Exactly one week ago 26 of our brothers and sisters who attended the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs were brutally murdered as they were worshipping Jesus. The disbelief. The anger. The rush to judgment. If you’re like me, as I try to cope with the unimaginable, this week has been filled with all kinds of varying emotions. This morning we’re all Baptists!
As we’re going to see in this section of Philippians, there is a difficult truth about life in a fallen world full of evil… Persecution and suffering are an inescapable reality. As a matter of fact, as this little Texan church knows all to well, following Jesus doesn’t provide you an immunity to such horrors. Paul will even close this chapter writing, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
As we mentioned last Sunday Paul was able to possess joy in spite of his circumstances for two simple reasons… (1) He was able to remain others-centered. And (2) Paul was never robbed of his meaning and purpose because he refused to loose sight of his identity. Sure he may have been a prisoner of Rome, but Paul served a greater calling no situation could ever deter. He was a “bondservant of Jesus Christ!”
And yet, in spite of all of these things, there was a point of confusion amongst these Philippian believers Paul writes this letter seeking to clear up… Though there are times when God sometimes grants us deliverance from our trials (like when Paul was in the Philippian jail), there are other instances when His grace is designed to instead deliver us through our trials (like Paul’s present situation in Rome).
Friend, because of God’s grace, please know lasting joy has been made available independent of whatever daunting circumstance you might come to face. Not only does the grace found in Christ free us to forgive and liberate us from bitterness, but regardless of the trials or tribulations you might face you can enjoy the life Jesus died to provide you!
Yes! The Philippians have continued to support Paul even in the midst of his Roman imprisonment - a reality that led Paul to open this letter expressing his sincere thanks over their “partnership.” That said, Paul now continues by explaining that this “set back” was in actuality God’s way of furthering the Gospel. Good was manifesting from a bad situation.
Philippians 1:12-14, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
When Paul transitions by mentioning “the things which happened to me” there is no doubt he was referring to the events that led up to his ultimate arrest and transport to Rome - where he now finds himself incarcerated awaiting trial before Caesar Nero. In the original language this phrase would be better translated as “the things which have dominated me.”
If you study the life of Paul you will notice this man was a planner. Paul rarely did something without first considering the ramifications. He was calculated and measured. Paul acted with intention and with the larger goal in mind. And yet, since his arrest in Jerusalem, things have spun way out of his control. Paul’s present circumstance had come to dominate his life and there was nothing he could do about it. Ever felt this way? And yet, when many would say his life was out of control, Paul continued to look for God’s larger purpose.
He says most incredibly that these things “have actually turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel.” While on the surface it would have been easy to see his imprisonment as a set back to God’s work through his life, Paul is wanting the Philippians to know how God was “actually” using these things to further the Gospel. Paul had come to peace with his circumstances because he was willing to believe God’s providential hand was at work!
In the Greek this word “furtherance” is really interesting. You see the word “furtherance” was a military term that described the act of cutting down a forest in order to make a pathway for an invading army. It was a deliberate clearing of the way for a specific purpose.
And to what purpose does Paul attribute the things that had happened to him? He writes they occurred for “the furtherance of the Gospel.” Paul is literally saying that his present trial had been God’s way of clearing a path for the Gospel to be proclaimed in a most radicle way.
First, Paul writes, “It has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.” This phrase “whole palace guard” is actually a reference to the Praetorium. It would appear (aside from his influence impacting the men in charge) the very men tasked with guarding the Apostle Paul had not only come to see his innocence, but had become followers of Jesus through his witness.
A 4 man detail of Roman soldiers rotating every six hours throughout the day were chained to Paul. Though a prisoner of Rome, it was actually Paul who held a captive audience.
Secondly, Paul says, “And most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” The word translated “confident” would be better presented into English as “persuaded” or moved to action.
Though in his chains Paul has no doubt been removed from the larger game, his absence had left a vacuum in the church that was now being filled by others. Because Paul was unable to travel, plant churches, preach the Gospel, teach the people, etc. his “chains” persuaded others to now be “much more bold to speak the word without fear.” In a divine sense the removal of one preacher had fostered a void many were now filling.
