Text: Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30
The Apostle Paul writes, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (v. 12) What’s happened to him has served to advance the Gospel. Now Paul, he didn’t have such a good life. He was hated, beaten, thrown out of cities, screamed at, stoned and left for dead – not once, but twice, imprisoned unjustly, and, eventually, beheaded for his faith in Jesus Christ. But still he writes to his beloved in Philippi, “What has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” (vv. 12-13)
In the Old Testament reading last week Joseph told his brothers – the ones who out of jealously stripped him, threw him into a pit, and sold him into slavery – “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Gen. 50:20) The Christian life is one of paradoxes. We are in the world, but not of the world. We have rejoicing, but we also have suffering. We are saints, and yet at the same time we are so often proven to be sinners as well. We are saved by grace through faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, we have the gift of eternal life; and yet, each of us still going to die someday. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? Well today we have the answer as to why we are here as Christians, as the Church. In Christ, and through the salvation we have in Him, we stand firm in faith so that others may know His love.
We don’t know where Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians from, but it’s clear that he is imprisoned. Tradition states the Paul wrote this letter from prison in Rome in about 59 A.D., but it could have also been from Corinth or even Philippi. Whatever the case, it is clear that Paul is imprisoned for the faith that he has in Jesus Christ. And he’s okay with it. He’s okay with it because the more that he is persecuted, the more he is beaten, the more he is treated harshly, it’s actually that much more that the Gospel goes out. The more the world tries to diminish the faith of Jesus Christ, the more it actually spreads and is talked about. In Paul’s case, it’s such that all who are guarding him, even all those who are connected with him, know that it’s because of Jesus, and nothing else, that he is in chains.
Paul says that’s okay because, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (v. 21) To live is Christ. To live for Paul is to belong to, and be in, the life of Christ. He says in Galatians 2 that, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (v. 20) To live for Paul, and for us, is Christ. Jesus, our Great High Priest, has sacrificed His own body in our place on the cross. He loved us by taking our sin and shame upon Himself, and carrying it to the grave to separate us from the guilt of our sin forever. He did this to bring us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. For us to live is Christ, for through Him we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness.
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The life we now live in the flesh we live through faith in the Son of God, who took our sin and shame upon Himself. To live is to live in Him, and to die is gain. Jesus promised the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus in paradise. I think we can all agree that the world we live in right now is not paradise. I used to work at a Lutheran summer camp in northern Wisconsin. There was this one counselor who was from Minnesota. Whenever the topic of Minnesota came up in any sort of way, he always made sure that everyone knew that Minnesota is “God’s country.” It was all in fun, and I’m now being tempted to call North Dakota “God’s country;” but none of us can really deny that we live in broken world. We long for the place where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, where all things are made new. But we’re not there yet. Why?
Paul says, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me…my desire is to depart and be with Christ…but to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account…for your progress and joy in the faith.” (vv. 22-26) This is the answer to why we are still here. It’s why we, having received the forgiveness of sins freely through Jesus Christ, are still here. We remain so that others may learn of the saving work of Jesus Christ on their behalf and come to share the same hope that we do. St. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) God our heavenly Father desires that all be saved by hearing the Word of Jesus Christ and being given the gift of faith in Him. It is to this end that we gather as a church.
It says in Ephesians 3 that we are, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand.” (Eph. 2:10) Though apart from Christ we can do nothing, in Him we can do all things. Without Christ all that we do and are is filthy rags, but by Him we are built like a city on a rock, a light for those who struggle in the darkness of this world. And because we are in Christ, and live in His life, good works proceed naturally without our even thinking about it. The Holy Spirit works within us the boldness and confidence that we need to speak the Good News of Jesus Christ to those around us, to share God’s love with those in need, and to live in that same love, both towards God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As new creatures in Christ, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (v. 27) Paul knows that we are sinners. The only way we can do that is to stand firm in the one spirit and mind – the confession that though we were nothing but sin, Christ died for us. He died for you to make you a perfect, blameless, child of God. Our worthiness is not found within ourselves, but in Christ. In Christ, in the salvation that we receive from Him alone, we are made to stand firm in the faith. And standing firm, we are led by the Holy Spirit to reach out.
The text says to not be “frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation…It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.” (vv. 28-29) Know this, that being a Christian means that not only is a cross placed upon your back, but a crosshair as well. Satan will try day and night to rip your faith from you. He will bite and tear and pull to get your mind off of things of God – the forgiveness of sins – and onto yourself and the things of man.
But do not fear, and do not lose heart. God knows how to use bad things for good. As Christians we have been called not only to believe in Jesus and receive the free forgiveness of sins in Him, but also to suffer as He suffered. The funny thing is, and Paul knew this, the more the world persecutes us and hates us, the more that Jesus is actually talked about. God’s Word is living and active, and even in the mouths of those who hate us, it still runs its course.
Sometimes I wonder why Jesus doesn’t just take us to heaven now. The answer is that He doesn’t want anyone to die but that all receive life through faith in Him. This faith comes through hearing the Word of God. This is why we are here: to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a world in desperate need. It will be hard. Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)