Copyright © 2011, John.W. (Jack) Carter
All rights reserved. Scripture quotes from KJV
If there is a single axiom pertaining to the life of a faithful Christian, it is that the context of that life that is experienced after one places their faith and trust in God is dramatically different from that which was experienced beforehand. There are many distinctive characteristics of a life of faith including a peace that comes with the knowledge that one’s sin will not condemn them before a Holy God. A second is a gradual cessation of much of the sin that characterized the nature of life prior to faith. As one matures in their faith their interest in the self-centered and sinful attractions of this world become more and more of a dim memory as one’s interest is more focused upon the LORD, one’s desire is to live in greater obedience to Him, and one begins to experience a greater and greater measure of the blessings that the LORD promises to those who place their faith and trust in Him.
Consequently, when one becomes engaged in the life of faith, their basic nature begins to part ways with the sinful nature of this world. The differences between a person of faith and this secular and pagan culture become more pronounced as one continues to embrace the love of God. One finds that they easily share that love with others, including those who also share faith in Christ, and those who do not. A basic tenet of obedience is the call upon every Christian to share God’s love with this lost world. As Paul writes to the church in Philippi, he is responding to the news that he has heard from this church: that it is growing, that the faith of its members is known in the community, and as faithful as they are, there is still an amount of controversy among its leadership as some are tending to take the membership away from the gospel by contending against some of its truths, and by contending against Paul. Yet, even among these imperfections, the church is growing as its members demonstrate God’s love to the community and share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As Paul writes, he does so while he is imprisoned in Rome, held pending a trial on false charges of blasphemy and sedition that were brought upon him by the Jerusalem Jews. Yet, even in these circumstances, Paul gives us an example of living a life of faith when the events of life bring hardship and suffering. Many people of faith tend to have a “when and then” strategy concerning the sharing of their faith. That is, when a list of requirements becomes true, then they will step out “in faith” and share the gospel. The problem is simply that the list of requirements never actually fall into place, so one assumes a position of silence concerning the gospel message.
There are at least two errors in this form of thought, errors that can be easily corrected, errors that Paul addresses in this letter to the Philippian church as he seeks to encourage them to continue to share the love of God and the gospel message with greater confidence.
The first is the belief that the sharing of the gospel message is hindered by circumstances, and
the second is the belief that a person of faith is fruitless unless they are actually challenging an individual to accept faith in God.
If we can “unlearn” these two patterns of thought, we can be a far more effective minister of the gospel in this secular and pagan world.
Philippians 1:12. But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;
Paul does not, nor does he need to share the specific “things which happened” to him prior to his time of writing. Any study of the book of Acts and the letters of Paul reveal that he has entered a particularly difficult phase of his life as his missionary days have been seemingly “cut short” by his imprisonment. However, to make such an assertion is inaccurate. Every person of faith is called upon by the LORD, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to be “on mission” with Him to reach this lost world. A “missionary” is simply a Christian with a heartbeat, and as long as the heart continues to beat, the person of faith is available to serve God. Paul’s missionary days did not end with his arrest. Certainly his daily routine is radically different from that which he experienced in the church in Antioch, or in his three extended missionary journeys. However, the circumstances of his life play no part in his calling by the LORD to a life of obedience, a life of loving others, and a life of sharing God’s love. All that has changed is his audience.
Many people will tend to withdraw when the “going gets tough.” Paul demonstrates to us through his own experience that tough circumstances are an excellent platform from which to express a life of obedience. Rather than become a hindrance, Paul declares that his arrest has actually advanced the purpose of the Gospel. Paul responded to those events with faith in God, love for those around him, and sought every opportunity to express that love both in actions and in his testimony.
Our defeat by circumstances is simply the result of our erroneous pattern of thinking. Rather than becoming defeated by these events, Paul used those events as tools to accomplish his heart’s true desire: faithfulness to the LORD. We can see the dramatic results of this pattern of thought:
1. FAITH OVERCOMES BARRIERS.
Philippians 1:13. So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;
Had Paul not been arrested, he would still be in and around Antioch, serving in a pastoral/missionary role in that community. However, because of his arrest, he has had the opportunity to bring the love of Christ into an entirely new setting. He was able to share the gospel with Festus, the Roman governor over Jerusalem, demonstrate his confidence in the LORD when shipwrecked on his way to Rome, and now his situation has become known in the “palace,” and in all other places. The state of Paul’s life has become known throughout the region, throughout the Roman administrative system, all the way up to the Emperor, Caesar. What many would think are dramatically negative circumstances that would serve to destroy Paul’s ministry have actually served to further the message of the gospel because of the way Paul maintained his faith and witness through the experience.
Many of us may look upon our circumstances and interpret them as barriers to the effective and efficient expression of our faith. When we do this we are making excuses in order to appease our own fears, fears that are not a product of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Paul shows us how we can turn those very circumstances into opportunities to express our faithfulness to God, and then witness the bounty of blessing that such a response produces.
