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Sermon — 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, Sexuality and Sanctification

1 Jul

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

 

This section is most obviously about sexuality and the call of God on the lives of His people for holiness. But in back of this direct teaching is the person of God. God, the Lord, the Holy Spirit are mentioned over and over in these verses. Real Christianity is always God-centered. There is no area of life which is not touched by the Person and Presence of God. There is no area in the life of a Christian that is not to be subject to the Lordship of Christ.

In our text today, we hear the call of God for our sanctification, or holiness. This holiness in our passage is particularly connected to our sexual morality. Several weeks ago we looked at the Song of Solomon and talked about the need for a joyful Christian sexual ethic. Today is kind of the flip side of that coin. We will not find lasting joy in sexuality if we walk in sexual immorality. Holiness was the picture the Old Testament temple provided. It was a reflection of God’s presence and purity. Holiness was required. Cleansings and washings were prescribed, sacrifices were made. Purity was paramount. God’s nature has not changed but the Temple was just a picture of the new covenant reality that through Jesus’ death on the cross God has purified His people from their sin, counting the perfect life and the atoning death of Jesus in the place of all who trust Him. The dwelling place of God is no longer to be thought of as a building. The church building today is not the house of God. We are the house of God. We are God’s temple, believer by believer joined together to be God’s dwelling place. And as purity was a top priority in the Old Covenant so should it be in the New Covenant. What we have by virtue of our position in Christ God intends to work into our lives by practice, so that we grow in holiness, becoming what we are, a people purified by God through the dying and rising of His perfect Son Jesus. It is a sad reality that many professing Christians understand grace as being distinct from holiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The idea that one can be saved by grace without a care for holiness is an absolutely false view of grace that is damning many people to hell. Sometimes in our eagerness to avoid teaching salvation by works, at other times in our eagerness to console ourselves about family members who made a profession of faith but have lived fruitless lives, we have separated salvation and sanctification. But the Bible gives us no place at all to do this. Our memory verse from June makes this clear, Colossians 2:6,7, “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” We were saved by faith and we now walk by faith. And if we don’t walk in faith, if we live as a lifestyle in darkness rather than light, we show that we are not saved. This is a big part of what 1 John is about that some of us men are studying on Saturday mornings.

So this is a sobering message today. We need to be careful about comforting ourselves about our family members if there has been no evident spiritual fruit in their lives. This is not a denial of salvation by grace or of our security as a believer, it is just an acknowledgement of what the Bible teaches everywhere, namely that those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Holiness is not an add-on to the Christian life for the really serious Christians, it is the reality of life for those who truly belong to God. Those whom God saves He will sanctify. Sanctification is where we begin in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verse 3 . . .

 The WHAT of Holiness: ABSTAIN from Sexual Immorality (4:3).

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

To be sanctified is the opposite of being impure. The word ‘sanctification’ means to be set apart, to be godly. Because I belong to God through Christ I should reflect the family likeness. I always perk up when I see a Bible passage say, “This is the will of God.” When something is made explicit as the will God, I really want to take notice. Here the will of God explicitly stated is that we as believers is our sanctification and that this holiness is shown as we abstain from sexual immorality. The complete avoidance of sexual thought and action centered outside the marriage covenant is in view here and in many other places in the New Testament. In every list of sinful vices I can think of in the New Testament the issue of sexual immorality is mentioned, and it usually leads off the list. Paul makes an argument in 1 Corinthians 6 that sexual immorality is especially damaging as it is a sin against one’s own body. Jesus’ teaching on marriage, that it is to be a lifelong bond of union except in highly unusual circumstances and Paul’s teaching that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, all raise the stakes as to the significance of sexual sin. So sexuality is not the only issue of holiness we need to think about but it is a major one. Thus we are not wrong as Christians to speak about this issue in the church and hold out a biblical view of sexuality to the world. We are not obsessed with these things, we are just trying to be faithful to the focus the Bible gives them.

