Saturday, October 25, 2014

141026 Honoring Christ

Paul, writing from prison, is still able to rejoice because the gospel is being preached. There was then, just as there is today, a great many differences in the way the gospel is presented and in the motivations behind the presentation of the gospel. The important thing was that Christ was preached. Jesus Christ must be honored in our lives and in our deaths. In today’s passage Paul is struggling with the desire to depart and be with Christ. At the same time, he recognizes that it is important for him to remain alive. He wants to continue his ministry until the very day that Christ returns or calls him home.
Listen while I read Philippians 1:18b-26. Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Paul had confidence that…
The prayers of the Philippians will help set him free.
Prayer is an important theme in all of Paul’s letters. In most of his letters he included a prayer for the people to whom he was writing. He wrote to the Corinthians asking for them to help him by prayer and also to Philemon whom he asked to put feet on his prayers by preparing a room for him to stay in when he came, after he was delivered through their prayers! In fact, we today do not put enough stock in the power of prayer. I remember when I was a child it was common to have cardboard plaques around the house with sayings on them in glue and glitter. One I remember was, “Prayer Changes Things”. I believe that’s true but it is also true that prayer changes people. Paul calls on the Philippian people that they might pray that he would be released from prison…
And he will not be embarrassed in his testimony.
We learn a lot from reading the personal requests of men like Paul. We know that the early church was severely persecuted and that there were times when Christians fell away from the faith. Throughout the history of the church there have been times of persecution that have caused many Christians to renounce their faith. At the time of Paul’s arrest it was possible that he would be asked to honor Caesar as a god. Many Christians were faced with that demand. The Romans did not understand why it was impossible to say, “Caesar is Lord”. They knew it really didn’t mean anything but for the Christian such a statement meant everything. Often the Christian would be brought to the place where they should make this statement and instead they would say, “Christ is Lord”! They would then be led away to execution. Rather than causing the Christian population to be reduced those executions seemed to cause the growth of the church. In fact, the early Christian writer Tertullian stated that, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”.
Paul was very concerned that he might fail to stand up when it came to his execution. I am sure he was aware of the words of Jesus, “… whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” It’s one thing to be ashamed of our own actions but to be ashamed of Jesus could lead to frightening consequences! To be ashamed of Jesus could lead to denying Jesus! Jesus said if we deny him he will deny us! In his letter to the Romans Paul had proudly proclaimed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel”. Now he called for prayer because he did not want to be ashamed — he wanted…
Christ to be honored by his life. Turn with me to Galatians 2:20. Here Paul is sharing his testimony. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul believed, and taught, that when a person comes to Christ the old life is positionally put to death and the believer enters into a new life. He knew that Christ would be honored by his life because the life he lived, he lived by faith in the Son of God. We need to remember Paul’s words, “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live our whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8)
Paul did not want to be ashamed if he had to face death for Christ. He wanted Christ be honored by his life and he also wanted…
Christ to be honored by his death. Sometime later, Paul wrote to Timothy as he approached his expected execution. Turn with me to 2 Timothy 4:6-8. He could see the handwriting on the wall, so to speak. Listen while I read. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Because of the prayers of many people all over the Roman world Paul was able to assert, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there was awaiting him a crown of righteousness.
Praise God! Paul would not be ashamed when it came to giving up his life for the Lord Jesus Christ. I can only pray that I would be able to face execution for Christ with an equal confidence. We will each surely give an account of himself to the Lord. I feel fear when I think that I have to face God’s judgment with so many things that I’ve done in my life. And then I remember that the word of God tells us that God made us alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. He set it aside, nailing it to the cross. I praise God for the forgiveness that comes to us because of the cross of Christ. The Christian…
Life is nothing less than Christ. Turn with me to John 17:20-23. Now listen to the words of Jesus. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
In Jesus’ high priestly prayer He prayed for us as well as his disciples. He prayed that we will have unity with one another that is as strong as the unity Jesus and the Father have with each other.
How does that work? Imagine a set of nesting boxes. The outer box represents the Christian believer. The next nesting box represents Jesus inside the believer. Inside the box representing Jesus is a box that represents God the Father. That would seem to be complete except Jesus said, “just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,”. So there is a fourth box representing Jesus surrounded by the Father who is surrounded by Jesus who is surrounded by the believer.
Another way of understanding is to see that the Scripture teaches when Christ died on the cross we, positionally, died with him. Romans six clearly states that we have been united with him in a death like his! In Colossians, chapter 3, Scripture teaches us that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God. Further than that, verse four tells us, that Christ is our life! This is wonderful news! Since Jesus is the only one who ever lived a victorious life and He, upon our confession of faith in Him, has become our life! Jesus, who had no sin of His own, became sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) If you are born again, through faith in Jesus’ work on the cross, Christ has become your life! So that we can say with the apostle Paul, “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.” We have Jesus’ life in us and now can rise above the “life” that we lived in the past. This is not a feeling that we have it is a fact that we need to act on. We are intertwined, in our spirit, with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit! We must know that Christ is living in us and act like He is living through us, and consequently, live like it! Jesus who is in us gives us victory over the world! For me to live is Christ and to die is gain! Life is nothing less than Christ and…
Death is being with Christ. Turn with me to Romans 14:7-9.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
The life that we now live is no longer our own, if we live, we live to the Lord, if we die, we die to the Lord. Jesus died for us so that we no longer live for ourselves but for Him. Our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and we should live like it! At the death of the believer there is an immediate transition — to die is gain! We need to remember that always, especially when we are down. It would seem that nothing could be greater than having Christ as our life while we’re on this earth. Paul assures us that death is better than life! Remember, Jesus Christ, who began a good work in us will bring it to completion. He who calls us is faithful and He will never leave us or forsake us while we are on this earth. He will either come back for us while we live or welcome us when we die. We need to choose life in Christ over the world’s way of living! Jesus came to give us abundant life. Believe it and behave like it!
Paul had many reasons to lose heart and live in depression yet he made a choice that wherever he was, in whatever condition he lived, he would be content. In fact, he had written to the Corinthians earlier, that he was content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities because when he was weak the strength of Christ could be revealed through him. He had written to the Romans that he actually rejoiced in suffering because suffering produces endurance which strengthens character and gives hope and courage. Today, we are not faced with the same identical problems as the first century church was but we are faced with opposition that is growing stronger every day. Put your faith in God — He will take you through whatever you have to face. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Whatever you face He will go with you. Confess Him as Lord! Today is the day of salvation.
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Friday, October 17, 2014

