Monday, November 28, 2016

"Partners in the Gospel …"

Day #334

Scripture Reading:  Philippians 1 - 2 …

If you were in prison and didn't know if you were going to live or die, what would you write to your fellow-believers who may face the same persecution that you are facing and may themselves die for their faith in Jesus Christ? That sounds like quite a scenario, doesn't it?  But that is the true circumstances of Paul's life as he writes this letter to the Philippians.  God's Word was not written from the imagination of those who dream up stories, but in the real life circumstances of the battle between the kingdom of God and the powers of evil.  

Paul writes this letter from prison, aware that his imprisonment might cause some to question what God is doing.  Here is perhaps the greatest promoter of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and defender of the faith at that time - maybe in any time - and he has been imprisoned unfairly and restricted in his travels.  Why?  Why doesn't God DO something?  So Paul writes of his love for the "saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi" (1:1), and expresses his joy for their "partnership in the gospel" (1:5).  Such fellowship among believers is an encouragement to all … then and now.

To encourage them further, Paul declares his confidence that "He who began a good work in you WILL carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (1:6).  As a pastor I know that these words expressed Paul's fervent desire that those to whom he had proclaimed the Gospel would persevere in the faith and glorify God (verse 11).  There is an affection for those to whom one preaches and teaches God's Word that is difficult to describe except as Paul does … as a feeling of a father for his children … desiring the best for them and knowing that the best can be found only in knowing and loving and serving God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul then assures them that God is using him, even in his present circumstances.  He has been sharing the Gospel with the Romans who are guarding him and many of them have become believers.  As he sits in prison, he continues doing the Lord's work.  What an example of faith and perseverance!  He believes he will be delivered, but he wants the Philippians to know that even if he were to die, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (1:21), the Gospel is still true and God is still good.  In fact, he says, "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far" (1:23).  He believes God wants him to stay "in the body" longer for the sake of the Philippians and others, but if not, he does not want them to lose hope, explaining, "It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him" (1:29).  Suffering for Christ is part of our calling.

Some claim today that God has only good things planned for believers.  It is significant that even the Apostle Paul did not claim to have that kind of knowledge from the Spirit.  His concern was not to predict the future, but to trust God in the present.  He told the Philippians:  "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ … whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the Gospel" (1:27).  People in the Church today should be more concerned about standing firm than in giving in to the culture around us.  We should be talking more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and worrying less about the other things that are going on in our lives over which we have no control!

In Chapter 2, Paul encourages the believers to find encouragement in the example of Christ Jesus, having the same attitude of humility and servanthood.  He calls them to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose" (2:12-13).  God is ALWAYS at work in ways that we do not understand, and it is important to know that WE who believe are part of His purpose!  His Spirit is at work in us and we are never alone.  It is HIS grace that empowers us daily to "shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life" (2:15-16).  We who know and confess Jesus Christ have a calling in this world that no one else has:  to proclaim the name of Jesus and so to give glory and praise to the one true God.  No one else can do this.

Even as Paul faces death, he has a deep concern for his brothers and sisters in Christ.  He mentions Timothy and Ephaphroditus, two fellow-workers in the teaching of the Gospel.  Paul was concerned for them, but also for the Philippians, that they were understanding how very important their ministry was for the glory of God and for the cause of Christ.  Do you understand that?  What does it mean to you to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?  Is your desire every day to serve Him, to shine the light of His truth into the darkness around you?

For some around the world faith in Jesus Christ is truly the "anchor for the soul" (Hebrews 6:19) that God intends it to be.  Some are holding on tightly to other things, even life itself, thinking that in them you will find hope, peace, joy, contentment and meaning for life.  God gives us gifts to enjoy - but not to worship … not to place our hope in.  I pray that you, like Paul, will understand God's work IN you and His desire to work THROUGH you.  I pray that you will long to be with Jesus, whether in life or in death, and that your attitude will be like that of Jesus:  a humble, willing servant.  And I pray that you, as partners in the Gospel, will share God's truth with others on a regular basis, praying for them and putting their needs before your own, giving your life away for the King!  For in doing so, you will find true joy in Christ Jesus until that day when you see Him face to face.

"Father in heaven, the joy of knowing You and serving You surpasses even life itself.  Fill me with faith and the confidence that I have a calling from You and that You Yourself, by Your Spirit, are at work in me to accomplish all You intend for my life.  I long to be with You and pray that You would give me a humble Spirit and a willing heart to serve others, holding out to them the word of life so that they, too, may know You and be partners in sharing the Gospel.  To You be the praise and glory, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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