Text: Philippians 1. Preached at Werribee Church of Christ 7/11/04
Last week I discovered the missing ingredient in my love life. Guys – you might want to pay close attention. The Saturday before last, I took my car to the carwash. While waiting in the queue, I noted that every wash bay was in use by a male aged between 20 and 35, with a sparkling Commodore or similar trophy. Two of the four were also accompanied by a woman, who stood watching the skilled operation of the high-pressure hose. Both women had blonde hair, which may be significant; but one of them had her own car, parked just behind. Not a particle of dust was anywhere to be seen on the vehicle, but it was obviously going to be washed anyway. I mentioned this spectacle to my wife later. She suggested that the guy would probably take his turn watching, while the girl did the work. But being the romantic that I am, I’m certain that in truth that latter-day Romeo stood ready to woo his damsel with the graceful application of a foaming brush.
I’m sure it’s as clear to you as it is to me, friends … The carwash is the place to be for Aussie romance in 2004. So guys, if the spark’s gone out in your relationship, you know what to do .. take her to the carwash. My wife hasn’t shown much enthusiasm thus far; but it’s early days, and I intend to persevere.
If you take your beloved to the carwash, you’ll demonstrate to her powerfully who it is who commands supreme earthly worth in your life – your car. ..
If you watch a person closely, or listen to them, you often pick up what it is that they really care about .. where their true passions lie. If you pick up Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi .. read it through once .. read it again .. (which is what we’ll be doing together these Sunday mornings between now and Christmas) you start to hear this: There’s only thing in life that actually matters – the Gospel.
The Gospel is where it’s at for Paul – no doubt about it. What he’s on about is not the church as such .. it’s the gospel. To be sure he’s addressing his appeal to the church – he writes as he says in 1:1 To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons. .. And a little bit later on he’ll have a quite bit to say about the spiritual health of the church in that part of the world: .. the quality of relationships within the body .. the need to be clear about the truth that the church believes and teaches .. the importance of every member staying focussed on growing more and more like Christ .. the great importance of the church being content in the grace of God. Paul is concerned about the church for sure; he wants a healthy church. But make no mistake about it – Paul’s overarching dream isn’t for the church to look good .. it’s for the Gospel to look good .. it’s for Christ to be attractive. He wants people to love the Gospel and long for Christ.
Paul uses the phrase “the Gospel” 69 times in his 13 New Testament letters (which means it mattered an awful lot to him); 9 of them are in Philippians, which is one of his shortest letters. Of those 9, 6 are in chapter 1. As we all know, people can do amazing things with statistics in all areas of life – and the Bible is no different. But that’s a lot of references to the Gospel in a short space. Nothing matters like the Gospel. Chapter 1 comes to a climax with an impassioned plea: 27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel. .. Let the Gospel change you .. let it change the way you pray .. the way you think .. the way you live.
Let the Gospel change the way you pray
3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy … 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. When Paul prays for this particular community of Christians, he’s overwhelmingly thankful because the Gospel has so captured their hearts, that not only have they believed the message and turned to Christ for themselves – but they have also committed themselves to sharing with him in his Gospel ministry.
v7 implies that they supported him while he was in prison for the Gospel, and while he was engaged in proclaiming Christ. If we read further, chap 4 spells it out: 4:15f – these Philippian Christians sent financial and material support to enable his ministry. So his grounds for thanksgiving is the way their priorities evidence the power of the Gospel to change minds and hearts.
But not only that. The evidence of what the Gospel has done in them fires him up to pray confidently that God will do even more in their lives. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. In v9 he prays fervently that their lives will glorify Christ .. in v6 he says this is why I bother .. this is why I’m confident .. I’m confident in prayer for you because I can see that God has already begun something good in you. God has started something .. but God will not finish what he has started to do in them until he day of Jesus Christ, which is a phrase that means the end time when Christ returns as King and Judge.
