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Series:  Philippians:  A Letter of Life in Jesus - Part Two

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
July 13, 2003

Please turn with me to Philippians 1:12-26. As you’re turning I’d like to read something to you. This is from a man responding to his insurance company.

I am writing in response to your request for additional information. In block #3 of the accident form, I put “trying to do the job alone” as the cause of my accident. You said in your letter that I should explain more fully, and I trust that the following details will be sufficient.

I am a bricklayer by trade. On the date of the accident I was working alone on the roof of a new six story building. When I completed my work, I found that I had about 500 pounds of brick left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley which fortunately was attached to the side of the building at the 6th floor.

Securing the rope at ground level, I went up to the roof, swung the barrel out, and loaded the bricks into it. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 500 pounds of brick. You will note in block #11 of the accident report that I weigh 135 pounds.

To my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate up the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming down. This explains the fractured skull and broken collar bone. Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley. Fortunately, by this time, I had regained my presence of mind, and was able to hold tightly to the rope, in spite of my pain.

At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground, and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel then weighed approximately 50 pounds. I refer you again to my weight in block #11. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles, and the lacerations of my legs, and lower body area. The encounter with the barrel slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of bricks, and fortunately only three vertebrae were cracked.

I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the bricks, in pain - unable to stand - and watching the empty barrel six stories above me - I again lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope. The empty barrel weighed more than the rope, so it came back down on me, and broke both my legs. I hope I have furnished the information you have required.

Have any of you heard that? Every time I read that I have to laugh because we can relate to this poor guy. Our sermon title today is “When life gives you lemons…” Of course the completion of the phrase is what? “Make lemonade.” We relate because there are times when life gives us lemons.

How do we respond when things go wrong? How do we respond to adversity? Especially when that adversity is leveled at us simply because we’re doing what God has called us to do. That’s the context of Philippians 1 - starting at verse 12.

Look with me there starting at verse 12: Now I want you to know brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel

Before we go on we need to first understand the circumstances - the adversity - Paul is in. As Paul was concluding his third missionary journey - the book of Acts describes Paul as man with a singular purpose. He’s in a hurry - rushing to arrive in Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost. In the towns he visits he spends very little time with the believers there. Other towns - like Ephesus - he bypasses completely. He’s rushing to Jerusalem.

Along the way a prophet named Agabus prophecies that when Paul reaches Jerusalem he’s going to be imprisoned. As Paul travels believers pray and weep for Paul. They know - this side of heaven - they’re not going to see him again. In Acts 20, Paul says, “I don’t know what will happen to me in Jerusalem, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.” (Acts 20:22,23)

Imagine - knowing what awaits him - Paul rushes on. He goes to Jerusalem. He’s arrested. Put on trial - not for any crime - but because of his testimony of the Gospel - because he’s being faithful to Jesus Christ. As a Roman - Paul - again with purpose - appeals to Caesar for justice . He’s sent to Rome - a prisoner of the Roman Empire. One shipwreck and months later - Paul is under guard in Rome. The circumstances he writes about here in verse 12.

It’s important also - thinking about Paul’s circumstances - that we also understand how Paul viewed his circumstances. Circumstances that didn’t come as a surprise to Paul. He expected them. Saw purpose in them. That’s what he writes in verse 12. Paul writes that his circumstances have provided an opportunity for the forward progress of the Gospel.

Paul gives two descriptions of this forward progress. First in verse 13: so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known through-out the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else

The Praetorian Guard was a select group of soldiers - the best of the best - exclusively set aside to guard Caesar. Because Paul appealed to Caesar these soldiers were assigned to guard Paul. Four times a day the guard was changed. 24/7 these elite soldiers were stuck with Paul.

Imagine - in heaven - there’ll be a sign-up sheet with time slots - and we can sign up to get chained to Paul for 4 hours. Wouldn’t that be great? Think about the questions you’d ask. The things we could learn.

Day after day - the Praetorian Guard and everyone else heard the Gospel. Many came to trust in Jesus as their Savior.

Paul’s second example - the forward progress of the Gospel - his second example comes in verse 14: and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.

Many times in a church people expect that the pastor is suppose to be the up front guy. The pastor is the paid professional and everyone else has these lesser roles. But, the Bible describes the church differently - the Body of Christ where every gift - every role - is crucial. Thinking about this congregation during the last few years - without a pastor its exciting to see how people have stepped forward - discovered that God has a plan for their participation in the ministry of the church. That participation doesn’t stop just because we’ve got a pastor.

As the church watched Paul in prison they became bold - courageous in their stand for Jesus - fearless - understanding their own role in sharing the Gospel. “If Paul can stand firm for Jesus chained to the whole Praetorian Guard we can stand firm in our circumstances here without him - in our neighborhoods - our workplaces - our families.”

Verse 15 - Paul goes on: Some - some of these newly emboldened Christians - some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.

Two groups are sharing the Gospel. In the first group - some of these newly emboldened brethren and sisteren were using Paul’s confinement as an opportunity to promote themselves. “Paul’s in jail. Now’s our chance.”

They were envious - jealous - of Paul’s gifting and how God was using him. They were always in Paul’s shadow. So, this was their opportunity. They attacked Paul - stirring up strife - discord within the Christian community - hoping togain a greater following for themselves.

