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One Step Self Help Program – A Sermon On Philippians 1:12-26

Let’s give ourselves a little bit of perspective before we jump into our part of Philippians today. The church in Philippi started with a group of women who because there was no Jewish Synnagogue, would go down to a river and pray together. They met at a women’s house named Lydia. Lydia also had housed Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke.

I’m trying to imagine what this women’s house must have been like. I can picture kind of this middle aged women who just had a ton of energy that just loved to see good things happen. Like the Treehouse across the street maybe? Anything that she had was open for use to whomever. Imagine a house like this. Imagine the life that would have been pouring from this house. This is a house where churches literally start from. Where good ideas are brewing and people were probably sleeping all over the floors. I imagine it kind of like being the house where Facebook started out of. I don’t know if you’ve seen The Social Network, but the movie is about how one of the biggest tech companies in the world started out. A chunk of the movie was played out in this house that Mark Zuckerburg was barely able to rent. People were just there because there was an energy about the house. Good things were happening. Parties were happening. Anyone with a good idea was itching to be there because this is where good ideas started to take root. There is nothing more encouraging being in a house with a group of people that understand you, give you a place to rest your head and are teaming up with each other to see each other’s ideas happen. This was Lydia’s house. This was a house that was bursting at the seems with potential and good ideas.

This is where the church in Philippi started. It’s kind of exciting, I want theStory’d building and my home to be places like this. This is where truth is sought and pursued after and people have given their entire lives to moving this truth forward. It’s no wonder a church, of people radically committed to selling all their stuff, living simply and being disciples of Jesus started in a place like this. It was a breeding ground for this kind of activity. A church like this makes dents and makes quite a few enemies with most people in the city. See Philippi was a unique city. Philippi owed its existence as a Roman colony to the grace of the first Roman Emperor. The city was always to be devoted to the emperor. So by the time we read Philippians, the regular words for the emperor were Kyrios and Soter (Lord and Saviour.) All public events in Philippi would have been in honour of the empire, and Nero was called Lord and Saviour.

So in a world where this is the reality. A little house down by the river brooding with excitement and potential about things that are completely opposite of what the entire city believes. The entire hope and faith of a city was put in the emperor and this house is trying to start a movement of people that didn’t believe that and thought Jesus was instead, a guy that they crucified years back. If you were a believer in Christ, than you could not be a full hearted believer in Rome, and that made you the enemy. Can you comprehend why this house wasn’t just a regular house? This is a big deal. This is treason. Everything they said and believed and were promoting were opposite to the truths that this city based it’s existence on. It’s from Philippi that Paul and Silas ended up in jail for casting out the demon out of a little girl. Philippi was not a city that enjoyed democracy of thought, and was willing to persecute and jail anyone that tried to promote any other truth.

Paul and Silas eventually get freed from jail and he begins his journey around starting churches and telling people about the good news. He eventually gets jailed again in the mothership in Rome. He’s kept a good relationship with the church in Philippi thus far as they are the only church that has actually sent him money to keep up the good work that he was doing. So he sends them a letter because they’ve been so helpful and he has a special place in his heart for them. So while Paul is sitting in Jail, under the thumb of the Emperor, he writes the letter to the Philippians. It’s a prison letter. It’s a letter written while he’s undergoing horrible pain and suffering.

Joe spent last week warming us up to the greeting of this letter and what Paul was up to, so we’re going to jump in half way through Philippians. Letters such as these were commonplace in letters of friendship where they inform recipients of their situation. They even learned to write them in school.  Letters back then would have been more like Christmas cards. I have a friend who gets a Christmas card from someone close to them every single year and the card is usually a list of all the things that they have purchased that year and how happy they are with their new cottage and vehicles. Then it lists all the accomplishments of their kids and how awesome they are. They may give a short list of some of the things they want. Then they say Merry Christmas. We usually sit around and get a good laugh at the card as this family brags about their accomplishments and all the things happening in their lives. This is more what letters of friendship would have consisted of back in these times. The letter to Philippians is a bit different though, because Paul is doing a bit more than just informing them about what is happening, he’s attempting to do something else.