Back in Acts 16 there was no question it had been God’s will that Paul be freed from the Philippian Jail; and yet, the aged Apostle wants these Philippians to know that his continued incarceration in Rome was equally God’s will for his life. God’s hand was still on him and he was experiencing God’s blessings regardless. God was using his imprisonment! The blessings of God were still manifesting through his life even in less than ideal circumstances.
I have found that one of the greatest hinderances to our joy in times of trial boils down to a failure to accept God’s providence. We can wrestle with pain. We can be filled with disappointment - even doubt. But at some point we must surrender these real emotions to the much larger reality that God remains in control even when our lives turn to chaos.
Please understand… Paul was able to have joy not only because he remained others-centered and refused to forget his true identity, but his joy manifested in the fact he was willing to see how this season was also part of God’s larger plan for his life. He continues…
Philippians 1:15-18, “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. 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.”
Elaborating on those who were filling the void left by his absence, Paul admits that two different kinds of preachers had come out of the woodwork. First, there were those who “preach Christ… from goodwill (“kindly intent”)… out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the Gospel.” Paul is saying that this first group had been motivated by a deep love and admiration for Paul and his ministry, and the desire to see it continue.
However, there were also those who “preached Christ from envy (“prompted by envy”) and strife (“contention”) from selfish ambition, not sincerely (“without a sincerity”), supposing to add affliction to Paul’s chains.” Sadly, there was a second group who had seen Paul’s incarceration as an opportunity to increase their own status and standing at his expense.
What is most amazing is that, while Paul knew the motivations of this second group were skewed and warped, he still “rejoiced” knowing that at least “Christ” was being “preached.” Whether their motivation for preaching was a love for Paul or an animosity towards him, if Jesus was being proclaimed Paul didn’t care about their personal insults in the slightest.
One thing should be qualified… There are many who point to this passage as evidence churches should refrain from criticizing other churches because “at least the Gospel is being proclaimed!” And while I understand the negative impact a circular firing-squad has to the cause of Christ, don’t miss what Paul is actually doing in this particular passage.
Though it’s clear Paul made a decision to rejoice because at least “Christ” was being “preached” by both groups, the truth is that he does this AFTER calling out and documenting the twisted motivations of some. Paul was glad Christ was preached, but he also wanted the Philippians to know some of these preachers were motivated by “envy, strife, from selfish ambition, not sincerely, even desiring to add to Paul’s affliction.” That’s heavy!
Philippians 1:19-21, “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance…” Paul was confident in Jesus and sure in his conviction that he would be delivered from his Roman chains. Not only had “the Spirit” enabled him to be sure, but it had been “through their prayers” that his faith had increased.
And yet, Paul clarifies how he defined deliverance… He’d be delivered “whether by life or by death.” Though the Philippians were praying for deliverance from his trial, Paul’s confidence was that the Lord would be faithful to see him through his trial. Whether he stood trial, was acquitted, and then set free by Nero or whether he stood trial, was convicted, and immediately executed, Paul knew his deliverance was certain in either scenario.
Keep in mind that for Paul “deliverance” was not nearly as important as how he handled himself in the process of being delivered. He writes, “According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed.” It would appear Paul’s greater concern was not being delivered, but acting in a way that would dishonor Jesus.
Instead, he writes that his sole desire was to maintain a “boldness” (a “fearless confidence”) that no matter what happened “Christ would be magnified” (or “esteemed highly”). Getting out of his trial was not nearly as pressing to Paul as demonstrating Christ in his trial! Sadly, our prayers end up “Lord, get me out” when they should be “Lord, help me through!”
Paul then explains to the Philippians the essence of this perspective… He writes, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” In the Greek this sentence is incredibly brilliant. This phrase presents a simple formula by which anyone can evaluate their own philosophy. You see Paul is challenging the essence of what you live for with the reality of death.
In the original sentence structure the word “gain” spoke of having more of the very thing you were living for. Paul’s literally writing, “To live is Christ, and to die is more of Christ!” Honestly, it’s one of the most profound philosophical statements in all of the Pauline Epistles, because the formula can be used to test almost every life pursuit!
