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Philippians 3

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Philippians 3.

Please turn to Philippians chapter 1 [P]. Do you know I get asked some difficult questions? One that people often ask me, and which I find very difficult to answer, is: “How has your week been?” I generally make an evasive remark to try to avoid answering it. I know, it is “small-talk”, and I am not very good at small talk. But how do I assess how my week has been? My bike got a puncture – does that make my week bad? We had curry for tea – does that make it good? What say I was ship-wrecked, or beaten up, or arrested and put in prison? Surely that would be a week from hell! But maybe it might be a week from heaven! We have seen how the early church encountered trouble at every twist and turn – yet indisputably God was at work, using those circumstances to His ends. How am I going to evaluate my week? Am I going to use my own human assessment? Or am I going to have God’s perspective? [P] That He is sovereign, in absolute control, even if the earth shakes a bit. You see, here is Paul in prison. The Philippians are partners with him in his mission of spreading the Gospel. From their point of view this is a calamity, things have gone wrong – Paul can no longer spread the Gospel. But Paul has a different view of things – and that is what he seeks to address in this personal letter to these who are so dear to him and who are so concerned for him. [P] Let’s turn to [Philippians 1:12-20 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the Gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the Gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.] Paul in his letter to the Philippians now moves from the introduction and preliminary remarks to the reason he wrote this letter. Here  he is imprisoned in Rome, held back from this all-consuming mission of spreading the Good News. But in [Philippians 1:12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the Gospel,] Paul says that his circumstances in prison are actually advancing the Gospel, not hindering it. Why would he say this? What issue is he addressing here? Paul’s goal in this section is to change the Philippians’ perspective on his circumstances [P]. He wants to drop a theological bombshell on their way of looking at things. Paul’s primary purpose in this section is to change the Philippians’ perspective of his circumstances. How does he do this? When Paul says “I want you to know” he does it to highlight significant ideas – we might say “get this!”. He is doing the same thing by referring to the Philippians as “brothers”. We do the same thing in English today: picture a coach giving a pep talk, just before he gets to the key point, he says, “Alright guys, I want you to …”. We know the coach wouldn’t be telling us something unimportant, so why say things like this? Why do pastors say things like “Don’t miss this, people …” or “If you don’t remember anything else folks, remember this …”? It’s all about getting our attention. Because not everything is of equal importance, we use special markers to indicate what is especially important. That is what Paul is doing when he says “I want you to know”. His statement also does something else: it causes a delay, an interruption to the flow that creates suspense. He does this to make his big ideas stand out. Paul is doing because his big idea for this section is going to rock their view of the world with his bombshell. He wants them to see that what appears to be a bad thing is actually a good thing. Why? – because God is using it. He is in control bringing about His purposes. I addressed this a bit in the introduction to this letter. The early church encountered trouble at every step of the way – yet through it God accomplished His purposes.  God is in ABSOLUE CONTROL! But Paul is also going to ask them to do much more than just accept his perspective on the situation. Paul is addressing their attitude here. It has to do with having a human perspective on our circumstances instead of seeing things from God’s perspective. It’s not only the Philippians or the early church who have this problem; it is something we all struggle with. We tend to look at things from our human perspective; we forget that God is in sovereign control over all. When you find yourself in dire straits without hope for change, it can make you ask God: “How long?” or “Why have you forgotten me?” There may be outright anger and indignation. It is easy to feel distanced from God or abandoned when circumstances prevent us from doing something we feel called to do. In our prayers, we implore God to deliver us from our circumstances or to somehow change them. Where is God in such cases? Has He abandoned us? From the Philippians’ perspective, Paul is supposed to be spreading the Gospel. What could possibly be worse for this cause than him being in prison? If we allow our perspective toward the circumstances to prevail, it can make us utterly useless to God (see Psalm 73:21-22). Frustration can turn to bitterness and hopelessness, making us completely ineffective. Something needs to change, but what? In the Bible, what happens when God’s people cry out to Him about the wicked prospering and the righteous falling? What changes? Not what you’d think. The vast majority of the time, it is the attitude about the circumstances that God changes rather than the circumstances themselves. The key is to see things from God’s perspective instead of from our own human