What all that means for you and me, is that if you are a person who loves Jesus as your Saviour and Lord today, that can only be because God has begun a work of his grace in you. But it also means that your life as a disciple and mine as well, is a work in progress. God is a very patient artist, who wants to continue the transforming work of the Gospel in you, making you into the likeness of his Son .. and that work won’t finish until the day Christ returns. .. As far as Paul’s concerned, that’s a reason to pray, and not to stop praying until Jesus comes.
If you glance around you here this morning – at the people beside… please be aware that God has started to transform their lives by the Gospel .. but please be aware also that he has much much more to do with them. Don’t let up in praying for them, because God must continue his work in them right up until the day of Jesus Christ.
Why pray for one another like that? Because of the power of the Gospel to change sinners into lovers of the Father through Christ. Let the Gospel change the way you pray.
Let the Gospel change the way you think
Let me read in full vv12-14: 12 I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.
Paul is in prison, as he writes this. He’s in prison, treated as a criminal, because the civil powers aren’t impressed with his Gospel preaching. But he hasn’t committed a crime. Who’d want to be in prison, especially knowing they were innocent? .. No one, generally .. unless it actually helped your cause, which it doesn’t normally if you’re innocent. But Paul is a man so centred on the Gospel, that he reinterprets his own circumstances from a Gospel perspective. The Gospel changes the way he thinks. And here he actually gives prison the “thumbs up” – because it’s contributed to the spread of the Gospel. In v13 he says that because of his imprisonment, the whole imperial guard has heard about Christ.
Some background here: In a Roman prison at that time the pattern was that a prisoner in Paul’s circumstances would be chained between two guards at all times – one on each arm …. The guards worked in 8-hour shifts round the clock; so each prisoner is chained at different times to a total of 6 guards every 24 hours. .. And Paul is a passionate speaker of the Gospel. Was Paul chained to the guards, or were the guards chained to Paul? Well it depends on how you think, doesn’t it? Whether you think with you at the centre, or with the Gospel at the centre. The entire Roman Imperial guard detachment in Caesarea, which is probably where Paul was in prison at that time, have heard the Gospel through being chained to Paul.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine conducted a funeral of a Dr Ronald Kingston. I don’t know whether Dr Kingston was a Christian. But he was a man with, I think polio, or some similar kind of condition. The doctor who told him the diagnosis, and with it the news that he faced two years unable to walk, was wise enough to add that he would have all that time available to read. Out of that perspective he read and studied with such focus that he came out with a doctoral degree. He reinterpreted his circumstances as an opportunity for something he would otherwise have missed.
In first century Roman-occupied Caesarea, one man named Paul was locked away in prison, cut off from friends, and unable to travel. But with a mind shaped by the Gospel, he rejoiced at unimagined opportunities to bring the Gospel to the ruling power of the day.
You can struggle in frustration at what you cannot do, through lack of health or money or connections or employment .. or you can reinterpret your circumstances in the light of the Gospel, and rejoice that the people who are around you have an opportunity to find salvation in Jesus through your witness. Let the Gospel change the way you think.
Let the Gospel change the way you live
This is one of those passages where we see a little into the personal love of Paul for the people he ministered to. There’s an internal conflict going on for Paul. From verse 20 onwards, he struggles to know whether he’d rather accept death, which he knows is a possibility when his Gospel work is so offensive to Roman and Jewish authorities alike. Death would mean entering into eternal intimate fellowship with Christ, which would be simply glorious beyond speaking. .. Or whether he’d rather stay and continue to minister more of Christ to the church. A passionate love for Christ, and a passionate love for the church .. and in the end at v24 he renews his dedication to serving people for the Gospel’s sake.
That’s what Paul would like to do .. but he doesn’t know whether that’s what will happen. Will he meet face to face with his beloved brothers and sisters at Phillipi again? Or will he not? .. Paul doesn’t know. .. When all the reflections are over, when all the searching questions have been asked and answered – there’s only one thing left for a Gospel-driven servant to say: 27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and [only] hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.