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually 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. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 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 boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

– Philippians 1:12-26

This Paul guy is something else. He’s in jail and he comes across like this. The main theme of this entire letter is that of rejoicing and the gospel. What? We don’t really know what to do with this guy. It almost sounds fake. The only thing we do when someone doesn’t go our way is complain and whine and want something different. This guy has been completely destroyed, and he still rejoices. So why? What has happened to Paul that has enabled him to sustain this kind of attitude in even the worst of situations. The Letter to the Philippians gives us some insight into his brain a little bit to understand what is going on.

Paul is writing to a group of people that may now or later go through the same kind of trials that he is facing now. This letter is written out of compassion and to give a broader perspective of the world, his and their suffering and the gospel.

In this section of chapter 1, Paul talks a lot about the “gospel” or the “good news.” In fact Paul barely talks about himself, everything he says seems to be about this good news. The good news has so deeply penetrated his life that it is now directing his emotions towards things that happen to him by other people.

Thus, the most significant aspect of this passage is its demonstration of Paul’s ability to see his circumstances in a particular way. Paul has developed the skill of accounting for his situation in such a way that he is able to see God at work and to see the gospel advancing in the midst of what others (perhaps others in Philippi) might have viewed as disastrous and humiliating circumstances.

– Stephen E. Fowl

Paul has developed the ability to see his current situation a specific way, and this way of seeing his situations and the world enables him to live in specific ways. So this letter is a way that Paul is trying to help the Philippians develop similar patterns of perspective and judgment for themselves. This is a perspective on the world that anyone suffering needs to hear and work towards, but it doesn’t come easy. So let’s talk about this a little bit shall we? After reading Paul’s letter and perspective. What do you think he’s doing here? What is his perspective? What seems to motivate him? Let’s pick apart his letter a bit here and see if we can come up with a better understanding about what really drives Paul.

Q: What motivates Paul? Why does it motivate him? Does the same thing motivate us? Why/Why not?

Paul’s letter is not about him, or for him or about complaining about his situation, what he’s doing is showing the Philippians how even the worst things can happen and yet its OK, life will still move on, and actually it’s not just OK, it’s awesome, because God is up to something and he’s still doing it and he’s got it under control. Paul’s letter, and it seems as if Paul’s life is entirely consumed by “the gospel.” In a city where everyone is used to the “gospel of Caesar” Paul is proclaiming and getting his fuel by a completely different bit of good news. This good news is so powerful that it overcomes the bad news of being in jail, being beaten and nothing working in your life here and now.

Paul is not just telling people how hard his life is. He’s not just saying “hey look everyone, I’m in jail, pity me.” Rather he is trying to help shape the way that bad news is looked at. He’s presenting a pattern and a perspective that should characterize anyone that is in Christ. Many of us get completely down, frustrated, allow our emotions to take us over because of our circumstances. Paul gives us a look at what it looks like to be in the absolute worst of all situations and have better control of our emotions. He isn’t insensitive, and telling us to just suck it up. Rather what he is saying with these verses is that we need to change our perspective. This letter is not about Paul and his hardships. This letter is about the gospel, and how everything, especially his hardships fit into God’s good news.

This is the kicker. It’s not about Paul. None of this is about him. All his own ideas of what is important. All his needs to be safe and cared for all fall short of what the gospel is all about.

It turns out, however, that these things are only indirectly about Paul. Clearly, here, as in many other places in the epistles, Paul and his story are integrated so thoroughly into the story of Christ that it becomes difficult to separate the two. Paul has learned to see that his circumstances are part of this larger ongoing story. Hence, in talking about himself he quite naturally ends up talking about the progress of that story. If one sees the aim of the life of discipleship as growing into ever deeper communion with the triune God and with others, then one of the things that contemporary Christians can learn from Paul is this habit of being able to narrate the story both of one’s past and one’s present circumstances from the perspective of those who have learned their place in Christ’s ongoing story.

– Stephen E. Fowl

Paul lives what it means to give his entire life over to God. All of our measly attempts pale in comparison. Paul can’t help to talk about God’s story, cause it’s all he cares about.  We complain about where we go to a service on Sunday mornings. We are in a completely different realm. We allowed our involvement in God’s to be reduced to showing up somewhere once a week and then making sure you don’t do any bad things. If we are to take to heart what Paul is saying here, then our entire lives become characterized by God’s story, not our own. Everything. Our plans start to become God’s plans. If we try to stick to our own plans about what our lives are supposed to look like and all the goals we set for each other then we will constantly live in disappointment because they aren’t working out. But if our entire lives are consumed up in loving, proclaiming and spreading the gospel, then it’s hard to get down on that. We start to see the story from the same perspective as Paul, someone who could put his needs aside for the purpose of the good news. Everything he did was never for his own advancement, but for the gospel.