141019 Rejoicing in the Gospel

Philippians 1:12-18 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Paul wants to confirm that his imprisonment serves a positive purpose. Too often we see difficult things as always bad. The truth is many difficult things come into our life for a good purpose. We forget too easily that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Paul has come to a very difficult time in his life. He had been warned that if he went to Jerusalem nothing but imprisonment and afflictions awaited him. He went anyway, because he was constrained by the Spirit to do so (Acts 20:22-23). Looking back on those experiences from his imprisonment in Rome he could see that these things had served to advance the gospel. In fact…
His imprisonment was for Christ. When Jesus spoke of the days that lay ahead for the disciples part of his warning prophecy involved imprisonment, and what would result from it. Turn with me to Luke 21:10-19. Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians part of his defense was that he had experienced far more imprisonments than the marshmallow ministers who had followed in his steps and were drawing people away from the churches he had established. (2 Corinthians 11:22-29)
Today the same kinds of things are still going on. Once I was approached by a pastor who had come to a church of a different denomination. He told that he was glad to see me there because he could grow his church by taking the people we had led to Christ and lead them on to his brand. I don’t want to be divisive so I won’t name the denomination. Suffice it to say, so far as I know, none of our people were ever drawn into his circle.
Paul’s imprisonment encouraged others to preach the gospel even if they were off base in part of their theology. In fact, Paul learned over the years to present the gospel a number of different ways. He said that though he was free from all, he made himself a servant to all, that he might win more of them. He said, “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some.” He was willing to have such an attitude for the sake of the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
It was very important considering the variety of people Paul ministered to. In fact,…
The gospel went to the very top. Paul always turned to the Jews first. I suspect it was because they had the word of God. So he preached to the Jews and to the Gentiles. He worked among the poor but also among the powerful. Turn with me to Philippians 4:21-23. Let’s see what he had to say about the makeup of the fellowship in Rome. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
I have often marveled at this conclusion to the Philippian letter. Paul spoke of the brothers with him without listing them by name. It is possible none of the leading disciples, other than Timothy, were there when he wrote this letter. At the same time, he speaks of those who were with him as “saints”, showing the growth of the fellowship of believers. Then he made the jaw-dropping statement, “especially those of Caesar’s household.” Earlier Paul had named the Imperial guard as being among those who had heard the gospel and who knew that he was imprisoned for the gospel.
Paul rejoiced that the gospel was preached even by those who disagreed with him. Because he knew that from the highest to the lowest the gospel was being preached. And…
Though Paul was bound the gospel was free. Turn with me to 2 Timothy 2:8-13. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.
The book of Acts closes with the words, Paul was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”
The Apostle was in prison, or at the least under house arrest, — bound with chains! Luke in the book of Acts observed that Paul was teaching with all boldness and without being hindered. Paul himself later wrote to Timothy that he was suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. Then he proclaims, “But the word of God is not bound”. One of the most powerful stories I have ever read about the gospel penetrating darkness is told by Ravi Zacharias. I hope you’re not offended by this true story:
Shortly after Vietnam fell, Hien Phan was imprisoned on accusations of helping the Americans. His jailers tried to indoctrinate him against democratic ideals and the Christian faith. He was forced to read only communist propaganda in French or Vietnamese, and the daily deluge of Marx and Engels began to take its toll. “Maybe,” he thought, “I have been lied to. Maybe God does not exist. Maybe the West has deceived me.” So Hien determined that when he awakened the next day, he would not pray anymore or think of his faith.
