Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Gospel Prayer and Proclamation (Philippians 1:1-26)

This was the first real talk on the text of the Philippians. I thought it had the most structure to it, but also it had probably more information than application. From all the resources that I used, Tom Wright's, Paul for Everyone series was probably the best I used. In this series, Wright doesn't get tied down in textual details, unlike some serious commentaries and he is good at summarising and drawing application from larger chunks of text, which is what these talks needed.

This talk is brought to you by the letter P. We are looking at Paul’s perspective on things. We will look at Paul’s prayer, Paul’s proclamation and Paul’s predicament or problem.

As we saw yesterday, Paul is in prison. His freedom has been taken away from him and he is waiting for a trial that may end in his death. What emotions would you be feeling if you were in his situation? How would you be feeling? What would you write to your mates about while you were in prison and possibly going to be executed?

In light of that, this whole letter is completely bizarre. Paul is not normal here. His state of mind is not on himself but on others. Sometimes we try and outdo each other in playing the victim. We talk about how hard our life is and how things have gone bad for us. Have you ever being in a conversation like “Man, I have a math’s assignment due on Friday? And I’m out tomorrow night”, then your friend says “Well I have TWO essays due tomorrow, my computer has just broken down and I have a cold” and then someone else says, “That is nothing, today I have to do THREE exams, all at the same time, my house is being demolished tonight, and my dog died this morning”.

But in this letter, we will see how Paul, a mature Christian, doesn’t wallow in his suffering but rejoices.

So, let's jump into this letter. Are you ready?

Paul’s Prayer (1:3-11)

After the brief introduction, Paul starts with thanks and prayers for the Philippians. Here we can see that Paul loves them. They are partners with him, not only are they providing him with gifts while he is in prison, this partnership runs deep. They are comrades in the Gospel. They are in a partnership, like a business. They are working together for the same goal. They are in the business of the Gospel together[1]. The Philippians support Paul because they want the Gospel to be preached, and Paul preaches the Gospel.

Do you feel like you have a bond with the people here, even if you are in different years and maybe even go to different schools? At school, if you hear about what some Christian does do you have their back? Do you love people who want to make much of Jesus?

You can hear the love Paul has for his guys in Philippi. He remembers them in his prayer, he thanks God for all of them, always. He has them in his heart and longs for them.

Paul sends great encouragement to the Philippians. In verse 6 Paul has confidence that God will finish His work of saving the Philippians when Jesus returns. I don’t know how you think you are going on this Christianity thing but know this, God is a completer finisher[2]. This is a great comfort, even in the face of difficult times. Whatever happens, and bad and uncomfortable things are going to happen to you, know that when it comes to your salvation, it is not in your control, God will complete what he starts.

Do you believe that? Do you think God is going to finish what He starts? Do you think when it comes to you, God has kind of left you on your own or do you know deep down in your bones that He is looking after you and will save you, even if your circumstances are hard?

After talking about his love and giving some encouragement, Paul then prays for his friends. He prays some pretty good things for them, and we might be able to take this as a bit of a model. He prays for three main things from verses 9-11. He prays that that their love will overflow, they will know the difference between good and evil, and that they live correctly under Jesus.

First, we see in verse 9 that Paul prays that their love will abound more and more, or overflow, not in emotions but in knowledge. This is a bit strange. Normally we may think love is a feeling and not some piece of knowledge or wisdom. However back then, what we would relate to the head and the heart were not separated[3] as we tend to do today. To know God is to be in relationship with God because He had made Himself known. Paul wants the love of God to increase ‘in knowledge’, that is, for them to have a deeper love for God, through Jesus in all sorts of ways[4].

Next, Paul prays that they would be able to discern, or know the difference between good and evil in areas that at first seem grey (1:10)[5]. Sometimes it is hard to know what is the right thing to do in a situation. Sometimes you are faced between choosing between what is good and what is best. Here Paul is praying that the Philippians will be able to make those decisions in a way that honours God. We too can pray for wisdom in this area, and Paul wants the Philippians to use this discernment or knowledge so that they will be pure and blameless when Jesus returns.