Philippians 1:14. And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Unfortunately, we are sometimes taught that the fruit of a Christian is “another Christian.” Such doctrine produces a spirit of guilt amongst those who do not have a gift of evangelism. The fruit of the spirit are love, peace, joy, etc. The only way to keep an apple tree from bearing apples is to kill it. Likewise, the only way to keep a Christian from bearing fruit is to remove him/her. As Paul expressed his faith in his trying circumstances his confidence in the LORD and his confidence in the gospel was seen by all, bringing a similar confidence to others who desired to be obedient to the LORD. It was not illegal to share the gospel during the period of Paul’s imprisonment, but the gospel certainly had its enemies as it still does today. The same enemies remain: products of a self-centered, godless culture. When Christians demonstrate confidence in the gospel and confidence in the LORD to sustain, protect, and care for them, that confidence is contagious, and encourages other people of faith. This is just one more way that a person of faith shares the gospel.
2. FAITH OVERCOMES OPPOSITION.
Philippians 1:15-17. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: 17But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.
We may often shy away from engagement in kingdom work when we find ourselves in conflict with other Christians who have different ideas, or different practices. Our self-esteem can be diminished by the evil one who whispers lies into our ears in an attempt to discourage us and convince us of our own error. However, we see no such response when Paul refers to those in the body of faith who oppose him. He states that some of those who are preaching the gospel do so out of envy: they resent the attention and respect that Paul receives, particularly when one of his letters arrives at their church. Perhaps they even think that the contrast between their “freedom” and Paul’s “bondage” would serve to add to Paul’s suffering. He also refers to others who preach the gospel from a context of genuine, unconditional, agape love.
Any time we observe a group of Christians we will witness a wide range of spiritual maturity both within the leadership and throughout the family of believers. Our natural response is to be critical and judgmental of the less mature who preach and minister from inappropriate motives, but such criticism and judgmentalism itself is an indicator of our own lack of spiritual maturity. How does Paul respond to these who have impure motives?
Philippians 1:18. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.
3. FAITH OVERCOMES CIRCUMSTANCES.
Paul understands that the priority of the gospel is Christ, not Paul. Paul does not make any excuses for those who preach and teach out of inappropriate motives, but he does celebrate the simple fact that, regardless of their motivation, they are indeed preaching and teaching the gospel message and people are being saved from the consequences of their sin.
We often fall into a trap of condemning others for what we judge to be inappropriate motives or behavior, and by so doing are blinded to what the LORD is able to do through them. We can be reminded that the enemy that we are to engage in the battle is never people: it is satan, as “we battle not against flesh and blood” but against the various methods and minions of the evil one. When we fight and bicker among ourselves, only satan wins. When we come together in unity, a unity that is formed by the bridge of agape love that transcends our differences, satan loses. Paul always demonstrated love to all, even to those who oppose him, but he did recognize the work of satan and denounced behaviors that are ungodly.
Philippians 1:19. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
Again, as Paul writes, he does so from a difficult situation. We might visualize his plight as he is not only under house arrest, but held there by a Roman guard who is chained to him every moment of every day. Of course, we see the guard as a burden, and Paul sees him as a prospect for salvation. Paul is quite aware of his innocence of any accusation against any Roman law, and expects an acquittal when he is brought to trial. Paul fully believed in the power of prayer, and experienced the power of that prayer every day as he was sustained through these difficult days. Consequently, Paul encourages the Philippians to continue to pray for him, as he believes that it is through the power of those prayers, and through the continual sustenance that he receives from the LORD, that he will one day be released from his chains. These prayers, and the evidence of the LORD’s work in his life continue to bring him encouragement that in turn serves to encourage others.
Philippians 1:20-21. According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.
It is interesting to note that when Paul refers to the power of prayer to bring him a salvation from his circumstances, that salvation is not related to his living or dying, but rather to his serving God in obedience. Circumstances do not inform faith: faith informs our response to circumstances. Consequently, as Paul encourages the Philippians to continue to pray for him, he gets very specific concerning how the power of those prayers might find expression. Paul expects that, even in these circumstances,
His expectations of the LORD’s blessing him is sincere.
His hope will be strengthened.
He will stand tall on his faith and not cower under stress.
He will speak and act boldly, as he has done in the past when no such stressors were threatening to discourage him.
He will be a testimony of faith as he demonstrates a Christ-likeness in these difficult times
His testimony will be sincere and consistent whether he finds salvation through acquittal, or salvation through execution.
Paul makes it quite plain that the final event of this journey is not as important as the journey itself. He fully realizes that there is a good potential that he will never receive a trial and will be executed. Following the writing of this letter there was a change in Roman leadership, and historical documents claim that the new Caesar cared nothing of his predecessor’s affairs, and had Paul, the prisoner of his predecessor, put to death.