Sexuality is a watershed issue in our day, a dividing line between being faithful to the truth of God and being unfaithful. This is one of those issues that in the days to come will divide families and churches. It is already happening and it will only pick up steam in the next few years. At the core, the issue is this: where does my view of life come from? If your view of the life is shaped by the Bible, then you will hold to the view that sexuality is only properly expressed in the context of one man, one woman marriage and that other expressions or thoughts outside that boundary are sinful and put one under the judgment of God. If on the other hand your view of life is shaped by culture, then in today’s world you will hold the view that sexuality is properly expressed through the exercise of personal freedom. In other words, anything goes as long as I like it. As the old cliché goes, “What I feel makes it real, what I like makes it right.” So there is no limit, no boundary, except that which is put on me by society legally or culturally. The focus of the worldly view is self-gratification, the focus of the Christian view is God-glorification. Where is your view of sexuality coming from? If your view is being shaped by culture you will live an immoral lifestyle, you will not avoid sexual immorality. But if your view is grounded in Scripture, seeing sex as a good gift to be enjoyed within its boundaries, you can pursue holiness and honor God with your life. It is a watershed issue.

And it was a watershed issue in Paul’s day for the Thessalonians. This church was living in a pagan culture that coupled sexual activity with the worship of the gods. Many of the Thessalonian believers had come out of this background of casual sexual self-gratification. So don’t think this call to sexual purity was easy for the Thessalonians but difficult for us. The Thessalonians didn’t have an internet, but they did have all kinds of public sexual degradation. Sexual purity has never been easy. But we make it much more difficult on ourselves when we try to walk in two worlds, when we try to have a Christian exterior while inside we are being shaped by culture and our own sinful desires.

This is not a matter of Christian liberty. We are to abstain from sexual immorality. There is no wiggle room. This is not a matter of debate. Lustful thinking or acting outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sin and puts us under God’s judgement. This is the will of God. Have we forgotten the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?” Could it be that if there is spiritual coldness in you: a lack of interest in church, a coldness to your prayer life, an emptiness to your Bible reading, weakness in your service for the Lord, a spirit of despondency, is it possible that these things are not the fault of other church members or your past experiences or your pastors or deacons? Is it possible that you are not seeing God because you are not pure in heart? Is it possible that your sexual sin is the thing that is most holding you back from a joyful walk with God? Does this sexual sin even call into question whether you have even ever really trusted in Christ? The stakes are high. As high as seeing God.

How do we abstain from sexual immorality? Look at verses 4 and 5 . . .

  The HOW of Holiness: Self-Control through the POWER of God (4:4,5).

 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 

The first principle of sexual purity given in this passage is the principle of self-control. There is some dispute about what is said here. Some of your translations may speak of controlling the body and others may speak of taking a wife. The wording could point in either direction. Whether one controls his sexual passions through godly discipline or through taking a wife or husband rather than burning with passion, we see concrete ways in which we seek to turn away from sexual immorality. For some, marriage may prove a great help in the battle against sexual immorality. It is not true that marriage ends the battle with sexual immorality because we still have sinful tendencies and we are still surrounded by a world of immorality, but marriage can help. At the same time, self-control cannot be ignored. We need to remember when we talk about self-control that for the Christian it is Spirit-empowered. Galatians 5 tells us that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. I am heartened that Paul teaches us that sinful sexual impulses can be controlled. We do not have to be like little boats tossed by the big waves of a sinful world. Paul doesn’t give us the specifics of how to win this battle consistently, but he does say God has given us the power to do so.  For me, it means God gives me the power to say “no” to watching something sinful on tv. God empowers me to not let my mind wander into lustful thoughts. But a part of God’s provision for me may just be the wisdom of not having cable movie channels or having filters on my internet or memorizing Scripture as a way to fight the unbelief that leads to lust. You probably have a different battle than me but you have the same Holy Spirit if you are trusting in Jesus. Trust Him to give you the power and wisdom to take the steps in your life to be holy and honorable rather than impure and degrading.

The end of verse 5 is a critical aspect of this passage. We are to live self-controlled lives, not like the Gentiles WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD. You see, this life of sexual obsession and sexual sin is a sure mark of a person that does not know God. Knowing God is essential to sexual purity. Sex is not about us it is about God. As Paul says in Titus 2, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us to say no to ungodliness and worldly desires and to be upright and self-controlled in this present evil age.”

