Sunday’s Sermon– Philippians 1:12-18

23 Jun

Philippians
Philippians 1:12-18
The Unstoppable Gospel

There is a story of a man with 11 brothers. He was a good young man, loved by his father but hated by his brothers. His brothers betrayed him and sold him as a slave to go to a foreign land. But in the end he rose in the ranks through slavery to become one of the most powerful people in the land. Eventually these same brothers had a need that only that foreign land could provide and they went to that land to get food. Who would they have to deal with to get the food but that brother they had betrayed all those years before.
The story of Joseph is one of my favorites. And my favorite part of the story is when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. There is a wonderful reunion. And then, at the very end of the book of Genesis, in chapter 50, verse 20, Joseph says, “What you did to me you intended for evil, but God intended for good.” Joseph had confidence that God’s power overruled the plans of people and when everything seemed to be going wrong, God was working on a greater plan.
Paul, in the passage we are going to look at today, was a lot like Joseph. He was in prison, he was facing persecution, he was facing those who opposed him, yet he was seeing in it all the hand of God. The difference is that Joseph said what he said after the fact, while Paul says what he says in this passage while the conflict is still going on. Maybe one of the reasons Paul could talk like he does in Philippians 1:12-18 is because he had just in recent years witnessed another man betrayed by His own people, suffering a horrible death but rising from the dead. Paul had experienced Jesus, who was the ultimate example of the truth of God turning around the evil designs of men for good. So Paul is confident in this passage that what is happening to him will have a good ending as well.
The question this passage brought to my mind as I studied it was, how could Paul have such a positive perspective on such a negative experience as prison? And really, the answer spreads not only through the passage we are going to look at this week but also next week’s passage. The inward reason for Paul’s confidence is what we will look at next week. But this week we will see that as Paul looks outside himself, he finds many reasons to rejoice as well. We are going to look at six of those reasons this morning, in the hope that Paul will be able to help us, even in the worst trials, to know that God is at work and that God is good and that we can trust Him.

The first reason we can have confidence in God in the midst of hardship and persecution is that . . .

1. The Gospel ADVANCES in the Midst of Hardship and Persecution (1:12).
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,
Paul begins by telling the Philippians that persecution is not a hindrance to the gospel, it is fuel for the gospel to spread. We see this dynamic in Acts 11:19, Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. So the church grew because of persecution.
The early church father Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” When the early church was under persecution from the Roman Empire, the church grew dramatically. The church in China in the 20th century grew from perhaps 1 million to, by some estimates, 70 million during a time of persecution.
Paul in verse 12 says that his imprisonment has served to advance the gospel. Most people would think that being in prison would be the end of the line for Paul’s ministry. But Paul saw that what people intended for evil, God intended for good. New avenues for the gospel had opened up to him. Paul knew the truth that when we face hardship for the sake of Christ, we can honor Christ and our testimony to others can become much more real. Not many people are won to Christ through large homes or nice cars or other blessings. But many people will be won to Christ when we endure hardship with grace. When we have cancer and still come to worship and still press on in our lives day by day, we make a difference. When we love people in the workplace even when they make fun of us or think we’re weird. When we love our families even when they think we are religious wackos, we make a difference. WE can’t always see it, but it is there. When hard times come in their lives, they will turn to us because of Christ in our lives. We need to be willing to face hardship and even persecution for the sake of the gospel, because the gospel thrives in the midst of persecution. There may come a day in America when standing for the truth of the Word of God might not only bring ridicule but also fines and prison. And for just about every one of us, there will come in our lives some extreme hardship. Disease, the death of a loved one, some financial calamity, something will shake us to our core. Will you be ready for that day? The only way we will be ready for severe hardship and persecution is if we are learning to deal with more minor troubles in a God-honoring way.

