Sunday School Series: Taking a Note from Paul in our Everyday Life

29 01 2017

Today’s scriptures come from Philippians 1:12-21, and are below:

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.

We have all heard the dramatic conversions stories where people have been on drugs, or have been alcoholics, or what have you, and then they meet Jesus.  Suddenly, their life is changed and their old devils are gone.  They tell their story, to anyone who hear.  Me?  I used to think that my own conversion story was nothing special to share.  I was and still attending the same church I’d attended all of my life.  I went to Sunday school and Wednesday night services.  I loved to be in the church from a young age, because I had fun, I loved hearing the stories of people being used by God to do great things.  My conversion story was just the natural result of people’s influence in my lives.  It was no surprise when I found Jesus, and got saved and got baptized.  I was just following the normal process of things.  And then I hear a story of this preacher, who was in jail.  He used to tear out pieces of paper and use it as rolling paper to get high.  Now he preaches about those papers.  And I heard that God’s mercy is big enough for all of us.

How does that happen?  God’s forgiveness to me, seems so obvious, so commonplace, how can it be so radical to others?  The message and the answer is simple:  It has nothing to do with you or I, and it has everything to do with the fact that what Jesus has done, it has the power to change lives.  At first, I got mad, because those “sinners” shouldn’t be covered by the same grace as I am.  But now I realize, that my focus was not on what I deserve, but what God is willing to give me.

Before we talk about how Jesus changes lives, we must examine how he changed the life of the writer of this text, Paul.  So Paul was a Jew, and in many ways, I can relate to Paul.  Like me, he was raised in the church.  He was there every time the church opened its doors.  His sect was extremely devout to keeping the letter of the scripture.  All of the laws and all of the commands, he was concerned about it.  At one point in time, he felt as if obeying the laws, he was justified in going out and ensuring that the new emerging Christian religion would be contained.  And then he met Jesus.  Instead of moving on, his life immediately changed, and he started preaching the Gospel wherever he was.  He eventually came to a place where he was put in prison for his preachings, and so he wrote the joyful letter of the Philippian church to tell them what was going on.

Paul is Focused on Sharing the Gospel Message, regardless of where he was.

I walked inside of a prison once.  The sterile bars and cold, bland rooms.  The isolation.  I heard the doors slam shut, smelled the concrete and despair.  It’s all so bigger than life.  I imagine that if you went to prison, your demons and all of your struggles would be amplified.  I imagine that’s why so many prisoners deal with depression.  I read studies such as this about the mental health of the incarcerated, and I understand why they do.  If I were in prison, it would be honestly very easy to fall prey to things that would weigh me down.  It would be easy for me to abandon hope, even my religion, while I’m in a place that other people abandon me.  Paul didn’t.  Now, it’s easy for me to see Paul as a braggart, or boastful in these types of situations.  Sometimes, I feel like he is doing so a little bit.  But I hope that we can see past these kinds of statements so that we can get to the heart of the passage.  The heart of the passage is this: No matter what situations or circumstances Paul faced, he had one goal in mind, to advance the gospel.   He told his church in Philippi that this imprisonment does not imprison the message of God.  Our mess in our lives does not contain the message of God.  In fact, Paul says that people get inspired when we proclaim the message of God, despite where we are and the circumstances that we face.

Everyone knew that Paul was in prison for preaching the Gospel.  But instead of shutting up, Paul prayed, preached and praised.  Even the ones who were enforcing his imprisonment knew why Paul was there.  Word of what he was doing was spreading everywhere.  It was going up through the chain of command into the king’s imperial guard.  To the government.  No matter what, Paul focused on the purpose of his life, and that was to share the Gospel.

Application for Today:  We may not face prison.  You and I may not be behind bars.  We may not be as free as a lark, but we still face adversity.  Imprisonment is a pretty severe adversity, but if we take a note from Paul, it’s all about how we respond.  If we allow these adversities to distract us from the purpose of our lives, the reason that we have hope, then we will never make an impact.  If when faced with one adversity, we revolt and protest, we are missing out on the purpose of our lives.  Quite frankly, when we do experience adversity, we honestly respond like children, and consistently lash out in response.  Sometimes in protest, sometimes in marching, and sometimes in harsh words.  The purpose of our lives is not to protest when things happen that we don’t agree with or approve of, it’s to advance the gospel.  That’s it.  When we substitute political activism for sharing the gospel, we are neglecting our true purpose, and we are robbing our stances from truly impacting people.  Instead, while we march on the frontlines, we must use this opportunity to advance Christ and what he’s done for us, and the message that salvation is available for and to all.  We cannot allow the current political climate to distract us from the preciousness of lost souls.  The only way to change lives and hearts is through personal conversations with people, unconditional love shown towards them and trust in God that he will do the rest.

Unity in the Body, despite different perspectives.

When Paul was criticised, he continued to preach Jesus.  He didn’t lash back, he didn’t try to break people down, he didn’t name call, he just continued to preach Jesus.  When people disagreed, he continued to preach Jesus.  Through all of that, he didn’t allow his focus to get him off track in preaching Jesus.  Whenever we speak Biblically, we will encounter some contrary position or some sort of backlash.  That’s okay.  We will have some people trying to undermine our efforts.  That’s okay.  People will try to tell us we are wrong.  That’s okay.  Do not allow those things to distract you from preaching Jesus and being caught up in the politics or controversy of it all.

