Tuesday, July 29, 2014
"Advance the Gospel" Sermon: Philippians 1:12-18a
“Advance the Gospel”
July 27, 2014 Second Reformed Church
What is the most important thing in your life? Your health? Your marriage? Your children? Your job? Your money? Your home? Your friends? Your stuff? What do you most look out for?
After Paul greets the Philippians in his letter and gives thanks for them and tells them the things that he yearns for them, he then turns to address their concerns about him. Remember, Paul was in prison in Rome, waiting to appeal his case – and preach the Gospel – before Caesar, himself.
In addressing the Philippians’ concerns, Paul tells them two things in this morning’s text:
First, suffering for the Gospel advances the Gospel.
Second, the advance of the Gospel is more important than the reasons people advance it.
Paul had plenty of enemies from the Jews and the Romans and others for a variety of reasons. And that does not surprise us, does it? Jesus promised that Christians will be enemies of the world:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:18-21, ESV).
Paul addresses the Philippians’ concerns about him regarding what seem to be two different groups of enemies. Paul is so vague about them that the Philippians must have known exactly who he meant without his going into much detail. We, however, can only safely conclude some basic facts about these two groups.
And so, we consider Paul’s points:
First, suffering for the Gospel advances the Gospel.
In Paul making that point, we understand that his enemies – his detractors – were saying, “See, Paul is in prison for preaching the Gospel. If he was really preaching what God said – if he was really a son of God – would God allow him to suffer at the hands of Rome? No, the Christian life is one of victory over sin, the devil, death, and Hell. If Paul is suffering, it is because he preached something that was not true. Paul is suffering because the Gospel Paul preached is not true.”
It’s not a terrible argument, is it? Paul was preaching about union with Christ, the hope and joy of the Kingdom, the victory of Christ in the Resurrection, and here he was, being hunted, beaten, and some people were even trying to kill him. That doesn’t sound right, does it?
The only problem with their criticism of Paul and his preaching of the Gospel was that Jesus promised that anyone who follows Him will suffer at the hands of the world. And the Scripture writers are in agreement about this: follow Christ and you will suffer.
As Peter wrote, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17, ESV).
When we follow Jesus, when we proclaim the Gospel, when we advance the Gospel, we should be prepared to suffer. The world hates Jesus and His Gospel. So, we shouldn’t be surprised.
And, understand, if you suffer for the Gospel, that advances the Gospel. As Paul says in this morning’s text, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,”
Paul explains two ways in which his imprisonment has served to advance the Gospel – how his suffering for Christ and His Gospel has served to advance the Gospel.
Paul tells the Philippians, “so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”
The imperial guard of Rome – the Praetorian Guard – consisting of 9,000 praetoriani – 9,000 guards (O’Brien, Philippians, 93). Paul told the Philippians that because he was imprisoned for Christ, word spread throughout these 9,000 guards that Paul was imprisoned for preaching that there is One Way to Salvation – through faith alone in God Who came to earth in the Person of Jesus and physically resurrected from the dead.
“Because I am imprisoned in Rome, the Gospel has advanced – 9,000 soldiers have heard the Gospel!”
And Paul tells the Philippians, “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
The Christians in Rome looked at Paul and how he was dealing with his imprisonment – continuing to preach the Gospel to any who would hear, and the Roman Christians took great confidence in his example. Rather than dissuade the Roman Christians from proclaiming the Gospel, seeing Paul continue to stand for the Gospel and preach the Gospel in prison, served to make them more confident in the message and the truth of the Gospel – it served to make them much more bold in their preaching – they were preaching the Gospel without fear of what might happen to them – they were submitting to the rule of Christ over them and not worrying about what secondary powers in the world might do.
As Jesus taught, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven”
(Matthew 10:28-33, ESV).
“The Christians in Rome have taken my imprisonment and my example in prison to be an encouragement and an emboldening – they are preaching the Gospel all the more – and without fear of what the world might do to them.”
Paul told them not to worry about the people who were preaching against Paul – and the accusations that his imprisonment showed that his preaching of the Gospel was defective – or wrong. The results he was seeing was that the Gospel was advancing – the guards were hearing the Gospel preached – and the Gospel message was circulating among the ranks. And the Christians in Rome were preaching all the more, with greater boldness and without fear.
Remember, as we have noted before, we are not called to seek out suffering – we are not called to be obnoxious for the sake of the Gospel. We are called to be prepared, because if we truly present the Gospel, suffering will occur. Maybe you’ll be thrown in jail, maybe you will be thought less of, maybe your spouse will be murdered, maybe you’ll lose a promotion – or a job. Are you ready to suffer for Christ and His Gospel – whatever that suffering may be – if it serves to advance the Gospel?
