The Gospel’s Advance
Philippians 1:3 – 11
The Gospel’s Advance
Someone else’s mail
I discovered this week that the Australian Government has established a body called the Postal Industry Ombudsman. The sole purpose of the PIO, as it’s known, seems to be, to investigate complaints against Australia Post.
And as you can imagine, there are a reasonable number of complaints made against Australia Post. I read one report which recorded that complaints to the PIO about “carding”, the practice of leaving a card when a package can’t be delivered, increased from 12 to 35 over a 12 month period, nearly a 300% increase. And that sounded bad, until I read that Australia Posts leaves cards for over 40 million packages a year, and all of a sudden 35 didn’t sound like very many complaints after all, and I wondered what the PIO were doing with their time and with my tax dollars!
But it seems that a bigger problem, is the issue of people reading other people’s mail.
Maybe it’s addressed incorrectly,
Maybe it’s delivered wrongly,
Whatever the case, people reading letters that aren’t actually intended for them, is a bit of a problem, and if you’re worried about that, the PIO may investigate on your behalf.
Having just said that, it’s exactly, what we’ve just done, isn’t it?!,
We’ve read this letter, that’s not addressed to us,
It doesn’t have our name on it!
And humanly speaking at least, it’s only ended up in our hands, because somebody passed it to somebody,
Who passed it to somebody,
Who passed it to somebody, and so on, until we received it.
We’re reading somebody else’s mail, and not even in a quick glimpse, hold it up to the light kind of way, we’re going to spend the next 4 weeks unpacking it together, and studying it during the week in our Bible Study Groups.
Is there any benefit for us, in reading a letter that was written to another group of people in another time?,
Is there any point to us reading someone else’s mail?
And I think we’ll see as we go through, the answer is a resounding yes! As Paul explains to the Philippians, and in God’s kindness, explains to us, centuries later, what it means for every aspect of life to be shaped by the gospel of Jesus.
Or to put it another way, What does it mean to live a cross-shaped life?”
God, in preserving this letter for us to read today, answers that question, which, well it is a pressing question, isn’t it?
I say I’m a Christian, what impact should that have on my life?
I say that I believe the gospel, the good news of Jesus, what is the full picture of that message that I say I believe?
Or maybe you’re not a Christian, but you’re here today because you want to find out, “Well, what do Christians believe?
What’s it going to mean for my life if I say I trust in Jesus?”
See, we’re not really reading someone else’s mail. Philippians is God’s Word to us, as he gives us answers to those kinds of questions.
This morning we’re going to concentrate on the middle part of this chapter. It was only back in February we looked at Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, and that talk’s available on the website if you want to have a think about how Paul prays for his friends,
Paul’s imprisonment helps advance the gospel 12 - 14
But look at verse 12 with me, 12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.
It would be, entirely natural to think that Paul’s imprisonment, as well as being an unpleasant experience for him, would be a set-back for the gospel.
But no, it has actually, or really, Paul says served to advance the gospel.
That idea of advance, was a word used by the Greek philosophers, to speak of the spread of culture, the intellectual or moral change that sweeps across a nation, but always with a focus on the change within individuals.
Which means that that advance word is really a great word to use for the gospel of Jesus, isn’t it, because the gospel is a message that spreads, it had spread to Philippi some years before, but what’s important about the spread of this message is that individuals receive it,
That individuals are changed by it.
That’s why coming to church doesn’t make you a Christian.
God doesn’t evaluate you according to whether or not you’re in the right group of people,
Or if were born into the right family,
Whether you were standing in the right place one day, when the gospel message kind of wafted by!
The question that God will ask each and every one of us, is “How have you responded to the message of the good news of Jesus?”
What has the gospel’s advance meant in your life?
And it’s because of that, because that’s the question every single person who’s ever walked the face of earth will be asked, that’s the reason Paul is unconcerned at his imprisonment, because him being in chains, helps advance the gospel.