What Paul is saying is that living for Jesus made the most sense to him because death would only yield more of Jesus - the very thing he was living for. “To live is Christ” and “to die is” was to receive more of “Christ.” Consider the implication of this formula on your own life…
Does the pursuit of money or wealth make sense for one’s life when death robs you of these very things? Can you say, “To live is money, and to die is more money?” What about fame, power, family, education, etc. If only King Solomon had been given this simple formula he would have never needed to engage in a quest to find meaning “under the sun!”
You see the ramifications of this statement are radicle in almost every way. Not only does this verse provide an eternal purpose to my temporal existence, but it completely reconstitutes the essence of death. According to Paul death isn’t the end. Death doesn’t rob you of life. Instead all death does is either grant more of the thing your life pursued or it strips that very thing away. I mean seriously… How do you kill a man like Paul?
Philippians 1:22-26, “But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.”
After making it clear death was of no concern, Paul continues by explaining that life wasn’t all that bad either. He says, “If I live on… this will mean fruit from my labor.” Paul is being real. “If I die I’m with Jesus. If I live on I get to see God’s continue work! It’s all good either way!”
Aside from this Paul also sees “remaining in the flesh” as being better or “more needful” for the Philippians as opposed to “departing” to “be with Christ, which was far better” for Paul personally. Note: Not only does this word “desire” speak of a craving for or a deep longing, but this word “depart” means “to strike the tent.” The truth… Paul wanted to die!
Now before you find this offensive keep in mind that Paul had good cause. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 Paul wrote that in addition to the false-accusations, slander, gossip, and constant opposition he was “in beatings more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked (ends up being 4 times); a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils (in danger) of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness -- besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” Finishing the race sounded promising to Paul!
In the end Paul concedes that he was “hard-pressed between the two” - the continued struggle of life and the immediate reward of death. This word “hard-pressed” can be translated as “in a strait” describing the moment a ship is forced into a narrow channel. Paul’s grand struggle was what he wanted verses what he knew the Philippians needed!
“Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” Though Paul had nothing to fear and longed to be in the presence of Jesus, the Apostle remained others-focused. In spite of all of these things, Paul saw a greater purposes remaining alive for these Philippians.
Philippians 1:27-30, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.”
“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” This word “conduct” is fascinating. The KJV translates this Greek word as “conversation”, but that to falls short of what Paul is actually saying. In the original the word we find can be translated as “politic” and spoke of a manner of life consistent with one’s citizenship. In our case life is to be lived consistent with the Gospel and in line with what it means to be a citizen of heaven.
Paul then implores that the way they lived “be worthy of the gospel.” Once again this word “worthy” meant to be weighed on a scale and found to be of equal value. Please don’t misunderstand Paul’s point… He’s not encouraging these Philippians to have their conduct equal the worth of Jesus’ sacrifice (how would that even be possible?). Instead, Paul is saying their worth demonstrated by Jesus’ sacrifice should influence their conduct.
It’s not abnormal to hear people’s fundamental hang up concerning Jesus sound something like, “But Zach I’m not worthy of God’s grace or His forgiveness!” And while I understand the sentiment the reality is this is a lie from deepest parts of hell! The truth is that God (knowing literally everything about you) determined you were still worth the very life of His Son. In some regard it’s insulting to God to question your worthy when He’s already determined it.
Always remember grace may be free for the believer, but it wasn’t cheep. The extension of God’s grace to you required the complete spilling of Christ blood. God’s grace for you cost Jesus everything! Paul’s exhortation was for this incredible value to influence their conduct.
And notice how this reality was to manifest… Paul says, “That you stand fast in one spirit.” Paul wants these Philippians to persevere or persist. He’s calling them to be unified in purpose and calling… “In one spirit!” And that “with one mind” they “strive together for the faith of the Gospel” or literally “they labor forward at the same time with one another.”
Paul wants these Philippians (motivated by grace) to be unified in spirit as well as mission. And here’s why this unity was so important… So that they would “not be in any way terrified by their adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation from God.” It would appear, in the city of Philippi, a persecution of the church was growing.
