THE SPILLING OUT LIFE: [Living it Out] On Friday July fourth our Nation celebrated. While I am not sure that what we celebrated is clear to most people we were supposed to be remembering our independence and the founding of our Country.
As I delved into some history this week I was once again reminded of the sacrifice and the focus that it took for our Nation to be born 232 years ago. The men and women who sacrificed their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor gave everything for one cause.
They believed that a revolution was necessary and somehow without all the modern conveniences that we take for granted they overthrew a hostile foreign power. They had no modern communication; cell phones, texting, emails, computers. They had no laser guided missile systems. They had nothing but horses, muskets and gun powder, and in some cases tools from the farm.
How did they win? Without bogging down into the details I think I can sum it up by saying that they had a cause and that is why they won. They were focused on one thing and one thing only. Eventually they defeated the enemy and declared their independence.
The point is that they had a cause which motivated them. The cause became the defining point of their lives. Can you imagine birthing a Nation in the late 1700’s? It would have been their lives, their defining moments because they gave everything including their lives for the cause.
Do you know that there is a cause even greater than the birth of a nation? Do you know that everyone in this room who professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ has been called to something much bigger than themselves? Do you know that there is something that ought to be on the top of our priorities lists?
We have been studying the book of Philippians for the last several weeks. In preparing for this series we decided that the best metaphor to describe the life Paul was encouraging was a fountain. An overflowing fountain.
We have already talked about overflowing with love and we have talked about living the life that God intended. A life pure and blameless before God and others and one characterized by the fruit of the Spirit. Paul now brings even more focus in describing how his own life had been one of overflowing. Here he identifies the cause or the purpose of his life.
“And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.
It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter.” Philippians 1:12-18a
The words Good News appear nine times in this short letter. Older translations render this word as Gospel. In using these phrases, Paul is referring to the preaching or teaching of Christ. This is not to be done just by professional speakers or teachers but all of us are called to live to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are to share Christ’s death, resurrection and present Lordship.
For Paul the advancement of the Good News takes precedent over every thing else. Every thing in Paul’s life was filtered through the lens of this mission.
In the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul lists his extensive sufferings that he endured for the sake of the Gospel message. He writes about multiple near-death floggings, gruesome stoning, frequent shipwrecks, dangers on the road from both places and people and other great perils endured.
You would think that this heroic and brave man would be above criticism but that was not to be. As we will see today Paul was a target. Anytime you are doing something for God their will be people shooting at you. You expect that from the world outside the church but unfortunately too often it comes from within. Let me remind you that the loudest boos always come from the cheap seats and that people who are busy rowing seldom rock the boat!
The bottom line is we are all called to spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is plain and simple and it is the mission of all Christfollowers.
Let’s look at how and what this meant in Paul’s life and what it means for us.
1. Spread the Good News to “Outsiders”
The term outsider here is being used to describe those outside of the faith community. There are many people in this world who have never heard the life transforming message of Jesus Christ. Sure they know that there are churches all over the place but rarely do they encounter a live Christian! Rarely do they find someone living around them or at work that has been transformed by Christ enough that they see a tremendous difference.
In Paul you saw the difference.
“And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard knows that I am in chains because of Christ.
The imperial guard, the praetorium, consisted of 9000 handpicked soldiers who were honored with double pay, good pensions and special duties. Among their not so special duties was that of guarding imperial prisoners by an attached chain.
So Paul experienced a shuffle of soldiers chained to him. Certainly only a few of the 9000 were chained to him over three shifts a day for the duration of him imprisonment but the effect of the gospel was exponential. As soldier after soldier was chained to him in successive watches, they heard the gospel both directly and from Paul’s conversations with his visitors. Truly he had a captive audience.
It is not a stretch to imagine that Paul prayed for everyone of these men who were his “companions” while they were chained to him. They heard the story of the long promised Jewish Messiah and they heard about His death and resurrection. They heard that they could put away the old things of their life and be forgiven for their sins and transformed into new creations in Christ.
We don’t know how many believed but we know that some did. Paul closes this letter with these words, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” The Gospel message had infiltrated the heart of the Roman Empire.
You and I have an obligation to live lives so surrendered to Christ that those around us will want to know more. Do you see why I push for you to live holy lives and to quit living in outright sin while professing to know and follow Christ?
Several years ago an Amish man living in another state came to know Jesus Christ in a personal way. One of the most unreached people groups in America is the Amish community. Very few of them know anything about a personal relationship with Christ. Their hope of salvation is wrapped up in the idea that if they keep living a lifestyle rooted in a 1700 or 1800’s model that somehow that will ensure them of heaven someday. Outside of their plain and simple lifestyle many of them have no real ongoing connection to God. There has been quite a spiritual awakening in the last twenty years or so. Many of them have come to experience the life changing message of Jesus Christ.
This man worked in a large hardware store and had worked their for years however within a week or so of his conversion and acceptance of Christ into his life, his boss and the owner of the business called him in to his office. He wanted to know what had happened to him because something was different. When he learned of his encounter with Christ, he committed to discovering this Christ himself and started attending a church down the street from his house. He too became a Christfollower.