Second, we can have confidence in God in the midst of hardship and persecution because . . .
2. The Gospel SPREADS Because of Persecution (1:13).
13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.
Do you think Paul would have had any impact on the imperial guard if he had never been persecuted or imprisoned? It is doubtful. But how in the world would the Roman leaders have been reached with the gospel if there had been no persecution? When Paul faced persecution, the gospel advanced. And when Paul faced persecution, the gospel spread. More people, more different kinds of people, one cultural barrier after another being torn down. Persecution is one of God’s choice means to break through walls of prejudice and separation. In the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s, what woke people up to the face that black people were being treated unfairly in many parts of the country? It was not eloquent speeches, those came later. It was not political programs. Most politicians ride the wave of public opinion, they don’t move until they feel like the country is on their side. So it wasn’t the politicians and it wasn’t the speeches. What was it? It was a people willing to endure persecution in the cause of truth. What made a difference was the pictures and TV reports and newspaper accounts of people in Birmingham and Selma and Montgomery getting blasted with fire hoses and having German Shepherds let loose on them and being beaten bloody because of nothing more than a peaceful march for human rights. Because the Civil Rights community endured persecution non-violently, white America responded mostly with compassion and changes began to take place.
When we endure hardship and persecution willingly, we may touch lives we would have had no chance to touch without persecution. And we never know what God might do with some of those lives to accomplish his great purposes. Billy Graham didn’t come to know the Lord through the ministry of some well-known preacher of his day but through the simple gospel preaching of Mordecai Ham, a man we would never have heard of if not for the fact that at one of his meetings, a young, skinny Charlotte son of a dairy farmer named Billy trusted in Christ. Never sell short persistent faithfulness to God in hard places. You never know what God will do with your labor but you can always know that if you labor in the power of the risen Christ that your labor is not in vain. We have 1 Corinthians 15:58 to take to the bank on that, Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Third, we can have confidence in God in the midst of persecution because . . .
3. Persecution Inspires Others to Share Christ with COURAGE (1:14).
14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
John and Betty Stam were missionaries in China in the 1930’s. They had a baby daughter named Helen. While they were serving in China a time of political unrest caused them to be persecuted. They were thrown into prison and made to travel from town to town with their captors. They listened in horror one night as the Chinese soldiers discussed whether they should just kill little Helen in order to avoid the burden of traveling with her. Eventually, the soldiers paraded John and Betty Stam through the streets of a town, stripped them of their clothes and killed them. Their daughter was taken and put into a basket and put on the doorstep of another family, who took her in and cared for her. The baby’s life was spared, but John and Betty Stam were martyred for Christ. In the years immediately following, thousands of people made commitments to follow Christ in foreign missions because of the Stam’s sacrifice. One of those who made a commitment was a young girl named Elisabeth. She eventually married a man named Jim and they, along with four other couples, went to Ecuador to do missions among a brutal tribe. On January 6, 1956, Jim and the other four men were speared to death by the tribe. The women were all left widows and most of them had young children. In the years following the martyrdom of these five men in Ecuador, thousands of young people volunteered to give their lives to God’s service in missions. And Elisabeth Elliot and the sister of one of the other men went back to the tribe in Ecuador as missionaries. They extended forgiveness to the tribe and shared the gospel with them. Today, over 70% of the tribe profess Christ as Savior.
Paul knew that his boldness, his courage under fire, was giving others courage to preach. It seems strange to us. We might think the imprisonment of Paul would cause other believers to become more fearful and more hidden but instead it makes them more bold. Persecution has the effect of helping us realize that our faith is real whereas when we try to find the path of most comfort our faith often feels unreal and so we are less apt to share our faith. You will notice this in the worship of people who are under persecution or hardship. I remember in the poverty of Haiti little churches of cinder blocks filled with people exuberantly worshiping the Lord. But often in America worship is either a show or it is dead. The praise band basically does a concert in a dark room with spot lights and smoke or the organ drones on through four verses of a hymn nobody sings. But we don’t want either of those options. We want worship that is intense and flowing from the heart of each person here. Musical style doesn’t matter. Organ, piano, guitar, drums, flutes, it is absolutely irrelevant. Only two things matter in worship. The words we are singing or hearing preached or praying. Are our words honoring to Jesus and in accordance to God’s Word. And second, our hearts. Are our hearts seeking to overflow with love for God and joyful expression of that love in whatever way is appropriate for us. That is all that matters. We are to worship in spirit and truth. Nik Ripken, in his book, The Insanity of God, shared a story of visiting a country in Europe that had once been under Communist control, with Christianity severely persecuted. He shared how in the 1950’s the young people there who were Christians had very little access to Bibles, yet what they had, they committed to memory and talked about all the time. Once, when these young people got together for a meeting in the 1950’s, they gathered in groups and shared with each other the Scriptures they had learned. In the end, this group of young people as a whole could recite most of the New Testament. Ripken then found out from the leaders of today in that country, now free from Communism, that most Christian youth in that country today know very little Scripture. What made the difference? I believe the fires of persecution versus the comfort and creeping worldliness of a life without persecution. The same is true with us.

The fourth reason we can endure hardship and persecution with confidence is because . . .
4. Persecution and Hardship Binds Us Together With Believers of GOOD WILL (1:15-16).

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.
Those who loved Paul, and there were many, were bound to him in his imprisonment and carried on his mission outside the prison walls in support of him. They loved him and sought to preach the gospel in order to carry on his work at a time when he couldn’t. When we face hardship or persecution, we will find like Paul many believers who will be like family to us. They will pray for us, they will support us, they will be on our team. Have you ever noticed that when a celebrity has some financial trouble, how all their followers drop them? There are people who follow celebrities around to get a piece of their money. But when the money is gone, so are the people. But Christians are not to be like this. We are not to be with people because of what we can get from them but because of what we can give and because of the mutual love of Christ we share. Many people say, “True character is what you do when no one else is around.” I think that is true. But I recently heard a phrase I think is even better. “True character is how you act toward people who can give you nothing in return.” Paul was in chains. If anything he was going to hurt the reputations or maybe even bring danger to those who supported him. But they, with nothing to gain from Paul and something to lose, still supported him and carried on his work. This is true character.

