[Note: From the very beginning of my pastoral work, I’ve prepared manuscripts of my Sunday morning sermons, which we publish at TDF as “Pocket Papers.” But for the next four weeks, due to a busy summer and Katrina’s upcoming surgery, I’m going to speak extemporaneously from the four chapters of Philippians, one of my favorite books of the Bible, one chapter per week. Pocket Papers will return for the MOSAIC series from Exodus 1-20, beginning Augut 22. In the meantime, here are my preaching notes from today’s message from Philippians 1.]
Opening Text: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain – Philippians 1:21
Introduction: Everyone is under pressure today – time pressure, financial pressure, family pressure. We all need strength, and we need to be strength-spreaders. The right word at the right time can do much good. Here’s an examples. Recently my son-in-law and I visited Canterbury, in Kent, in southeast England. The British Isles were originally evangelized in the first century, when Britannia was conquered by the Roman Emperor Claudius. It’s likely that British soldiers were the first to take the Gospel to Britannia. The church evidently grew there and flourished. But when the Roman Empire collapsed, Roman forces were withdrawn from Britain and the islands were invaded hoards of barbarians, including the Saxons. The nation destabilized, and Christianity to a large extent collapsed in the ensuing chaos.
In in the 500s, the Roman Bishop Gregory saw some Anglo-Saxon boys in the slave market in Rome. They were blue-eyed and blond and had faces like angels. Gregory developed a burden for the Anglo-Saxons and he worked hard to recruit a team of missionaries to travel to the British Isles to reclaim the land for Christ.
Putting together a large missionary team (about 40), he tapped for their leader a man named Augustine. (This isn’t the famous St. Augustine from North Africa; this was a man who was named for that St. Augustine. We call this second man Augustine of Canterbury.)
So the delegation set out, and it was a hard trip. They sailed from Italy to a spot somewhere near the French Riviera not far from Aix-en-Provence, then trekked due north right through the middle of war-torn France. They had to zigzag at every point because of Civil wars ravaging the area, and it was an exhausting trip. Somewhere along the way they lost their nerve. They became completely overwhelmed with dread and fear. They were attacked by the devil. They had heard from a reliable source that the Anglo-Saxon tribes cut the throats of those who entered their territories, hung the victims upside down until all the blood drained out, and then drank the blood. The missionary band did not know the language to those they were hoping to reach. The group faltered and sent word back to the bishop of Rome, telling him they could not go on.
The bishop sent back one of the most important letters in Christian history. He told them by no means should they quit, but they should instead rely on the Almighty. He said, in effect, that it would have been better never to have started out than to start out and quit. He told them, in effect, to finish what they had started with the help of their Almighty God who was going with them.
That letter infused them with strength and they went on, got to the English Channel, and crossed over into Kent. The king of that area was a man named Ethelbert who ruled from the town of Canterbury. Somehow they overcame the language barrier, and Ethelbert listened to their message while sitting under a large oak tree. Shortly afterward he was converted and then hundreds of Englishmen began coming to the Lord. It marked the revival of Christianity in England, and Canterbury has been called the “cradle of English Christianity.”
We need to be the kind of people with the kind of spirit that can infuse others with strength. That’s what the apostle Paul does in Philippians 1. Though he was imprisoned in Rome (probably in AD 62), his outlook was so bright that he wrote an inspiring letter to his supporters 800 miles away in Philippi. In chapter 1, we can pick up these clues from him about being strength spreaders in our own day.
1. Be Prayerful
- Philippians 1:1-10
- Paul started off with reassuring prayer for the Philippians, assured that the God who had started working in their lives would carry it on to completion (verse 6), and praying specific for a particular chain reaction to occur within the church: Love, leading to knowledge and insight, leading to discerning what is best and making wise choices, leading to purity and blamelessness, leading to a fruitful life until Christ returns (v 9-11). If you are worried about someone for any reason and want to find the most powerful thing you can do for both you and them, buy a little journal and every morning or evening find a passage of Scripture to write out as a prayer on their behalf. Having written it out, kneel and offer it earnestly to the Lord. There is great power and strength in this practice, which is exactly what Paul did here in Philippians 1 to spread strength to the Philippians church.
2. Stay Positive
- Philippians 1:11-26
- There is no whining in these verses. Paul openly discusses his problems, but without any self-pity or woe-is-me. He is looking at everything with gratitude. Though imprisoned, he is having a fruitful ministry right where he is. He reassures the Philippians by his spunk and spirit. If you want to be a strength to others, cultivate a thankful attitude and remain positive about your own circumstances, whatever they are, knowing God is in control. That not only relieves them of worrying about you, but it provides an example for them regarding their own trials.
3. Keep Preaching
- Philippians 1:27-30
- “Whatever happens,” Paul told them, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” He told them to “stand firm in one spirit.” He exhorted them. He gave them the truth lovingly and confidently. We need to preach to each other in more confident and effective ways. When someone comes to you wanting you to follow them into a sinful or careless or compromised situation, we’re prone to go rather than confronting them. We allow them to pull us down. How much better to exhort them. “You can do whatever you want to do, but I’m not going with you. It would be a violation of my commitment to Christ, and I would like to encourage you to conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Stand firm for him. Whether or not they listened to you at that moment, the long-term result would be spreading strength for both you and them.