Saturday, January 25, 2014

Facing Death With Confidence

Paul is up to his neck in hot water. He was under arrest awaiting sentencing - chained night and day to a Roman guard. He is still awaiting the verdict, and the verdict could well be death. Paul is facing the very real possibility of his execution at the hands of Rome, but that isn’t putting a damper on his joy. Not at all!

And Philippians 1:19-21 talks about that – about the very real and imminent possibility of his death. We can listen in on Paul’s thoughts on the whole affair because they are written down for us in the inspired text of this book. We can see his reasoning laid out before us. And the final conclusion he makes is this: whether he lives or dies, it doesn’t matter, because, as he says in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Every believer should be able to say that very same thing. As long as I live, I’m going to serve Christ. And when I die, Hallelujah, I’ll see my Beloved in heaven and that will be gain – so much better.

As we look inside Paul’s mind, the first thing we see him talking about is his expectations. He’s waiting for a verdict to be handed down. What does he expect the verdict to be? Vindication – that his name will be cleared of all these charges, and that he will be given his freedom again. Philippians 1:19 records that: “For I know that this (His trial and imprisonment) will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” He says, I’m confident I’m going to be delivered.

Commentators have pointed out that what Paul does in this verse is quote from Job 13:16 where Job tells one of his tormentor friends, “He (God) also shall be my salvation.” Job is talking about his confidence that God would deliver him from all his troubles, and Paul is too, for the same reasons.

You see, Job knew that God was in control, and Job knew he wasn’t suffering his horrible maladies as a punishment because of any sin. Likewise, Paul knew the same thing. The word for “know” means to know with absolute assurance. Had God revealed this to him, like in a dream or a vision? Probably not. But Paul was totally confident in God’s sovereign control of the situation. And he was confident that God would carry him through this even if it meant rescuing him from execution.

But he wasn’t all that sure that he would escape death because in verse 20 he says, “Whether by life or by death.” God is going to get him through this one way or another, but maybe not alive. God may let Paul die. But if Paul dies, he will be in heaven with the Savior he loves. That’s a win.

The moral for us is this: We can have confidence in God, but not that He will always do things our way. He may not deliver us in the way we’d like, but He will always be there for us - getting us through in His way. Paul’s confidence is in the fact that God is in control. The decision isn’t in the hand of the Roman judge, the decision is in the hand of God.

But something else made him confident. Verse 19 says that the reason he knows “this will turn out for his deliverance” is “through your prayer.” The Philippians were praying. Amen! When you know people are praying for you, doesn’t that give you confidence? Nothing thrills my heart like knowing that someone is praying for me. James 5:16 says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

Do you believe that verse? Do you really believe that fervent prayer is effective to avail much? You better, because this is God’s Word, and His word is truth. And His Word declares loud and clear: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Prayer works - prayer moves God to act - prayer is effective.

Paul firmly believed that. Repeatedly Paul asked people to pray for him. Ephesians 6:18-19 says:
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— 19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel.”

1st Thessalonians 5:25 says, “Brethren, Pray for us.”

2nd Thessalonians 3:1-2 says,
“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, 2 and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith.”
And this one: 2nd Corinthians 1:8-10, a situation just like we are seeing in Philippians:
“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, (WHY?) that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many."
Paul repeatedly asked people for prayer because he fully believed that prayer works. He believed that God answers prayer. And when people pray, everyone who prayed can get in on giving thanks to God for the answers. God answered, not just Paul’s prayer, but all their prayers, since they all prayed.

Prayer works. Believe that with your whole heart. Believe it so much it causes you to pray and pray fervently. See how much it accomplishes. I beseech you to pray fervently for me. I beg you to pray fervently for this church. Will you do that? Will you commit to it? If you do, God will work in response to your prayers, and we will see amazing things happen here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Praise God When the Gospel is Preached.

Even back in the early days of the church, not everyone preached Christ with the purest of motives. But as long as Christ was preached, it was OK with the Apostle Paul. He tells us this in Philippians 1:15-18:
15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
I effect, he is saying, “So what if some preach from wrong motives just to make themselves look better. So what if they take cheap shots at me. All that really matters is that Christ is preached.”