4. FAITH OVERCOMES DEATH.
However, again, Paul’s concern was for the journey, not the journey’s end. Many of us have an opportunity to face death at some point in our lives, whether it is related to health issues of one who is very close to us, or maybe it may be a health issue that strikes us. People who are without faith face such issues with no hope. People of faith can lean on the hope of their salvation and the promises that God makes to those who have faith in Him. Consequently, a person of faith can approach death differently than those who do not know God:
Philippians 1:21-23. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. 23For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
Paul’s confidence in the LORD inspires him to approach the specter of his own demise in a way that would be considered quite unusual by those who do not know the LORD. However, for people of faith, his statements are quite consistent with the gospel promises, and one can find encouragement in them. Paul speaks of a dilemma that he faces in his own spirit, one that the lost would never fully comprehend or experience. He realizes that death is not an ending, but rather the beginning of an eternity with the LORD, something that is not to be feared, but rather is something to wait for with positive expectation. From the LORD’s perspective, the death of the faithful is a homecoming; a celebration. Consequently, Paul is at a loss to find a distinct preference in the manner of his journey’s end. If he is not executed, he will continue in his labor of love for the name of Christ, and if he is executed, he will gain the experience of being with Christ. He finds a true blessing in either option. He desires to stay and minister, but he also desires to leave this world to experience the eternal reward of faith.
This is the attitude that should characterize the spirit of every believer. Before we first face these questions, we probably give them little thought. However, as one ages and matures in the faith, these questions concerning the journey’s end become quite relevant. When faced with a possible terminal illness, a faithful Christian can testify “If I am healed I praise God, and if I die my healing is complete and I can still praise God.” In all things, God is to be praised.
Philippians 1:24-26. Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. 25And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; 26That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.
Paul is a man of confident faith. Yet, he is not necessarily a prophet, at least in the manner that we often think of a prophet as one to whom the LORD has revealed the future. Paul is convinced that the charges brought by the Jews are obviously without any merit, and he will be vindicated and acquitted when he faces the trial that is required because of his status as a Roman citizen. He is not aware of the political intrigue that is taking place among the highest Roman officials, activities that will reduce his case to little more than a comment in court records. Even as Paul faces this situation, he does so with the confidence that he will be set free to return to the Philippian church for a long-awaited visit.
Paul’s assumption is important. As Paul looks back on his life, he has witnessed the LORD’s blessings in a continually flowing stream. He has been delivered from beatings, bondage, shipwrecks, and numerous other dramatic events. He is confident in the voracity of the LORD’s purposes in his life. Likewise, when we face difficult situations, our appropriate response is to put our confidence in the LORD, whose overall purposes are not changed by the actions of people.
When God called Joshua to take over the responsibilities of the very aged Moses, Joshua was flooded with fear. The LORD continually encouraged him with a repeating counsel, stating “do what you do with courage and determination because I have called you to lead my people, and I will be with you.” This statement is a compilation of several similar statements found in the book of Joshua. As a faithful Christian grows in spiritual maturity, their ever-strengthening faith serves to overcome virtually all of the obstacles of life, allowing the individual to live a life that is filled with the blessings that come from experiencing the full measure of God’s love, and sharing that love unconditionally with others. This is a life that is full of confidence in the LORD. This is a life that can face challenges head-on with the encouragement that comes from the LORD and from other faithful believers. This sounds like a life worth pursuing.
Philippians 2:14-16. Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16as you hold out the word of life — in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
What place do complaining an arguing have in the Spirit of one who seeks to be obedient to Christ? We are to do all that we do without complaining or arguing. How many of us seek to be obedient to Christ, yet we allow the demons of a complaining and argumentative spirit to have control in our lives. It is necessary that we remove complaining and arguing from our agenda. What should we do when we have a tendency to either complain or argue about matters?
First, be silent. Whether we agree or disagree, silence will prevent us from the open sin of the expression of a contentious spirit. It will give us an opportunity to listen, to discern, and to truly seek the response that Paul seeks from the Philippians.
Consider the opinions of others in love. It is the same Holy Spirit that communicates with us all. If there is disagreement, it is in our own spirits, not in that of God.
Speak only when the words are expressions of love. Love can be tough. Still never use tough love as an excuse to express selfish desire over that of God’s true purpose.
Note that Paul states that it is only when we put away complaining and arguing that we can be seen by God as blameless and pure. It will only be then that God will see us as separated from the wicked world that, by nature, is complaining, arguing, and self-centered. Our unity in Christ will shine like a star in the darkness of this sinful world. It will be then, in unity, that we will be empowered to hold the Word of Life out to a sinful generation. It is our ultimate call to be faithful in our witness. How many people will be inspired to listen to the Word of God when it comes from a contentious, complaining spirit? How better to share the gospel from a foundation of unity and love?