The next morning, he was assigned the dreaded chore of cleaning the prison latrines. As he cleaned out a tin can overflowing with toilet paper, his eye caught what seemed to be English printed on one piece of paper. He hurriedly grabbed it, washed it, and after his roommates had retired that night, he retrieved the paper and read the words, “Romans, Chapter 8.” Trembling, he began to read, “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. … For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:28,38,39). Hien wept. He knew his Bible, and he knew that there was not a more relevant passage for one on the verge of surrender. He cried out to God, asking forgiveness. This was to have been the first day that he would not pray; evidently God had other plans.
The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be bound even in the darkest prison in the world or the dirtiest place in the prison. Hien Pham was an energetic young Christian. He had worked with the American forces before the war and was miraculously released from his prison and from his country. Today, if he is still alive, he is a businessman in the United States.
Paul observed that the gospel could not be bound and in fact he saw that the effect of trying to bind the gospel produced the exact opposite results. Instead of causing the Christians to go underground in fear…
Paul’s example encouraged boldness. I often think of how brave, and bold, the early Christians were. And then I read part of their prayer found in Acts 4:29-31. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Peter and John had been imprisoned overnight because of the miracle of healing done for the man at the Temple gate. Their arrest had caused their fellow believers to go into hiding out of fear. Peter and John did not bring them encouraging words. They told the church that they had been commanded not to teach at all in the name of Jesus. They had answered their captors, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Even if it meant prison they must obey God rather than men. Immediately, the church understood that they needed to ask God for boldness. The result of their prayer was that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued speak the word of God with boldness.
Paul’s imprisonment was allowing the gospel to be taken to the very top of the Roman society. The chains on Paul did not hinder the gospel in any way. However…
Even Paul needed prayer for boldness. Turn with me to Ephesians 6:18b-20. Paul has asked them to pray and To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Paul has suffered much for the privilege of preaching the gospel! He had been beaten so many times he couldn’t count. He was often near death as result of these beatings. Once he was stoned and, I believe, actually died and was brought back to life. He was shipwrecked three times and spent one entire night adrift at sea. He suffered many dangers — of course, there were times when he was almost overwhelmed emotionally by the events around him. And so, from his prison cell he would call out to Timothy asking for prayer that he would be bold in proclaiming the gospel. You see…
The important thing — the gospel is preached. Turn with me to 2 Timothy 4:1-5. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
In writing to Timothy from the same imprisonment that he had written the Philippian letter from Paul gives instruction. “Preach the word” always be ready to patiently preach a sound gospel. The most important message that can be gotten to the world today is that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. That, though we are all sinners, Jesus came to live among us without any sin of His own so that he could take our sins to the cross and leave them there.
I always try to be sure that I have given the gospel as clearly as possible every time I have the opportunity to speak. Nothing that I say is as important as the words that bring salvation to the person in need.
We live in a world far different from the world of Paul’s day. Today preachers are in churches, on the radio, on TV, on the Internet, and on the street corners. We too should rejoice that the gospel is being preached even when it is not perfect. If God waited for every preacher to be perfect on every point of doctrine before the gospel could be preached there would be little gospel preaching. Every true preacher of the gospel will always tell the truth about Jesus. At the same time there may be peripheral matters that they disagree with others on. The important thing is that all are born in sin and in action have fallen short of God’s glory. All are condemned because the wages of sin is death. God sent His Son, Jesus, to pay the price for our sins and if we will confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead we will be saved. Have you committed your life to Him? Today can be the day of salvation publicly confess Christ as Lord.

All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.