And as he goes on to say, his chains have helped advance the gospel on 2 fronts.
Outside the church: Roman soldiers hear the gospel
He doesn’t mention specifics, he just says what has happened to me, no doubt he’s thinking of everything that’s happened to him from the time he was arrested Jerusalem;, the riot,
Further imprisonment at Caesarea,
Extradition to Rome,
Placed under house arrest,
His impending trial before Caesar,
But while he probably has all those things in mind, particularly in focus, are the events associated with his imprisonment in Rome, because the first great advance of the gospel that has come as a result these things, is among the Roman soldiers who are guarding him.
The gospel is advancing among those outside the church, as these Roman soldiers come under the sound of the good news of Jesus.
Verse 13, As a result,, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ
If you’re familiar with Roman history, or even just the movie Gladiator, this is the Praetorian Guard. The archaeologists tell us this was a group of about 9000 soldiers.
Numbers of these men would have taken their turn, either chained to Paul, or as we read in Acts 28, guarding Paul 1 on 1. Prisoners who were due to appear before the emperor, you didn’t want them escaping on your watch!
So day after day, these soldiers, are chained to Paul, or standing in the room with him, what do you reckon the Apostle Paul talked about, for all of those hours?!
A number of years ago, Clifford Warne, who was a channel 7 personality, and Paul White, CMS Missionary and author of the Jungle Doctor books, these 2 wrote a “How to” guide for public speaking. It was called, “How to hold an audience, without a rope”!
Well Paul didn’t need their book, did he?! He had the rope! The chains!
The guard couldn’t leave when he got sick of hearing about Jesus!
This was the ultimate captive audience, except strictly speaking, the captive wasn’t the audience.
I was at an event Friday night with David Cook, who’s the Moderator General of the Presbyterian Church in Australia. He was telling me about his father who used to sell insurance.
His dad’s first day on the job, his boss said to him, “Your partner is going to be this bloke called Ernie”, “And you’re going to be partnered with Ernie, because none of the other people who work here want to be partnered with him!”
“Why is that?”
“Well, because Ernie’s a Christian, and all he does, as he drives all over town all day, is talk about Jesus!”
Sure enough, they’re in the car together, the conversation pretty quickly turns to Jesus, and day after day, week after week, David’s dad is a captive audience.
Eventually, not quite chained to this man, but not far off it, a year or so later, he becomes a Christian.
3 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ
The gospel of Jesus, the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation with the God who people have rejected and rebelled against, has become the topic of conversation among the palace guard, and everyone else.
Everyone who guarded Paul,
Or knew of him,
Or heard the conversation buzzing in the streets of the capital of the known world, knew that Paul was in chains for Christ.
No doubt Paul’s thinking in terms of what he says in other places in the New Testament about sharing in the sufferings of Christ, and so the soldiers and others have come to hear of this Christ who suffered.
But literally, Pauls says he’s in chains in Christ.
He thinks of himself as a prisoner not of Caesar,
Not of the praetorian guard,
But a prisoner of Christ.
That’s what’s becoming clear to the soldiers.
Perhaps, as we see in Acts 28:, they’re realising that Paul is in fact innocent of the charges against him.
He’s in chains, purely because of Jesus,
And so they come to understand that were it not for Paul’s 100% commitment to Jesus, he could be released.
It did make me wonder, when I suffer, when I suffer unjustly, whether I respond in such a way that the good news of Jesus becomes the topic of conversation among the people around me?!
Is that what I would want to become clear throughout the whole . company around me?
I have a suspicion that what I would want people to be talking about, is how hard done-by Clayton,
How we can be rallying round, to get him out of this mess,
That when people speak ill of me, because of my faith,
And when I’m deliberately excluded because I’m a Christian, I want others to think, “That’s despicable, he deserves better”
Paul, on the other hand, responds in such a way, that the whole palace guard and everyone else, gets a glimpse of Jesus, who suffered for his enemies,
They hear a message of good news from which he will not deviate, even though that would mean his freedom,
And so the gospel advances.