.. There it is again – a man for whom nothing in all of life matters – except the Gospel. The Gospel is worth so much that if you profess to believe it .. if you declare that you are Christ’s and he is yours .. then every priority must be subsumed beneath the solemn commission to win others for him. There’ll be no room for power games, secret agendas, petty rivalries, closed ranks, resistance to others in the body. If you’re concerned about your own comfort, you’re not concerned about the Gospel .. and Christ will not be fooled. One in spirit, one in purpose .. for the Gospel’s sake. Anything less is a denial of the Christ you profess.
You can live for your own ends, OR for the cause of Christ and his gospel for the lost. But not both. Let the Gospel change the way you live.
We face a real choice here at Werribee Church of Christ at the moment. We can seek to advance the cause of this church for the pleasure and security of the eighty who are here .. or we can choose to give priority to the Gospel for the honour of Christ and for love of the 98000 people of Wyndham who right now face eternity apart from the God who formed them for himself.
That’s always a choice for any Christian congregation, at any time. But can I say, I believe it’s a question of particular weight for this fellowship of believers, and especially at this time. The elders and I have been studying the written reflections we received at the history evening a couple of months ago. One thing that’s clear is that many of us love being here because of the trusting, caring relationships we enjoy. We value the fellowship of other believers whom we love and who love us. Another thing that’s also clear is that when we look at ourselves honestly, we’re ready to admit that we haven’t done well at introducing people to Jesus. We’ve made some starts over the years – we’ve built some bridges into the community .. but we haven’t capitalised well on those bridges, and we haven’t built a lot of new ones in recent years.
Strong internal relationships, weak external connections .. that’s a combination that means we may have a disease that a guy called Eddie Gibbs calls “fellowship-itis” – so caught up in one another, that we neglect the lost for whom Christ gave his life. In before out; Paul would say we must reverse that order, if we’re to merit the name ‘church’ according to Scripture. Let me repeat: We can seek to advance the cause of this church for the pleasure and security of the eighty who are here .. or we can choose to give priority to the 98000 who aren’t.
I suggested before that that’s a question that faces us at this time in particular. Why do I say that? Because we’re in uncertain times, insecure times; we’re without a permanent pastoral leader, and so we’re not sure where things are heading. That’s normal. But have you noticed what commentators have been saying about our own recent Federal election and the US election as well? .. In uncertain times, people back the status quo. Regardless of your political views, that’s pretty much what’s happened on both sides of the Pacific, hasn’t it? Translate that to a church in uncertain times .. and we’ll cling to what we’ve already got .. we’ll be even less likely to reach beyond ourselves .. we’ll go for fellowship ahead of evangelism every time. .. And if we do that we’ll fall short of the Gospel which the Lord has entrusted to us.
With that real risk in mind, please give thoughtful attention to another video clip about Festival Victoria 2005: [DVD Festival Vic. – church promo clip] “Only one chance” .. did you note those closing words? .. “let’s give it our best.” And can I urge you to take that counsel seriously, in honour of Christ. Get involved in the Festival .. it’s not too late to decide to attend the Christian Life & Witness Classes if you weren’t planning to .. to participate in Operation Andrew, praying consistently and earnestly for people you know who need Jesus .. be sure to read the Festival Victoria newsletters when they appear (there’s a new one for you to take today) .. pray and plan towards coming to one or more gatherings at the Festival next March, bringing someone with you.
It will be surprising if an opportunity like this particular one comes to our city again for another 15 years. There’ll continue to be any number of other creative ways open to us to share Christ with our community .. but perhaps very few with quite the potential to put the Gospel on the front page of the life of the whole church in Melbourne – which according to Paul is where it should be always. There’ll also continue to be any number of opportunities to put fellowship with the people we know ahead of reaching the ones we don’t. .. We will be faced with a choice between two priorities .. and guess what, one will be a lot easier than the other. May it be that when we look back on this period between now and March 2005, we’ll be able to say “We put the Gospel first.”