Summary: May God grant us the courage and willingness to exalt Christ in life and in death!
There’s no such thing as a sure thing.” That statement brings out the blatant skepticism inherent to the human nature. Whether you’re dealing with the stock market or simply perusing the coupons in the Sunday paper, people are cautious to jump at something. After all, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
“There’s no such thing as a sure thing.” In our heart of hearts, we might concur. And that is why St. Paul’s words this morning are so shocking. His sentiment and hope stands in complete contrast of our often negative, cynical outlook on life. In fact, the apostle states in all confidence that CHRISTIANS HAVE A SURE THING. He goes on to outline that certainty. He tells us that we have a sure thing 1) In Life, and we have a sure thing even 2) In Death.
1) In Life
The Christians in Philippi must have wondered what was going on. The apostle Paul was locked up in prison, they had no idea if Paul would survive or not. What’s worse they wondered how this would all effect them. The apostle was in prison facing the possibility of a death penalty. Would people even bother listening to the gospel if their best-known and most eloquent supporter – St. Paul – was a prisoner of the state? It seemed the only sure thing was that the Christian church was on the “outs”.
The truth is that Paul’s imprisonment actually became a tool in God’s hands. God worked through Paul’s stay in Rome to advance the gospel. The Palace Guard was specifically assigned to guard Paul. This was a detachment of elite imperial troops. They served as the emperor’s bodyguard. As Paul awaited his trial in Rome, he became acquainted with many of the soldiers of the palace guard. These soldiers began to realize that Paul was no ordinary prisoner, and certainly not a criminal. It became clear that Paul was simply a prisoner because of his connection to Jesus Christ. His only crime was that he proclaimed the gospel.
The guard members spoke about Paul’s case with each other, with their families, and with others in Rome. As a result, the gospel of Christ was being shared. Paul’s case became “front page news.” It was the talk of Rome.
Paul realized something as he sat in prison. He could have felt sorry for himself, doubted God’s love and guidance, or he could have taken advantage of the opportunity to make a friend and share the name of Jesus. Paul realized he had a sure thing. And he knew God had given it to him. St. Paul trusted that the Lord would provide for all of his needs in life. It’s as he wrote to the Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
The apostle Paul lists the reason he had this opportunity to speak boldly, even in the face of uncertainty and danger: “For I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 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.” Did you catch the reason? Paul admits that his boldness was the result of the Philippians who prayed for him. They prayed that God would give Paul the strength and boldness to take advantage of opportunity to share Jesus, even though he was in chains. The reason they prayed was because they trusted the Holy Spirit would grant a sure thing; that he would give Paul the words needed to share the name of Jesus with those who imprisoned him. The Spirit was using Paul to glorify Christ.
It’s fairly certain that you won’t ever be thrown in prison because you’re a Christian, but God promises us a sure thing. The sure thing is that he will give us opportunities to share our faith with people in our lives. That means the Lord might even put us in unsavory places to accomplish his goal. He might put you in line at the unemployment office, so that you might talk with someone there who needs the hope of Christ. He might put you in the hospital because a nurse, a doctor, or a fellow-patient could benefit from your confidence in Jesus as your Savior. The Lord might put a co-worker in your office that loudly proclaims his unbelief in God, just so you have an opportunity to give a reason for the hope you have.
Too often we’re tempted to doubt God and wonder if he knows what’s best for our lives. We might wonder why God allows sickness, unemployment, or a family crisis to enter our lives. Yet, God tells us exactly why these things often happen – it’s his way to give us a sure thing because that is his way of answering prayers. You may be struggling with a problem or crisis in your life because that’s God’s answer to your prayers. If you’ve ever prayed for patience, you know that God will often answer that prayer by giving you an illness, a troubled child, or some other challenge to cultivate patience. Just think how God answers our prayers on behalf of each other! The Lord may lead us to face a tough situation – unemployment, hospital stay, or death in the family – as a chance for us to pray for one another. And in this way we rally around each other and build up the unity of the Spirit.