I don’t know what you think about Jesus returning, you may think it is a scary thing because God is going to judge everyone, but for Paul, Jesus returning was something he was looking forward to with confidence and joy. It is the day when our true King will come back and we will be with him forever.

Jesus tells us how we are to get ready for this great day. He doesn’t want us to be lazy. Jesus says we should be ready for his coming[6], we shouldn’t be caught asleep at the wheel of Christianity when he returns[7], instead we should be found with faith[8] and going about our Lord’s business.

And Paul wants the same. He wants the Philippians to live in a way that they will be pure and blameless when Jesus returns, that is, that they will still be serving Jesus. They should have some confidence in this because remember God is a completer-finisher.

So, how do you think you are going in this? Are you ready for Christ’s return? Is it something you are afraid of, or something you are looking forward to? You don’t have to be like Paranoid Pete who is always looking out the window worried that Jesus is going to come at any moment and judge him, but you also are not to be like Ignorant Ian, who is focused only on this life, not thinking of the one to come. Be like Christian Chris, he knows that this life is not all there is, that one-day Jesus will return, so he joyfully lives out his life differently, and this is the last thing Paul prayers for the Philippians.

He prays that they will live correct lives under the true King Jesus. This isn’t a try harder, be better kinda thing. This is something that comes only through Jesus. Living differently, that is the practical outworkings of your spiritual growth, comes from your faith in Jesus and not from your own self-effort[9].

Do your actions show that you love God? Do you live in such a way that certain things do not worry you because you know God? Is your status on the playground dependent on how many friends you have, or who you are dating? Is your status in the classroom based on your test rankings? Or do your actions at home, at school or somewhere else show that you know God, that you love God and that it overflows into you making different decisions, leading to different actions.

Paul’s prayer is an alright prayer if you ask me. When you share prayer points what do you ask for? Do you pray for other Christians and if so what do you pray for them? Maybe it is so that they will recover from some illness, or cope with the stress of assignments and exams? Those are good things to pray for, but praying for someone to increase in knowledge and wisdom, faith and loving actions is something far better. We seem to be overly concerned with safety and comfort in our prayers, but how much are we concerned with ours and others faith? Sometimes, faith is actually strengthened in struggles. Do you think you could pray that on this camp, not that we would be safe, but that God would increase our faith, no matter what? That is a different and more dangerous prayer to pray.

Paul’s Proclamation (1:12-18)

After introductory remarks and a prayer, Paul gets to the letter proper, from verse 12. He addresses their concern for him up front. Paul faces two circumstances that you may think aren’t worth celebrating. One he is in prison and two there are people talking behind his back while he is in prison.

You would think that Paul would be a bit upset about being in prison, maybe slightly miffed or put out. But instead, he has joy, not because he is trapped in gaol and awaiting a trial that may mean he loses his life, but because the Gospel is preached. This trumps everything. We see here how Paul’s imprisonment has helped spread the Gospel in two ways.

There is a good chance that the chains Paul was in were attached to a Roman guard all day every day. So, Paul doesn’t think he is trapped in a room with a soldier, he thinks he has literally a captive audience. This means Paul has yet another opportunity to tell someone about Jesus. The guard may be thinking that it is he who is trapped down with Paul. Paul doesn’t seem to care. He is on trial for his life for talking about Jesus, so what more can they throw at him? He might as well tell the guards that there is a greater King than Caesar who is to be followed. In this way, Paul was able to tell people he never planned to about Jesus. Normally Paul may not have had access to Roman soldiers like this, but now, his circumstance has created this opportunity. Here we see that regardless of circumstances Paul rejoices that the Gospel is preached.

Do you see opportunities to tell the people around you about Jesus? Are you chained to a desk at school five days a week? Who around you can you tell about Jesus there? Who has God put in your family, or your math’s class or your soccer team for you to tell them about Jesus?

Paul’s imprisonment has also emboldened others to speak up about Jesus. Paul, while he was free said that Jesus is Lord, and now that they have gotten him, he still is on message. It is one thing to say Jesus is important to you when it doesn’t really cost you much, it’s another to keep going on about Jesus when they have you locked up and are threatening to kill you. Some people have heard about Paul and how resilient he has been in captivity and they have been encouraged. This too gives me confidence. It shows that this guy Paul wasn’t making up the story of Jesus for personal gain. Paul is convinced that Jesus is the risen Lord over everything, so much so that he is willing to die for his belief.