When life becomes about the gospel. Our anxiety and our burdens begin to lift. This letter that Paul is writing is teaching and showing the Philippians what it looks like to be relieved of anxiety. In a way this is a type of self-help letter. There isn’t seven steps to being happy. This is one step to find true joy. One step. Let the gospel become your life.

Paul is in jail, his life is completely ruined and still all he can talk about is the gospel. Anxiety comes when you don’t get your own way. Paul’s way is that the gospel is being proclaimed so he is still happy. The self help program doesn’t tell you how to get your own way, it says change your ways.   Listen to how he is talking in this section again.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

– Philippians 1:15-18

Paul cares so much about the gospel and it being furthered that he can put aside selfish motives as to why people are doing it. Him being in jail really has no direct relation to his emotion and what he cares about because the work is still being done, even if it’s not in a way that he agrees with or likes. So while the motives are important, he points that out, they aren’t nearly as primary as that the gospel is being proclaimed at all. He doesn’t want to wait around until everyones motives are pure. Paul is convinced that God has got these things covered. Paul is able to see that the kingdom really is spreading when he goes to sleep like we talked about in the parables. The gospel spreads whether he is part of it or not, God is advancing the gospel. Someone said that an apostle in prison is like having a pianists having his hands tied behind his back. How can he possibly continue the work that he’s supposed to do? So while logic says that even the gospel would have been stopped, Paul knows different, he knows that it’s not his responsibility and he just cares that it’s getting done. In fact, God is advancing the gospel in ways that would normally cause the gospel to be hindered.

“One can easily imagine several ways in which the gospel might have been hindered in the light of Paul’s chains. Instead, it has “advanced.” Interestingly, this sentence does not identify the agent advancing the gospel. Paul does not claim to have advanced it himself. Indeed, what progress has been made occurs despite his circumstances. Presumably, the implied agent here is God. Thus, although most people in Paul’s world would assume that imprisonment would inhibit the spread of the gospel, God has, nevertheless, caused the gospel to be advanced.”
– Stephen E. Fowl

“The motives of the preachers, while important, seem secondary to the act of proclamation. It appears that Paul pragmatically prefers to see the gospel preached than to wait until everybody’s motives are pure. I do not think Paul sees the choice in quite this way. Ultimately, because Paul is convinced that God is directing both his personal circumstances and the more general spread of the gospel, he need not be overly concerned about the motives of any particular set of preachers. Paul is able to see that, despite appearances and contrary to expectations, God is advancing the gospel. Rather than expressing a preference for preaching from selfish motives over no preaching at all, this phrase is an expression of faith in God’s providential oversight of the gospel’s progress.”
– Stephen E. Fowl
Q: Can you imagine being that free of anxiety? Can you imagine that even while the worst things are happening to you, you can still rejoice because life isn’t about you? Is this practical? Too Idealistic?

Paul’s way of going about his life is to focus on the gospel and not his own agenda. It’s strictly the gospel as well, not even his ideas about how to spread the gospel. It’s always driven me nuts seeing big churches having to brand all their good deeds and programs with their logo and name as if the gospel was their idea. Where are the churches that promote the gospel? Not their church or brand? However, if the gospel is being spread than hope is found and he can rejoice. If all his ideas, if his life goes to waste he does not care, as long as the gospel is being proclaimed.