perspective. It is only then that we can find the hope, courage, and faith to move forward. Paul wrote this letter partly to address the Philippians concern for his circumstances in prison and its effect on his ministry. From their perspective, imprisonment meant a huge setback. Paul shatters this notion, claiming that his circumstances actually served to advance the Gospel rather than holding it back. Hearing this news would have been like dropping a theological bomb, destroying their flawed perspective about the situation. It says in [Philippians 1:13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else,] Paul elaborates on how his circumstances are a good thing. Word of his imprisonment has spread to everyone [P]. He singles out the imperial guard from all the rest. If he had just said “all” or “everyone,” there is a good chance that the imperial guard would not have come to mind. By specifically mentioning them and then adding all the rest, he draws attention to this important group of witnesses – the Gospel has impacted right into the stronghold of Rome – in (Phil 4:22) members of Caesar’s own household greet the beleivers. By mentioning the guard draws attention to them, even though they are implicitly included. The same effect is achieved by referring to most of the brothers in [Philippians 1:14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.]. Paul’s imprisonment has actually caused most to be bolder and more courageous in their witness.  But it makes us wonder, “What about the rest of them?” This sets the stage for Paul to talk about this minority group in [Philippians 1:15-17 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the Gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.]. By talking about most of the believers rather than all of them Paul singles them out [P]. I could do the same kind of thing by saying I liked most of the sermon or that I mostly liked you as a friend. Chances are you’d be wondering which part I didn’t like. This is exactly what Paul is doing here. He is going to talk about this unnamed subgroup of believers. It seems that not everyone who was preaching was doing so out of pure motives. The first group of evangelists (mentioned in Phil 1:15,17) are those preaching because of envy or strife. This negative group is contrasted with a positive group, who he emphasizes by saying on the other hand there are those preaching for the right reasons – Paul highlights the contrast with envy and strife by emphasizing the word goodwill. He contrasts their motives and their rationale for proclaiming the Gospel. Those who preach out of love do so because they have recognized Paul’s role; he was appointed for the defense of the Gospel (and Paul emphasizes this). He wants the Philippians to know that his imprisonment has not changed this. He wants them to respond like the majority of believers, those who have been encouraged to preach. By stressing that the minority preaches out of rivalry and not sincerely; drives home the contrast between the two – how could their preaching be based on ambition and rivalry? They intend to cause distress and affliction to Paul by adding to the frustration of his circumstances. These conflicting factors likely troubled the Philippians, they were concerned for Paul, but he addresses the issue head on. He is getting them ready for a different perspective. From the Philippians’ perspective—a human perspective—all hope seems lost for the advancement of the Gospel because of Paul’s imprisonment. His ministry appears derailed. This is the perspective that Paul is actively working to change. Jesus called to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him; this sounds simple on Sunday morning, yet it is very difficult to practice—especially when we contend with adverse circumstances: pain, turmoil, and tests. When we feel as though God has forgotten or ignored our plight, we have to make a decision. Will we trust in our own perspective, or trust that God will really do what He has promised? – that He knows what He is doing and that He is in fact in control? Paul chose God’s perspective and urged the Philippians to do the same! He claims that far from stifling the Gospel, his imprisonment is actually advancing it. This claim forms the big idea of the next section [Phil 1:18–26]. Verse 18 reads: [Philippians 1:18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,] Most translations begin this section with “What then?” the word used is intended to strengthen or support what has gone before, his last big idea. This rhetorical question makes us pause and think about the implications of his last big idea. How is it that imprisonment can be a good thing for the Gospel? Paul gives us the answer [P]. Paul has just contrasted two groups who preach the gospel for very different reasons. From the Philippians’ standpoint, this sounds like a horrible thing – preaching from wrong motives. But Paul seeks to change their view by helping them consider the outcome. No matter what the means or motive, Christ is being proclaimed. Paul had his eyes focused on one thing only; and would not let minor things distract him from that. All that mattered was making Jesus known. Don’t lose sight of the big picture. How easily we get sidetracked on to incidental matters. Even though it may have been better to preach with right motives, Paul urged the believers not to forget the outcome in either case: Christ is being proclaimed – that is the important thing. No matter why people might be preaching, they