Paul says the Christians around him are saying the Gospel confidently and without fear. There is a chance that they too may face serious charges if they proclaim the Gospel so you would think that they would then be silent. But seeing Paul as an example has only made them brave and increase their certainty and confidence that the Gospel is true and needs to be said. When everything is taken away from Paul, he still rejoices because the Gospel is preached. It is preached by him and it is preached by others. Regardless of circumstances, Paul rejoices that the Gospel is preached.

But Paul has also heard that there are others speaking about Jesus but doing it in a way that Paul’s situation isn’t helped. It’s hard to know just what they are saying. They could be saying Paul may have done something wrong and deserves his suffering, or they could be mocking the actual message of the Gospel and painting Paul as some sort of crazy person[10], but even here, when the messenger isn’t really holding to the message, Paul rejoices because they are still talking about Jesus. Again, regardless of circumstances, Paul rejoices that the Gospel is preached.

Paul is one crazy dude. He is in prison, chained to a smelly Roman guard and yet he is still upbeat. He is not writing some dear diary, this is the worst day ever emo entry. He isn’t posting on Facebook how terrible his day is going. Paul rejoices, not because bad things have happened to him, but because in those moments he can still see the Gospel going forward. He has the art of seeing God’s purpose worked out through difficulties[11].

Paul’s Predicament (1:19-26)

Paul then, in verse 19-26 turns his attention directly to his situation and addresses the fact that he may die soon. The powers of the world want Paul dead and in some way, he actually agrees with them: Paul thinks he would be better off dead[12], although for a whole series of different reasons.

Paul is feeling a tension between eternal salvation and temporary freedom[13]. On one hand, if Paul does die he will go to be with Jesus. On the other hand, if Paul lives after his trial then he will continue to advance Jesus’ kingdom by whatever means he can. Since Paul’s life is so wrapped up in Jesus he is quite happy about whatever will come from his trial[14]. Whether he lives or dies Jesus is sovereign over all. It’s just that if Paul does die he gets to see Jesus face to face which in Paul’s words is far better. However, do you see where Paul lands on this predicament? Paul chooses the least favourable option to him for the sake of others. Instead of throwing in the towel and saying he has had enough, “it’s off to see Jesus now”, Paul sees that while he is still here, he can be of an assistance to others to increase their joy and increase their faith.

Paul puts others before his own wants and desires. This is why we don’t just kill ourselves once we become Christians. I mean, sure once we are saved when we die we get to be with God forever, but we don’t just off ourselves then and there, we press on so that others can come to faith and their joy can be increased. Once you are saved, the model here is that our lives are not our own, Jesus is our new King and we are to go about His business in bringing all things under His reign. We are to be other person-centred, even if it means doing the least favourable option. That is true sacrifice. That is love. That is the example we have in Jesus.

What is your life about? When push comes to shove if everything has been taken away from you where would you turn to? What are you fundamentally about? Are you living for yourself, or for God and others? Do you live different?

Wrap up

So to wrap up this section we see that:

Paul prays with joy for the Philippians because of their partnership in the Gospel.

Pay prays that the Philippian's faith would increase flowing over into love and good decisions.

Paul rejoices in his circumstances because the Gospel is being proclaimed.

Paul gladly sees his whole life through the lens and purpose of the Gospel.

Overall, given the circumstances of this letter, Paul’s attitude is ridiculous. We will see tomorrow what drives his ridiculous conduct. Tomorrow and the next day we will look at this Gospel which has shaped Paul into who he is, and his desire for everyone else to experience this joy that he has.

[1] Wright, Tom (2004), Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] O’Brien, Peter T. (1991), The Epistle to the Philippians: a commentary on the Greek text (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)

[5] Wright, Tom (2004), Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters

[6] Matthew 24:44, Luke 12:40

[7] Mark 13:36

[8] Luke 18:8

[9] O’Brien, Peter T. (1991), The Epistle to the Philippians: a commentary on the Greek text (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)

[10] Wright, Tom (2004), Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] ESV Study Notes

[14] Wright, Tom (2004), Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters


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