“Joyfully, Progress in Faith!”
Philippians 1:20-30, September 20th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Our reading today comes from one of the Apostle Paul’s letters, penned while he was in prison, Philippians chapter one, verse twenty thru thirty.”
20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.
21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well – 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
“Having hear this ancient writing let us now consider what we can learn from Paul’s words in our present time.”
“Joyfully, Progress in Faith!”
Throughout history, faithful, God fearing people, people like you and me, have been arrested for standing up for what they believe. Usually, the cause is a social justice issue, whereas another is being discriminated against, marginalized in some way, and in many cases – persecuted in various wrongful ways. The same is still happening in our society in current time. The Apostle Paul was in prison while he did some of his most priceless works of faith; one of which we just read. Speaking out and peacefully protesting is protected in our form of government. Anarchy and violence against others, is not. You and I know that this is a very difficult time in our society. Some days are more difficult than others. We all know this. To complicate all of this we are still in the midst this world-wide pandemic. The loses in human life is staggering. And if this is not enough, we are in the peak of the hurricane season. In California and Oregon fire season has only just begun and already the fires are raging, and many lives have been lost, with extensive destruction. Life can be a struggle at times… that is for sure!
The Apostle Paul, he was arrested several times. The writings in the Acts of the Apostles, in the New Testament, tells us of when where and how etc. and makes an interesting Bible study project to explore. Perhaps we may want to do that soon, but not this morning. The point is, he was arrested and flogged for doing the work of Christ many times. History and legend tell us… he was eventually executed, when there was a change in the Roman leadership; a new emperor ordered his death and many others as well. Can you just imagine what his resume would look like if he were to apply for a ministerial position in our society today!? Truthfully, I have heard tell it has been written in modern times by a Conference ministry. He was trying to put across to a pastoral search committee that perhaps they were being a bit too critical of the candidates they had turned away! The truth is that following in the footsteps of those like Jesus and Paul can be rather difficult at times. In countries within modern society, pastors and practicing Christians have been jailed and executed for their faith. There are those that think we progressive theologians are heretics for our willingness to speak up for the marginalized and those that discriminated against at various levels. God bless the Apostles and the Disciples of Christ who dare to speak the truth as it has been revealed to them!
Let us now reconsider the implications of what Paul says as he writes his letter to the church in Philippi. “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.” /Philippians 1:20/ His enthusiasm is remarkable. Remember now, he is writing from prison because of his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament! He speaks of his eagerness and that of hope. Amazing really. It is no wonder they say that folks like him must be filled with the very Spirit of Christ! His words clarify he understood, clearly understood he may be put to death for his beliefs! Yet, he seems not afraid whatsoever, to die and join Christ in the Heavens above as he clearly says! “I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” /Philippians 1:23 & 24/ It seems, Paul is at a state in his faith, at this point, this juncture of his journey, he is clear that his ‘calling’ is to do still more here on earth before he can join the saints in heaven. His words set an example for faithful followers to emulate.
We here in the Twenty-First Century, we are called to ministry at a difficult time in history. Last year at this time, we saw our challenges differently than we do now. Then, we, all of us throughout the world, but especially here in the United States, saw life as… let us say we saw life with a ‘different pair of glasses’ then we do now. Gee, that would make a great book title. Seriously though, we did see life out a different perspective than we do today. As odd or as hard as this may seem from here, major changes throughout the world have been occurring throughout time. How could we have missed that? Perhaps, you and me, we have spent too much time preoccupied with our own issues, causing us too often – to have missed the issues or events that are truly important to acknowledge! History tells us that things like plagues and disease have been part of the world order for a long, long time! Slavery, discrimination, classism, and sexism have been recorded in history throughout time, as well! Struggles with abuse of power and disagreements in how we are to live within social systems; systems which are efficient yet good for everyone! These issues are not new. New names, new faces and new issues, certainly. Yet, not new at all!
What was the overall message the Apostle, Paul, trying to get across? Or how can we gleen anything from his words today? By all appearances he was sharing his journey of faith, whether he intended to or not! He was basically saying, “At this stage of my faith, I am sure that there is a heaven and Christ is there and one day I will be there also.” Fact is Paul was saying it would be easier to be there at that time, then in his current situation. There are many ways to interpret that statement. Perhaps what he meant was that he was getting tired of the floggings and the prison life, and maybe it was time to take his deserved and justified rest. If he were here – we would certainly question him about this. Not that any one of us would blame him if we wanted a break from such harsh treatment. What we can take from this, is the clarity from one of the leaders of the Christian movement, we can clarify that carrying the cross, the burden of Christ, can be hard, real hard! Paul, you, and me, and all who have come before us and those who shall follow, need to know that even the Saints before us knew the human burden of following in the pathways of Christ. Yet, yet, Paul is also telling us… his faith is so strong that he knows there is a place for him at the table with Christ in heaven… but he still eagerly wants to serve the ministry, the people of God here on earth, because it is needed!
Paul goes on to tell us how committed he is to the mission which he fervently and eagerly pursues! “Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith.” /Philippines 1:25/ What he is convinced of is that Christ, the Very Spirit of God is compelling him to continue this Earthly ministry as it is paramount to the ministry to which he has been called! All this conversation from Paul is to convince us and to compel us to take his message to heart! He is urging those that he ministers to, which includes us as we are now hearing his words: “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” /Philippians 1:27a/ Paul was admonishing, warning all who hear his words to live a life worthy of the grace and the mercy of Christ Jesus! If we are to be counted as the faithful people in Jesus’ name, let us be sure we are living in the example set forth by Jesus himself! Let us not get confused or distracted, by the rhetoric of others who oppose the message of the gospel accounts of the life and the ministry of Jesus! Paul is saying that whether he himself visits us or not – is of no consequences! Yet, we need to be of one spirit, one people in our commitment and devotion to the Son of God! Paul says to us “Whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel!” /Philippians 1:27b/
History, history is written with or without the consent of we the people. We cannot control how or what shall be written down. What we can influence is how our Creator God will judge our efforts to live – as a faithful people; people who have done their best to live in a worthy manner. I wear a mast when in a building where other people are, I do so to protect them and myself, as-well-as, my family and loved ones. I wash my hands with soap and use hand sanitizer. I respect the power of mother nature. I also respect the advice of professional health care workers and the advice of health organizations. I do my best to influence others to respect the needs and rights of others. I pray we all do. I do not want to see anyone arrested, especially the innocent. Yet, I respect those who stand up for their rights and the rights of others. Jesus clearly did! There are a lot of things happening in the world today and in our own society that are very concerning. I pray that you and I, I pray we will have the courage to speak up when necessary and to support others who are willing to do the same. When we reach the gates of heaven, let us pray that it will be said we dared to live as a faithful people!