By Mike Dawson
Pastor Emeritus, First Baptist Church, Columbia
Focal Passage: Philippians 1:12-26
Nashville publisher Bob Benson was a great story teller. I remember him telling about a friend who was recovering from heart surgery. Bob asked him, “Brother, how’d you enjoy your heart attack?” His friend replied, “Enjoy it? What do you mean, man? It was awful!” Bob continued with questions, “Do you appreciate your wife more than you did? Do you love your children more? Do you cherish your friends more than ever?” Each time, the brother answered, “Yes! More than ever in my life!” Bob continued, “So I ask you again, how’d you enjoy your heart attack?”
The Apostle Paul found ‘joy’ in adversity, and he tells us why in today’s text, Philippians 1:12-26. This passage could be labeled “Glorying in the Gospel,” because that’s just what prisoner Paul is doing:
1. Glorying in Gospel Problems (verses 12-14). A ‘jailbird’ can’t expect to do much flying, and the Roman government thought they had clipped Paul’s witnessing wings by locking him up. Yet Paul gloried in the situation. He turned his miseries into ministries (verse 12). Prison workers saw Christ in Paul’s adversity (verse 13), and some of his fellow believers were emboldened by his situation to speak the word without fear (verse 14). May others see Jesus in how we deal with mistreatment.
2. Glorying in Gospel Preaching (verses 15-18). Today ‘Gospel preaching’ can be seen on TV or the internet, heard on radio and countless DVDs and CDs, 24 hours a day. We can easily discern that not all such preaching is from pure motives.
Paul experienced something like this in his day. He might have tried to silence such “preaching,” especially when it attacked him personally. Instead, he chose to rejoice that “Christ is being preached.” Paul was saved by amazing grace, and he shared amazing grace by his outlook.
3. Glorying in Gospel Power (verse 19). Prisoner Paul knew that two tremendous forces were working toward his freedom: the prayers of the saints and the power of Christ’s Spirit.
These are still the ways prisoners can be delivered, whatever might have them locked up — attitudes, actions, addictions, or adversities. Let’s help deliver others by being emptied of self through prayer and being filled for service through the Spirit’s power!
4. Glorying in Gospel Perspective (verses 20-26). From Paul’s vantage point — a ‘cell’ controlled by Roman guards — he was able to see three freeing ‘couplets’ of the Gospel: expectation and hope … now and always … life and death, verse 20. We now read 12 powerful words (in verse 21) that, if put into practice, can free anyone from any bad situation: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Paul’s perspective on living and dying is demonstrated over the next five verses; he compares staying here — being with the saints, and going there — being with the Savior.
Two words jump out at me in verses 22-26: “better” and “needful.” Being in Heaven with Christ would be “far better” Paul says. But he knows that staying on earth with the saints is “more needful.” To be blessed in Heaven is a glorious thought; but to be a blessing on earth is glorious too. Are you ready to go OR to stay? Best dilemma ever! B&R — Dawson is pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church, Columbia, and also serves as transitional interim around the state.