Last week as a sort of a set up for the Book of Philippians as a letter that we can learn how the apostle Paul reacted to his personal situation. We found a thread of Joy, and encouragement in the book. The underlying point of looking at the scripture is that we live in and are affected by the culture and what is happening, we have an example of how we should respond in our times.
But it seemed to me that Paul’s response to imprisonment was not natural. He did not fuss about his situation in the opening of the letter. He offers thanks to God for the help that the church in Philippi has been and speaks of the feeling of Joy he has when he remembers them and prays for them.
All this while chained to a Guard 24X7. It just did not seem right… the situation … or his response…
I know several a people that remind me a lot about Paul’s life situation and response.
One of them is named Margret; I guess that she is at least 85 years old now. She has a heart condition, arthritis and is a fragile diabetic. Her biggest battle is with infections in her hands and feet. 11 years ago she was already home bound although she did come to church about 3 times in the 8 years I was her pastor. She took care of her husband He was already 90 however he died in my first year. They had married in the depression, Homer worked in the CCC camps (Civilian Conservation Corps) and later Celanese mill in Riverside. Margret raised a family in the mill village back in what she called to good old days. And now is in an assisted living facility.
From time to time Margret spends a lot of time alone with the TV and she also spends a fair amount of time waiting in Doctors offices.
Margret still sends me birthday and Christmas cards with personal notes and blessings. She is an encourager. She is a survivor.
- Picking up from where we stopped last week, Paul starts talking of his situation and what has happened as a result.
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”
Paul has noticed that the hardships he is facing, under house arrest, with all kinds of limitations has had a surprising result. The Praetorian Guard – Cesar’s personal guard, the guys on the other end of the chain. Are talking about this strange little man - Paul; and how he is imprisoned …in chains for his Lord – Jesus Christ.
That was a strange thought – the pagans – believe that bad things happened when you angered one of the Gods. This guy claims that his Lord wants him imprisoned as an act of service.
Can you imagine what it would have been like being chained to Paul?
A man that had this amazing passion for the Gospel.
A man that would love to preach to a stadium fill of pagans, a man that took beatings because he preached.
A man that did not consider any person or situation a threat because as a slave his life belonged to his master, Jesus Christ.
These guards are exposed to Paul for 4. 6, 8. maybe 12 hours a day.
If they won’t talk Paul talks any way. Paul has guest that come by a few at a time to bring him meals and keep him company and they talk about Jesus and the good news. So there is a constant exposure to the Story of Jesus Christ for a string of guards.
Simply stated, the guards are trapped with an evangelist. They can’t hit or abuse him – he is a Roman citizen. Some of them are probably paying other people to take their shift.
They start talking about this nutty little old man. They have to think that this attitude and response to house arrest and to the constant presence of a guard is unnatural…
His point of view….That he is in chains for Jesus is a strange concept.
Wither they are slowly become believers themselves…and it is very likely that many of them did or they just complained about their prisoner the whole Palace guard knew a lot about this man Paul
But, what seems even more interesting is what happens to the believers in Rome. They look at Paul’s situation and become empowered to speak in public …fearlessly.
That doesn’t seem right.
I visit the prison and jail from time to time to time in my secular work. I have talked to inmates that work on different work details. I know that most of them are locked up because of drug related offences.
If not directly selling drugs then perhaps agricultural ….growing special crops.
OR some were in financial acquisitions - stealing or holding up people to get money to buy drugs.
So, in my simple mind, things related to illegal drugs….can land a person in jail.
What are some of the good points about incarceration?
You get three “meals” every day.
You get a bed in a dorm like the military or college
Your clothes are provided.
You don’t have to work in order to have your basic needs met.
I can’t think of anything else that I can make even sound good.
The bathrooms….The quality of the meals….,The limitations and restrictions…. The buddies in the dorm…
I find the knowledge of what landed these people in jail to be a deterrent not an encouragement to risk going to jail myself.
In Paul’s day living outside of jail was worse than today’s prisoners have it. Being restricted and limited …even under house arrest was not a pleasant situation.
However, Paul says that the brothers are encouraged by his situation….encouraged to have courage…in spite of proof of consequences.
That seems un-natural.
Paul identifies that some preach Christ for the wrong reasons. Self importance, ambition and even in an attempt to make trouble for Paul….But others preach out of love. They preach because Paul can not.
The amazing thing to me is what Paul thinks about it. “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
Paul never passes up a fight when it comes to false teachers. People that teach the wrong information ALWAYS end up with harsh comments from Paul.
Paul does not attack their message…so it seems clear that the message is true, no matter what the motives of the messenger.
Motives don’t matter….Message Does!
Motives don’t matter….Message Does!
Christ is Preached!!!! That makes Paul REJOICE!!!
Again I have a problem with his attitude. It is too good. These other people are spreading the good news in Rome. Paul has been struggling to make it here for quite some time. It is his mission to preach Christ…. However; He is locked away, rejoicing when other people are out witnessing.
