Finding Joy in Suffering/August 26, 2018

Second Baptist Church
Aug. 26, 2018
(Wow!  My 9th Anniv. of being here!)

Finding Joy in Suffering

Philippians 1:12-26

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,[a] that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[b] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 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.
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 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, 19 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.[c20 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.

There was a girl in our youth group when I was growing up who fancied herself as a gifted evangelist.  She would carry her Bible and get in people’s faces at some rather strange and odd times.  At a sporting event.  In a store on main street. She was perceived to be a pest and rather pushy and intrusive.  People did not respond well to her aggressive behavior.  They got away from her, and sometimes even told her off.  She lost friends.  Adults avoided her. She would sometimes say, “People are persecuting me for the sake of Christ.  But I’m content and happy.”  And I kept thinking to myself as she was saying that, “No, you are not being persecuted, you are being obnoxious to people and they are pushing back.”

As we enter the second week of this study on Philippians, we once again read about Paul’s deep feelings for this favorite church.  He is talking about his witness and sharing his faith with those with whom he encounters. Some Bible Scholars believe that there is much more to these words than Paul describes.  Secure jail cells were not common.  Sometimes a prisoner like Paul would be thrown into a pit and it covered with some kind of wooden cage. Other times, it may have been a cave with simple steel bars across the front.  Probably in every case, there was a Roman soldier or guard posted. In some cases, there was no confinement at all.  No bars, no walls, but the prisoner was chained to a guard, essentially making them both a prisoner.

That was the case for Paul in Rome in what was shared from chapter 1 of Philippians. In Acts  28:30-31, the very last words of the Book of Acts, we read “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.  31  Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul was in that type of “prison” where he was not confined, but rather under house arrest – but was in chains and under guard. Some scholars believe that these guards were regular Roman troops who would serve a time as a guard, but would also be sent out into the far reaches of the Roman Empire either to fight wars or to serve as an occupational force. While they were in the presence of Paul, he would preach to them.  Paul was the prisoner, but so was the guard.  Paul would share Christ and the guard would have no choice but to listen. They might have been a little like the girl in my youth group who was an annoyance to those around her.  Paul was likely intrusive and annoying to the guards, but in the end, they recognized his sincerity and his clear and logical argument. They would accept Christ, and later be transferred to an outlying area in the Empire where they would witness and share Christ as both a soldier of Rome and a soldier of the cross. Rather than being housed as a common criminal, he lived in this rented dwelling, but he was in chains.  Chains were not only a means to restrain someone, but they were also seen as an object of shame.

I remember sitting in a doctor’s office and in the door came an officer in uniform and a person in an orange jumpsuit and in hand cuffs and shackles on the ankles. The prisoner was there to see the doctor, and glanced around the room lowering his eyes as he realized people were staring.  Those restraints reminded the public that this was a person guilty of a crime and was now serving a sentence for their crime. 

But Paul seems to take great pride in his chains.  He didn’t wear the chains of a criminal, but rather he saw his chains as reminding the world that he is a bondservant of Jesus Christ.   His chains meant his devotion and complete surrender to Christ.  They were a daily reminder that his life was not his own. In fact, in verse 14, he says, “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.” Paul saw his chains, not as a shame or embarrassment, but as a statement of boldness and passion for the gospel, so that others would be influenced and emboldened by his imprisonment. 

The gist of my message today, is that in the midst of Paul’s shame, suffering, and confinement – he is experiencing nothing but JOY and HOPE.   Most believe that he even knew that he would soon be put to death. We are also reminded in verse 13 that even the Palace Guards knew and respected him.  Paul endeared himself to many of the Roman officials.  Although his preaching was against the law and punishable by death, those who arrested him, interrogated him, and confined him also respected and appreciated his sincerity and demeanor. Paul mentions in verse 13 “It has become clear throughout the whole Palace Guard.”  The Palace Guard is the Praetorian Guard in the New American Standard Bible and a few other translations. 

The word in the gospels to describe Pontius Pilate’s building or abode.  Interestingly enough, Pilate had a real respect for Jesus the same way the Praetorian Guard respected Paul.   Jesus spoke and presented himself as one with authority and honor, and Paul behaved much the same way. While the Praetorian Guard had respect for Paul, it wasn’t always so with the people who supposedly were followers of Christ, and this hurt Paul deeply.  Apparently, some members of the Roman congregation (Not Philippi), did not like the notoriety Paul had generated. Apparently, they were jealous of his fame.  They respected his greatness so much that they wanted to be great like him, and it turn into jealousy. It seems like their jealousy became their motivation and drive to share the gospel with people.  I found this to be kind of weird, but then I thought about church leadership today.

I’ve met with a lot of pastor’s groups over the years, and the worst kind are those where the pastors sit around and compare numbers.  “Our worship attendance has blossomed to 600 in worship.  We are really having a space problem.  Might have to build.”  And then to make it sound spiritual, they conclude their boasting with “Glory to God.”  I always want to say, “No, glory to you.”   And there is envy among churches, and this envy drives the leaders to work that much harder so that they can keep out ahead of the others.

Do you know what Paul’s response to that is?  Look at verse 18.  “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,” What does it matter?  Even through their impure and jealous motives, God will be glorified.  Oh I wish I could look at it that way. I wish I could remember that it is the work of the holy spirit in people’s lives, not our weak, stumbling, ill-intentioned methods that bring the gospel into the hearts of people.

In the following section beginning in the latter part of verse 18, we get a look at Paul’s joy and contentment.  “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice...”   Verse 20 he says,  “So that now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body.” Verse 21:  “For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.”  We cling to life with all our strength and medical knowledge.  We want to live as long as possible with an increasing quality of life as we age. We protect ourselves with every safety device and life-saving measure.  Our focus is on this earth, but it seems Paul has cast his glaze beyond this big blue ball.  Verse 21 is basically saying, “Meh,  life is something I can take or leave.  While I’m here I want to serve Christ, but what I’m really waiting for is dessert. 

After this meal is done, there is that sweet delight that awaits us. Like Fannie Crosby’s hymn Saved by Grace.

Someday the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing;
But, oh, the joy when I shall wake
Within the palace of the King!

And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story—Saved by grace.

The apostle wasn’t sure what he really wanted.  He says, “But what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two. Paul sense is impending death, and it didn’t bother him.  He was ready.  Yet he also recognized that maybe God was ready for him to make that transition from life to eternal life. He tells his readers at Philippi, “But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”  His job wasn’t finished yet.

May we live with this kind of hope and expectation.  May we live with this kind of joy, knowing that no matter what happens to us day by day, it’s not really about this life, is it? We may not be suffering as the result of our faith, but we are suffering as the result of our aging and deterioration of these bodies.  We may be suffering because of family or work problems.  We might even feel the emotional pain of others attacking our character like those who envied Paul. Yet at the core of this existence, there is hope.  And may that hope bring joy.  AMEN.