"Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
Some Christian Marks
This morning in our studies in Philippians we have come to these verses in ch.1 and I have three points to which I want to draw your attention. I’ll tell you what they are and then we will look together at them in detail:
What a Christian can count on – or, at least, what he ought to be able to count on
What goal the Christian is moving towards
What is expected of the Christian as he journeys towards that goal
So without further ado let’s gets going.
What can a Christian count on
It is great to be a Christian – there are indeed so many blessings that are ours in Christ and here Paul refers to two different though related blessings about which you might not have immediately thought:
The prayers of other believers
The help and support of the Spirit
Paul’s life had been revolutionized by his encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road. The gospel that he then embraced amazed him and brought him tremendous joy and peace in believing. Not only did Paul rejoice in his own experience of the gospel of God’s saving grace he rejoiced in the fact that knowledge of that gospel was continuing to spread.
It was while actively involved in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul got into trouble with the authorities. These problems had begun with the Jewish authorities and then they had quickly handed him over to the Romans in whose custody he was when he wrote this letter to the Christians in Philippi. The gospel that had given Paul a whole new life came at some cost to him as well. But Paul had been rejoicing as he wrote about the progress of the gospel and he was determined to go on rejoicing as he turned his thoughts to his own future both immediate and long-term.
There were elements about Paul’s future that were very uncertain and he firmly believed that the exact way his future would pan was going to be influenced by the prayers of other believers and so he referred confidently to those prayers.
We have already seen that Paul himself prayed regularly and repeatedly for the Christians in Philippi – in fact he prayed joyously for them every time he thought about them – and he was sure God was going to complete the work he had begun in their lives. Human logic might reason by saying something like:
"Well, if God is going to complete the work he’s begun there’s no point us praying."
But Bible logic is very different! If God has begun the work and will complete it all the more reason for us to pray. Your will be done, Lord!
And now Paul fully expected the Philippians to return the compliment and to pray for him. He didn’t write at this point to tell them to do so or to plead with them to do so – though he did just this in writing to others – no, Paul simply assumed that they would be praying for him. Prayer is such an indication of the new life that has the Christian has come to enjoy! Do you remember when Paul first became a Christian? As word got out, the Christians were somewhat hesitant to believe such a man could be converted. They were convinced when they heard the words of the Lord:
Acts 9:11 "behold, he is praying,"
And now Paul was sure that the Philippians were praying for him!
This is of course just as it should be. Christians pray for each other and if you are a Christian you can be sure that others have prayed, are praying and will continue praying for you. It is a great thing to be a Christian!
Those of you listening this morning who are known to be members of the congregation at Sunnyhill church need to realise that you are prayed for by others. These prayers may at times be weak and stuttering prayers, they might at times be prayed with gusto and enthusiasm, but you are prayed for. You are prayed for by other members of the congregation who are concerned for your well-being and in particular for your spiritual well-being. You are also prayed for by the church officers who want to see you grow in your understanding of the faith, to bear the fruit of the Spirit, and to grow in your likeness to the Lord Jesus Christ.
We pray privately and we pray in the prayer meeting – all of you are prayed for. What a privilege and what a blessing it is to be a member of God’s family and to enjoy such help and comforting support. How humbling it is, but how encouraging, to be told by someone that they’re praying for you. I had a text message from a lady last week and she said "It’s Friday and I pray for you and Janice on Friday." We first met her when we were students at Aberystwyth – she’s prayed for us since then and she’s still praying for us aged 89. And there are people who are praying for you too.
Christians pray for one another – it’s one of the things they do and one of the things they’re expressly told to do:
Jas.5:16 "pray for one another... The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."
It would be tempting to digress at this point and look at the many ‘one another’ instructions to be found addressed to Christians in the NT – the list contains the following and more besides:
Love – live in harmony – welcome – care for – greet – comfort – agree with – serve – bear burdens – be kind – forgiving – encouraging one another.
But, as I said, that would be to digress but you might like to look at that a bit more for yourself this afternoon.
The second thing that Paul counts upon in addition to the prayer support of the Philippians was the help/support of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
The Christian church is meant to be a mutually supportive family of believers but it cannot be regarded as though it were just another human organisation because God is intimately involved. We’ll never have a true understanding of the Christian and Christian relationships if God is somehow left out of the picture. Paul was glad to count upon the supporting prayers of the Philippians and he was oh so glad too to be able to count on the help of the Spirit. And since the same Spirit helps and supports all Christian believers you should be glad too.
I said earlier that these two items upon which Paul counted were linked and that is because at least some of the way in which the prayers of those Philippians were answered as they prayed for Paul would be by the gift and enabling of the Spirit.
When you pray for another Christian you are not somehow trying, by the intensity of your efforts, to set in motion some spiritual waves that will automatically influence the circumstances your friend might be in. No, you pray to God and his is the operative power. He intervenes by the work and ministry of his Spirit – here called the Spirit of Jesus Christ because it is the Spirit who is 100% in harmony with our Saviour who ministers Jesus to us.
Paul was a dynamic man who seems to us to have always been full of energy and enthusiasm but his life as a Christian wasn’t dependent upon his natural resources – he knew he could do all things but only because it was Christ who was enabling and strengthening him. And that strengthening help is something that belongs to the ministry of the Spirit of Jesus for that is how Paul prayed for others:
Eph.3:16 "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,"
And this power is divine power, limitless power, power that is certainly sufficient to help you in whatever circumstances you might find yourself! And when you pray for others don’t fret and worry whether God can cope with the size of your requests for them – he can!
What goal the Christian is moving towards
Well now to my second point – the goal to which the Christian, every Christian, is moving.