The Word of God is powerful no matter whose lips it comes from or no matter what the motive, even if the motive was to stick it to Paul. And that really is why they preached – “supposing to add affliction to my chains.”

Not everybody preaches with the right motives. If you don’t believe that, just think of Jonah. God sent him to preach repentance at Nineveh, but that was the last thing he wanted to do. Yet, God brought repentance to Nineveh through Jonah’s preaching, much to Jonah’s dismay. It’s not the man, but the message that’s critical.

As Scottish preacher John Eadie commented: “The virtue lies in the Gospel, not the gospeller; in the exposition, not the expounder.” It is the Gospel, according to Romans 1:16, that is “the power of God unto salvation.”

But some of you might ask? Didn’t Paul get all upset in the book of Galatians at those who were preaching the Gospel there? NO! Because that’s not what they were preaching. They were preaching a perversion – a distorted message they called the Gospel. See the difference:
Galatians 1:6-9
6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
What the false teachers were preaching in Galatia wasn’t the Gospel, but a works righteousness. It was a perversion of the Gospel leading people not to heaven, but to hell. What the people were doing in Philippi was preaching the legitimate Gospel, but with the wrong motives.

When people mess with the Gospel, they need to be rebuked and opposed. People’s eternal destiny is at stake. But the motives are up to God to judge. So if Paul could shrug it off and say, “So what?” So should we.

But, not everyone had the wrong motives, There were those motivated by their love for Paul. Philippians 1:17 also says, “But the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.”

God chose Paul to this ministry. Ananias was told this by God as he was sent to commission Paul in Acts 9:15-16:
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Knowing that this was Paul’s call, they wanted to help him fulfill that call so they raised their voices in his stead.

Now, the passage concludes with Philippians 1:18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” Amen! As long as the Gospel is preached, Paul is filled with joy. We should be too.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Not Getting Petty When We Get Attacked

From the book of Philippians, we’ve been looking at how the tough times in Paul’s life were not an impediment, but a furtherance to his ministry. Another way that God worked through Paul’s imprisonment was this: Philippians 1:14, “. . . and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Amen! Even more people were out witnessing. And they are witnessing boldly. “If Paul can do it, so can I,” perhaps they thought. And God emboldened them. They saw Paul’s courage, and they saw Paul’s results. They wanted in on the action.

One person is sometimes all it takes to get the ball rolling. One bold person can get others excited and on board. Boldness is contagious, and you can be that kind of a person that gets others stirred up. Paul got on fire for Jesus, and lots of other people did too. We can get on fire for Jesus, and start that same kind of fire in others.

Enthusiasm is contagious, and so is bravery. One soldier brave enough to charge the enemy lines will usually cause the rest to follow screaming and charging with all they’ve got.

But someone has got to be the one out in front leading the charge. That person can be you. And if not, it can be you who joins in the charge following someone else’s lead.

Come on, folks, we can do this? We can get the Gospel out in our community, can’t we? We can get excited about reaching this community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul led the charge then, and lots of people are joining the fray. They are witnessing boldly just like Paul did. And we can do that same thing here.

But, not everyone was positively inspired by Paul. Some were negatively inspired. Philippians 1:15-17 states:
“Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.”
Do you see? There were two kinds of responses to Paul’s imprisonment. There were those who loved Paul, and because of his example, they too preached Christ. But some did it to thumb their nose at Paul wanting to “add affliction” to him. Their motivation was to hurt him. They envied his success – they wanted his ministry. And they were overjoyed that Paul was now out of action, so they could rise to the top.

It’s amazing how many pastors are envious of the churches down the road. And how much strife? “Paul is too out of touch. People need a fresh voice,” They say. “And the fact that Paul is in prison proves that God wanted him out of the way.” And now they have their chance to move to the forefront.