The theme of Joy and rejoicing is reemphasized that his situation is making an impact for the good of the message.
I mentioned that Margret spent a lot of time at doctor’s offices. For long periods of time she went through weekly treatment events with special antibiotics and have her hands and feet examined. She told me about her doctors and how most of them seemed to be foreigners. And She was confused how she could have three different doctors named Patel. It was difficult for her to keep them straight.
She would say, “I wish I did not have so many problems that required attention.” However, she said that she never let the time go to waste. She would talk to people in the waiting rooms about her savior and the blessings he provided.
She said she met a lot of good Christians in the waiting rooms. However, that is not the only people she talked to. In her treatment she talked to the nurses and doctors about how good God had been to her. Life, family, husband and even health. She assured me that she was praying for the day when one of those Dr. Patel’s would tell her that he had been saved.
She had decided that the good Lord kept her around so that she could talk to all these medical people and help them find salvation.
Margret has a mission. A mission to live as a Christian….to live un-naturally. She lives with a counter cultural attitude; she is not a victim of poor health she is a witness for eternal life. She demonstrates a super-natural joy because her relationship with Jesus.
It is probably physically hard, but she lives for Jesus. She has the courage to speak of his love at every opportunity and to encourage others.
Paul has a hope of courage… he has noticed how his situation has inspired courage.
He hopes for courage…that Christ will be exalted by his body either by the way he lives of by the way he dies.
He says, For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.
Let’s break that down. If he is physically alive he is a living body of Christ. Christ is alive in him. Christ sustains him. Christ has a plan for him.
However, if he dies. It is gain… the gain is to be with Christ., to be with God. Paul sees that the situation he is in, the suffering of the past and present are something that he looks forward to leavening behind. He sees that Death will take him into a new situation – free from pain, suffering, worry…most importantly being in the presence of the Lord.
He seems to feel as if he has a choice. And even though he longs for the promises given by Christ…he loves people too much.
“but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Folks, Paul has a confidence in Christ that is absolutely solid. He has no doubts that he will be with Christ when he dies. He feels that the promises of an eternity worshiping God are a fantastic thing. He is ready to GO!!!!
However, he knows that he needs to remain in the body for the good of the believers. For the good of the message. That his ability to endure the situation has a powerful influence on other believers. Which results in the message of Jesus being shared in spite of the dangers of sufferings and danger. That whatever good comes from his life is worth it.
Paul feels that it is important to hang onto life in spite of the quality of his life. He will struggle to hold on to life not simply to hold on to life but to encourage others.
I know many people that have said that they were ready to be with the Lord. The wondered whey God kept them around. They felt useless and warn out. Most hoped that at some point they would come to understand why God kept them here when they longed to be with him.
We live in a culture where the majority of people don’t understand hardship, hunger, suffering and yet they think that they do. They easily feel pressure and become desperate for options and easy solutions. They are looking for peace and hope because our current situation feels uncomfortable and for many out of control.
Their search makes them more observant that when times are easy.
They notice people that have courage when facing the same pressures.
They notice people that have an un-natural point of view.
They notice people that offer help and encouragement to others.
They notice people that find Joy in spite of the medical report or the job cutback, the looming debt.
They notice people that seek of a savior and healer when the antibiotics don’t seem to work. People that share that this life is the hard part because we have promises for holiness and health and love beyond what we can imagine in this world and this current situation.
It is clear that according to scripture, our role as believers does not exempt us from problems of this life. We are in the same boat as the people around us. We suffer the same problem, losses and situations. We are influenced by the down turn in the economy and the exposure to potential pandemic diseases. We struggle with family problems that come from relationships, choices and accidents.
So what is the benefit of having this relationship with God if we are on the titanic of life?
It is about the message. It is about receiving the promises and the faith in what is to come. It is about having a supernatural ability to deal with life’s problems no matter how extreme, how painful or sour. It is about having an attitude that is able to find something sweet and gracious and loving because of the Good news of Jesus Christ.
Paul was obviously well respected by the churches of his day. Most people were strongly influenced by him, his preaching, and his love. However, it seems that they also found encouragement from the hardships that occurred throughout his missionary journeys.
I believe that they had an even better view of his passion for Christ than we do. It seems that when they witnessed what he endured and yet he still held to his faith. He still found joy and even from a prison or house arrest she shared his feelings of joy and offered thanks and encouragement to those that shared his faith in the promises of God offered through Jesus Christ.
To rap this up, we clearly have no choice of being in the same boat as non Christians around us. We share in problems and pain and situations affect individuals and nations.
The only question is how do we respond?
What do we feel in our heart? Do we look at scripture or other Christians and find courage? Or do we join with the majority and just moan and groans, wail and gnashing of our teeth?
Let me just remind you that when looking at the fathers and mothers of our faith we find a pattern of un –natural response, and attitude and courage and joy that come from a relationship with Christ.
What do your family and friends and the world notice about you?
All glory be to God!