Persecution Can Be Positive

Philippians 1: 12-14, 19-30 12. Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, 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 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.

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 20 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. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Our Epistle lesson for today goes right along with last week’s OT and that is where Joseph told his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” If it had not been for Joseph winding up in Egypt and storing up the surplus grain, there would have been a huge famine.

Now Paul’s way of saying this was, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” Had everything gone well in Israel, then Paul and the others would have remained in Israel. They would have been needed there as the Church swelled in numbers.

But because of the persecution they were forced to leave and spread the Gospel. And as some were arrested and imprisoned it gave them the opportunity to share the Gospel with their fellow prisoners as well as… well how did Paul put it? “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”

Think of it. Thieves and murderers and even debtors were put in prison. But now someone is imprisoned just like a thief because of a new religion? This bears investigation. And then some were converted. You may recall Paul and Silas being imprisoned and as a result the jailor himself came to them and asked, “Sirs what must I do to be saved.” And he was baptized along with his whole household!

In our own lives also things have happened to us that we at first thought were bad, but turned out to be good. When things became bad economically in Central Florida I didn’t know what to do. I did not like my job though it paid very well, but to pursue it meant to sell out and move elsewhere. Instead the Lord called me into the ministry which has been a great blessing to me and my family- far more than I ever had in the missile industry.

Now let’s look at this verse which I like to quote. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain and I have a longing to be with the Lord which is far better.” Here is a persecuted man, who has suffered more than his share of hardships. Recall his description of himself: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. In my frequent journeys, I have been in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the sea and among false brothers, in labor and toil and often without sleep, in hunger and thirst and often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from these external trials, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

He had every right to complain and to want to be in heaven. Sometimes we feel that same way. Not because we have gone through as much as St Paul, but we have had our share of aches and pains, trails, disappointment and others things thrown at us and heaped upon our shoulders wearing us down.

This hymn was not written by someone who had everything going for him:How long, 0 Lord, until you hear -the Church’s cry of pain? Our voices fail, our strength grows weak- are all our dreams in vain? Yet still we search -for shafts of hope -for rumors of new birth, we strain for heaven’s answer- to our anguish -here on earth.

But that hymn was not written by St Paul but someone with a lot less faith. This is what St Paul said about his situation, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” It wasn’t about himself, but about the Church, about others.

And that is where we should find ourselves also. The unholy trinity of “me, myself and I” gives way to the 2nd Table of the Law, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And it starts with St Paul’s first response to Jesus, “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?”

What wilt Thou have me to do! May I get a little political? Let me be an old fashion Democrat as I repeat the words of JFK. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” That is not exactly what our modern Politians are saying today, is it?

And that brings to me the Church. Do you want your church to serve you, to entertain you? Is the service supposed to be like Gypsy Rose Lee, namely, “Let me entertain you, let me make you smile.” As a Christian is your idea like JF’s? “Ask not what your church can do for you; but ask what you can do for your church!”

Honestly and actually we want both and legitimately so! We are real living human beings with all that implies. We have needs, not the least of which is spiritual. Jesus knows this and that is why He says to us, “Come unto Me all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” We need to come in out of this work-a-day world and confess our weaknesses, our faults and shortcomings and be assured that we still have worth, that God still loves us and cares for us. We need to hear, “Thy sins be forgiven thee!” We need fellowship as we all share so much in common. We not only weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice but we want to be on the receiving end of that also!

We want and we need hymns and sermons to lift us up. We need these things- but not in such a way as we become the center of the service. Let me explain. In my last parish after church we went out to lunch and there was a women Pat worked with who attended a different church. The lady was crying softly and I asked her what the problem was. She said there was no problem but rather she was so happy because the pastor made her feel so good about herself.

Now consider, do you want to feel so good about yourself because you are so good? Or do you want to feel good about yourself, even with all your faults and shortcomings because God loves you and Jesus brings you into that unconditional love?

Let’s look at St Paul: He said this to his son in the Lord, Timothy, “This saying is trustworthy* and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the chief.”

And then we take his words and make them our own in this hymn: Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.
Died that I might live on high, Lived that I might never die.
As the branch is to the vine, I am His and He is mine.

Only Jesus can impart Balm to heal the wounded heart,
Peace that flows from sin forgiv’n, Joy that lifts the soul to heav’n.
Faith and hope to walk with God In the way that Enoch trod.

Yes ask what your church can do for you- but jump right in and ask, “Now what can I do for the Lord, for this church? What can I do to assist in these services, on the boards and committees, on the upkeep of this building? In these bible studies, in these socials (when we have them again!) In short: “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?” Amen!

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