Talk given at The Point church // Sun 16th Feb
as always these are form my prep notes so sorry for typos/inconsistencies etc!
So we are in the middle of our series on Philippians and as a reminder, we know that Paul is ‘in chains’, in prison of some sort, probably in Rome. We cannot be exactly sure what being ‘in chains’ means. It could be some sort of house arrest, (as mentioned in Acts) but either way one can imagine how much fun that would be - let’s face it, the Romans were not best known for their hospitality to criminals. This passage refers to the palace guard - we know he was being kept with the Praetorian Guard, a sort of elite force, the bodyguards of the emperor.
So for Paul, he is in chains, with this elite guard, awaiting some form of trial and here he is writing to the church at Philippi, perhaps his ‘favourite’ church.
Paul gets a bit of a bad press sometimes, but you know I rather like him! He is a real hero of the faith. And let’s face it I don’t think you can be such an avid and successful church planter, as he was, without being a bit controversial. But truly he is an example to us of the level of confidence and trust he had in Christ throughout his entire Christian life.
This quote is attributed to the Bishop of Rome, Pope Clement at the time, saying of Paul:
Seven times he wore fetters (chains), he was exiled, he was stoned, he was a herald both in the east and in the west, he gained the noble renown of his faith, he taught righteousness throughout the whole world and having reached the limit of the west (probably a ref to where he finished his travels, either in spain or rome) he bore testimony before the rulers, and so departed from the world and was taken up into the holy place – the greatest example of endurance.
The greatest example of endurance? and how did he become this example? Not in his own strength but in the strength of Christ within him. How did he put up with being arrested, exiled, stoned, persecuted for all that time? Well here in this passage we get a little glimpse into how that happened. His strength comes through the amazing belief, or faith that he has in the Lord. That faith breeds an unshakeable trust in Jesus, which in turn shapes his life with one purpose, to share the gospel.
If we look back to where Paul came from, we see before his conversion, he was then known as Saul, a man referred to as zealous for the Jewish faith, (devoted to, passionate) so zealous/passionate in fact, that he persecuted those who dared to come against it. He threatened, persecuted, murdered. In Galatians he refers to himself as ‘intently persecuting the church of God, even trying to destroy it’. He had such an unshakeable desire to see Christianity wiped out – as he says to destroy the church of God.
And yet in Paul we see the power of God, the power of his hand, completely turning the tables.
Some years ago God gave me the phrase 'volta face' – which was becoming so obvious in our own lives, derived from Latin, and literally means turn and go the other way – an about turn or a U-turn if you like. This is exactly what God does with Saul. And it’s not that he turns Saul into a different person, no he just inhabits his life in a way that takes all that Saul was and turns it for his good (Romans 8:28)
When we become Christians we don’t suddenly become someone else, no I believe we are all created in Christ, in Gods image, and sometimes we go astray, for whatever reason, or circumstances. So when we do come to him, he uses all that we are, all that he created us to be, for Him. So Paul as he becomes known, is still as zealous, or passionate, devoted as he was before but now it is for God’s purposes. And how powerful is that?
There is so much in this passage, but I want to focus on these three words: believe, trust, share.
We know that Paul is a believer, obviously, his faith is strong. And through that he trusts in God for all his needs. And because of that trust he can share the gospel in all confidence and all circumstances. He believes, he trusts and he shares. What an amazing witness to those around him, even here in prison, that despite being in chains, for some years we know, he can still share the love of God, even with his guards! And as I said we’re not just talking about prison guards, these are the ultimate guards, thought in some cases to be more influential than the emperor himself and yet, Paul is not intimidated, or put off, he still continues to fulfill his calling.
So here he is, in chains and yet he’s telling the church at Philippi, it’s ok because I am still spreading the gospel! I wonder if they were concerned, after all he had been locked up for a while, were they worrying where this would end? Paul their founder, great missionary, inspiration? What would happen if he were to be executed? I wonder if there were concerns for the faith – how many would continue to follow if they knew Paul, this great leader, had been ‘abandoned by his God’, so is he reassuring them here?