Inside the church: Christians become more confident
The second context in which Paul sees the gospel advancing, is inside the church.
See verse 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.
So we see that the advance of the gospel is not just a matter of breaking new ground, people who don’t know Jesus hearing the good news, it’s also a matter of the gospel going deeper into Christian people, such that they become more confident to speak the message of Christ themselves.
It’s not really what you’d expect, is it?
Christian leader gets put in prison, treated badly, and the other Christians, most of the other Christians in Rome, become more confident in what they’ve heard and believed.
You’d think, that the natural reaction be, “Well, look where talking about Jesus got Paul! He’s a prisoner!
There’s a whopping great big praetorian guardsman chained to him,
He can’t work, he can’t do anything, all because he talked to people about Jesus.
I’ve got kids, and a job, and a mortgage, I don’t’ want to go to prison. I’m going to keep my mouth shut, thanks very much!
But no, confident in what they’ve heard and believed, and so overcome with the message of Jesus, they proclaim it without fear.
And don’t think of proclaim as just meaning they’re standing behind a pulpit somewhere, or on a street corner with a soap box and a megaphone, Paul just uses the generic word for speaking.
Their confidence means they just talk, the Word of God
I think evangelism often goes hand-in-hand with confidence, doesn’t it?
If we’re confident in what we believe, we’re more likely to talk to other people about it!
I read a study recently about airlines from countries that have very strong cultural expectations, regarding how you defer to people in authority over you. Many Asian countries, for example.
And the problem for these airlines is that the lower-ranking crew in the cockpit, don’t have the confidence to speak up and question the pilot’s decisions, even though they can see there’s a problem.
And this report listed aircraft that had crashed, even though people in the cockpit knew what the problem was and how it could be solved.
Which made me realise that’s why Qantas has such a great safety record, because as Aussies we have all the confidence in the world to speak up and criticise those in authority over us!
And you can imagine the Qantas co-pilot, can’t you, saying to the pilot, “Hey you idiot, there’s a great whopping mountain in front of us! Get out the way!”
Even the work experience kid would say that!
How confident are you, in the Lord?
How confident in the message that has been entrusted to you?
The Christians in Rome, through seeing Paul’s imprisonment, and his response to his imprisonment,
They can see that the message they’ve heard, not only appeals to their deepest need for relationship with God,
Not only gives them hope for eternity,
The gospel of Jesus works out in this life too, even amidst the worst of circumstances, unjustly accused, and innocently suffering.
If it works out in that situation,
If the same message that I’ve believed, can give Paul the clarity to make sense of his situation,
Well that gives me, average Christian in Rome, being a little bit persecuted by my pagan neighbours,
Seeing my name in Latin graffiti, mockingly scratched on the walls of the Colosseum,
That gives me confidence to speak the word of God.
And as I consider those same pagan Roman neighbours, who look like they’ve got it all together,
He’s got a good job as a scribe in the Senate,
Their house is nice,
They’ve got a couple of slaves,
A private tutor for their kids,
When I become confident in the gospel of a suffering God who died for the sin and rebellion of his people,
And when I realise that that gospel sustains,
And makes sense of the world,
Ah, then I see my neighbour not as someone who has it all together, who has everything going for him, I seem him as someone who is far from God, and living as God’s enemy, and in desperate need of hearing the Word of God.
That’s how seeing Paul in chains, encourages the Christians in Rome to proclaim the gospel without fear.
And you can see why I said before, it’s useful for us to read other people’s mail!
Because if you’re a Christian, then you have believed the same gospel as these Roman brothers and sisters did,
The same gospel that Paul believed,
The same gospel that got him thrown into prison,
And the same gospel that sustained him, and allowed him to see that he was a prisoner, not of Rome, but of Christ.
And so Paul’s example can also be an example for us.