We can be tempted to do this - small side comments about someone’s ministry when they’re not there - comments about a pastor - a leader - someone else in the church. An authoritative sounding, “I don’t agree with so and so” - as if to prove that we have a greater understanding.

Its not that what any one of us - or any of the people in Paul’s day - its not that what they were saying is wrong - heretical. They were sharing the Gospel. Amazingly God was using them. But, pride is ugly. The motivation was selfish. Its not hard to imagine how this first group could have deeply hurt Paul.

Others - the second group - Paul writes - shared the Gospel with pure motives - with pure hearts.

Paul’s attitude - in response - comes in verse 18: What then? - or today we’d say, so what? - Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth - with right or wrong motives - Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes - you may not believe this - so I’m going to say it again - I will rejoice.

Here are the lemons - the circumstances of Paul’s imprisonment - the opportunists abusing him. Paul could have complained to God. He could have whined about his circumstances. But Paul is a man with purpose - the forward progress of the Gospel. He knew what he was getting into - going to Jerusalem - and why. What’s Paul doing? He’s making lemonade. “The wrongs suffered against me - not important. The important thing is the forward progress of the Gospel. Praise God His Gospel is being proclaimed.”

Verse 19 - listen to Paul’s heart: For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything - Do you hear what he’s saying? God is in control. I have every expectation that God is going to make this work out the way He wants - according to God’s purpose for my imprisonment - but that with all boldness - not with whining and crying about my circumstances - but with all boldness - Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

This is the bottom line of living the Christian life. In Greek its even more emphatic: “To live Christ. To die gain.” There’s no greater priority in life than knowing Jesus Christ - even if pursuing Christ means death. The pursuit of anything else - any other priority is worthless. There’s no greater purpose in life than to exalt - to lift up and proclaim - Jesus the Savior and Lord. That priority and that purpose never changes - regardless of the circumstances. Not for Paul. Not for us.

Its important that we understand how that truth applies to us today.

Its so easy for us to fall into the trap of expecting God to be like Santa Claus. He knows who’s been good or bad. If we’re good he gives us stuff - blessing our lives with good health and happiness. Especially in this country with all that we have. We come to expect that all this is for us and we deserve it. This is the way its suppose to be. Christians are God’s people. As long as things are going right we think that we’re doing what God wants and God is blessing us.

But, when God allows lemons in our lives - adversity - we start to loose faith - to question God and ourselves. We’re tempted to feel like we’ve failed spiritually. We’re doing something wrong. We’re out of God’s favor - out of His will. In adversity God is against us. We’re tempted to complain. To try to find our own answers to our circumstances. It so easy for us to loose focus.

George Atley was killed while serving with the Central African Mission. There were no witnesses. But the evidence indicates that Atley was confronted by a band of hostile tribesmen. He was carrying a fully loaded, 10-chamber, Winchester rifle and had to choose either to shoot his attackers and run the risk of negating the work of the mission in that area, or not to defend himself and be killed.

When his body was later found in a stream, it was evident that he had chosen the latter. Nearby lay his rifle - all 10 chambers still loaded. He had made the supreme sacrifice, motivated by his burden for lost souls and his unswerving devotion to his Savior. With the apostle Paul, he wanted Christ to be magnified in his body, “whether by life or by death.” (1)

This is really hard. But, here’s the bottom line. Brothers and sisters, hear this: Adversity is an opportunity for the Gospel. All other considerations are secondary. What matters is the forward progress of the Gospel. Say this with me, “What matters is the Gospel.”

There’s a second point of application here. Paul makes it starting in verse 22: But if I am to live on in the flesh - if God chooses to keep me alive - this will mean fruitful labor for me - I get to go on serving Jesus - sharing the Gospel - but I do not know which to choose - death and life with Jesus? - or life with Jesus here and with you? - I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.

A few years back I was visiting with an elderly lady in the hospital. A woman who was a sister in the Lord in the true sense of that relationship. She was hours from death. She knew it. I knew it. She knew Jesus as her Savior. She had confidence - no questions about where she would spend eternity.

We talked about her family. Her concern for her family. Not all of them knew Jesus. Over the previous months - in the time that God had allowed her to stay - she had been even more intently focused on sharing her faith with them.

Paul faces death. To die would be to gain more of Christ - to be with Him. But Paul remains. God still has work for him. It is necessary for the Philippians that Paul remain to encourage and disciple and embolden them in their service for Jesus Christ.

Adversity gives us the opportunity to refocus on helping each other as we live for Christ. In adversity we’re here for each other. Say this to the person next to you, “Who matters is you.”

Let me ask you three questions - some things to think about this week.

Imagine having someone chained to you for 4 hours. That’s pretty intimate - pretty intense. Especially if the circumstances were adverse. What would they learn from you or about you? What would you talk about? Would you gripe or complain? Would you rejoice? Would Jesus be exalted? Would the progress of the Gospel be moved forward?

Second question: If death were an immediate possibility how would you live? Would facing death alter our commitment to each other - our pursuit and purpose? The reality is that we have no idea if we have 3 months or 3 minutes left. We do know that - in these circumstances - we have work to do. God has called us to encourage and embolden each other - to help each other - to uplift and support each other - to share His gospel with others.

Last question: How will you spend the time God gives you?

1.  Our Daily Bread

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.