Good news has been hard to come by over the past few months hasn’t it? A global pandemic is enough to make anyone feel glum!
But over the next month at St. John’s we are going to be looking at a book of the Bible that is full of joy! A letter that was written with joy and should provoke joy. The letter is the apostle Paul’s great letter to the Philippians. A letter written around 60AD and addressed all the Christians in the city of Philippi.
Philippi was a prosperous Roman colony, a cosmopolitan city in what is now north-east Greece. The book of Acts tells us that Paul had actually personally founded the church in Philippi ten years previously, during his second great missionary adventure.
As their ‘founding father’, its no surprise that Paul expresses great love and concern for the Philippians in the opening paragraph of his letter. In verse 3 he says he constantly thanks God for them, in verse 7 he says he has them “in [his] heart”, and in verse 8 he says he “longs” for them “with the affection of Christ Jesus”.
Its no surprise Paul has such strong feelings for a Church he knew so well. But what is surprising is the joy that Paul shares in his letter. It’s surprising because Paul was under house arrest when he wrote this letter. In verse 13 he tells us that he is currently “in chains” and under Roman guard, awaiting trial before Caesar for his faith in Christ. Capital punishment was a real possibility.
Like people at high risk from coronavirus today, Paul was confined to his home and fearing for his life – and yet his heart was full of joy!
How could this be? Well, as we look at our passage today I hope we can learn three secrets to Christian joy in the midst of adversity. Christians can be joyful i) because our salvation is secure, ii) because the Gospel is advancing, and iii) because death has been defeated!
Christians can be joyful…because our salvation is secure! (v.3-11)
Firstly, Paul is joyful because he knows that the Philippian’s salvation is secure. In verses 4 and 5 Paul says that “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.
Despite being housebound himself, Paul rejoices because he knows God is at work. Paul is totally confident that having brought the Philippians to faith, God will finish what he has started. God will keep on making them holy and getting them fit for Heaven.
The Philippians “partnership” with him in ministry was adequate evidence to Paul that the Holy Spirit was at work in their lives, making them more and more like Jesus.
The same is true today. Over time our faith in Christ should change our actions and our attitudes. The Holy Spirit will get to work in our lives and fill our hearts with hope. It’s a change the apostle Paul had seen in the Philippians, and it’s a change we should look for in ourselves and in one another.
Once God begins to make us more like Christ, he doesn’t stop. What God starts, he finishes. If we are Christians, our salvation and sanctification is secure – and that’s something to celebrate whatever our short-term circumstances may be!
Christians can be joyful… because the Gospel is advancing! (v.12-18)
In verse 12 of our passage, Paul shares with us another reason for rejoicing – the Gospel message is advancing.
It seems that Paul’s imprisonment had given him a wonderful new opportunity to share his faith in Jesus. So much so, that in verse 13 he writes “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ”. More than that,his example has encouraged other Christians in Rome to share their faith “more courageously and fearlessly”.
So the Gospel message has ‘advanced’ through Paul’s imprisonment. Extraordinarily, despite his house arrest, fresh ears had heard about the Lord Jesus and the salvation he offers. Paul regards this as a great cause for celebration, despite his own personal circumstances. As he writes in verse 18, “The important thing is that in every way…Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice!”
The same is true today. We Christians can be joyful because the Gospel continues to advance. Even under lockdown, God’s work goes on! Even with church buildings closed the Gospel is continuing to be preached right across our country.
• Millions are tuning in to online church services – many for the first time – and hearing the good news of Jesus in their own homes.
• And coronavirus has provided many unexpected opportunities for Christians to share their faith with family, friends and neighbours.
Even under adversity, the Gospel message advances. And for that, we should rejoice!
Christians can be joyful… because death has been defeated! (v.19-26)
Thirdly and finally, Paul wants every Christian to know that we can be joyful because death has been defeated.
When Paul first wrote this letter he faced an uncertain future. He would soon face trial before Caesar and could be condemned to death or acquitted. Yet Paul is untroubled by either option.
In verse 22 he says that if he lives he’ll be able to continue his “fruitful labour” for the Lord. But, astonishingly his strongest desire is to die! As he says in verse 23, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”
Paul doesn’t have a death wish or a suicidal tendancy – rather, he has a firm faith that Jesus has defeated death and removed its sting. Paul knows that the Risen Jesus has deactivated death and promised every Christian a place in Paradise – what a wonderful excuse to celebrate!
As Christians we follow a risen Lord, a death-defeating Saviour. And so for us, like for Paul, death is a gateway to greater life, not a one-way journey to the morgue. As Paul writes in verse 21, to die is to “gain” all, not lose all. So whatever our circumstances, however bleak or uncertain our earthly future may seem, we can always rejoice that the best is yet to come.
In July 1979, Ian Drury and the Blockheads released a pop song called “Reasons to be cheerful, 1,2,3” – perhaps you’re old enough to remember it?!
In our passage from Philippians this morning, the apostle Paul has given Christians our own three reasons to cheerful. Whatever our personal circumstances, we can rejoice that our salvation is secure, that the Gospel is advancing, and that death has been defeated!
Copyright © 2015-2018 St John the Evangelist, Ashton Hayes. All rights reserved.