There are many motivations for sharing the gospel and for advancing causes.  Some people do it because they truly believe in the movements.  Some people do so out of great love for God.  But a lot more people tend to use it as a method of advancing themselves or what they believe is right.  What can possibly be more important than the Gospel?  What could possibly be more important than sharing salvation?

Marching against abortion and campaigning against it is great, but you must champion Jesus as you do so.  Jesus tells us to value all lives and tells us that once the child is born, we have to provide a life for them, take care of them in health.  Love it, even if it isn’t what we wanted.  You cannot march against abortion and then refuse to provide opportunities for that child.  Quit pretending that your interest is in preventing abortion like a good Christian, if that baby won’t be taken care of.

Marching for the end of police brutality is good.  Marching to end racism is good.  But we cannot speak a word except the gospel, until we have also looked at ourselves and seen how we have taken advantage of brutality and how we have ingrained prejudices within us.  We must support fair trade coffee and chocolate and other industries that do not exploit human beings.  We must eradicate the personal beliefs we have of those that are not the same race as us.  And we must advance the gospel, we must champion the gospel.  Only when we can erase those things in our lives, can we comment on the things of others’ lives.

We cannot march against gay marriage until we address the issues that divorce and an incorrect understanding of love plagues our community.  We must have a proper perspective on marriage and self-control in human relationships if we ever want to have the right to comment on someone else’s love life.  When divorce is accepted within the church, and fidelity is not preached, then we cannot make a stand for the family, because we are guilty of destruction of the family.  And when we do make a comment, may it be on the everlasting love and fidelity of God, despite our shortcomings and not distracting from the message of the gospel.

Protesting immigrants coming into our shores, we can protest those.  But we cannot do so unless we realize that our motivations are to keep ourselves safe and being selfish and not welcoming in people in love, without conditions or regard.  Sure, it is kinda radical and naive to think that those people won’t hurt us, but if we ignore the call of Christ to be unconditional towards all, then we might was well ignore grace too.  We must realize that our opposition is because people are different from us and afraid that they might hurt them.  Then we need to examine the ways that our sin hurts God and then we will realize that we have no room to talk.  We also must weigh if this is an opportunity to show love, and by refusing them entry, we are neglecting them the chance to be loved by us.  And that’s not loving.  Particularly if they are fleeing a bad situation.

Application for Today

If we do not spread the gospel and we spread causes, then we need to quit pretending that we are Christians.  Go ahead and take Jesus out of your causes, not much changes.  We have to deal with ourselves and what our causes say about ourselves, before we can ever comment on others’ lives.  When we are approached with an adversity, it is right and well that we must make a comment about it, as long as it is motivated by sharing the gospel.  It sounds unconventional, doesn’t it?  If we emphasize Jesus, then God can change hearts and when he does, the marching goes away, because all will realize what the true purpose of our lives is, and the appropriate response to these adversities.  If we allow adversities to distract us from our purpose, then we aren’t really believers in the power of God to change lives, because we’re demonstrating that he hasn’t changed our own.

Nothing but the Gospel matters.

When we live our lives radically, where the gospel is the forefront of everything we do, then we are fulfilling the call of Christ.  We are called to give up the worldly pleasures for the spread of the gospel.  If we want to have an impact for our society, it must start with us.  It must start with the gospel.  It starts with God changing our hearts and then the Gospel is shared with others through us, and God changes them too.  Here, the desire of Paul’s life is that God is glorified in him and honored in all we do.

We can have hope of God changing our society in the lives of others being impacted by God changing us, and us sharing that message.  If the gospel changed our hearts, then it can change our approaches to adversity, and that will change our society.  That’s where we have hope.  That’s where we have something to look forward to.  Many Christians today live defeated lives that are always in defense of some issue or another, but never share the difference that God has made in their lives.  We have an obligation to share the gospel and that takes precedence over anything else in this world.  Christ didn’t stutter or stumble when he made the challenge to go all over the world, right where we are, and share the gospel.  The message of God will not be hindered in our present political circumstances, it breaks chains and frees people.  A proper perspective and focus will allow the gospel to do that.  But it cannot change the world without our unconditional, unwavering commitment to sharing the gospel and our taking advantage of the opportunities we have to share.

Application

I don’t know about you, but I have some heart stuff to deal with.  Some perspective that I need to take, forgiveness to ask for and some changes to make.  The way to do that is through prayer and revisiting the gospel.  If we want to make an impact on society, we must do so with a proper perspective and advance the gospel as we encounter adversity.  Only then, will we respond in love.  Only then can we eradicate anger and change hearts.  It’s time to try the gospel.


Author’s note:  I debated posting this, but as I was writing, it was like the words flowed from the heart of God through my pen and unto my journal page.  These words are God’s and not mine.  But I pray that I would have the boldness to post these and not worry about the response or backlash, but be obedient to what God spoke through me.  

 

Peace and love,

MB

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