When I was a teenager I read the accounts of the 5 missionary martyrs of Ecuador, some of you will know the story, Nate Saint, Jim Elliot and others, killed by the Auca Indians they were seeking to reach with the gospel.
3 of those 5men had trained at Wheaton College in the US, a Christian college, which, in the years after the deaths, saw a significant increase in the numbers of men and women offering themselves for missionary service, because of the example of these 5, who gave their lives.
If you’re a Christian, then the message you’ve believed, is the message that allows that kind of response to suffering and trial.
If you’re not a Christian, we’re thrilled that you’re here. And we want to help you work through these questions, and so I’d ask you,
Your way of looking at life,
Your “spirituality”, does it allow you think kind of response?
Does it help you to make sense of life when the wheels fall off, and everything comes crashing down?
Or do you need to come to grips with the message of Jesus, that says “what is important is not my physical well-being”
Do you need to come to grips with a message that gives you confidence regardless of your circumstances.
I mentioned David Cook’s father before. It took 12 months before he eventually became a Christian, but the turning point for him, wasn’t some final piece of evidence for the resurrection,
That ultimate realisation of his own sinfulness, he’d already seen the truth of all that.
The turning point for him was his colleague Ernie saying to him, “You know Bruce, it’s a wonderful thing to be a Christian.”
And the penny dropped.
Of course it is!
Look at the kind of confidence and assurance the Christian faith offers.
If you are a Christian, are you verse 14 confident in the Lord?,
Will people look at you and know, “It’s a wonderful thing to be a Christian”?
But it’s possible to preach Christ from wrong motives!
Unfortunately though, for Paul, not everyone who is speaking the good news of Jesus around Rome, has right motives.
Read with me from verse 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 defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.
For Paul “preach Christ” is shorthand for preaching about Jesus’ ministry,
His death as a substitute for sinful people,
His rule as God’s chosen king,
But Paul’s saying, it’s possible to preach that message, but to do it from wrong motives.
And notice that it’s wrong motives, not a wrong message. He’s not speaking about people who have a different message about Jesus,
A different understanding of who God is,
No, these people are orthodox in their message, they speak the truth, but their motives, we see in verse 17, are selfish.
They preach Christ, but with the hope that they can advance not the gospel, but themselves, and simultaneously, make life difficult for Paul.
It’s interesting that word Paul uses a particular word for envy, word that had been narrowly defined by the Philosopher Aristotle.
It’s not the word that describes really wanting to get your hands on something that someone else has, It’s a word that describes wanting that thing, purely so the other person doesn’t have it!
Think of 2 little kids, playing with toys. What toy does little Jonny want? Whatever toy little Billy has! And the only reason he wants it is because Billy has it!
Here are people who are preaching the gospel, purely to deprive Paul.
To deprive him of what?
Well perhaps influence,
Perhaps they see the Roman legal system as a means of getting rid of Paul altogether, “If we keep Christianity on the front page of the papers, the authorities will be forced to take action, and that will be the end of Paul, and we can step into the vacuum!”
But what does Paul say? Verse 18 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.
See to Paul, the impure motives don’t matter!
The gospel of Jesus, the lordship of Jesus, have taken such a grip on him, that the desire of others to hurt him is nothing, compared to the joy of seeing the gospel advance.
And do you see the irony?
These preachers, what are they trying to do?
They’re trying to get at Paul, to stir up trouble for him, so they preach about Jesus,
But the end result of preaching about Jesus is what? The gospel advances! The very thing that Paul himself wants, even more than his freedom and comfort and wellbeing!
They’re giving him what he values, even more than his life itself, verse 21 and 22.
Thanks very much!
See his perspective,
What he thinks is important,
The transformation of his heart, and his mind, and his priorities as the gospel of Jesus has sunk down deep into him,
Means he can respond, not in anger towards these people, not even sort of ambivalently, but positively,
He evaluates the outcome of their actions, according to the one measure that is of any importance to him at all:,
The measure of, “Is Christ being preached?
