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Leader: Rev. David Thomas
Scripture: Philippians 1:12-30
Date: Jul 16th, 2017
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I want you to know something.  Listen.  I need to tell you something.  These are words that immediately call us to attention, aren’t they?  It’s like saying “Can I be honest with you?”  It’s not to say “I wasn’t being honest with you before” – it’s more a matter of capturing someone’s attention.  “I want you to know, beloved…” writes Paul.  In Greek “I want you to know, brothers…”  I want you to know, family, what’s going on.

This is a letter that Paul is writing, and while we may not get many actual letters these days, we’re familiar with a message that tells someone else what’s going on.  Pastor Joe is used to writing such emails to myself, to Pastor Abby, to share information about what is going on ahead of our summer camp.  In the beginning we were talking about our churches, Flemington PS, Lawrence Heights.  Each year we talk about the number of children who are signed up, the number of people coming up from Tennessee, we talk about how much we look forward to being together again.  We share news about our lives.  Facebook is great for this too – Dr. Fred got married!  How wonderful.

The thing is, the news might not always be so wonderful.  The news may be a matter of life and death.  It may be a matter of public shame.  I may be a matter of suffering, and even death.  How are we, as followers of Christ, as people who are in Christ, to view such circumstances?  This is Paul’s concern.  Last week we heard how Paul believed it was right for him to think of the people of Philippi the way he did.  We said that the word for “think” means to be disposed toward in a certain way. To be thankful for them, for their sharing in the work of the good news of Christ.  For trusting that God would bring to completion the work He had started in them.  Paul wants to now show how the people of Philippi (and by extension us) should think about circumstances which are dire.  Circumstances in which life or death is at stake. 

This is important for us to get right.  Our lives on this earth entail suffering.  Paul knew this well first-hand.  Writing to the Corinthians he tells them about imprisonments, countless floggings, being near death.   Being in prison was nothing new to Paul.  It didn’t mean he wasn’t suffering.  When we look at letters such as these we need to look at the story behind the letter, and what it means to the stories of our lives.  Paul is in chains.  It’s generally thought that he is in Rome, awaiting his trial before Caesar.  He’s in chains for Christ – for the cause of Christ.  He hasn’t done anything illegal.  He is under what we would call “house arrest” – able to accept visitors, able to send letters obviously.  He’s chained to a guard 24 hours per day.  He in in chains.  He’s suffering.

We need to be getting this right because it’s very easy to get wrong.  There is a widely held belief that we get what we deserve. One writer puts it like this – “In societies primitive and advanced there is a widespread belief that there is a direct correlation between the kind of person you are and what happens to you.  In fact, it is quite popular in some circles to promote faith in God as the key to health and prosperity.”  We have those circles up here.  Those who promote faith in God as the key to health and material prosperity.  Do you have people like that down where you are Pastor Joe?  There were no doubt those among the Philippian church who were saying “How could this be?  How could Paul of all people be suffering in this way?  Is this the end of the gospel?  Is this is what’s going to happen to us?  What’s the point of being a Christian at all if things end like this for someone like Paul?” 

We have these questions to this day.  Last year a minister from nearby Yorkminster Park fell ill.  It was lung cancer.  Her name was Deborah Ban.  People were asking the question “How could this happen to a minister?”  It’s hard.  How could this be part of God’s plan?  How are we to think about such situations?

“I want you to know that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel.”  God is actually using this situation to make the gospel known.  To advance his kingdom.  It’s become known through the whole imperial guard – 10,000 soldiers who served Caesar in and around Rome that Paul’s imprisonment is for Christ.  Paul’s spirit, Paul’s conduct are pointing to Christ throughout this.  His conduct, his actions.  I’m sure he was taking the time to share the story of Christ with the guard who was chained to him – and these guards would have worked in shifts.  I’m sure he took the opportunity to tell his own story.  Of how he went from one who breathed threats and murder to one whose desire in life became to know God and to make God known.

We get this don’t we?  Where have we seen this in our lives?  God turning a dire situation for good.  God making something beautiful out of something that looks only tragic.  I’m not saying that we approach somebody in the midst of acute grief and say “You know that all things work together for good for those who love God right?”  - Well-meaning as we may be.  We hold on to this truth though.  We hold on to this promise.  At the funeral for Deb Ban we heard about how she served those who were visiting her.  Even to the point of her being in hospice care, she was comforting those around her, being Christ to them.  We heard of how Christ was being made known even in her dying. 
We’ve seen the same sort of thing here at Blythwood, haven’t we?  We need to share these stories just as Paul is sharing his story.  I think of our dear sister Mildred Goulding.  Mildred served as a missionary in Bolivia, teaching English and Spanish.  They talk about her to us to this day when we go down there.  Into her 90’.  Her sight failing.  Her kidneys failing, she faced the end of her journey here on earth with a peace that could only have come from God.  She listened as we gathered around her, praying, reciting psalms, singing.  Even in her death the Gospel was made known through Mildred. 

