Sunday, August 14, 2011

Philippians: Location, Location, Location: Philippians 1:12-18 and 19-26

Today we are going to begin a new preaching series based on a few lessons we can learn from the book of Philippians. This particular book is actually a letter Paul writes while he is in prison. A letter that Paul intended to bring about joy and hope to its recipients. This letter is meant to impress upon us that the Christian life, regardless of circumstances, can be one of happiness and holiness. Over the next several weeks we will use Philippians to help diffuse the myth of location, raise awareness to the impact of our own attitudes, and discover how we find security in the faithfulness of God. This morning we are going to spend our time looking at the myth of location; what it is, why it does not matter, and what this means for each of our own personal ministries.

A realtor was driving around a young couple to search for their first dream house. After listening to their concerns about mortgage points, maintenance costs, and school systems, he decided to give them a bit of advice. "I've been selling homes for 23 years," he said, "and I've discovered only three things matter when you're buying a home: location, location, location."

To prove his point, he drove the couple to see two homes. The paint was peeling on the first house, and the driveway was heaving in spots. "It may be a handyman's special," he said, "but look at the view." The house sat at the foot of a purple mountain, adjacent to ten acres of untouched forest. Then the group went to see a charming two-story stone farmhouse with five bedrooms, a big kitchen, and plenty of closets. "Everything's immaculate," the wife exclaimed. “I love this house! Honey let's buy it right now!” Just about that time she heard a horrendous noise that shook the whole house. She opened one of the curtains facing the back of the house to discover a small business airport and depot station behind the house. She paused for a moment, looked at the realtor and said, “On second thought, how close is the hardware store to the first house again?”

This life is all about perceptions. Is the glass half empty or is it half full? Is it partly cloudy outside or partly sunny? How we view what we are experiencing in life will go a long way in determining how it affects us. That is the situation for Paul in our Scripture lessons from this morning.

Paul's Situation
This entire book, or letter, is written by Paul from his cell in a Roman prison. It is clear that sometimes Paul was not in a lighthearted mood when he wrote his letters, especially when he had to correct serious error in the churches, such as in the books of Galatians, Colossians, and perhaps II Thessalonians. But Paul's mood was obviously on the upside when he wrote this brief letter. Philippians has a lot of lessons – mostly centered on joy in life.

Now to help us have a foundational understanding of what is going on at this point in Paul's life, keep these two key dates in mind; AD 51 and AD 61. The first date is the approximate year when the apostle Paul made his first visit to Philippi, as recorded in Acts 16. There he meets Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, by the riverside and leads her to faith in Christ. He leaves Lydia to continue his travels, and eventually comes across a demon possessed young girl. Showing compassion to her, he casts the demon out of her and is thrown in jail for that act of kindness. While in jail he leads his jailer to Christ and baptizes him and his family in the middle of the night. Soon after that he leaves town and once again continues on his travels. From that inauspicious beginning, and through all these events, a great church was born. Since Paul had founded the church, and since he had personally led the charter members to Christ, they naturally looked to him with great reverence and love and he in turn always kept this particular church in his heart. A bond was subsequently formed between the two that would never be broken.

Ten years later, AD 61, Paul found himself in a Roman prison awaiting trial before Caesar. He was under a type of house arrest, not solitary confinement, chained to a guard at all times. He could receive visitors, and even preach and teach while in prison. When the Philippian church, that he had such a strong bond with, heard about his imprisonment, they were concerned. Concerned because they understood that a judgment against Paul could mean his death. As a way to express their support of Paul, they sent a much-loved leader named Epaphroditus to Rome with a monetary gift for Paul's personal needs. While in Rome Epaphroditus became sick and nearly died, but he returned to health and Paul sent him back to Philippi carrying a brief thank-you note to the church, 104 verses that became the book of Philippians.

Location Does Not Matter
And within these verses we find a timeless example of the Christian faith modeled for us by Paul. One example Paul models for us is that no matter our location, we can be bold for Christ.