Will this help people hear about Jesus?
Will this advance the gospel?”
See how far absent from Paul’s thinking, is any measure like,
Does this reflect well on me?
Will this help the advance of Clayton?
Will this make my life easier?
It was the American author Gore Vidal who was quoted in London’s Sunday Times Magazine, “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”
There’s nothing of that in Paul’s response, is there?
I wonder how different our lives, our ministries, our church might be, if Paul’s measure here, was our sole measure of evaluating options,
And assessing ministries,
And looking at what we see around us in the world and working where we fit and what’s valuable?
Is Christ preached?
Will this whatever, This ministry,
This career choice,
Will it preach Christ?
Will it see the gospel advance?
So when the time comes for us to launch a new Sunday service here at Trinity, and it’s going to mean a whole lot of changes,
Will we evaluate that opportunity according to questions like:
Will it mean more work for me?
Am I going to miss some of my friends as they go to another service?
Will I get asked to do Kids’ Ministry again?
Will it cost me money?
Or, will we ask ourselves, Will this, under God, see the gospel advance?
Will people hear about Jesus?
Or if we find ourselves in somebody else’s sights,
Someone’s out to get us,
Maybe even other Christians, trying to make life difficult for us,
What would be the impact for the gospel, if our sole concern was this?,
Is Christ preached?
Will this see the gospel advance?
Could we say, because of this thing that’s happened,
Because of what that person is saying about me,
Because I’m being sidelined in my workplace, or in my relationships,
Could we say with Paul, “because of this I rejoice”?
If another group of Christians set about trying to make us look bad,
“That Trinity Mount Barker, they’re a bunch of selfish so and sos, but come to our church and we’ll look after you, we’ll love you, but don’t go near Trinity with a 10 foot pole!”
If the end result of that, in God’s sovereignty, was that people were going to that church, leaving our church, going there and taking their friends, and more and more people hear the gospel, would we be OK with that?
Could we say “Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,”?
That’s a tough one to answer, isn’t it?
A tough one to answer honestly!
The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached
Let me also say, verse 18, is especially encouraging for those of us who have a public ministry.
See it’s easy for us,
Bible Study Group leaders,
Youth Group Leaders,
Kids’ Church Leaders,
It’s easy for us to have mixed motives.
Now I can assure you that I’ve never stood here and preached purely out of selfish ambition, envy or rivalry. I promise you!
But I know my heart, and I know that every part of me is corrupted by sin, and so I can’t say that those things have never been a part of my motivation,
And if not those motivations, then some like them, have certainly reared their ugly heads.
And equally, even if your ministries not public, but you realise you’ve defended the gospel on occasion really just to win the argument,
Perhaps you’ve held your ground in a conversation about Jesus, simply out of pride, rather than out of conviction.
Maybe you’ve talked to someone about Jesus, because you want the mess of their life cleaned up, not really because you long for Christ to be honoured.
False motives? Yes.
Do we need to repent? Yes.
Do we need to fix our eyes again on the great motivation Paul found in the gospel? Yes?
But those confused motives don’t render our ministry meaningless.
We haven’t hamstrung God’s purposes, because selfishness and envy crept in.
Can Christ be preached even through false motives? Yes!
Can the gospel advance despite our selfishness? Yes!
Can God use even flawed, sinful messengers, like you and me? Yes!
Such is the power of God and of the gospel, that Paul can rejoice, even though those who preach this way, are doing it only to cause trouble for him.
Of for us, to be so united in purpose, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel verse 27, that we would share that perspective.
Oh for our longing that the gospel would advance, to be the driving factor that shapes our actions,
That shapes our perspective on suffering and opposition,
Our response to those who set out to cause us trouble,
Even our reflections on life and death
One rule of behaviour,
One measure of success,
The advance of the gospel.
Oh that we could forget for a moment that we’re reading someone else’s mail, and read it as if our names were on the page.
But what does it matter?, Friends at Trinity, The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.