The gospel is being made known.  “Most of the brothers and sisters (not all note, but no church is perfect) having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.”  God is at work even in the midst of Paul’s suffering.  The Holy Spirit is being made known.  Contrast this situation with the followers of Christ at the point of Christ’s death.  They weren’t emboldened.  They couldn’t get their minds around a Messiah who would face ridicule, torture, and death.  It’s no longer a matter of running away, but actually being emboldened – being assured by the Holy Spirit of God that not only is Christ in suffering, but that Christ calls us not to shrink back from suffering but to come alongside it.  And the gospel is made known.

Not every church is perfect, as we know.  A few weeks ago I said that the church is a hospital for sinners.   The thing about hospitals is that they’re full of sick people.  People in need of healing.  Paul is calling the Philippian church to a particular way of being.  Of being in Christ.  We need to heed this call.  Paul turns his attention in v 15 to motivations.  I suppose it serves as a warning about others, though I always say it’s very dangerous to assign motivations to others.  We always need to look at our own motivations.  “Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill.”  We need to watch that we aren’t proclaiming Christ in word and deed from envy and rivalry.  From a desire to be doing better than that church up the road.  From a heart that celebrates when that church up the road has a hard time.  Examine our own motivations to ensure that we proclaim the Gospel in word and deed out of goodwill – out of the heart of Christ.  “These proclaim Christ out of love…”  Ask God to grow in our hearts a love for him and a love for neighbour.  Let that be the thing that drives us.  Let us not proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, but sincerely.  Not out of a desire to look good in front of others.  Not out of a sense of duty.  We may want to do things to be seen as good people.  Do we volunteer at our Out of the Cold ministry so that we can tell all our friends and be seen as really kind altruistic people?  Do we volunteer to do a lunch for camp out of a sense of duty?  We need to watch that kind of thing.  Doing things for God out of a sense of duty can lead to a sense of resentment, particularly when we look around at others who don’t seem to be doing quite as much.  We must always examine our motivations, knowing that the Gospel of Christ advances despite our skewed motivations.  Isn’t that comforting?  God is merciful and he can use us despite ourselves.

It’s a comfort.  It’s something beyond comfort though.  Paul has reason for joy.  He has reason to rejoice.  In that I will rejoice.  Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.  Philippians is known as the letter of joy.  Joy in any circumstance.  I’m not talking about grinning and bearing it.  I’m not talking about faking it until you make it.  I’m not talking about Christians going around with unnatural plastic smiles – forced joy.  As followers of Christ we recognize pain, suffering, sorrow, injustice.  One writer puts it like this:

“(F)or Paul, joy is more is more than a mood, or an emotion.  Joy is an understanding of existence that encompasses both elation and depression, that can accept with creative submission events which bring delight or dismay because joy allows one to see beyond any particular event to the sovereign Lord, who stands above all events and ultimately has control over them.”

This is the way which we’re called to live in the midst of a lot of uncertainty.  This cartoon I came across recently illustrates the alternative well I think.  These are our lives.  We don’t know what’s ahead necessarily.  We don’t know what’s ahead for our churches, for our denominations, for our governments.  I talk a lot about what we don’t know, but we also have to remember what we know.  This remembrance will shape our state of mind, state of heart toward whatever it is that faces us.  Paul is facing a lot of uncertainty here.  What is it that he knows?   

“… for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will turn out for my deliverance.”  Paul knows the outcome of events that are beyond his control, because they are not beyond God’s control.  What his people had seen since the Red Sea was that God is one who delivers.  This will turn out for my deliverance.  This phrase is a word for word copy of the Greek version of the OT book of Job 13:16 – “This will be my salvation…” which comes right after “Though he kill me, yet I will trust in him.”  In life and in death, our deliverance is sure.  Stand with that truth friends in the face of uncertainty.  To live is Christ, to die is gain.  Paul is not setting up an either/or when it comes to life and death.   He’s not setting up a good/bad dichotomy.  He’s setting up a good/better.  He doesn’t know what is to come, but knows that whatever is happening that God is working deliverance in and through him.  In Christ we come to see things in a different way – circumstances, motivations, matters of life and death – knowing that in Christ and by his Spirit God is bringing all things back to himself – no matter our personal circumstances, the state of our society, the state of our government. 

All of this because of the one who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.  Our Servant King.  This is the passage we’ll look at next week friends.  May God make these truths ever more clear to our hearts.