Monday, July 9, 2012

How Prison Simplifies Things: Philippians 1:19-26

In 1965, Bob Dylan wrote these lyrics:  “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose; you’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.  How does it feel, how does it feel to be on your own, with no direction home like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?”  Today we will see that Christians need to embrace the truth that following Jesus is living like a rolling stone, but instead of anxiety, sorrow, and lostness, it means a personal daily dynamic relationship with Almighty God, the Father of Jesus and our Father as well. We know what God is like because we saw his Son Jesus live as a human being in that exact kind of relationship with his Father—Whoever has seen me has seen the Father, Jesus said—and we are holy homes for the Spirit Jesus sends us to strengthen us and lead us into all truth.

Paul has been thanking God for the Philippians and praying for them with joy.

They have shared in the gospel, the good news, with him
He has confidence in Jesus who began a good work among them and will continue it to completion
He knows they hold him in their hearts
They share in God’s grace with him
He longs for them with the compassion of Christ Jesus

He prays for their love to overflow with knowledge and insight into what is best
He prays that they will be pure and blameless in the day when they meet Christ face to face
He prays they will produce the harvest of righteousness, right living, that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God

You all know I am imprisoned, he says, and this has helped spread the gospel because everyone knows I am imprisoned for Christ.  And because of this, most of the other Christians have been made confident in the Lord and dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.  Some are trying to outdo each other and me, proclaiming Christ out of selfish ambition, intending to increase my suffering in prison; but others are acting out of good will, proclaiming Christ out of love for my sake since I can’t do it.  What does it matter whether their motivation is false or true? Christ is proclaimed in every way and I rejoice.

Presently he is in prison—Paul had been in prison on his first visit to Philippi, an earthquake set them free, and the jailer converted with his family,

This is such a great picture of the freeing force of the Gospel; literally, it is an earthquake and a jail, but symbolically, it is Paul’s and Silas’s obedience to God and rejoicing in hard circumstances broke open the whole system of spiritual imprisonment. This experience explains Paul’s confidence about being in prison now—that it will work to spread the Gospel, just as it did before when he was in Philippi.

Presently he sees that some preach the gospel from bad motives—on his first visit Paul cast a spirit out of girl who kept shouting the truth about Paul and Silas. “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  She followed them, shouting, for many days.  Paul got annoyed, and he ordered her spirit of divination out of her in the name of Jesus Christ.  This got him imprisoned.

But now, he cannot stop those preaching the gospel out of competitive motives, trying to take Paul’s place or make him feel worse in his prison.  And he rejoices that they are preaching the gospel.  Even if the messenger is messed up, the message is still true.

All these are in-references that the Philippian church would get.  After Paul reminds them of being in prison back when he first visited, he points out he is in a literal prison in Rome guarded by centurions; and he says he is in a figurative prison, guarded by two desires:  the desire to be with Jesus and the desire to be with the Philippians. We would term this “being in a bind”—impossible to choose between the options. 

And now for the passage for today: Philippians 1:19-26

And I will continue to rejoice because I know that because you are praying (petitionary prayer, an expression of personal need) and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is supplying me, this imprisonment will turn out for my deliverance.  I eagerly expect and anticipate that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be shown to be great now as always in my physical body, whether by my life or my death. Truly therefore to me, living is Christ and dying is gain, advantage. Living in this body means work with results, and I do not know which I prefer.  I am a prisoner of these two desires: I want to be unloosed and be with Christ, because that is more useful for me, but I am torn because I know that my staying alive is necessary for you.  Since I am convinced you need me, I know I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in your fidelity and conviction, so that I may share abundantly in your glorying in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Being in prison has simplified Paul’s world down to essentials.  Life, Death, and the Gospel.

I want us to focus on boldness as an answer to the Philippians’ prayers for Paul:  I eagerly expect and anticipate that I will not be put to shame or dishonored in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my physical body whether by my life or my death. Truly therefore to me, living is Christ and dying is gain, advantage.

Boldness means:
freedom to speak unreservedly,
openly, frankly
without rhetorical flourishes, plainly.
Boldness means:
free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, assurance.
Paul’s boldness derives from his cheerful conviction that he has nothing to lose.

Nothing to lose can seem pretty low down and desperate, but for Paul, it is really that every outcome is good for someone.  It’s a recognition that he actually cannot lose, regardless of how things turn out.

Christians need to recognize two truths. First, the Kingdom of God comes first in priority.  Second, when that is true, there is no way to lose.

Here’s what Jesus said about putting the Kingdom first:

Count the cost, don’t bite off more than you can chew; if you can’t put God first, don’t bother; Seek first the kingdom of God.  In Romans 14: 17, Paul says that the kingdom of God is righteousness—right living and integrity; peace—harmony and concord with God and with others; and joy—gladness in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said there are some things you may want to put first but Jesus won’t let you if you want to be in God’s kingdom. The gate is too narrow to squeeze through with all the things you think you need.  Pack lightly.

  • Perhaps you have to have a place to call home, to sleep at night:  Jesus says, The Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.
  • You want to fulfill your obligations to social expectations: Jesus says, Let the dead bury the dead.
  • You put relationships and family first: Jesus says, Hate family for my sake.
  • You need a certain level of wealth: Jesus says, sell all you have and give it to the poor.
  • You expect sexual fulfillment: Jesus says, some are eunuchs for the kingdom of God.
  • You are counting on good deeds, piety: Jesus says, woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, scouring the earth for one convert. 
  • You rely on status and/or intelligence: Jesus says, be born again, be like a child. 

The Kingdom of God is for those with nothing to lose—the poor, the beggar in spirit, destitute of wealth, no influence, no power, no position, helpless, needy.

The Kingdom of God is for those who are persecuted, bullied, harassed, pursued, mistreated for living right.

The Kingdom of God is for those who come like children.

The Kingdom of God is for those who do the will of our Father in heaven.

Jesus lived every day by listening to our Father in heaven and doing what the Father told him to do, and that’s the example we are following. One clear part of the will of our Father in heaven is to get more people into the Kingdom of God.

Tell people the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news. Paul summarized it in 1 Cor. 15:
Christ died for our sins
He was buried
He was raised on the third day
He appeared to disciples and many others
He appeared to me
He will conquer death and we will live again
He rules over everything

Note that Paul has personal experience of this gospel.  We also need to experience it personally.  As George Fox put it, we need to possess what we profess.  Fox wrote about his own prison experience:  “While I was in prison, [other religious groups] prophesied that this year Christ should come and reign for 1000 years.  And they looked upon this reign to be outward: when he was come inwardly in the hearts of his people to reign and rule; where these professors would not receive him.  So they failed in their prophecy and expectation and had not the possession of him.  But Christ is come and doth dwell and reign in the hearts of his people.  Thousands at the door of whose hearts he has been knocking have opened to him and he is come in and doth sup with them and they with him; the heavenly supper with the heavenly and spiritual man.”

Christians need to recognize two truths. One, the Kingdom of God comes first in priority.  Two, when that is true, we have nothing to lose. God knows what we need and will care for us.  When we know we have nothing to lose, we are remarkably free to speak the truth. Whatever happens can be for God’s glory and our joy.  The door of death leads directly to God, and continued life gives additional opportunity to see good results from our work.  With a nod of apology to Bob Dylan, we are NOT on our own, but we are holy rolling stones, pushing everything else aside or leaving it behind so that we can embrace God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—welcoming the kind of invisibility that makes God visible, being unknown so that God is known, giving up our secrets, listening every day for our direction home.

As always, credit to Strong’s Concordance for help with the words.  And blessings to Bob Dylan.

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