You see Paul exhorts them to be unified and to “strive together for the faith” so that they would not be “terrified” by the opposition, but would remain strong and brave in the face of the opposition. The truth is that the greatest tool we have to endure is one another. I think it’s so sad when someone in trial allows disunity to end up robbing them of fellowship with their Christian family. May we seek to “stand fast” and “strive together” knowing this…
“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” This word “it has been granted” literally means to be given favor. Paul is actually saying it is an honor “not only to believe” in Jesus, but “to suffer for His sake!”
And while it would be easy to be taken aback by this statement, don’t forget Paul is not saying this from an insulated ivory tower. He writes, “Having the same conflict you saw in me and now here is in me.” Paul was able to find joy in his trial because he recognized there was something uniquely special about “suffering for His sake” - a point he wants these Philippian believers (as well as you and I) to understand. Let me close with a story…
During my years at Bible College I had the privilege of meeting many wonderful men and women, but none were more memorable than Jon and his fiancé Erin. High School sweethearts they both came to Bible College dedicating their lives to the service of Jesus.
I knew Jon because we both worked on the landscaping crew and his Wisconsin accent and red mullet made him an unforgettable figure. Following College we lost touch, but I knew he and Erin returned home to Wisconsin where they started a family and a life together.
Fast-forward many years to a beautiful spring evening, May 3, 2015. Around 7:30pm Jon Stoffel with his wife Erin and their three young children (Olivia age 11, Ezra age 7, and Selah age 5) were enjoying a quite stroll across the Trestle Trail Bridge in Menasha, Wisconsin.
The sun was setting on the horizon, the night was calm, the wind strong, the air crisp when out of the blue a 27 year old man by the name of Sergio del Toro, who’d just had a fight with his girlfriend, approached the Stoffel’s and indiscriminately opened fire their direction.
Jon, Erin, and their 11 year old daughter Olivia were immediately struck. Though in the moments that followed Erin suffered two additional gunshot wounds (one to her abdomen, hand, and leg) she proceeded to help the younger two children to safety. From her report of the incident Jon’s final words, as his daughter Olivia lay dying in his arms, were directed to the gunman. He said, “May God forgive you.” Sergio then proceeded to take his own life.
While Erin, after a grueling 21 days in the hospital, would ultimately survive her wounds, tragically, both Jon (age 33) and their beautiful, 5th grade daughter Olivia died before the paramedics were able to arrive. Though Erin, Ezra, and Selah have struggled moving forward, they no doubt take solace knowing this morning Jon and Olivia are with Jesus.
In light of the horrific events that unfolded this past Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and knowing I’d have to address this statement “for to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” my thoughts have turned towards Erin. In grappling with my own struggles about this very verse, knowing she had experienced the unimaginable, I went to her Facebook page looking for perspective. Can grace really sustain you in such hardship? Well, I came across this post.
Erin begins by quoting Elisabeth Elliot, “God will see to it that we are in circumstances best designed by His sovereign love to give us opportunities to bear fruit for Him.” Before writing, “Hard one to swallow sometimes when you’re in thick of it, going through the fire, feeling like you’re drowning in life’s circumstances. There were days upon days that I felt all I had was a heart’s cry and was just trying to keep doing the next thing. Yet He promises to carry you through… His promises are true. Allow Him to shine through your brokenness. Even through the deep pain you may be experiencing, you will experience the most amazing closeness because hopefully it will draw you nearer to Him. You’re not alone. God be glorified.” Honestly, you would be hard pressed to find a better commentary of Philippians 1:12-30!
Friend, though I know pain, I don’t know suffering nor do I know persecution. I don’t know what it’s like to be sitting in a cell in Rome awaiting an uncertain fait and I don’t know what it’s like to be Erin Stoffel and have your spouse and first-born little girl taken from you through an act of random evil. I don’t know what the surviving members of that quaint Texan church are presently experiencing, and honestly I pray none of us will ever know.
And yet, I’m greatly encouraged that those who do - men like Paul and a beautiful saint like Erin - who boldly testify to the blessing of grace that does emerge when we suffer “on behalf of Christ.” I don’t expect you to take my word for it, but please be challenged by their perspective. I wrote Erin this week and this was her reply, “It’s still hard to imagine that it happened, but God has a great purpose. He’s brought many to Him through it.”
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