Text: Philippians 1:12-26
The good news of God is that through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we can have a relationship with Him. Unfortunately, the good news is often met with antagonism, perhaps because it insists that we are sinners who fall short of God’s glory, having no means of our own to set ourselves right. We simply don’t like being told that we are wrong – or that our way of thinking might not be right.
In Australia, we have yet to face harsh persecution for being Christians. But around the world, many of our brothers and sisters do. Recently, Russia sought to pass anti-terrorism laws that would radically curtain the ability of Christians to preach the gospel. In other countries, it’s illegal to convert from Islam. In many countries, missionary activities are strictly curtained. Such persecution has been going on ever since Jesus walked among us. In fact, you could argue that it’s been going on ever since God first started dealing with humanity – right back to Cain and Abel!
During the time of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (North Africa), in about 250AD, there was a particularly severe persecution of the church. Roman officials insisted that people, especially bishops, sacrifice to their gods. Many signed statements saying that they had done exactly that. Those that didn’t faced continuing persecution and confiscation of their property. In a later persecution, 256-258, Cyprian himself was imprisoned and sentenced to die by the sword.
What would we do if we found ourselves in that situation? Would we go underground, or would we still seek to share the good news that Jesus is our only hope of life?
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was in jail for preaching the good news. There was a very real possibility that the officials would decide to have him executed. The Philippians were great supporters of Paul. They would have been incredibly worried about him. And Paul appreciated their concern, I’m sure. But in writing to them, he wanted to allay their fears for his mission: to see Jesus preached to the non-Jewish world. One might have expected his being jailed to have put an end to this task: not only was Paul “out of action”, but his imprisonment, one would think, would see other Christians pull their heads in a bit.
But nothing could have been further from the truth. If anything, Paul’s imprisonment had encouraged the other Christians in the city to be more bold in sharing the good news about Jesus. True, some of the Christians had a personal thing against Paul, and were preaching out of envy and jealousy. But regardless of that, they were telling others that all who come to Jesus would be saved. And Paul mentions how everyone here – including the whole palace guards – knew that he was in jail because of Jesus Christ. For all this, Paul rejoiced.
Paul rejoiced over the spread of the gospel, even while in jail for spreading it. He could rejoice because for him, Jesus’ kingdom meant everything. How would you and I react if we were in a similar situation? How often we find that we look for our joy in someone or something other than Jesus! But if we do that, how do we confront the realities of life?
Paul not only rejoiced for the gospel’s spread, but he intended to keep on rejoicing. But he wasn’t some spiritual powerhouse. Paul knew that he – just like us – needed sustenance. He needed the Philippians to pray for him, and he needed a special provision of the Spirit of his life. Paul knew that God finishes what he starts (1:6), but also knew that God listens to the prayers of others for our salvation, supplying his Spirit so that we will persevere in the faith through tough times as well as good.
Which raises some questions for us. Do I think that I can make it on my own? How often do I ask others to pray for my deliverance/salvation? How often do I pray that for others?
Paul wanted the Philippians to pray for his deliverance (salvation). But that didn’t mean that he was averse to being executed. Oh, I’m sure Paul wouldn’t have welcomed the experience. But Paul was convinced that to live was Christ, but to die gain. Gain because he would have a far closer relationship with Jesus – he would be with him.
In today’s passage, Paul says some stuff that sounds amazing. But it’s also a passage that challenges us, because very few of us can honestly say that we perfectly share Paul’s attitudes to life (and death). In practice, many of us tend to live out of a “to live is gain, and to die is Christ” mentality. How is it that Paul came to see things the other way round? And how might you and I come to that same position of joyful trust?