Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ For the Greater Progress of the Gospel: Phil 1:12-20 (Part IV)

Over the past week, we’ve considered Paul’s comforting words to the Philippian church. Paul begins recounting how God has used Paul’s situation for His glory, and then reminds them that God will build His Church despite opposition. Finally this week, he reminds us of our ultimate concern.

III. Paul rejoices that the gospel is proclaimed (vv. 15-18).

Paul responds to the Philippians who are wondering about Paul’s enemies enviously preaching the gospel. Paul says, ‘Some are out there because they know that I’m in prison. They love me, they love the gospel, they love Christ, and say ‘We better step up and share the gospel.’ They’re doing it out of love, with right motives. Others, however, may be thinking, ‘Paul’s in prison, and when he hears that we’re out preaching the gospel and winning converts and gaining fame through our faithful proclamation, he’ll be discouraged.’’

Paul says to the Philippians, ‘I’m not discouraged when Christ is truly preached, even if it’s out of envy and competition or designed to discourage me, as long as the gospel is preached truly.’ He’s talking about the true gospel being proclaimed by people with wrong motives. His concern is the promotion gospel of Christ. Paul says, ‘whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, in this I rejoice.’

IV. Paul’s goal is to glorify God whether free or in prison. (vv. 19-20)

Here he begins confident that he is going to be released, but after saying that he says, ‘Whether I’m released or not, I know I’m not going to be put to shame, because my goal, my hope is that Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death.’

Paul is speaking and living out the theology of the cross. Jesus’ great instrument of shame is Jesus’ great instrument of victory: the cross. If that is the case for Jesus, so also it is for all those who trust in Him, and so Paul says, ‘Whether I live in prison or die at the hand of a Roman executioner, if Christ is exalted I will not be put to shame, because I am here to live for the glory of God.’

Paul’s thinking is gospel-centered and Christ-centered: that is transforming for the way we approach life! When we live for Christ’s exaltation, when that diagnosis comes that no person in his right mind would wish for, if we are living for the exaltation of Christ, the question becomes not ‘Lord, why me?’ but ‘Lord, how will You cause this to work for the exaltation of Christ? I know I’m in Your hands. I know You love me like You love Your own Son, because no experience in this life can abase me that exalts Him.’ It’s the principle of the cross, that the way to glory is the way of the cross.

This world is filled with hard circumstances. But in them, Paul is saying, it is our joy to exalt Christ in our bodies, whether we live or die.

Now three things in application from this truth:

First, the word of God can’t be imprisoned. Paul makes it emphatically clear here, you can imprison the messengers of the word of God, but you can’t imprison the word of God. I think sometimes God sidelines the choicest of His servants precisely so that He can show that He can do this without them. Paul seemed indispensible for the first century spread of the gospel, and the Lord puts him in prison, and He says: ‘Watch this! The word of God can’t be imprisoned.’ That’s so important for us to understand in the Western world, where everywhere we look around it looks like the word of God is being hindered, imprisoned, or rejected. Sometimes that makes us think we’ve got to change the message, or our method, or use a new strategy. No, we need to be faithful to the word of God: it cannot be imprisoned; when He’s ready to let the lion loose, no one can hinder it.

Second, Christians rejoice when the gospel is being preached. The Philippians don’t quite know how to react to the progress of the gospel amongst these other preachers, and Paul reminds them when the gospel goes forth, he’s happy!

Thirdly, Christians long for Christ to be exalted, whether this is in our life or in our death. Our response to our circumstances is so important and telling, because our response shouldn’t be, “Why me?” but “How is Christ going to be exalted in this?” for then Christ is at the center of our universe and our worldview!

Paul has a word for us about God’s providence—to trust His providence, a word for us about the desire of our hearts in seeing the gospel proclaimed, and a word for us in understanding the purpose of our lives: to exalt Christ, whether in life or in death, to glorify and enjoy God forever. That’s what we’re here for. In every circumstance we have the privilege and opportunity to exalt Christ. May He help us to do so.

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