are still preaching. It is a no-lose proposition. Christ is being proclaimed, regardless of motive. In Paul’s case, this would happen with or without his freedom. This raises the next question: “If Paul’s circumstances are actually advancing the Gospel rather than hindering it, now what? How should he or the Philippians respond?” Rather than fretting over the competing motivations for preaching, what does Paul do? He chooses to rejoice over the results. Christ is being proclaimed, so why shouldn’t he rejoice? It is important to track Paul’s progression of thought through this section because each thought or question leads into the next one [P] strengthening and supporting the one that precedes it. Things don’t look so good: Paul is in prison, people are trying to cause him more trouble by preaching from wrong motives – so what is Paul’s response in light of this? He is going to rejoice and keep on doing so! Why is he going to do that? – because what is taking place will work out for his deliverance. Ehh?! How is it doing that? – because for him to live is Christ, to die is gain – what happens to him does not matter, only the cause of Christ and the Gospel. See? We have the wrong perspective – we look at it from our own point of view, how it affects me, rather than our sole motive being that God’s purposes being furthered. What happens to me is completely secondary. The only thing that mattered to Paul was the Gospel – he rejoices over the advance of the Gospel. Twice he says it: [P] the first statement describes his response to the current state of the Gospel – he is rejoicing now. Regardless of how or why the Gospel is advancing, Paul chooses to rejoice rather than grumble or be discouraged. Rejoicing is a choice; it’s not the natural response we’d expect. His second statement concerns the prospects for the future – “I will rejoice” – in the future. His decision to rejoice now is not something that will pass away but something he will continue doing. His first statement about rejoicing is “replaced” in by the affirmation that he “will rejoice”. It is actually phrased as though the first statement was somehow in need of correction. He could have simply said “I rejoice” or “I will rejoice”, or he could have added one to the other, but instead he replaces the first. He’s not just rejoicing now, he’s even going to continue to do so. Why does Paul actually correct his first claim about rejoicing? If he had only said, “I rejoice,” it would have opened the possibility that he would not continue to do so. If he had only stated that he will rejoice, it could have been viewed as though he were waiting for things of change first before he rejoiced. What he is saying is: “In this, I rejoice. As a matter of fact, I’ll even continue to do so.” The word for even makes it sound as if rejoicing is the least likely possibility. His rejoicing doesn’t depend on what circumstances may happen, he will still rejoice anyway. To rejoice you have to do more than just accept your circumstances. You have to trust and be thankful. The trust is based on the character of the one who began the good work (Phil 1:6). It is trust in the faithfulness which He has shown. For Paul, this meant trusting God because He chose him. Without trust, what else would Paul cling to? Nothing. Too often our trust in the Lord is based on our own understanding, or only engages part of our heart (see Prov 3:5-6). When the storms of life come, faulty foundations are destroyed. What we need to do is trust the Lord with all of our heart and not lean on our own understanding. If I am trusting, I should be rejoicing and full of thanks. If I’m afraid of my situation or grumbling about it, then chances are I’m leaning on my own understanding. This same perspective leads me to say my situation is wrong, unfair, or needs to change. If I’m really trusting God to be in control of all things, then this will be reflected in my perspective. I may not like my predicament, but I can still choose to trust God to accomplish His purposes no matter how dire things get. Look at any of the men of faith in the Scriptures (for instance a man like Joseph) – they were dire straits, we know how things turned out in the end, that God worked it all out, but they were in the situation and could not see the end – they just had to trust Him. They “gained approval through their faith, yet did not receive what was promised.” They trusted that He who promised would do as He said. My choice to trust in God’s character enables me to give thanks for His provision even though it is not what I would choose. How does Paul respond to his situation? He rejoices, and better yet, he’ll continue to rejoice. He is making a determination to rejoice – we have to make the choice to rejoice. We can decide to do so. We don’t have to let the circumstances bring us down. This is not mindless “Pollyanna” simplistic “praise the LORD” when all goes wrong. Rather it stems from a deep faith in a sovereign God who is in control, knows what He is doing and is working all things together for good. So often it is that in Scripture perspectives about circumstances are changed more often than the circumstances themselves. We see the same thing with Paul and his imprisonment. By telling the Philippians his perspective and his positive response to his circumstances, he is challenging them to adopt a similar response. He does this because he knows he has been appointed for the defense of the Gospel. Changes in circumstances don’t affect this. Our perspective needs