worthy of the gospel of Christ so you can make disciples of all nations. May your life be worthy of the gospel of Christ so you can be a disciple maker. In order to make disciples you have to be a disciple. May your life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. May you truly be a disciple and a disciple maker.
Why does Paul say this here, though? He wants their lives to be worthy of the gospel of Jesus so they might be found standing firm in one spirit. Remember the three people we talked about from last week, Lydia, the demon-possessed slave girl, and the jailer. Paul encourages them to live worthy of the gospel so they can stand together in one spirit. The Spirit of God unites those who are different. The Spirit of God draws everyone together. The Spirit of God unifies. I want for Cornerstone to be unified. The way our building is set up bothers me a bit because it looks like we’re separated. I pray that there is a Spirit of unity in this place, among this group of people. Paul’s desire for the Philippians church is that it might be unified in spirit and in purpose.
Paul closes this chapter with another declaration about unity. He desires for them to stand together “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” It has been granted to you to suffer for his sake. I’m not fond of suffering myself. I can’t imagine longing to suffer for the sake of Christ. “Oh that I may know him and share in his suffering!” I don’t understand that. I think perhaps it might be like this: Have you ever been through a difficult situation with a group of people? Have you ever faced trial together and had to overcome it? What did that do to you as a group?
Have you ever seen the movie “Remember the Titans?” It’s a movie based on true events from the 1971 T.C. Williams High School Football Team in Alexandria, Virginia. While the movie is a fictional account, it does tell the story of a real team. This football team faced hardship throughout its season. They faced racial conflict, huge egos, and opposition from neighboring schools, but they came together and succeeded in winning the state championship. What’s makes for a great story isn’t the fact that they won the championship, however. It’s the fact that they had to fight through and overcome hardship to do it.
This takes us back to the idea of suffering. Paul says the Philippians are granted the opportunity to suffer. Later in chapter 3 he speaks of sharing in Christ’s suffering. What happens when you face hardship together? You develop unity. What happens when you struggle and fight just to survive? You grow closer in companionship. Think about what Paul is really saying here. By sharing in Christ’s suffering, not only would you grow in unity with brothers and sisters, but you would grow in unity with Jesus himself. You would share in his tribulation and strife, becoming even more like him.
So when we read Paul’s words about being granted the opportunity to suffer, we don’t have to marvel at his joy. We can begin to understand that sharing in Christ’s suffering means we get to become more like him, which is the whole point anyway. Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. I want you to become better disciples. I want you to strive to know Christ better. I want you to understand what it means to follow Jesus.
We want you to be a better disciple so you can make disciples. We want you to encounter Jesus and never be the same. We want it to be evident in your life who it is that you follow. We want you to understand that life is about Christ and that death is only gain.
I have to end my sermon now because to go into the next chapter would elongate our time unnecessarily. It is, however, impossible to end our discussion on chapter 1 without acknowledging where we are about to go next week with chapter 2. Chapter 2 starts with a poem about the humility of Christ and about how we should emulate that humility in our own lives. David Platt, in his book Radical, postulates that many American Christians think about the message of Jesus in a very personal sense. “Jesus died to save me. Jesus died that I might have life. For God so loved me…” When we are looking for a church, then, we focus on what we like, if the music moves us, if the preaching is of a style and substance that we like. When we buy a house or car or clothes, we only consider what we want rather than what God would have us buy.
This may seem foreign to you because, after all, it’s your house, car, and clothes. What if God has a different purpose, though? What if there’s something else he can accomplish in your life if only you would be willing to listen?
Why endure Christ’s suffering if it doesn’t bring you closer to him, more like him, more in line with his purposes? I think that’s the beginning of what we encounter in chapter 2 of this book. Humility. Thinking not of yourself, but of others, of Jesus. The purpose of Christianity is not that you might be saved, but that God might be glorified through the salvation of the nations. The end result of Christianity is God. At the last day, the purpose of everything is not that you were saved, but that billions upon billions might bow before the throne of God and give him praise. John paints a beautiful picture of this in the book of Revelation. Every people, every nation, every tribe and language will be represented on that day.
Oh, that you may know Jesus! That you may encounter his radical grace and be moved to respond in radical ways. To live is Christ. To die, gain.