He is showing them the difference between the kingdom view and the worldly view… And it’s important to remember that whilst we view Paul as some kind of hero, this is a letter to an ordinary church, one could say like ours. All Pauls letters are written to ordinary churches, yes they might have been set up by him, but they are getting on with the day to day, this is a letter of encouragement to an ordinary church…
An ordinary church which has a few issues, I mean most of his letters give words of correction or advice to the churches. Here it seems some are preaching the gospel with the wrong motive – vs 15-17. It is thought that some other followers of the way were perhaps making the most of the fact that their most well know leader was in prison. He was quite a controversial character and perhaps their intentions were to gain some notoriety for themselves while Paul is out of the way.
And his response? He says:
What does it matter? Just so long as Christ is preached?
So here he is in chains, still just persisting with his whole heart that the message be shared. Believing, trusting and sharing.
You know, I think Paul is just so full of Jesus that he can’t help but tell people about him! The joy just overflows out of him. We know that Pauls mission is to preach the gospel, he is an evangelist. In Acts 9:15, where we see God asking Ananias to go to see Saul, who has been blinded, he says this:
“Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.
And God keeps his word. Paul proclaims the name of the Lord wherever he goes! Even locked up! Confident not just in his God but in what he is there to do.
So, what has God called you to do ?
If we step into what God is calling us to do, we can be confident in him. That no matter what, he is beside us, every step. We can have the same confidence that Paul had.
I am involved with a charity in Haiti called Hope House, which has an orphanage and a school for the poorest of Haitian kids. Life is hard for them, and they rely on God for everything, literally everything. But the leaders out there have an amazing confidence and trust in him, because they know they are there to do what he has called them to do. And when there is hardship – which there is often, they trust in him all the more.
One of the trustees from the charity goes out each year and the area they are in is very dangerous and people have been kidnapped before. But her view is that if you are where God wants you, then it’s the safest place in the world. In fact last year when they went out, their pick up was late and they had to stand outside the airport for an hour and wait. Now this is a place where white people have been kidnapped before and in fact the foreign office had advised people not to travel. They were waiting outside the airport, two unaccompanied white women, and a man came up to them and said to them: “Do not be afraid, Haiti is your land”. Although he didn’t recognize them it turned out this man knew Yvrose who runs Hope House and was the same man who had picked them up in previous years. They were subsequently picked up and later found out that 2 white Americans had been murdered on the very spot in which they stood just the week before.
But they had felt completely safe. And as a result they have come back and shared that situation with many who don’t know the Lord. That even in one of the most dangerous places in the world, God has protected them. They believed, trusted and shared.
So you see if we are where God wants us to be, in whatever circumstances we can have confidence in the one we believe in.
Believe in him, trust in him and share him
Paul goes on to say that often quoted scripture:
‘for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’.
It’s like he’s saying, I have such confidence in my God that whether I live or die, it doesn’t matter. He goes on, ‘if I stay on this earth, I get to continue the good work, but hey if I don’t, I get to be with him in heaven.
Message translation is brilliant here: Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose…
There is such freedom in that sentiment. I mean if he can live in a way that says life’s circumstances will not divert me from this truth, this trust, this confidence in God, then what can man do to me?
In 2 Cor 4:8
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
It reminds me of the film Braveheart – I’m sure many of you have seen it. That famous speech where Mel Gibson – William Wallace is rallying his army, where defeat is likely. He says to his troops, you are freemen and the famous line:
“they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom!"
