The title of today’s sermon is “Become a Gospel Partner.”
Do you believe in the gospel? I mean, do you really believe? If so, how do you know if your belief is authentic? Belief in Jesus is never a private, personal matter. Belief in Jesus always leads to suffering for Jesus. Here, we’re not talking about any old belief.
Belief and suffering for your belief don’t always go hand in hand. I might believe that saving the whales is a noble cause. It seems like a good idea to me. I agree that changing out the fishing nets so that whales do not get trapped in them is a good thing. We should ban Japanese fishermen from harpooning whales and smuggling whale meat into sushi restaurants in Tokyo. I lived in Tokyo and some places served whale on their menu. Not kidding. But thinking that saving whales is a nice idea is a far cry from actually getting on a ship and putting on scuba gear and grabbing a sword so that I can cut the nets to rescue a whale entangled in a net. There are those who really believe that saving whales is important and they are willing to suffer for it.
I might say, I believe in Christ. It’s another thing altogether for me to say, I will become a gospel partner and suffer for Christ. What is one quality that differentiates the Christian who has mere intellectual belief from the Christian who believes and is willing to suffer for that belief? One word–joy. If you know Jesus, if you really know Jesus and you understand what he did for you, then it’s impossible not to be joyful. Knowing Jesus and joy go hand in hand. Only someone who knows Jesus and is filled with joy will be willing to suffer for Christ. If you know Jesus but you lack joy, then you might suffer but if there is no joy in the midst of suffering, then you’re a Pharisee. You are a legalist. You do things because you think through your efforts you can earn God’s favor.
Sports athletes know about the relationship between joy and suffering. Players on a sports team will suffer through grueling practices and endure and play through injuries on the field because they love the game. They can endure any setback for the potential joy of winning a championship.
Deep down, every single person in this room will suffer for some belief. At work, without a second thought, you will suffer and endure terrible bosses and work many overtime hours and travel and lose sleep to meet deadlines because you believe that your suffering is worth it. You believe that your suffering will help you to achieve admiration, or respect, or security, or a higher salary. We are all willing to suffer in order to achieve whatever we believe will deliver ultimate satisfaction.
As we begin a new study today through the book of Philippians, ask yourself, what do I really believe? In whom do you really believe? Or what or for whom am I willing to suffer? Whatever you are suffering for, does it bring you joy? Whatever you are willing to suffer for is likely a good indication of your belief system? If you believe in the gospel, really believe in it, you will become a gospel partner.
Philippians is a fantastic book. It is filled with some of the most famous verses in all of Scripture. These are verses you will find on t-shirts and coffee mugs and bumper stickers. Verses like:
6 …He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Then, later in the chapter–
21 For me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
For Paul, living was all about Jesus and dying was infinite, unending, limitless gain because he finally got to have all of Jesus. In the new heaven and new earth, faith won’t be needed anymore. You just open your eyes and you will be able to see Jesus and touch Jesus and have a conversation with him. Won’t that be so cool? Don’t you long for that?
But you can’t stop at v21. If you stop at v21, then we should all want to die. Because for the Christian, there is nothing better than being with Jesus and Jesus loves us and he wants to be with us. Following this logic, then the moment someone is born again and saved, God should just zap us to heaven. But he doesn’t. In the verses that follow, Paul gives us insight into the proper attitude for the Christian. Paul is torn. He wants to be with Christ. At the same time, he looks out into the world and his heart breaks. There is much fruitful labor ahead. Mission trips, church plants, the joy of people being saved and the heartbreak of people falling away from the faith. Fruitful labor. Labor, it’s hard, it’s tiring. But it’s also fruitful and joyful. Suffering, but also salvation.
Chapter 2 is the famous passage about the humility of Christ. Jesus is fully God and as an equal with God, he enjoyed all the privileges of heaven and the glory and honor that went with it. And Jesus, God the Son, let all of that go and he submitted himself to the will of God the Father and he became obedient to death on a cross. Then, God raised him and exalted him to the highest place. This is the gospel. And to this day, Christians end their prayers “In Jesus’ Name” because there is no other name in heaven or on earth or under the earth that is higher or more glorious than the name of Jesus Christ.
What enabled Jesus to endure the cross? Heb 12 – for the joy that lay before he endured a cross. It was the joy of the future prospect of seeing sinners forgiven and reconciled to their Heavenly Father that enabled Jesus to suffer. We see in the life of Jesus the pairing of joy and suffering. They go hand in hand.
Another coffee mug verse is Phil 3:7-8–
7 But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For Paul, knowing Christ was the supreme pursuit and passion of his life. Everything else, he considered as a loss, as a waste, as rubbish, as a burning pile of garbage. Nothing compared to his relationship with Christ.
A few verses down, Phil 3:12-14–
12 Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.
Paul was not merely coasting into heaven. He didn’t want to barely scrape by. Or barely get in. He wasn’t relying on a decision for Christ he made decades earlier to get him in. He was straining forward, he was reaching out, throwing off everything that weighed him down. He was sprinting toward the finish line with all of his might. He was living with all of the intensity of a runner who has his eyes set on the prize.
If you don’t know this final verse, you probably haven’t been around church much. Phil 4:12-13.
12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.
In terms of major themes, 2 words are repeated more times in this letter than any of Paul’s letters. The first word is “joy.” Related to joy is “rejoice.” Rejoicing can simply be defined as one’s inner joy being made audible. If you are a joyful person, you will rejoice. Audibly. Words will come out of your mouth to express your joy. In this letter to the Philippians, Paul uses the word “joy” 5 times and the word “rejoice” 9 times.
3 I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always praying with JOY for all of you in my every prayer…
18 Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I REJOICE. Yes, and I will REJOICE.
25 …I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and JOY in the faith…
2 fulfill my JOY by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal.
17 But even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and REJOICE with all of you. 18 In the same way you should also be glad and REJOICE with me.
28 …I am very eager to send him [Epaphroditus] so that you may REJOICE when you see him again and I may be less anxious.
29 …welcome him [Epaphroditus] in the Lord with all JOY and hold men like him in honor…
1 Finally, my brothers, REJOICE in the Lord…
1 …my brothers, you are dearly loved and longed for—my JOY and crown.
4 REJOICE in the Lord always. I will say it again: REJOICE!
10 I REJOICED in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. [financial assistance]
This book is overflowing with joy and it is resounding with sounds of rejoicing. Why was Paul so joyful and why did he rejoice so often? 2 things. One, his relationship with the Lord, and two, his relationships with people.