Pete continues our series "Letters from Lockdown", preaching from Philippians 1:9-18. Pete speaks on how the gospel shaped Paul's thinking even in the face of imprisonment.
One of the few nice things about lockdown is the lack of traffic jams.
Whenever I meet a traffic jam, I often try an alternative route, and each time I do that, I realise that everyone else has had the same idea, so I just meet another jam. These things make me angry and frustrated, especially if I eventually have to turn around and face the fact that my plans have been spoiled.
This is just one example of the many things that block us in life. Roadblocks of all kinds come to put a stop to our desires, plans and hopes,
Even our gifts, talents and abilities can face roadblocks, which may result in those talents and gifts never being used. They become dreams in the past.
We have all wrestled with roadblocks.
Until March this year we were driving along smoothly in life, and then the virus happened. It is a massive roadblock which has changed the direction of so many lives. Holidays and celebrations have had to be cancelled. People have faced redundancy, or even unemployment. Young people have had to move in with parents after years of independence. Our freedoms have been stopped and many life-changing circumstances have been thrust upon us.
How do we avoid living a frustrated life? How do we keep ourselves from being cynical? Or from having a ‘que sera sera’ attitude, or even from pushing ahead with our plans regardless of others, being angry with anyone who gets in our way?
Paul, in our passage this morning, is dealing with a massive roadblock to his plans.
Paul was a passionate and committed missionary, a gifted preacher, full of energy and enthusiasm. He had travelled around Europe, preaching the message of Christ, and had further plans to reach Spain with the Gospel.
And now he finds himself in a place of isolation in a Roman prison.
How does Paul deal with lockdown?
He saw opportunity in disappointment
He saw that God was working out his unstoppable plans. He regarded the roadblock as an opportunity for him to talk to people inside the roadblock. Paul’s attitude was to ‘Think Big’.
When our plans are frustrated, think of bigger plans! What is God going to do in this roadblock with this traffic jam?
Life is not an arbitrary stroke of fate. Life is not the workings of an impersonal God, nor of a God who is so weak that He didn’t know the virus was coming. He is a planner and a worker, and he will work out his plans in the best way. He is our Father and He fits us into His plan, not the other way round. In the Lord’s prayer it says Your will be done
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Not my will, or my plan.
We need to be asking God that we may join his plans because they are unstoppable, and when we do this, we won’t be frustrated
It is worth considering the old hymn which states: ‘God works in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.’
God uses strange events to bring about his plans. God has a strange tool kit, and He uses that, because He thinks in different ways from us.
For Paul, He used the chains of imprisonment, and people who criticised him. Paul was in disappointing circumstances, but he found new opportunities for himself and others, to the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel.
How to change your attitude towards difficult circumstances
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
Paul uses specific words when he talks about his difficult circumstances. He says they have served to advance the gospel. ‘because of my chains’.
‘Advance’ was a military term used in Roman times for cutting up roads and trees to make a way forward for the military to march. It is used in a similar way in describing John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.
Paul says that, although he has been falsely accused and mistreated, what has happened to him has actually advanced the gospel. He is a prisoner, and isolated in a Roman prison, but this has advanced the gospel.
In verse 13 we read:
“As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ”
He couldn’t preach to the masses anymore, but he could preach to the palace guard. He was preaching to Caesar’s personal bodyguard. And it is significant to note that he wasn’t chained to the same guard all the time. The guards would be changed every 6 hours. In Paul’s mind, he is not chained to them, they are chained to him!
Had he not been imprisoned, how could he ever have reached the household of Caesar?
In the 2 years of his imprisonment, the Gospel could have reached the entire company of around 2000 palace guards. It reached places that it would never have reached were it not for his imprisonment.
Verse 14 states;
“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
The brothers are going out preaching the gospel, courageously. They have backbone because of Paul’s difficulties. He is so God-mission centred in his life, he doesn’t even talk about lessons he has learnt on a personal level from lockdown. It is not about him. It is all about the advancement of the gospel. It is something far bigger that he is living for.
He must have felt intense frustration and discomfort, but because he was looking beyond himself to the furtherance of the gospel, he did not have any self-pity.
