Ben continues our series "Letters from Lockdown" preaching from Philippians 1: 12-26. In this passage we see how Paul's imprisonment was used by God to prepare him for the day of Christ and to encourage other christians down to the present day.
Last week we were reminded of the fact that Paul’s extreme sufferings in prison, far from preventing him from following through his gospel plans, actually served to advance them.
If we use the analogy of a game of Monopoly, the player who is landed with the ‘Go to Jail’ card, has to follow that instruction immediately, and has to abandon all strategies in the game for three turns. The player is stuck in jail, totally ineffective until they are released to continue the game.
Paul, like the player in our Monopoly game, was travelling around from city to city, preaching the gospel, planting churches and encouraging others, when suddenly he was arrested and thrown into jail. What was God doing? Suddenly Paul couldn’t carry on with his plans. God had seemingly pressed the ’pause’ button. But on the contrary, Paul wrote, in verse 12:
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel”
Instead of complaining, Paul saw imprisonment as a great gospel opportunity. In fact the whole palace guard heard the gospel from Paul. Moreover, as a result of his energy in preaching whilst in prison, many of his fellow believers in Philippi were motivated to spread the gospel themselves. Their confidence in the Lord had been inspired by Paul’s example. So, his imprisonment actually led to more opportunities for the gospel to be spread, and this was no accident. When the world wants to put the gospel behind bars, God uses such barriers to further His purposes.
The jail sentence did not put Paul’s life on hold. It was the very means whereby God was completing his work. Without this experience Paul would not have been ready for the day of Christ. The fact that the entire palace guard heard the gospel message, and that the believers in Philippi had been spurred on by Paul’s words, showed that whatever circumstances and events happen in our lives, God will use them to achieve His purposes.
If you are in Christ Jesus, what has happened in your life will turn out for your deliverance.
In verse 18, Paul refers to certain jealous, ambitious men who have taken advantage of the fact that Paul is ‘out of the way’, in order to preach the gospel for selfish motives. But still Paul is rejoicing:
“But what does it matter? 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 has absolute certainty that God will use even his sufferings, to prepare him to be ready for the day of Christ.
If you are in Christ Jesus, whatever has happened in your life will turn out for your deliverance, and maturity in faith, so that you will be ready for the day of Christ.
This message from Paul isn’t a dismissive fatalistic view of suffering, neither is it a masochistic ‘no pain no gain’ mentality that welcomes suffering as a great thing. Neither of these views is right.
Paul goes into great detail in 2 Corinthians Chapter 11, describing how he was stoned, and attacked with sticks; how he was abandoned in extreme cold and hunger, and how he received the ‘40 lashes minus 1’, five times in total.
The Bible is real. God enters into the world, and weeps when he sees suffering, and death, and then he himself suffers and dies on the cross. The Bible takes suffering seriously. That is what makes the passage even more powerful.
It encourages us to know that the very real suffering that we may endure in this life, will ultimately turn out to bring our deliverance. The suffering is real, but never wasted, because through it, inwardly, we are being renewed every day.
If we think again of the Monopoly analogy, the rules of the game have been changed. Every move that your opponent makes now, actually serves to further your progress, even when you have been dealt the ‘Go to Jail’ card.
The words of the song ‘Christ is mine forevermore’ sum this up so clearly.
Mine are tears in times of sorrow
Darkness not yet understood
Through the valley I must travel
Where I see no earthly good
But mine is peace that flows from heaven
And the strength in times of need
I know my pain will not be wasted
Christ completes his work in me
If you are in Christ Jesus, no matter what has happened in your life, no matter how painful, embarrassing, or degrading, the experiences that you have been through, they will turn out for your deliverance.
We see this in Paul’s experience in his prison cell. In verse 20 he says: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
When Pauls says he ‘eagerly expects’, the meaning is more like a leaning forward, a straining onward to get to your goal. You lean into the wind, and it may cause you to stumble and waver, but you struggle on. That is how Paul describes his ambition, that in all things Christ will be exalted in his body, and all things will turn out for his deliverance.
If you are suffering, Christ is still working in you, and can be exalted in you, both now and always. This assurance provides us with dignity. Some of you are really struggling at the moment, because of Lockdown, and some are continuing to deal with intense difficulties that were evident even before Lockdown. But Jesus can still be exalted in your body in the midst of these struggles; always, even to the point of death, as we are reminded in verse 20:
“Christ will be exalted in my body whether by life or by death.”
