English Service on September 21 Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison Title:"Entrusted with the Gospel" Scripture:Philippians 1:12-18
1. Today let's continue the series of messages from the letter to the Philippians which we began last month. To refresh your memory, Paul is writing from prison to the group of believers he led in organizing in Philippi (northern Greece today). Well, who exactly is in the church? Who will receive Paul's letter? Reading Acts 16, you can see that probably the members include (A) Lydia and her family (the new church probably meets in their home), (B) a female slave whom Paul set free from an evil spirit, and (C) a jailer and his family. If the man Paul saw in his vision, calling him to Macedonia, was a real person, he may well have been in the group of believers in Philippi. It's very possible that some of the other prisoners with Paul and Silas were later released and decided to find out about their faith and follow it.
2. Even in that short list of people, you can see a remarkable amount of diversity. Both genders, people from various classes of society and economic levels, probably with different ages and interests and social connections. What do they have in common? They have all been saved. Through receiving the message of new life in Christ, they have all begun the journey of following Him. Now they who have come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord are called to give the message of new life in Him to others who also need to hear it. Paul wants them to discover the unique role they have to play in God's great story of saving the world's people. He sees this story unfolding where he is, and what he is seeing there can help the people in Philippi--and us today--to live with greater faith, peace and hope. So he writes to tell them about it (vv. 12-14).
12 Brothers and sisters, here is what I want you to know. What has happened to me has really helped to spread the good news. 13 One thing has become clear. I am being held by chains because of my stand for Christ. All of the palace guards and everyone else know it. 14 Because I am being held by chains, most of the believers in the Lord have become bolder. They now speak God's word more boldly and without fear.
3. The Philippians probably have feared that Paul's being in prison will discourage him and make difficult the spread of the Gospel. He writes in part to help them overcome this fear. He is not discouraged or afraid. And the Good News is going out, despite his chains.
4. Last month I told you that many Bible scholars think Paul was in Rome in a house, not a prison, though guards were chained to him. Now he writes about "palace guards." Some think this means that he was moved from his rented house to the Caesar's palace, probably when a new leader came into power and gave a new order. Others think the word palace (praetorium) is not necessarily about the Caesar's palace in Rome but could be about the place a regional leader lived and worked, such as Pilate.
5. Whatever the case, Paul is seeing his troubles not just as something he wants to escape but can't. More, he is viewing and using his situation as an opportunity to do the work God gave Him to do, that is, telling the message of Christ. He is a captive, but the guards are his captive audience, too. They typically would be chained to a prisoner in six-hour shifts, so change four times a day. Spending a large amount of time with him, they come to see that he is not just a common criminal put in chains for some evil thing he has done. They see that he is in chains because of the Gospel that he is telling people. We get a hint that at least some of them are listening and at least some of them will eventually become believers in Christ.
6. We begin to have an idea of how the Roman Empire did over a period of years change from one where Christians were killed for their faith, slowly into an officially Christian Empire. It is especially easy to imagine how this remarkable change happened if Paul was in Rome. Historians tell us that the palace guard of Caesar was made of the elite of the elite, and it became quite powerful in the Roman political system. When a new Caesar came to power, he knew that he must have the backing of this guard to succeed. He would work hard to receive it. So if members of a force at such a high level were followers of Christ, the impact on the culture as a whole could be quite strong. In the end, the Roman Empire was not changed by force from the outside but through the subversive message of Christ, spread from the inside, through people like the prisoner Paul.
7. As he writes to the Philippians, he is noticing one thing about God's way of working that we see in many different ways in various parts of life. One pastor put it like this: "Adversity means advance. Rivalry causes rejoicing.
Testing produces triumph.
Death unveils delight" (Steadman). In other words, God brings good things out of bad situations. He brings light out of darkness, joy out of sadness, life out of death. He has a way not of putting us in a world with no big problems but of letting bad things happen, then turning them around and using them for good as we ask Him and trust Him to do that.
8. That is true in a wide variety of ways. Yet Paul focuses on one of them here, and I want to look especially at that one with you today. Paul says that the Gospel is going out, and no one can stop it. God is doing His work of bringing the message of life in Christ to the world's people. Putting Jesus on the cross did not stop it. Forcing Christians to run for their lives out of Jerusalem and Israel did not stop it. Prison isn't stopping it now, either, Paul says. In fact, in each of these cases, precisely because the enemies of the Gospel had Christ killed, persecuted His followers, and took away Paul's freedom, more and more people have come to hear, understand, accept, and pass on to others the Good News of Christ.
9. Fast forward to 1956, and we can see God still doing the same type of thing. On the screen you can see a man named Jim Elliot. As a young man, after studying at a Christian school called Wheaton College, he left the US and went to Ecuador with his wife Elizabeth and other missionaries to tell people there about Christ.
10. After working in the area for some time, they heard of a tribe called by other tribes the Auca ("Savages"). They were known in that area as extremely dangerous because they so often killed people both inside and outside their group. Today they are known as the Huaoroni, a name they use for themselves.