Paul had every reason to succumb to emotion due to his location. But instead of turning inward, focusing on the negative, Paul rose above any fear of death or anxiety about suffering. Look to verse 12, “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the Gospel.” Does that statement sound like it is coming from someone that is has been unjustly imprisoned? Paul is not depressed or bitter or angry. He is resting in the joy of Christ. Paul is joyful, purely and authentically joyful and verses 13 – 14 show us why. “so it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.“

Paul did not let this bad situation become worse. He did not let any anger or feelings of betrayal to make his imprisonment any more dreadful. In fact Paul has sought out an opportunity. While he cannot freely preach or witness to anyone he pleases, he does witness to those whom he can. The guards. Paul seeks out the guards and he tells them about the joy of Christ. He shares with them all that Christ has done for him. He tells them about how even in this situation Christ is with him. This inspires the guards not only to listen to Paul, but to believe in Christ. We know this because after their encounters with Paul, Paul tells us that they are speaking about Christ with “greater boldness and without fear.” (Philippians 1:14b NRSV). Paul's location could have ended his ministry. But Paul did not let his location deter him from doing what he believed Christ called him to do.

Situation Does Not Matter
Another lesson we learn from Paul here is that our situation does not matter in our witness for Christ. Maxie Dunam writes, “The circumstances of our lives may determine how we share the Gospel, but it doesn't determine whether we share the Gospel. Do you get it? The circumstances of our life may determine how we share the Gospel, but not whether we share it. We can proclaim the Gospel anywhere.”

Paul understood that just because he was in prison, his responsibility to share Christ did not end. We have a mentality in this country that if we are hampered by location, age, physical ability, or community impact that we have an excuse not to try. Especially in churches. Small to medium size churches suffer from this the most. We do not have money. We do not have young people. I have done that before but I am too old to do it now. All reasons that allow apathy to set it. Until we have left this earth we all have value. God loves more than just the mega-churches. God champions us smaller churches. We are vital, we are important, and we can be extremely effective in God's Kingdom. All of us can witness for Christ. None of us are exempt from trying. When we are doing our best for Christ, we have reached the end of us. When we are being as effective for Christ as we can be, then the Holy Spirit is doing most of the work. We just have be willing, available, and present.

Our situation in life, rich, poor, young, wise, new Christian, or seasoned veteran; we all have a role to play. Do not let situation deter you. Paul was in prison, he had every reason to quit, yet not only did he witness to those that he could, that witness lead them to witness to others, boldly and without fear.

Look I know that we all reach a point in life where our physical abilities change. When I was younger I could work outside in the sun, for 10 hours, drink a few glasses of water in the process, and be no worse for the wear. I could wake up the next day and do it all over again and never lose a beat. Now, I can do about four hours, and I had better drink my weight in water, or I am dehydrated and sick as a dog the next day. The same with ministry. There may be aspects and influence that I do not have anymore, but I can still encourage others. I can still lend the bit of wisdom I have. I can still pray, show up, and do what I can, and do it joyfully.

Paul showed up in prison. He witnessed actively. He encouraged faithfully. And he empowered every body. Our situation does not matter. As long as we are here, God has a purpose for us.

Holiness = Happiness
I love Paul. I love Paul for what he did. I love Paul for what he wrote. I love Paul for the path to joy that he so consistently laid out. Paul did not allow his location nor his situation to dictate negative feelings within himself. Rather, he turned to Christ. He knew that by resting all of his cares and concerns with Jesus that he would find joy in a hopeless place, peace in a desperate situation, success in a land of lost people.

We can find that same joy today. Where ever you are in your life, physically, emotionally, or spiritually; whatever your situation, rich, poor, young, wise, new Christian, or seasoned veteran, Christ can bring you joy if you rest in him. Being bold for Christ takes strength. Christ will give it to you. Witnessing for Christ while being unafraid takes courage. Christ will give it to you. When you empty yourself out for the one that loved you first; regardless of your location or situation; the joy of Christ is yours.

If you are looking for that joy, come to this rail today and ask for it. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the strength and courage to proclaim Christ boldly and without fear through thought, word, and deed. If you are looking for encouragement to continue to proclaim Christ through thought, word, and deed, come to this rail today and ask for it. If you are unsure what to do, come to this rail and ask for guidance. Christ has asked us to do a great and mighty thing. Christ has also promised to equip us for the task. Paul proved that to us. Take that step for Christ and a joy like none other will be yours.

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