Fifth, we can endure hardship and persecution with confidence when we realize . . .
5. Some Will REJECT Us When We Are Persecuted (1:17).
17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.
There were some among the preachers of Paul’s day who were not men of true character. They seem to have been true Christians because I think these among the brothers he speaks of in verse 14 but they lacked the character to stand by Paul in his hour of need. They preached Christ but out of a sense of rivalry, attempting to get one up on Paul while he was in prison. He was a respected person in the early church and these preachers were trying to gain some of the power they thought he had lost by being in prison.
There are some good cautions for us to remember as we consider these who saw Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity to up the competition. First, we need to recognize that in Christian ministry we will always have those who oppose us, not only from outside the Christian community but also from within. There will always be naysayers, critics and those who desire for various reasons to undermine our ministry if we are devoted followers of Christ. And since we all face hard circumstances at times and since none of us is perfect in our every action, sometimes the criticisms will stick and that is difficult. Paul is in chains while the ministry reputation he has built through the years is being undermined by these rivals.
Second, we need to avoid rivalry. We are not competitors with other churches. I used to from time to time check the website of another church in our area. I would rationalize to myself that I was just finding out what was going on but in reality I was really competing inwardly with this church. They are about the same size and situation as we are so I would go to their newsletter online and look at their attendance and their giving. And if we were stronger one week I’d feel just a little bit better about myself and if their numbers were better I’d kind of get down in the dumps. And I finally realized, this is terrible. You are competing with that church. You are trying to beat them. Where is your concern for them? Do you really want to be a little bit happy that their numbers were down? Do you really want to measure your life that way? I was ashamed for being so unloving and for being so petty. Our goal must never be to have a bigger and better church than some other church in town. I want you to be genuinely thankful for the good that happens at West Hickory but I ultimately hope all of us will boast not in the church but in the Lord Jesus Christ. And I hope we will be genuinely excited about the good things God is doing in other churches.
Third, this verse warns us about the desire to grab power. I get very nervous when I see pastors with tremendous amounts of power. When a church becomes known as Pastor Smith’s church instead of the church of Jesus Christ, we are drifting toward a situation that is ripe for trouble.
Finally, this verse cautions us against the mistake of equating success with the blessing of God. Most people would probably have seen Paul as a failure. I mean, he is in prison after all. Others out there who were preaching Christ out of rivalry may have been gathering substantial followings. Let us be careful about how we think of success. Success in ministry is faithfulness, nothing more nothing less. This means we trust God, we work hard, we pray, we leave the results in God’s hands. We plant through preaching and teaching, we water through ministering to people in their needs, we get out the weeds through opposing false teaching but in the end we trust God to bring the growth. God’s got to send the rain of the Holy Spirit to open hearts to the gospel. So seek by God’s power to work your life’s garden and then plead with God to send the rain.

Finally this morning we see that we can face hardship and persecution with confidence because . . .
6. The Gospel is UNSTOPPABLE (1:18).
18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
This is the good news about the good news: it cannot fail. Even if those proclaiming it do so from mixed motives, the Word can be a blessing. And even when we face persecution for the Word, we can take heart that the message of the gospel will make a difference in the lives of those with whom we have contact. None of us is indispensable. The gospel will go on long after we are gone.
Isaiah 55:10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

In my senior year of high school, I was playing on the baseball team. I was a new Christian and was really feeling the work of God in my life and was wondering if playing baseball was really the best way to use my time. I went to the coach, a kind of rough man who had recently been through a divorce, to talk about whether I should quit the team. He told me to take some time to think about it. I did and decided to stay on the team. Right before the first game the coach gathered us all in foul territory for a pregame talk. At the end of that talk, he asked me to pray for the team. We had never prayed together as a team. A couple of guys snickered and I nervously mumbled some prayer for God to bless the season. Most of the guys just thought I was a religious wacko. But a funny thing happened over the course of the season. From time to time a guy on the team would pull me aside to ask me to talk with them about their problems. Sometimes guys would ask me a question about the Bible. The season was blessed and God’s Word went out even in the locker room environment of a high school baseball team.
The gospel can’t be stopped by envy or rivalry, it can’t be stopped by inexperience or foolishness, it can’t be stopped by prison chains or persecutions. The gospel can’t be stopped.
Paul was confident and joyful in God because he looked around him and realized that as it had been in his own life, so it was in the world, the gospel was breaking through, changing lives and transforming cultures. So he could endure hardship and persecution. The Jesus who endured hardship and persecution for us will use our hardship and persecution for God’s glory and the blessing of the world.
So let us leave this place today bold and willing. Let us leave ready to speak about Jesus with friends, neighbors and co-workers. Let us lay down our lives to go the least-reached places on earth. Let us be more concerned with dishonoring God than being labelled as a narrow-minded religious fanatic. Let us pray and think together and walk together so that we can be faithful witnesses to Jesus now, so that when the hardship or persecution comes, we are still faithful to live for Him. We are not here forever, but we will be with Him forever. So let us live today as those who will live forever with Jesus and let us live in such a way that we know, at the end of our lives, we left it all on the field. Let’s pray.

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