Didn’t that bother him? I’m sure it did. He was human, after all. And this kind of response has got to hurt. Nearly every pastor has felt that pain and heartache from others at one time or another. It could come from people in the church who have not been allowed into leadership for one reason or another. Perhaps the pastor had good reason to restrict them. But now is there chance, and they take it. And they gloat over the pastor’s loss of power or prestige.

But, by the grace of God, Paul rises above that. So many people think that just because Paul was an apostle that this didn’t hurt. That somehow apostles, like pastors, are not quite human so they don’t have real human feelings that can be crushed. Let me tell you, I’ve never seen more broken people than some of the pastors I’ve met at retreats. Men who have given their lives to ministry only to be beaten down with criticism and attacks until they really have little left to give. Sometimes, Paul must have felt that way. I have at times.

Listen to what Stuart Briscoe writes about Paul:
“Whatever we may think of Paul, he was no alabaster saint on a pedestal. The statue and the pedestal are the products of our own lack of reality. The real Paul had a temper that got heated and feelings that got hurt. He was no computerized theological machine churning out inspired writings, but a very warm human individual who needed as much love as the next man, and then some.

You can’t hurt a computer’s feelings or grieve a theological concept, but you can destroy a man. Paul was destructible, but he wasn’t destroyed. And it wasn’t for lack of somebody trying. The perspective that he had discovered allowed him to say that he didn’t really mind what happened to him so long as nothing happened to stop the gospel, because in his understanding the message preached mattered more than the man preaching.”
That’s a mark of spiritual maturity - to be broad shouldered enough to bear the slights and the hurts that others would pile on you without taking it personally or letting it get you off track following God’s will. Spiritual maturity doesn’t make every issue an issue. And it allows room for differences between people. It does not grow angry or vindictive.

So while they were eager to slip the knife between Paul’s ribs. He praised God that at least they were preaching Christ, even if not from the purest of motives. Do you know, it takes a lot of grace to not be petty.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Troubles - Do They Hinder or Help?

In Philippians 1:13, Paul says, “It has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.”

But how can Paul think that way? Most of us would be busy sitting around crying, “Woe is me” We’d be asking the question, “Why me Lord? What did I do to deserve this awful treatment?” But not Paul.

Rather, Paul took the positive approach and asked, “How is God, who is sovereign and in control of all this, using this for His glory?” God showed him -the Gospel is still going forth. He came to the same conclusion that Joseph did back in Egypt after having been sold into slavery by his brothers and falsely accused by Potiphor’s wife causing him to spend two years in prison. It had all been God’s doing to get him where God wanted him. Joseph concluded and confessed to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

Paul knew God was working out His plan to save people even through Paul’s imprisonment. He could trust God to work it out for that end. That’s like God. God can be trusted with our lives.

John Bunyan’s life is another example of this. His preaching was so popular and powerful that it was such an affront to the leadership of the Church of England in the 17th Century that they jailed him to silence him. Refusing to shut up, he preached in the jail’s courtyard. Not only did the prisoners hear, but hundreds of the citizens of Bedford. They would come every day to stand outside and listen as he expounded the Scriptures. The authorities threw him deep into the dungeons and forbade him to preach again so he worked on writing an allegory. That allegory was called, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the most popular book in history after the Bible, which laid out the Gospel to literally tens of millions of people. Has God got a sense of humor, or what?

The apostate church wanted to silence him, and by their attempts, they only gave him a bigger audience. John Bunyan’s troubles actually were a furtherance to the spread of the Gospel just like Paul’s were.

That’s what Paul is saying here: God was working things out so the Gospel could go forth through his troubles. Now, he could preach to the palace guard, and every visitor who came to see him. And he wrote all these prison epistles that are still impacting us today - Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians – such precious books to us. Don’t think God wasn’t at work.

Likewise if we look close enough through our own troubles, we would see the same thing happening. God doesn’t waste our troubles either. He uses them for His glory and our benefit. We don’t need to be fretting when things seem to go wrong in our lives, worrying as though God has checked out. We trust that He is as good as His word, working everything out just the way He wants it. And so we look for opportunities to serve Him. We look for ways that we can become even more effective for God, even through our troubles.