Some years ago, I worked with young people in Australia, and at one time, social workers in the area where we lived, were sending out a leaflet to troubled teenagers. It was called “I AM”
The leaflet contained approximately 520 words, of which 81 were the words: ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘I’.
Here are just a few sentences from the leaflet:
“My number one responsibility is my own life and wellbeing. I therefore have the authority and freedom to satisfy my own needs first. I recognise that everything I acknowledge as good and beautiful in another must be in me, to enable me to recognise it in another. I love and cherish myself totally and unconditionally.”
This was meant to help teenagers going through troubled times. It is a disaster in terms of achieving its purpose because it is so small minded, and completely wrapped up in me, myself, and I.
A psychologist has written:
“We have narrowed our scope of vision to the small picture: our lives, our homes, our careers, our bodies, our hobbies. We are therefore intense, tense, mistrustful, perpetually ill at ease.”
Of course we are, because when circumstances go against what I want and cherish in myself, disaster comes upon me.
Having a bigger vision brings freedom.
When we are involved in God’s mission, we are about something bigger. We realise that God can use all circumstances for his own glory.
Think about where we are right now in lockdown. Haven’t we just prayed for Open Doors? Perhaps Corona virus is God’s answer to that prayer. Perhaps it has got us speaking the gospel out more than we would have done otherwise. It has certainly caused churches to get onto the internet to preach the gospel.
We must stop staring at doors that God may have shut and start walking through the doors that God may have opened. That is the power of gospel thinking!
Perhaps this is the way of drawing the world’s attention to God, and to the reality of the judgment, and to the urgency of coming to faith in Christ.
Here we are shut in and isolated from what we love. But has it advanced the gospel? What can we do now that we couldn’t do before?
Many fathers are working at home, which means that both mum and dad are spending more time with their family. More attention can be given to parenting children in God’s way. Boys can be taught what it means to really be a man. Both parents can demonstrate their biblically designed roles. There is more time to pray, more time to listen to Christian teaching about what it is to be a godly dad and mother. Lockdown is enabling young children to learn the Gospel lessons that will equip them in the future.
Single parents may feel chained to their kids inside the home, and may feel their teaching skills are inadequate, but remember you are bringing God into your teaching.
Perhaps staying at home means we can gospel and train our children as future gospel missionaries. Our children could become the ‘Gospel fragrance’ that will one day go out into this barren land.
Think hard about how this lockdown could be advancing the gospel and give praise to God for that.
How to change your attitude to difficult people. V15
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defines of the gospel. 17 The former preaches Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,
Here Paul mentions that some people are preaching out of rivalry and envy. Their motives may be false, but they are preaching Christ, so the result is still a success, because the gospel has been advanced.
He also mentions those who are preaching for good and right motives. Another successful result!
Bad circumstances have turned out to be gospel opportunities and Paul is thrilled by that.
When you are wronged by others, do you spend your time going down road after road to get your own back? or do you praise God that the gospel is being worked through your situation?
Can’t you see that there is an opportunity in the roadblock!
Rejoice in the Lord always.
18 “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,”
Paul wrote this letter because he wanted the Christians to be so Christ- centred that they would know what it was to live in joy, serving the gospel and rejoicing. He has found contentment in Christ. Christ has strengthened him. In difficult circumstances Paul has a bigger picture.
Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust wrote:
Everything can be taken from a man, but one thing, the last of human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude to any given set of circumstances! ……We should pursue joy instead of happiness. If you only focus on the playthings of circumstance, that is just happiness, and you’ll never be joyful. But when you have a bigger plan that goes beyond even the most harrowing of circumstances then you can know joy”
Joy comes from within, not from outward circumstances. When Jesus Christ is at the centre he changes your attitude to circumstances. He delivers you from the preoccupation yourself and with those who have offended you. When Jesus is at the centre you have something bigger to live for.
It’s all about living for the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, how is the Gospel being advanced through your experience of lockdown?
Use the opportunities you have now, as never before, to bring godliness into your family. To pray with them and read the scriptures. And think about how, as a family, you can advance the gospel.
Philippians 1:9 - 1:18
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Yes, and I will rejoice, (ESV)
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text provided by the Crossway Bibles Web Service.