Sometime around the year 60 A.D., God inspired the Apostle Paul to write a letter to the Christians who attended church in a town called Philippi (pronounced “phil – lip – pie”). This letter has come to be known as the Biblical book of Philippians. In the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians, Paul takes a little time to express his deep affection for his friends at Philippi and remind them that Christians sometimes must suffer for what they believe…
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:1-3 NIV).
Following his greeting, Paul starts by saying I thank my God every time I remember you. You see, the faith and love displayed by the Philippians caused Paul to give thanks to God for them. This provides us with a good example to follow today because the attitude of the Philippian church reminds us that we can also inspire people to be thankful to God by the way we live our lives. Like the Philippians, Christians should also try to be the kind of people who inspire others to say, “Thank God for him/her.”
“…whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me” (Philippians 1:7 NIV).
What does confirming the gospel mean? Well, it simply means that you back up what you believe by the way that you live. For example, if other people reject you because you’re serious about Jesus Christ then you are confirming the gospel for Jesus said, “…those who reject you are rejecting me. And those who reject me are rejecting God who sent me” (Luke 10:16).
Or let’s say that you honor God by being generous and giving to others. In that case, you are also confirming the gospel for Jesus said, “Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow” (Matthew 5:42). When others see God protect you, provide for you and bring blessings into your life then you’ll confirm the gospel too, for as Paul himself will tell us a little later on in chapter four, verse nineteen (4:19), “…my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus”.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…” (Philippians 1:9-10 NIV).
This is such an important passage that it deserved a study of it’s own. For more on this, just take a look over here.
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (Philippians 1:15-17 NIV).
This is not good. Apparently there were some Christians who were actually glad that Paul was in jail because they thought it would help them “out do” him in leadership and recognition. These people were motivated by selfish ambition and were more concerned about having a greater reputation than Paul than in really honoring God. But actually, it was really much worse than this when you think about it.
You see, Paul also said that the goal of these insincere Christians was to stir up trouble for him while he was in jail. So not only did they want a better reputation and greater recognition than Paul, they also wanted to hurt him while they were doing it.
What’s the problem with this kind of attitude? Well, “selfish ambition” refers to someone who is concerned only with their own success and being thought of as successful by others. “Envy” involves a feeling of disapproval when other people are blessed or successful. Envious people not only want what others have, they also want to take away what others have if they can’t have it themselves. And if these people can’t take away the things that others have (such as recognition or accomplishments), they attempt to belittle or diminish those things.
Not surprisingly, God speaks very strongly against these attitudes through the Biblical book of James:
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:13-16).
In contrast to these insincere believers, Paul chose to take a much healthier and God-honoring attitude…
“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…” (Philippians 1:18 NIV).
Instead of complaining about those who were trying to hurt him, Paul chose to keep his eye on the thing that was really important. In this case, the thing that was most important was the fact that people were motivated to communicate God’s Word because of his imprisonment. Some people were motivated in a good way and others were motivated in a bad way but the bottom line was that the gospel was being preached and for that, Paul was glad.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 NIV).
Paul’s belief regarding life and ministry is summed up by the 12 words seen above. Judging from the verse quoted above, Paul may well have said to himself, Hey, if I live, that just means more opportunities for God and if I die, I gain by going to heaven. This attitude took the fear out of death for Paul and it’s an attitude that we would do well to remember today.
You see, it’s one thing to fear dying but a Christian should never have to fear death. A Christian doesn’t have to fear death for one simple reason: if you know Jesus, then you know someone who has been on the other side of death, conquered it and has come back to tell you that everything will be OK for anyone who believes in Him.
For example, listen to these words of Jesus from John 14:1-3:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me. There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly.”
So Jesus gives you His personal assurance that everything will be OK after death for anyone who puts their trust in Him.
“I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23 NIV).
You know, many people want to depart from this life -especially on Monday mornings when they have to get up for school or work or when they are loaded down with chores or homework. Sure, lots of people want to depart from this life- but how many want to depart and be with Christ or simply to depart and get away from their problems? Here’s something to think about: do we look to be with Jesus because we really love Him and we’re thankful for what He’s done for us or do we see Him as more of a way out of our problems?
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27 NIV).
Everyone communicates what they believe in dozens of different ways. The way we dress, the way we speak, the words we use and the company we keep are all things that communicate what we really believe. Knowing this, Paul’s advice is that you should conduct yourself in a manner that honors God in whatever situation you should find yourself.
For example, Paul once told the Ephesian church, “Let there be no sex sin, impurity or greed among you. Let no one be able to accuse you of any such things. Dirty stories, foul talk, and coarse jokes– these are not for you. Instead, remind each other of God’s goodness, and be thankful” (Ephesians 5:3-4). Paul warns against these things because they are not right for a classy young man or woman of God.
But what if you should find that you’re having trouble “conducting yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” in some area? Well in that case, the thing to do is to be honest with God about it and ask Him to change your mind and attitude in that area. Remember that Jesus once told His followers, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14 NIV).
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him…” (Philippians 1:29).
Paul wrote at least 13 New Testament books and 5 of them were written from prison (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and 2 Timothy). Now Paul could have sat back during those times in prison and said, Why is God allowing this to happen to me? Or he could have listened to those who might have said, “Paul, God must be punishing you for something you’ve done wrong.” But instead of these things, Paul looked at his sufferings as an opportunity to have a small share in what Jesus went through for him. Paul knew that God had a purpose for everything that he experienced and while he may not have known what that purpose was, he knew that there was a good reason for it.
If you’re going through a tough time right now, you can also know that there is an ultimate purpose for what you’re going through. Like Paul, you can have the satisfaction of knowing that there is always a purpose in your suffering if you are Christian.