We are to share the Good News with people outside these wall.
(Why events are important to who we are)
2. Spread the Good News to “Insiders”
And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.
The message of Christ made advancement into the Christian community as well as on the outside. I want you to hear this statement very carefully: Persecution ahs regularly been just what the doctor ordered so to speak for fearful and timid Christians.
R. Kent Hughes tells of turning the pages of the February 1956 issue of Life magazine and viewing the photos that Life’s famous photographer Cornell Capa had taken of the scene where five young missionaries had died at the hand of the primitive Aucas and the striking photos of their wives and children, and then some months later staying up far into the night reading Elisabeth Elliot’s account of her husbands death. He continues, “I took to heart her husband’s words, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” In this case it meant his life. Tens of thousands have been and continue to be encouraged, prodded on and motivated by that story.
Let me encourage you again with the message of community. Small groups are not just another program in the church. It is in these settings that testimonies are shared and it is in these times together when we spread the Good News to each other. We motivate and encourage each other.
I often wonder in today’s volatile and unstable world what it will take in America for Christfollowers to really wake up and engage in the work and cause of Christ.
3. Spread the Good News Through “Thick and Thin!”
It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter This is an interesting piece of Paul’s story and it also describes a long time pathology of the church world. There were two groups of people proclaiming the message of the Good News.
One group as doing it with pure motives but the other did not share their love for Paul. The Greek historian Xenophon said, “The envious are those annoyed only at their friends’ successes.” There were some preaching and secretly glad that Paul was going through a rough time. They were jealous of his success. I wish that this was just and old story but this same issue continues to this day.
Envy is more set on depriving the other person of the desired thing than to gain it. John of the Cross explained its pathology in the church. “As far as envy is concerned, many experience displeasure when they see others in possession of spiritual goods. They feel sensibly hurt because others surpass them on this road, and they resent it when others are praised.”
Those who were preaching were not changing the message or preaching heresy but they were motivated by a spirit of rivalry. For decades in our denomination as well as others, pastors and churches were pitted against each other in an effort to see who could have the most attendance or the biggest buildings. To this day there is a competitiveness that separates and divides and keeps people from working together or celebrating what God is doing.
Here’s what I want you to take away from this. No matter what others may say or not say. No matter how you are treated or not treated. Realize that you are working and doing what you do for Christ and that everything you do to share the gospel is being recorded and celebrated by God.
Don Carson writes,
“Paul’s example is impressive and clear: Put the advance of the gospel at the center of your aspirations. Our own comfort, our bruised feelings, our reputations, our misunderstood motives – all of these are insignificant in comparisoin with the advance and splendor of the gospel. As Christians, we are called upon to put the advance of the gospel at the very center of our aspirations.
What are your aspirations: To make money? To get married? To travel? To see your grandchildren grow up? To find a new job? To retire early? None of these is inadmissible; none is to be despised. The question is whether these aspirations become so devouring that the Christian’s central aspiration is squeezed to the periphery or choked out of the existence entirely.”
We have a cause bigger and more important then the American Revolution. The question is simple: Is the gospel or Good News first and foremost in our lives and in our church?
The answer will determine our future.
The history of some of the mainline Protestant denominations in our country serves to make the point. There were generations that believed the gospel and held that there were certainly accompanying social and even political benefits. Then came a generation that assumed the gospel message but enjoyed the benefits. The next generation denied the gospel message but made the benefits everything. This has happened over and over and the only thing we ever seem to learn from history is that we learn nothing from history but keep repeating the same pattern over and over.
When the spreading the gospel story is no longer the main thing and it just becomes an assumption the next generation will be totally lost. In today’s world it would be tempting to run after political and social issues and to be sure we need to have a voice but it is not the main thing.
We each have a calling in life, as electricians or teachers or mothers or plumbers or lawyers or mechanics or musicians, or fireman and law enforcement, or a thousand other things but whatever our callings the gospel must be first.
Life will have its ups and downs. There will be times when we may metaphorically chained by our circumstances – misunderstood, maligned, ignored, spitefully used. But if the gospel is first in our life, we will be able to say with Paul,
“But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.”
Never quit! We have been called and commissioned to do one thing as Christfollowers and that is to make disciples. We are to baptize them or bring them to faith and we are to teach them to obey everything Christ commanded. In other words we are to share the Good News and lead people into a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.
Roger Storm, pastor of First Christian church in Chandler Arizona tells this story,
One Sunday, a car had broken down in the alley behind our facilities, and the driver had jacked up the car and crawled underneath to work on the problem. Suddenly, we heard him scream for help. The jack had slipped and the care had come down on top of him.
Someone called 9-1-1. Several of our men gathered around the large car and strained to life to off the trapped man. Nurses from our congregation were rounded up and brought to the scene. Somehow the men were able to ease the car’s weight off the man, and he was pulled free. Our nurses checked him over. He was scratched up an shaken, but otherwise okay.
When this man was in peril, people did all they could to help – risking themselves, inconveniencing themselves. Whatever was necessary to save man, they were ready to try.