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A sermon preached from the letter to the Philippians chapter 1 as part of our series if systematic bible studies expounding Paul's letter to the Philippians verse by verse. Free to download audio mp3 audio files.
Yours by Grace in Christ
Dr J Stewart Gillespie
What can you do in lock down?
Paul’s plans appear to have gone pear shaped.
Freedom restricted, movements curtailed, his mission and commission apparently frustrated
Paul had an explanation as to why our plans go wrong.
Such a phenomenon of our plans going wrong would seem to defy a simple explanation! After all are there not a 1000 reasons why our plans may go wrong?
Paul’s explanation would seem to be almost universally applicable!
Our plans go wrong because we don’t actually understand the plan (1:12)!
In the absolute sense plans never do go wrong when God is sovereign and on the throne!
Here Paul is in prison!
Surely this was not part of Paul’s master plan, perhaps not even of a subconscious plan of how his life and ministry would fulfil the commission on the Damascus road!
In such contrary circumstances what could Paul do in lockdown?
1. Pray (1:3-11)
2. Preach (1:12ff; 1:18ff)
3. Prosper in Personal growth and change (1:19)
4. Possess and prove the ‘mind of Christ’ (2:3ff)
5. Power and Presence of Christ (3:10ff)
6. Peace and Preserving Power of Christ (4:7ff)
7. Provision and rejoicing in Christ (4:10ff)
The apostle Paul can:
1. Pray (1:3-11)
No small task
“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” (James 5:16-18)
Paul’s prayer :
• Commences with thanksgiving (1:3-4)
• Continues with intercession (1:9ff) for spiritual growth
• Concludes with exhortation to others to emulate that pattern of prayer (4:4ff)
Paul commences with thanksgiving.
This isn’t so much looking on the bright side!
There is a problem with the idea of looking on the bright side when circumstances are bleak and dark and desperate. In those kind of circumstances we can’t see a bright side to look upon!
Sometimes we need to see that there actually is a bright side.
Paul does this by giving thanks; the blessing of giving thanks – we are empowered to identify what it is we give thanks for!
Paul is taking a step back, before looking on the bright side, Paul is going to define, outline, what that bright side actually is; for their:
• Fellowship in the gospel (1:5)
• Spiritual progress (1:6ff)
Paul is thankful for every remembrance of them (v3)
Does that mean that everything about these Philippians is good?
Everything they have done is spot on?
Probably not! In fact by the time we reach chapter 4 we see that there are indeed some problems at Philippi! Everything is not a bed of roses.
So why ‘thank God upon every remembrance of you’?
Paul practices what he preaches (1:2); he views the Philippians through the lens of grace, the same Grace that God extends to the sinner, to Paul, to me!
Paul does not preach a grace he does not practice!
The gospel must be lived out by those who preach it!
The grace we preach is the grace we must practice (James 2:15-16)
• Gospel preaching of which the Philippians is full
• Christian ministry of which the Philippians is full
• Christian service of which the Philippians is full
• Christian living of which the Philippians is full
Ought to be lived out in Grace
Our Christian life, service, ministry and evangelism must be marked by the same grace we preach, otherwise either our message is faulty or we are fake.
Philippi was not the perfect church
Paul was the gracious servant
2. Preach (1:12ff; 1:18ff)
Perhaps not in the same way as pre lock down Paul
Perhaps not in the synagogue
Perhaps not in the market place
Paul is not hung up on holding on to tradition or on repeating the past
He doesn’t hanker back to the past practices; a dangerous pre-occupation; we can miss present opportunities.
He seeks out the new opportunities that changed circumstances bring
New times – he will redeem them
He preaches to the prison guard, to Caesar’s household with tremendous results it would seem (Phil 4:22) and by his behaviour he inspires others elsewhere to preach and teach (1:12ff); duplicating and amplifying his work.
i. Sensitive to environment he is in – doesn’t ignore it and look for other / different set of circumstances. I recall speaking to an older believer a number of years ago who was complaining about the poverty of the preaching in his local church, dwindling attendance at the church and reminiscing how much better it was in the olden days. All of that may well be true, until he told the pastor! Two things the pastor pointed out; you can’t live in the past – very true and no. 2; what about your neighbour are they saved? Have you spoken to them?
ii. Opportunistic in circumstances he is presently in
iii. Inspirational to others on the outside to take his place and to be courageous in the face of opposition
3. Prospers - Personal growth and change (1:19)
‘turn to my salvation’
In what sense?