That’s what we need to say in the face of life’s circumstances, when the chips are down, when the enemy would have us in chains – whatever it may be for you, for some addiction, for some unforgiveness, for some anger, whatever it is, we need to stand and declare that Freedom that we have in Christ…
We are free! That’s the truth the Jesus gives us – if we believe in him, if we trust in him, then with confidence we can share all that he has done for us, and say ‘you cannot take my freedom’…
Listen no one ever said following Christ would make life easy and it certainly isn’t for Paul – Acts 9.15 – he will suffer… when God calls him carry his name to the gentiles, he also says, I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.
That isn’t to say that we will all suffer greatly for the name of Jesus, but the point is that here Paul, despite knowing that his suffering is part of his calling, still rejoices in confidence that the gospel is preached.
Can we rejoice in confidence in all life’s situations?
I sometimes think that the gospel is a bit like a James Bond movie – and don’t shoot me for heresy yet, let me explain. In the movies, in every one I think, at some point the villain always has James Bond captured, tied up, hanging over a pool of sharks or with a laser pointed at him, or a bomb strapped to him or some other ridiculous method of killing him. The end seems imminent, the villain has won. And yet without fail in the nick of time James Bond escapes. It’s a volta face isn’t it? Where the enemy or villain thinks he’s won the day, when the opposite is true. Just as I’m sure the enemy must have thought that Paul being in prison would be a triumph, to stop him sharing the gospel, but actually it is turned on its head completely…
In the message version Paul this:
I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered.
It’s the opposite effect! The enemy is defeated! The victory is won.
And we have to remember that. Even in life’s trials, however big or however small, that the victory is won! We can have amazing confidence in the one who has won that battle for each and every one of us.
So what does this mean for us here? What is Paul saying for us?
I know for some the thought of sharing ones faith openly is a big deal, the word evangelism strikes fear into your hearts! But it can so simple. We are all called to share the gospel, but we are not all called to be out on the street corner sharing it or be in prison for our faith… So for example
Do your friends know you are a Christian? Do people know you go to church?
When a colleague asks you about what you did at the weekend – do you say ‘well I went to church’. Or I played in the band at church, or I served by making coffee at church… Sometimes it’s those things that plant seeds that means people know where to come when they want to know more.
I want to tell you about a friend of mine who some years ago sent me a text saying that her dad was very ill in hospital. We had only really just come to true faith. I wanted to reply and send her some words of encouragement and I remember sitting there for ages thinking do I say 'I’ll be praying for you', or do I say 'I’ll be thinking of you'… I literally spent 10 minutes deciding on that one word! In the end I thought, well I will be praying so I will tell her. As a result she responded that she really appreciated it. Sadly he died but subsequently we had many conversations, I told her about my testimony, how we came to know Jesus and the long and the short is that she ended up doing an Alpha course and came to know Jesus. All that came from one word in a text! Now most of you know that I am really open about my faith now, and my friends know that I am training for ministry and that often results in conversations about big issues and what I believe and so on. But back then, it took a lot of courage to put that one word – praying – in a text. And look at the results! Sometimes that’s all it takes!
So I want to challenge you this week to be courageous, believe, trust and share. You don’t have to run into your office yelling about Jesus, but a little word, or reveal that you go to church. It doesn’t have to be difficult.
For some of you, it’s not hard to share your faith, so I challenge you to ask God to reveal someone to you who needs to know about Jesus, or who needs to hear your story.
For all of you, ask God for opportunities to share the gospel in your own way.
Above all we believe in the most amazing God, we can totally and truly trust in him and if we can trust in him in all circumstances then we can trust him to show us how to share the gospel in a way that works for us.
So believe – ask God for an opportunity. TRUST – trust that he will equip you – and then go for it! SHARE what God has done for you.
Believe, trust, share…
Finish with quote:
French philosopher and writer: Albert Camus. He was not a Christian and not all than fond of religion either, but in true volta face fashion I offer it because God can use all things for his purposes! He said:
In the midst of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer,
And in each of us there is an invincible summer – in any cicrumstances, even the midst of winter, an invincible light – so go, Let it shine!
Believe, trust, share...