changing, not our situation – it has been ordered by God. It is one thing to say that you are called of God, and quite another to live your life in light of it—to view your circumstances through this lens. We have all gone through stuff that pushed us to question our calling. Doubts creep in, especially when people are critical or circumstances look bleak. When we lose sight of the big picture, it’s easy to get discouraged. But as we follow God and keep in step with His plan for our lives, we can confidently trust that the one who began the good work in us will indeed complete it (Phil 1:6). God is not just the Creator of all things, the Author, He is the finisher of what He has started – the Alpha and the Omega. So what is the bigger picture that enables Paul to look beyond his circumstances and rejoice? It is his confidence that these things will turn out for his deliverance [Philippians 1:19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,]. This confidence is based on two things: the prayers of the Philippians and the support of the Holy Spirit. One of the key things that helps us through difficult times is the body of Christ, the church – people who we trust, respect and love, are praying for us, concerned for us in our situation. It is encouraging to know that we are not standing alone. The problem is that we tend to be independent rather than share our lives. Even though Paul was physically separated from the Philippians, he made his life an open book to them through this letter – he shared his life with other believers. That enables us to bear one another’s burdens. But there is another even more important thing needed: a close relationship with the Author and Perfecter of our faith through the indwelling of His Spirit. People will let us down eventually; no one is perfect but God alone – He will never leave us nor forsake us. He has given us the Comforter, the One who is alongside to lead and guide us.  Why is Paul confident that he will be delivered: [Philippians 1:20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.] At first, we might think that deliverance for Paul means release from prison. But Paul show a wholly completely different set of values to what we might expect. Paul states, “I know that …” in (Phil 1:19) describing his confidence in his deliverance, here there is a second thing that “he knows”. He states what he knows both negatively and positively to emphasize his point [P]. He knows that in nothing will he be put to shame. Instead of shame, Christ will be exalted in him even now as always. One way or the other, this exaltation will come about—through life or death – it doesn’t matter which, so it is a no-lose proposition. Whether he lives or dies God is still working out His purpose, glorifying His Name, through what happen. Just as in (Phil 1:18) Paul points out that no matter what the outcome, Christ is exalted. The Philippians were concerned for Paul’s welfare in prison, fearing the worst. And how often in the missionary prayer meeting we are concerned for what they are going through rather than the ultimate purposes of God. Paul showed them that the advancement of the Gospel did not depend on the motivation of those preaching and here he claims that the same holds true for his present situation. Whether he remains alive and productive or whether he is executed in prison, two things are guaranteed to happen. He will not be put to shame, and Christ will be exalted in him. These things are not contingent upon his life or death, his freedom or imprisonment. If his comfort or physical deliverance from imprisonment is the standard against which things are measured, his prospects indeed look bleak – but being appointed for the defense of the Gospel (Phil 1:16) did not come with a safety guarantee. Despite the peril of imprisonment, the situation has actually helped advance his cause rather than hinder it. If exalting Christ becomes our basis of evaluation instead of comfort or security, what we value radically changes – our whole perspective is transformed.  Am I view things from my own personal perspective, or from God’s perspective? [P] What mattered to Paul was the Gospel. His passion for proclaiming it shines through in this passage. Tell me, are you glad that you are saved? Is your salvation precious to you? It is to me – I don’t know where I would be if the LORD had not called me to Himself. The Gospel is wonderful news, it is extremely precious – but do I want others to know it too? Yes, but when I read Paul, what comes through is a consuming purpose to be sharing this Gospel – it motivates and drives him, compels him. This passage speaks to me – what motivates and impels me? My perspective is so much fixed on me and the events down here that impinge on me. I get bothered by the fact that I’ve got taps that drip, a ranch-slider that graunches, by the pressure to get through things at work, by getting sermons prepare in time. They are very little things really – I am concerned about the wrong things! See? I am looking from the wrong perspective! How’s my week been? Has Christ exalted in my life? – by life or death? Is God really in control ordering every event? Or are things just running themselves and getting a bit out of His control? Is He working out His purposes or not? If God’s perfect purposes are being worked out then I rejoice, and I will rejoice – because He who began the work is still working and will bring it to perfect completion. Praise His Name!

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