Understand me. Sexual purity is only sustained by God. It is not rules, it is not simple self-discipline. As Paul says in Romans 6, we must yield our lives over to the Lord, Romans 6:13: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God … and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

And again, in Romans 6:19, Paul writes: “You used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

Look at verse 6 . . .

 The WHY of Holiness — A WARNING to the Unrepentant (4:6).

that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

Some think Paul is changing the subject here, telling us that one should be honest in their business dealings. But the context doesn’t bear this out but seems to stay on this theme of sexual sin. Certainly adultery is the wronging of another, as you have relations with the spouse of another. But the actual person with whom you engage in immorality is also wronged through your sin. Even a person you think about in a sinful way is diminished in your eyes as you have made them an object of your desire rather than seeing them as a brother or sister in Christ.

The proof that the stakes are high is shown here in the threat of God’s judgment. Hebrews 13:4 says much the same thing, “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous.”

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul calls the Lord an avenger. There is a sense in which sexual immorality and sexual betrayal of others is fundamentally abhorrent to God.

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul highlights the fact that he has had this talk with the Thessalonians before. It is true that the people in Thessalonica came out of a very immoral background, but this is also true of many of us. Some here lived in the passions of their flesh for years before they were saved. We may all need to revisit this sober warning of judgment from time to time. But this is not the whole story. Take a look at verses 7 and 8 . . .

God’s WORK for Our Purity and Our Response (4:7,8).

 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

There is a warning of judgment here which it is wise for us to heed. But there is also a word here about God’s calling for us. As the passage started stating God’s will that we abstain from sexual immorality so the passage ends with God’s call to holiness. God’s call is holiness. Impurity short circuits not only the vitality of our relationship with God but also derails the working out of God’s purposes in our lives. How many ministers in recent years with great gifting have been brought down through sexual immorality? I mentioned a couple of weeks ago three prominent Southern Baptist leaders who had been involved in immorality. Since I gave that message, three more professors and state convention workers in the SBC have resigned because of immorality. It is a tragedy. We must not play around at the edges of this. It applies to all of us, every church member, every pastor and deacon. Notice here that Paul says God has called US to purity, he includes himself in his statement. He is accountable too. It is possible and even likely that these men who have fallen, if repentant, are true believers. But oh how tragic the consequences of their sin. We are not under condemnation through faith in Christ, but there is a principle of sowing and reaping that Pastor Terry talked about a couple of weeks ago.

God calls us. He draws us. He saves us. But He does all of this to bring us into holiness. And He did this to draw us close to Himself. Notice, if you reject these instructions you reject not just the instructions but God who gave His Holy Spirit to you. Sexual immorality is a form of blasphemy. It is a form of idol worship and no man can serve two masters.

This verse is so important for our world today. To reject these instructions is to reject God. If someone has an issue with the idea that sexuality is only rightly bounded within one man, one woman marriage, their argument is not with me, it is with God.

If you look at these instructions and feel it is impossible, let me give you three grounds of hope: 1) Jesus was totally pleasing to God and totally fulfilled in His life on earth and never had sexual relations. Sex is not like air and water, regardless of what our culture says. 2) God has given you His Holy Spirit to empower you for this life. 3) Our year verse, Luke 18:27 – what is impossible with man is possible with God.

I want to conclude this morning in a detailed way. What does it look like for us today to abstain from sexual immorality as an important part of our growth in grace, our sanctification?

First, we must reject as a matter of principle all forms of sexual immorality. We must say no to ungodliness. We must draw a line in the sand and define what is right and what is wrong from a biblical point of view.

Having carefully thought through these things, I can say without hesitation that the following principles should be characteristic of a Christian when it comes to sexuality. I haven’t seen every principle possible, but I believe I can biblically justify each of the things I am about to say. . .

When it comes to sexuality, a Christian is characterized as one who . . .

Rejects lust and affirms married love.

Rejects adultery and affirms faithfulness in marriage.