It’s not an easy thing to consider, and it’s easier to say you will lose anything than to actually lose something. So, we need to prepare for it – by getting our priorities right – seeing what is of true value and what we can let go of for the sake of Christ.
We looked at a passage recently in Sunday morning Bible study, where Jesus said, “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead’” (Matthew 8:18-22, ESV).
Jesus told a scribe – someone with some authority and standing in the community – you must be willing to become homeless for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus told a man whose father had just died that showing Christ the proper respect was a higher calling that honoring his father by being there to bury him.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24b-27, ESV).
Jesus tells those who follow Him, if it will advance the Gospel for you to be crucified, you must do it. Because advancing the Gospel is the most important thing – making sure everyone hears the Gospel call to belief and repentance – is the most important thing – it’s the chief job God has given us.
Second, the advance of the Gospel is more important than the reasons people advance it.
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.”
A second group of people, who were against Paul, were preachers who were envious or jealous of him. People who looked at him or heard him speak and thought, “I’m a better speaker than he is. I dress better than he does. My body is more buff than his. Why should he have all the followers? Now that he’s in jail, it’s my time to capitalize on what he was preaching and get the attention, the recognition – all the benefits that Paul was getting that I am certainly more deserving of.”
The words that Paul uses here do not mean that these preachers saw what Paul had and wanted to have it for themselves as well. What Paul is saying is that they preachers saw what he had and they wanted to have it and they wanted Paul not to have it. They did not just want to be as popular and as admired as Paul, but they wanted to be as popular and as admired as Paul and have Paul no longer be popular or admired. It is an insidious form of covetousness that says, “You have this thing that I want and deserve, and I want it and I want you to no longer have it.”
Now, here’s the rub: working out of insidious, envious, covetous, rivalrous motives, these people preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ rightly and truly! Whether they really believed and received the Gospel themselves, we are not told, but they preached the Gospel Paul preached because they were envious of what they thought Paul profited by preaching this Gospel, and they thought they should have that profit and not Paul! They were preaching the Truth of the Gospel – salvation in Jesus Alone – they were preaching for the wrong reasons, but they were truly proclaiming the Gospel.
“The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.”
There were preachers who preached, believing the Gospel, and believing that Paul was advancing the Gospel by suffering for the Gospel in prison. Then there were these others who preached out of selfishness – hoping to hurt Paul’s reputation – to knock him off the top of the heap – to cause him competition in the Gospel-preaching game.
But Paul was not concerned about being the most popular or the best recognized preacher of the Gospel – as he explained to the Philippians: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
Paul said he didn’t care why people were preaching the Gospel, as long as the Gospel was being rightly preached. If the Gospel was being preached – if it was being advanced – Paul was filled with joy – that joy that can only come through being satisfied with where you are in Christ Jesus.
Would you be satisfied with being nobody – with having any recognition or awards taken away by someone else – if it advanced the Gospel?
John the Baptist was talking with his disciples about Jesus and said, “John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease’” (John 3:27-30, ESV).
John told his disciples that – at a wedding – the bride and the bridegroom are the center of attention – the friend of the bridegroom ought not to be seeking to be in the spotlight. The best thing the friend of the bridegroom can do – if he is a true friend, is direct people’s attention to the bride and bridegroom. So, the best thing we can do to show people Jesus and direct them to the Gospel is to get out of the way. And if others want the “spotlight” of preaching the Gospel – directing people to Jesus – if they are rightly preaching the Gospel – rejoice! There are more places for you to go and more people for you to tell.
So Paul tells the Philippians that all is well, because the Gospel is advancing. Yes, he is in prison, but the guards are learning why he is in prison – the message of the Gospel, and that message is spreading throughout the praetorium. The Christians and Rome are looking at the way Paul is carrying himself in prison and being more confident and more bold in preaching the Gospel.
And Paul tells them not to worry about people who are preaching the Gospel because they don’t like Paul. The joyful point is that they are preaching the Gospel!
Of course, heretics must be stopped, but anyone who is preaching the Gospel ought to be encouraged to do so. Other issues – such as covetousness – may be addressed in other ways – but don’t stop the right preaching of the Gospel.
So, are you ready to work hard for the advancement of the Gospel? Are you ready to tell others about what Jesus did in history? Have you made advancing the Gospel your priority? Will you obey Jesus? As we noted last week: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV).
Are you ready to suffer for the news of the One Way to salvation? Are you ready to be looked down on, ignored, forgotten, and even despised?
Brothers and sisters, true joy is found in Jesus Christ and His Gospel. As Paul shows us in our text this morning – the advance of the Gospel is where we will find our joy through Jesus Christ.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we do not like to suffer, and we enjoy others thinking well of us. Help us to keep Your Incarnation, life, crucifixion, and Resurrection before us that we would see the advance of the Gospel as worth more and more joy-filling for us, than having the world treat us well and think well of us. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.