1) Salvation by works? This would be completely at logger heads with the Gospel and Paul’s clear exposition of justification by works in Romans.
2) Salvation in the sense of practical deliverance, by God of His people, a common useage in the OT; (Ex14:13; 1Sam 11:13, 14:45; 1Chron 16:35) liberation from the prison? Certainly hinted at (1:24-26) but:
a) The message is certainly not clear cut and confident (1:21-23)
b) This salvation comes by the ‘supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ’
3) Salvation in the sense of personal justification, exoneration, endorsement by God; “He also shall be my salvation: for a hypocrite shall not come before him.’’ (Job 13:16) which is often seen as a parallel to Paul’s experience here. The phrase here is regarded by GD Fee as an intertextuality’, an exact replication of Job’s phrase from the LXX of Job 13:16. I’m not so sure that the experiences or context is in any real way parallel however. Job is the subject of attack and criticism by his comforters as having done wrong and of being deserving of his suffering. He is suffering for no obvious reason. His comforters, in order to maintain their world view of justified suffering and order falsely accuse him of wickedness. Pauls situation is very, very different. There is no sequence of personal tragedies, no appearance of Divine vengeance, this is the ungodly opposition to the gospel attempting to silence Paul because of his faithfulness and boldness. Paul is suffering because of his righteousness.
4) Salvation in the sense of some area of personal development, correction, or benefit (cf 2 Co1:6), perhaps areas of Paul’s life which would benefit from the chastening experience of imprisonment? A blessing that comes out of the trial; “Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health (σωτηρία): for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.” (Acts 27:34). Perhaps the experience of the reality of 3:8; to really see, know and experience, ‘all things but loss’ for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. Salvation in the sense of the present experience of eternal salvation (cf 2:12).
There is an underlying assumption in the Philippian letter that as Christians that there is the necessity of and that we all have the potential for personal growth. This is seen here with the apostle Paul and again in 3:10 ‘that I might know Him and the power of His resurrection…’
It is often in adverse circumstances that the rough edges are knocked off of us, spiritual growth comes; don’t knock the knocks!
• Moses and his flight from Egypt – couldn’t deliver Israel by the might of his own hands!
• David and Goliath – resulted in David’s ultimate promotion to the throne!
• Elijah in the wilderness, from discouragement and despair to hope and encouragement.
• Ruth and her journey from Moab to Bethlehem, from death and disaster into the plans and purposes of God.
• Joseph in Egypt – a far more palatable character to his brothers by the end of his service and imprisonment than when he had begun.
• Peter from singing to sobbing in his own self confidence.
In each of these cases; the problem was just what they needed!
4. Possess and Practice the ‘mind of Christ’ (2:3ff)
Humility required in these trying circumstances
5. Progress our relationship with Christ enjoying the Power and Presence of Christ (3:10ff)
6. Provision and rejoicing in Christ (4:1ff)
7. Peace and Preserving Power of Christ (4:7ff)
The believer in the circumstances of life does not seek to maximise, leisure, treasure, pleasure but rather he asks, ‘what is there in these set of circumstances to advance the cause of Christ?’
So in the:
• Painful and the Pleasant
• Delightful and the Difficult
• Convenient and the Contentious
Wither the wind blows for us or against us
It is possible to triumph, prosper and to honour the Lord Jesus Christ in whatever circumstance of life.
As we progress through Philippians we see a number of situations, adverse situations, difficult situations, but which result ultimately in the blessing, in the salvation of those involved:
a. Paul’s imprisonment (1:19)
b. Preaching of the gospel (1:12ff)
c. Personal conflicts (2:12ff)
d. Problems in the assembly (4:2ff)
e. Provision in the Prison setting (4:10ff)
f. Progress of Paul’s apostolic mission (1:13; 4:22)
It is possible in adversity, it is even the purpose of adversity, for the eternal reality of salvation to manifest itself in time:
• Moses and his flight from Egypt
• David and Goliath
• Elijah and Mt Carmel
• Ruth and her journey from Moab to Bethlehem
• Isaac and the blocked up wells
• Joseph in Egypt
It is remarkable that the enjoyment of these 4 golden rules for Christian living seem unhindered by the adverse circumstances in which we find Paul:
1. To Live Christ
2. To Think Christ
3. To Know Christ
4. To Rejoice in Christ
"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you," Philippians 1:3