READ | SERMON NOTES
Summary l Paul’s letter to the Philippians was one of the four “Prison Letters” which Paul wrote when he was held in prison. His words in v21 seem jarring for “living is for Christ and dying is gain”. These words do not seem to make sense for a person in prison with the prospect of death. Did Paul make a mistake? The reverse might seem more coherent: To live is freedom! To die is Christ! How can we declare to live is Christ during tough moments? Paul was self-effacing in his letter and chose to stay out of the spotlight, careful not to elaborate his discomforts to draw attention to himself. There was also news about competition in church from “preachers of envy and rivalry”. Paul did not address them theologically as his rivals were not heretics. They were preaching Christ but with false motives to steal sheep. In Paul’s absence, things could go out of hand in church. Perhaps we are also facing a tough season now, things are challenging and complicated. The situation just seems to get harder, and we are not sure if we can go on like this any longer. Here is how we can live for Christ in tough times:
1. All eyes on Him [Jesus] – A theological perspective to face life
The logic and rationale in Paul’s letter displayed his theological reflection with God about his rival preachers. Paul was not concerned with them; he had his eyes all on Jesus! He was focused on spreading the good news of Jesus and this kept Paul from the distractions of trivial and petty matters. Gordon Fee wrote that Paul learnt by the grace of God to see everything from the divine perspective, so he sees everything in light of the bigger picture. To live for Christ is to have our eyes see things from God’s perspective. It can be very easy to fall into the comparison trap. We are all serving the same God to win souls for Christ. Consider how to do our best for the glory of God. Paul’s theological perspective shaped how he saw life. How he saw life shaped how he faced life. How we see life defines how we face life. We may be overwhelmed by the challenges we face and are mentally down, but we need to devote time to develop a theology that guides us deep beyond our present circumstances. We need to be grounded in a deep understanding of God’s word.
2. All hands for Him – A gospel-driven passion to magnify Christ
Paul did not let prison beat him down. He was upbeat about the opportunities God placed in his hands. His imprisonment was a divine opportunity for him to spread the gospel of Jesus to people and places whom/which others could not reach. Paul continued to preach while in prison and the imperial guards had no choice but to overhear Paul preach. He acknowledged his circumstances but did not draw attention to his chains. He chose to draw attention to Jesus. Paul made at least 14 references to God and Christ in these 18 verses. The message of Jesus’ redemption of our souls from hell, was more important than Paul’s physical redemption from prison. The disgrace is not being condemned to death but becoming faint-hearted. Paul had his hands all for Jesus because of his gospel-driven passion, spreading the gospel with all that God has placed in his hands. What has God placed in our hands? We should examine our daily interactions – who are we drawing attention to.
3. Spiritual Parents
We are not meant to walk alone. We need Spiritual Parents like Paul to guide us through tough times. A Spiritual Parent is a Disciple Maker who nurtures others to grow in Christ, to love and serve Christ. Spiritual Parenting is relational and emphasises love and compassion. v8-11 show how much Paul longs for the readers – he prayed their love may overflow and become pure and blameless. All of us can mature into being spiritual parents who disciple spiritual children. A Christian community is essential to help us live for Christ in tough times. v23-26 show how Paul’s love for his spiritual children shaped him. Although it was better to be with Christ, Paul said it was necessary for him to remain with his spiritual children. His selfless sacrificial posture was nurtured through his spiritual parenting. As a Spiritual Parent, Paul modelled Christlike humility in suffering and shaped their theological perspectives through his letters. We need a spiritual parent to talk about, say, our mental health and stress.
Let us pray for one another who are facing tough times, who are not from our generation, even those who are struggling to confess they need help. May their eyes always be on you, fill them with gospel-driven passion to magnify Jesus. Surround them with Spiritual Parents who may guide and sustain them so that the light of Christ may shine through.
PONDER | REFLECTION QUESTIONS
- Read Philippians 1:12-18. How has Paul’s imprisonment helped to spread the gospel?
- How have you faced opposition or suffered because of your Christian values?
- “How you see life defines how you face life.” How will a strong theology of God shape your perspective about the tough moments you may face? What discipleship steps could you take to strengthen your theology of God and life?
- Read Philippians 1:20 How ready are you to share the gospel? What fears hinder you from doing so?
- Read Philippians 1:21-30 Why is Paul unafraid to die? What does it mean for him to live?
- What does it mean to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27)?
- Who are the spiritual children you are nurturing in the faith? Share how your group member may pray for him/her.