Rejects pornography and affirms a joyful sexual ethic in marriage.

Rejects living together without being married and affirms the biblical obedience of marriage.

Rejects sleeping together apart from marriage and any other sexual relations outside of marriage and affirms the beauty of sex itself within marriage.

Rejects fantasizing or setting our thoughts on people to whom we are not married and affirms the cultivation of a healthy marital relationship of mind, body and soul.

Rejects homosexuality in all of its forms and affirms heterosexual marriage as God’s pathway of obedience.

In the absence of marriage a faithful Christian affirms celibacy as God’s pathway of obedience.

Rejects the idea that our identity is tied up in our gender and affirms that our identity is found in Christ.

Rejects the notion that gender is self-constructed and affirms the truth that God’s design is two genders: male and female, made in His image.

Rejects the idea that life is about self-gratification and affirms that life is about God-glorification.

Rejects dating or marrying unbelievers and affirms the value of marriage between believers as God’s pattern of obedience for Christians.

Rejects divorce (with few exceptions) and affirms the permanence of marriage.

Rejects a spouse seeking sexual fulfillment outside of marriage when sexual fulfillment in marriage is not happening.

Rejects spouses withholding sexual activity in a prolonged way with one another except for an agreed upon time and affirms the joy of sexual activity as a blessing and a guard for our hearts.

Rejects flirting, immodest dress, crude jokes, cat-calls, all forms of sexual harassment, all sexual abuse and affirms the beauty and worth of married love.

Rejects all forms of media that stir sinful desires in the heart and affirms setting our minds on things above.

I truly believe that these things I have just mentioned are clear and biblical standards for our holiness when it comes to sexuality. These things are not matters of Christian liberty, they are truths that flow from God’s Word and His standards for purity. They are things that cannot be lived apart from the Holy Spirit’s power. There will never be complete obedience to these things this side of glory. But there should be substantial alignment with these things if we belong to Christ. These are the kinds of people we should be as followers of Jesus.

What if I am falling short in one or more of these areas? Let me suggest three things: 1) Repent. Turn away from these sin areas immediately and embrace the truth. Don’t live under God’s judgement. Draw near to God. Know that through faith in Christ you have forgiveness and His righteousness is counted on your behalf. 2) Take steps to get help/make changes. Talk to a friend. Confess to another brother or sister. Bring your life into the light. Sin thrives in darkness. Get counsel from a wise believer. Make physical changes to draw healthy boundaries. 3) Understand that God’s grace is greater than your guilt. If you have a marriage that split up, if you committed adultery, if you have yielded your heart to every manner of lustful thought in times past, know that you can be forgiven and restored and that through faith in Christ you are acceptable in God’s presence. Finally, may all of us exercise patience and kindness toward others in the spirit of Galatians 6:1. If this message is really taken seriously there will be much confession and change as a result. If someone comes to you wanting you to walk with them through change, be gentle with them. Treat them kindly, don’t be harsh with them.

If you need to repent today, you are safe here. You will be received and understood and prayed for and helped. Let’s get our lives into the light. Let me hear from you if you are defeated in this area. If you are a woman I will connect you with a trusted woman. Don’t fail to bring your struggles into the light.

Finally, understand that what we said earlier is true: this is a watershed issue. If you disagree with the biblical pattern for sexuality, I urge you once again to consider that your argument is not with me but with God and that He is all-wise. He really does know better than we what is right and good and true. There may be others here for whom this may be the start of a long battle. For still others this may be a critical step in a long-term victory. Understand that some hearing this message will insult me, if not publicly then privately. Understand that if you believe these things and live them you will be looked at, even by some in the church, as odd and intolerant. In the minds of some people you will be categorized with all the worst hate groups in our society. In your seeking to walk with Jesus you may be the most loving and kind person but if you say the wrong thing in the wrong way in our world, you will be hated and vilified. And I want to say to you, and to myself, take heart! Blessed are you! You’re just walking the path of the prophets and the path of the Savior.

Jesus is better than sexual immorality. Trust Him today to do His work of sanctification as you walk with Him.

 

 

 

 

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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