11. After praying and discussing it for some time, the missionaries decided that God was leading them to approach the Huaoroni and begin communicating with them. They did more than once and began to have some success. But on one visit, suddenly the Huaoroni attacked and killed the five missionaries with spears.
12. No matter how you look at it, that is a tragic loss, isn't it? Were these five lives wasted? Wasn't it a foolish thing for Jim Elliot and the others to go into a situation that proved to be so dangerous? It may seem that way to us, but Elliot looked at if a different way. He wrote, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose" (Goodreads). He understood that his life in this world was limited and would end sooner or later. Yet by faith he also accepted the promise of Christ--a life which continues after the body dies. It is one which can never be lost or taken. That makes it so valuable that it is worth any price necessary not only to receive it but also to pass it on to others. Elliot had prayed, "I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you Lord Jesus" (Goodreads). When you see his life that way, it is very difficult to call it a waste or failure.
13. After these deaths, Elizabeth and a sister of one of the five missionaries actually returned to the Huaoroni and began living alongside them. The men had not been able to communicate the love and truth of God in words as they had hoped to do. But when these women went back in peace and made it clear that they did not hate but forgave the Huaoroni, their hearts were opened. Gradually some and then more and more Huaoroni wanted to know about the God of these Christians.
14. Eventually many of them came to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. They did not look or sound much like the Caucasians who had come to them, but they met their Christ and came to know Him. Jim Elliot had also prayed, "Lord, make my way prosperous not that I achieve high station, but that my life be an exhibit to the value of knowing God" (Goodreads). Today there is a strong indigenous Christian Huaoroni community, with their own leaders and approach to helping people around them. That is a sign of the way God answered Jim Elliot's prayer. God made this turn-around possible by working through the tragedy of five killings to create something beautiful and life-giving. You can see more about it if you watch the movie from several years ago, End of the Spear or read books by Elizabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor or Shadow of the Almighty.
15. Fast forward again to 2014, and here we see Open Door as part of this same process. The unchanging God is continuing to do His work of love, of peace-making, of salvation today, too. The times and faces and situations are different, but the Lord has chosen to work in His time-tested ways to bring the message of Christ to life in you and me. He has chosen to do His work through ordinary people who believe the extraordinary message of Christ. He has chosen to work not so much through ease and comfort and convenience but through the sacrifice and hard work of people who brought the message to us. None of us started this ourselves. Others cared enough to give their time, their money, and their abilities to helping us learn to live with the love of Christ guiding our lives. For some of us, it was parents and friends. For others it was a missionary or pastor or Sunday school teacher. But the seed of the Gospel has been planted in us, taken root, and grown.
16. So the natural next step is not to let it die with us but pass it on to others who need to hear it, as we did and still do. We have recognized that God's vision for Open Door includes making us a church where . . . .
A. we proclaim the Gospel to the world's people through word and deed (in particular to teachers, students, people with special physical challenges, families with children, and people from international backgrounds)
B. we work to plant new churches
C. we send people into the world to proclaim the Gospel
17. The first of these parts of our vision grows out of Open Door's mission. We have written that it is to "as an international family of faith live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Sapporo, Japan." The people we imagine ourselves becoming are ones whose words and actions show the message of God's saving love. If it becomes only one or the other, the power of the message is lost. We need to both show it and say it.
18. When people can not only hear it from our mouths but see it in our actions from day to day, the Gospel will become an appealing, attractive message. It will draw people not just to us but to Christ. We will not have to work just to "sell" something. Much more, we need to put the focus on letting the word of God be Good News to us. When it is actually healing the broken parts of our lives, when it is leading us to treat people with more understanding and respect, when it is giving us a true joy for living, it will become a winning message. People will see it and want it.
19. We can see here, also, the multiple benefits of telling the Good News of Christ. We do it to honor God, to show that we want to obey Him. We do it because the people around us need to know how important they are to God, and many of them don't yet understand it. But we also, in one sense, do it for our own growth and enrichment. The writer of Philemon 1:6 says, "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ." Obeying Christ's final command to take His message around the world in the end meets our needs as it meets those of others. Some musicians say, "A song isn't a song until it's heard." Many teachers notice that the best way to learn is to teach. There is something about telling the message to someone else that makes it yours in a way it could never be otherwise. So God's command (not suggestion or advice) to tell the Gospel grows out of His compassion and care not only for those who haven't heard it but for those who have, as well.
20. The second and third parts of our vision that I mentioned are not really different from each other. Working to plant new churches and sending people into the world to proclaim the Gospel are fundamentally the same thing, though the places and ways we spread Christ's message may be different. God has never imagined Open Door as a place we would receive the Good News, grow more and more comfortable with it, and just let it support us until we all grow old and die someday. If that becomes acceptable to us, we are moving away from our Lord. God is not satisfied for us to just get the Gospel and sit on it. It is meant to be shared. In the Father's time and way, that will result in new believers and new churches with new leaders. A normal way for a New Testament church to function is for God to raise up from within it people who will become leaders. Some will lead new groups inside that culture, and others will be sent out to give His message across various kinds of cultural barriers.
