The Joy of Spreading the Gospel
Here we are in week 4 of our study of Philippians. I pray you are already starting to grasp the recipe for pure joy. The most important and first ingredient is Jesus – the grace of God sent to this earth to create a way for us to live rightly with God and others (Titus 2:11). There is abundant joy in Him alone.
Paul moves from his thank you, to expressing his affections for the Philippians, then in verse 12 he begins to let the church in Philippi know how he is doing. It is obvious they knew he was in prison, because Epaphroditus came from Philippi to deliver a gift to Paul. That is what Paul is thanking them for in Philippians 4:10-18, along with another gift they sent when he was in Thessalonica.
What I love about Paul is that he doesn’t start in negatively about his imprisonment. He doesn’t rant about the food being bad, or the conditions being horrible, and he doesn’t ask for help to get out of prison. Instead, he starts off by saying that the gospel was spreading because of his circumstances and for that he would rejoice even while imprisoned.
Nothing was more important to Paul than Jesus, the promised Messiah who died and was resurrected on the third day. Paul valued the grace God has given us to save us from the power of sin and eternal death. He didn’t take that lightly and just think Jesus was his ‘get out of hell free card’ that he could ignore until he needed it. He knew he needed Him now and not just when he was close to death. Paul lived his life on earth as a person who had been given an extraordinary gift of living free from the power of sin and death.
I am not sure how many of us really understand the power of sin. Left to our own devices we will be self-serving people who will think only of ourselves. We will serve our own pride and ego; we will serve our own needs, wants and pleasures. When we live in a self-serving way, we make our fallen human nature our master and Lord, and that is a task master we do not want to work for! We will spend our lives trying to fill up our buckets over and over again and in the process we will end up feeling empty. It is literally exhausting to be constantly wanting more, to be respected more, and to think of ourselves more. There is no joy in that.
The knowledge of God brings self-awareness and breaks this pattern of living. When we have an understanding of Christ, we finally have someone we can truthfully measure ourselves by and be able to see how we have fallen short of the glory of God. It is with an understanding of our sin that we can embrace the fact that we are not good enough and that we need a Savior. It is when we recognize Jesus as our Savior that we can be released from being enslaved to ourselves – released from the power of sin. Through faith we choose to serve Christ and He becomes our Lord and Master – which is truly freedom. And there is endless joy in that.
Paul lived as a free man – even though he was imprisoned physically, his soul was free. No longer did he have to fight to have his own way – and Paul had done a lot of fighting before he encountered Christ. Paul had been on a mission to destroy Christians and the gospel from spreading until he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Paul had seen himself as good enough, and even better than most (Phil 3:4-6). This is probably the sneakiest sin of all. The minute we think we are good enough and better than others, we fall into sin, and death is crouching at the door of our soul.
Paul’s focus in life was to bring this good news message to others so they could be free too. When we understand this about Paul, we will be able to better understand this letter and how he was able to have joy in all circumstances. For Paul, both living and dying was Christ (Phil 1:21). If he lived, then he would continue to work to spread the gospel and if he died he would be face-to-face with Jesu, which seemed even better (Phil 1:23).
Let me ask you, what do you live for? What would make you want to continue to fight to live? How do you feel about dying?
I think answering these questions will tell us a lot about our focus in life and our faith. We may tend to think this is a little too radical and that this kind of focus on Jesus is just for Paul or maybe a Pastor or church worker, but quite honestly, it is for all of us. We all have been equally saved and so we should live our life in a manner worthy of the gospel (Phil 1:27).
Paul was stuck in prison but instead of feeling sorry for himself, he used that time to share the gospel with those around him. Maybe right now you are feeling stuck. Stuck in a job you don’t like. Stuck with a health issue that creates endless doctor appointments. Stuck in a family that is dysfunctional. Have you ever thought that maybe God is able to use you right where you are stuck? How could you use this time to share with those around you the grace, peace and love of God? Maybe someone around you needs to hear about Christ and see Him through you?
I am convinced that even Paul himself had no idea how much God was going to use this time for the good. Consider this…if Paul had not been stuck in prison, he probably would have never written the letter that we are studying today. Imagine all the people who have been set free because Paul was stuck in prison and he used that time to share the gospel. I don’t think we have a clue how far God takes any of our efforts to share His good news.
I think many of us would agree that in today’s society, bad news seems to travel faster than good news. Many people were taking advantage of Paul’s predicament and trying to discredit him. Although Paul acknowledged that their motives were wrong, he still rejoiced that the gospel was being spread (Phil 1:15-18). Paul was so thoroughly sure of God’s provision and that he would be delivered. Paul was hopeful that he could get out of prison so he could go see the churches that he was writing to – especially the Philippians, but I don’t think that is the deliverance he is talking about in verse 19. He is talking about deliverance from death. Paul had faith that could not be shaken.
My best friend Kelley died of brain cancer in 2012. I was given the privilege of walking with her the last couple months of her life by helping her husband care for her at home. Kelley’s last days of her life have changed me forever because I saw how sure she was of heaven. She faced death with a courage and reassurance that can only come from faith and hope in Christ. She believed without seeing that heaven awaited her and that it would be great – even better than life. She didn’t focus on the fact that she wouldn’t be able to see her kids get married or ever hold a grandchild. Instead she focused on the promise of God through Jesus. She focused on her salvation. Her last days, although very hard, were also enveloped with joy. And that is what I want for everyone! How about you?
I hope you spend time in God’s Word this week through the homework I have created for you. We will have two weeks to do it since we are off for the 4th of July! Enjoy!
Grace and Peace,