God is the agent who advances the gospel and forms Paul in such a way as to see progress in circumstances that might lead others to see God’s purposes as being frustrated. Paul’s view of God’s providence leads him to fit himself and his various circumstances into a larger on-going story of God’s unfolding economy of salvation. Paul’s sense of himself now attains its coherence and intelligibility from being part of the larger movement of God’s economy of salvation. The crucified and risen Christ provides both the central point for the drama of God’s salvation and central focus for Paul’s own life.  Paul’s is a self in which God is at the center, ordering and opening courses of action in the light of the ends and purposes of God’s economy of salvation. Instead of controlling and directing circumstances, the primary tasks for these theologically de-centered selves have to do with perceiving the movements of this larger drama into which they have been drawn and appropriately fitting themselves into that drama in word and deed.
– Stephen E. Fowl

Everything we do, needs to fit itself into God’s unfolding economy of salvation; the good news. The way we parent, go to school, go to work, be in relationship…everything. If it doesn’t fit, if it’s our own selfish agenda about how we want to live so we can be happy, then we will become anxious, we will become insane in trying to protect what we have built up. The cycle is obvious. To live lives where we can rejoice non-stop is to live lives that are not dictated by our own selfish desires. If we want to stop being stressed out, if we want to stop being anxious about everything that happens or doesn’t happen, if we want to stop buying to numb our unhappiness, if we want to stop, then we must redirect our entire lives to be about the gospel. The gospel is not about us, it’s about God. The gospel is about what God has done and is still doing in the world. If we want to live lives that are free, joyous and peaceful then I we need to align them with this gospel. Any attempt to find these virtues in ourselves and our own pursuits will end in vain.

We all have consumed our lives by the most unnecessary things and products and rituals that only serve to make us care way too much about ourselves.  Whether it be running to pills, the TV, Facebook, anger, drinking, we all depend on something to fulfill our appetite for peace. Whether we obsess about the success of our kids, our ideas that never happen, our successes or failures, we all create alternative realities depending on them for happiness. We all try to make ourselves happy and fulfill the desires that we come up with. Our lives are dictated by that kind of empty practice. Paul is suggesting something else. He writes a letter of friendship, where you would normally talk about all the things good or bad happening in your life. Instead of listing off the things he wants or circumstances he wants changed, he has a completely different perspective. Everything that is happening is for the gospel or because of the gospel. If bad things are happening, at least the gospel is being advanced. Really who cares if bad things are happening, his one little life has such little meaning to the entirety of the gospel, so let’s stop talking about him….let’s look at the gospel. Paul suggests through his life that fulfillment can be found in dying to your desires. Joy can be found in aligning your desires with the gospel, not anything else.

Listen, I understand that the things I am saying are a little overbearing. This is especially true for a people like us who are so caught up in our own lives that the thought of even giving a few hours for the sake of the gospel a week is hard to fathom. However, just because it’s hard for us, doesn’t make it not true or not the right direction for us. We all do it. This is difficult, especially because of how far along we are. However we need to change. This is our role as the church.

The church is the bearer to all the nations of a gospel that announces the kingdom, the reign, and the sovereignty of God. It calls men and women to repent of their false loyalty to other powers, to become believers in the one true sovereignty, and so to become corporately a sign, instrument, and foretaste of that sovereignty of the one true and living God over all nature, all nations, and all human lives. It is not meant to call men and women out of the world into a safe religious enclave but to call them out in order to send them back as agents of God’s kingship.
– Leslie Newbigin

As the church, we work together to attempt at live this way. As the church, we learn to align ourselves up with the advancement of the gospel, not our own ideas and selfish desires. This isn’t easy but it is our plight. It’s a simple one step self help program. Stop caring about the program and dedicate your life to the gospel, whose steps are already laid out for us.  If we don’t want to do it, then we shouldn’t call ourselves the church. So as the church this morning what I thought we would do is together speak to where we fall short. I want together to repent of our false loyalties and ask for forgiveness for when we’ve put our ourselves ahead of the gospel. So we’ll just pray popcorn style, and I’ll ask you just to keep it short. Repent for where you or we have remained hardened and not proclaimed the gospel. Acknowledge the parts of our lives where we have forsaken our role as the church.

God, we ask for forgiveness, we repent
For complaining about our trivial circumstances
For caring about our own needs before others
For ceasing to be the church and a sign of your news

For depending on ourselves for fulfillment
For depending on our purchases for peace
For depending on money for security

May we seek to advance the gospel
May we seek to understand the gospel
May we seek to proclaim the gospel
In all streams of our life
As individuals and as your church
Amen.

One Comment

  • Nathan, God has worked through you to build a sound message. What is especially helpful is that you have brought The Gospel from Jerusalem to my world. I am proud of you. Thank you. Do let me know how God is advancing The Gospel in and through your life. Michael

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