21. So how can that happen in our case? When will be begin planting a church to grow up from Open Door? It doesn't seem difficult to imagine when you think how many ways we have to communicate today. Many of Open Door's members communicate with people around the world all the time, whether through Facebook, Skype, or some other means. Telling in a conversation with non-Christian friends here in Sapporo--or anywhere--how your faith has helped you is one very good way to spread the Gospel. God has brought together a group of travelers in this church. Planning a trip to meet the members of our sister church in Liberia is something we could do. There are limitless possibilities.
22. But to help us envision them and get a sense for which of them God is actually leading us toward, let's look once more at God's work in Paul's day. First of all, he writes earlier in this chapter:
5 I am happy because you have joined me in spreading the good news. You have done so from the first day until now. 6 I am sure that the One who began a good work in you will carry it on until it is completed. That will be on the day Christ Jesus returns.
23. The members of the church in Philippi have joined Paul in presenting the news of Christ to people. They are team members with him. He is not trying to do all the important things by himself, and the people are not sitting around waiting for him to do them. He is not planning to make all the key decisions on his own and find leaders who will follow him without question. Instead, he says to Timothy (II Timothy 2:2), "You have heard me teach in front of many witnesses. Pass on to men you can trust the things you've heard me say. Then they will be able to teach others also." It's the multiplication principle.
24. Paul's goal then is not to stay in one place and build a gigantic church there with him in tight control of things until he becomes too old to continue. Rather, he goes to people where they are, helps them know Christ deeply and personally, then trains leaders who will continue when he is gone. Through approaching his work in this way, he keeps a very large vision for what God can do through him.
25. Roland Allen wrote a book about 100 years ago, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? It has had a powerful impact on Christian missions since that time. In it, he points out that Paul chooses certain cities for his work. Apparently they are ones that he thinks could become central points from which the Gospel can spread to an entire area. And often, when Paul describes his plans, he talks about working throughout a whole region, not just in one city (Allen, p. 12). For example, Acts 19:22 says, "He sent Timothy and Erastus, two of his helpers, to Macedonia. But he stayed a little longer in Asia Minor." Both Macedonia and Asia Minor are regions--Philippi is part of Macedonia, and Asia Minor is what we call Turkey today. Paul works to plant churches all over the area. Growing churches that plant churches--that is the pattern God has followed typically when the Church of Christ has grown around the world for many centuries. As I finish my 20th year at this church, one of my constant prayers is, "OK, Lord, what's next? How can I serve you most effectively now?" I hope you'll pray that for me, for yourself, and for our church as a whole. Let's keep moving, whether the Lord wants us to keep growing where we are or expand to other places.
26. Roland Allen, as you may have guessed from the title, wrote that Western missionaries such as those in his own group of churches, were making some serious mistakes in their work. He called the Church to return to the message and methods of Paul so that we could better do the work of the Gospel effectively in modern times. A key question is Who is in control? That includes Who will be responsible for the Church's work and Who will pay for it? For example, should the missionaries and churches who send them pay the salaries of church leaders and decide things? Should the local churches do this? If the answer is both, in what combination?
27. In Allen's time, most all missionaries went from the West to the rest of the world. He thought they were taking too much control and keeping it too long before passing it to people in the local culture. Today, we think God has led many new churches around the world from an age of dependence to an age of independence and now to one of interdependence. From (1) relying on foreign missionaries to (2) being free from them to (3) partnering with them is the way many world Christians see God leading them. Current trends make it very difficult to say the West will be the center of the Christian world as it once was, as Israel and then several Mediterranean rim countries were in Bible times and afterward. It looks as if in the future, there will be multiple centers, with missionaries being sent all over the world from all over the world.
28. God calls Open Door to be a part of that global project of taking His love and His word to every living creature. We have seen His vision and taken it as our own. We have begun the process of answering that call. Now what do the next steps look like? Who needs to hear the Good News of Christ from you? How would be a good way for you to show the love and message of God to those particular people? Let's pray that God will show us the way as we seek to walk with Him in taking the Good News of Christ into our hearts, our homes, our communities, and our world.
29. Loving, saving God, you have given us your command, "No matter what happens, live in a way that brings honor to the good news about Christ" (Philippians 1:27). We need your help to do that. Help it to really be good news in our lives, that makes us whole, makes us free, makes us more loving and joyous and more like your Son in every way you desire. In our thoughts and our actions, help us be clear messages of your saving love. In your time and with your Spirit's guiding, help us to also tell in words that message of life. Then please bless it and use it to draw many people to yourself in faith and love. In your Son's name, amen.
Allen, R. (1962). Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing.
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