So whatever happens, whether in life or death, Christ will complete his work.
In verse 21, Paul shows his complete assurance of this. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ His words emphasise that all his hope is bound up with Christ, and if we are living in Christ - for Christ - by Christ - through Christ- it is all gain. Even in death. Paul regards even death as gain, because he will go to be with Christ. And that is the all-surpassing gain
Whether you live or even die, Christ will make you ready and he will be exalted in you.
Paul is faced with a difficult choice in verse 22. “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two.”
Here he has the difficult choice between dying, which would mean eternal life with Christ, or remaining with his brothers and sisters to expand the gospel on this earth.
“but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Here is Paul, as ever, not choosing to escape his suffering through death, but thinking ‘Gospel first, not Paul first’.
The meaning of the word depart is connected with weighing anchor before a ship departs from the harbour. Departing in this sense means to go towards a destination, not away from something. The emphasis for Paul is on his departure to be with Christ, which is better by far. But he sees it as more necessary that he remains in the body, for the benefit of the church. This is gospel thinking.
Here in prison, faced with these two gospel choices: either to depart and be with Christ or remain for the benefit of the church, he chooses the lesser of the two choices because he longs for the church to be delivered and to be fruitful. The gospel is his very being.
“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.”
It is because he made this choice, to remain in chains, that he was able to write this letter. If he had not, his words might never have been written down, and the church might never have benefited from the letter; and neither would subsequent generations have benefited.
This is not an arrogance on Paul’s part, as if he’s so great they can’t do with out him. His aim is to boast solely in Jesus. His desire is that the church will abound in Christ Jesus as a result of his letter; that they will give praise to Christ. And this should be our boast too. We are to sing praise to Christ, not to Paul.
If you are in Christ Jesus, whatever has happened in your life will turn out for your ultimate good. Christ will continue to work for your deliverance
Living in the body means fruitful labour.
In verse 22 Paul says: “ If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. “ Paul is saying here that God is also working through him for the good of others.
In the same way, God is indeed, working all things for our good, but he is also working through us for the good of others. This was the attitude that Paul had, to work for the good of others. It was the definition of his life. If you are in Jesus, then you are here for the church. This was Paul’s attitude and it should be ours too.
As it says in verse 19:
“ for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance”
Paul was emphasising here that the combination of their prayers and his sufferings in prison would actually result in his deliverance. Because of the prayers of the church in Philippi, Paul was able to continue his gospel outreach, whilst in prison, and this encouraged the church to continue praying, and labouring in their bodies for Paul, to enable him to continue labouring for fruitfulness in them. So it comes full circle. This is how the church works! It is always better for us to remain and labour for each other’s fruitfulness
We minister to each other. We are here for fruitful labour. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. In His death He gave His life as a ransom for many. No one is surplus to requirements or unimportant. Each member is here for fruitful labour.
It is a joy to have the kind of conversation, with a believer, which leaves you praising Jesus. Because you can see their love for Jesus in their hearts and speech, it makes you praise God.
It would be wonderful to have a church like the one described in verse 26 where our ‘boasting in Christ Jesus will abound’; to be known as a church who magnify the Lord Jesus; where believers might say ‘ I love the Lord more because of them’; ‘I want to proclaim the gospel more because of them’.
So, as you reflect on the message this morning, consider these points:
- If you are in Jesus, then whatever has happened in your life will turn out for your deliverance. He will complete what He has started.
- If you are in Jesus, then living in the body means fruitful labour. To live is Christ. Despite the limitations imposed on us in Lockdown, we can, like Paul and the Philippian church, pray for each other, that our present sufferings will turn out for our deliverance.
- We can ask, ‘What can we do today that will help others progress their faith and increase joy in Jesus?’ It is more important that we are here, than that we depart to be with Christ. Be fruitful. Encourage each other
- If you are not in Christ, then come to Him. He gave his life on the cross to deliver you into eternal life with Him. You can rejoice in Him regardless of your circumstances. He is the one who takes everything and turns it out for your good, if you are in Him. Ask that you would be shaped and moulded for eternal life with Him.
Philippians 1:12 - 1:26
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, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (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.