Paul referred to this goal in his life, the goal to which the prayers of the Philippians and the support of the Spirit were leading as "my deliverance". This is rendered by many translations as "salvation". And the differing translations should make us stop and ask just to what it was that Paul was referring.
Giving the immediate context of imprisonment it is tempting to read deliverance in terms of Paul’s upcoming trial. Would he be declared innocent and set free? Then deliverance would seem to relate to his current confinement being brought to an end and this is one possibility.
Our natural reaction when we hear of a problem is to pray for the need that is most immediately obvious to us and so, for example, when we hear of someone being sick our first thought is often to pray that they might get better. Similarly when we hear of Christians in prison or under arrest because of their faith we would probably pray for their release. And in the coming verses Paul will go on to speak about his expectation of being released and so be able to continue his ministry.
However in this same context also speaks about the very real possibility of death intervening and such a thought would lead naturally on to thoughts about his final salvation, the completion of that work that God had already begun in Paul’s life.
So was thinking about his immediate future and a possible release from imprisonment or was he looking towards his ultimate and eternal salvation? The simplest solution is perhaps for us to leave both options open.
If we take this option then we need to be careful how we proceed. Not all Christians will be healed from their sicknesses and not all Christians who are put in prison because of their testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ will be set free. Following Christ can be, and is for many, a costly business. The sure and certain hope that every Christian has does not concern a perfect health here in this life and neither does it mean a life of comfortable prosperity. No, the sure and certain hope lies elsewhere and is altogether much greater and much more satisfying than the passing privileges of this life – it involves an everlasting salvation in the near presence of a Wonderfully Kind and Glorious Saviour.
Paul certainly looked forward to departing this life recognising that to be with Christ was better by far and the same is true for every committed believer. If you are such a believer you can look forward with utter confidence and eager expectancy to departing from this life in order to spend the whole of eternity with Christ – small wonder Paul could speak of such a departure as a gain – what a wonderful gain it is and will be for every one of Jesus’ sheep!
Is it likely that the Philippians would have prayed for Paul to enjoy this full and complete salvation? Was there any point in them praying for something that God was determined to bring about? Well we’ve already referred to Bible logic that loves to pray for those things God has promised us but there is yet more we can say here. The Bible talks consistently about the need to continue in the faith, to persevere in the faith. Being a Christian is not summed up by taking an initial decision to follow Christ – that is involved but the true Christian will keep on keeping on mindful that it was Jesus who said:
Mt.24:13 "But the one who endures to the end will be saved."
It is not the start of the race that is the determinant factor; it is the finishing of that race. I hope that you have all started this Christian race, that you have asked God to forgive you your sins calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus to have mercy on you and to be your Lord and Saviour – but there are some who are only temporary believers. These will carry on while the going is relatively easy but when matters change and the going becomes much harder they abandon the race. How tragic! So close to the truth but not benefitting from it!
Now think of the apostle’s circumstances. He’d already suffered a great deal and the pressures had doubtless been building during a lengthy imprisonment. This man Paul wasn’t the Lord Jesus Christ – he had flaws and weaknesses in his character, perhaps he too would make shipwreck of his soul as others had already done in the 1 st century. So surely they would have wanted to pray for him that he would make it all the way to a faithful and triumphant end.
And other Christians are praying for you in this way too. They’re not just praying that you enjoy good health and that your various little problems are sorted out they are praying that your faith will stand the tests that come its way and that you too will sail safely into the heavenly harbour to be received safe and sound into the eternal kingdom.
Don’t lose sight of this hope – it is far greater and more significant than anything else and it is yours in Christ. Pray for yourself that the events that come your way will turn out for your deliverance and don’t forget to pray the same for your Christian brothers and sisters.
What is expected of the Christian as he journeys towards that goal
Our third and final point this morning concerns the way the Christian is to order his/her life while approaching every day one step nearer this final goal of eternal salvation.
What are we to expect of ourselves and of other Christians? What are we to expect if we become followers of Jesus the Nazarene?
Well the apostle Paul tells us this too in these verses and as ever his answer is centred upon the Lord Jesus himself. And what was it that Paul wanted most of all? He wanted Jesus to be honoured in whatever way the Lord might deem fit.
This is how the apostle put it, he wanted to live his life in such a way that he would never have to feel ashamed of his behaviour and specifically he applied this to
Speaking boldly or of being full of courage
Whether he was to go on living for a while or whether he was going to be called upon to die
In short, for Paul and for every true believer "to live is Christ"
Let us spend a few moments thinking about just what this meant for Paul and what it might mean for us.
There were times in Paul’s life when he felt lonely, very lonely indeed. There were times when it felt as though everyone had abandoned him and he was left to fend for himself. And fending for yourself can be very wearing especially if you are on trial and the outcome could go either way.
How tempting to try to tone things down a bit to ensure a better outcome! How tempting to seek to ingratiate yourself with those exercising power over you!
But Paul knew that he was about his master’s business. He was a preacher of the gospel and he didn’t want to end up as a mere-man pleaser adjusting his message to satisfy the desires of his hearers and judges. No, Paul wanted to honour the Saviour who had laid down his life to save the obnoxious Saul of Tarsus. He wanted to honour the One against whom he had once fought so hard. He wanted to honour the Man whose followers he had once thrown into prison and against whom he had cast his vote demanding the death penalty. The old Saul was no more and Paul had no desire to go back to that old life. No, Paul had a Mighty Master to serve and he longed to serve him courageously, he didn’t want to miss his opportunity he wanted boldly to proclaim his Lord and in such a way that he would never need to be ashamed.
And what is my desire like to see Christ honoured? Do I have any of that same passion? Do you?
Now not all of us are called to defend the cause of Christ in a hostile legal setting but how courageous are we about defending Christ’s cause at all? Now, I don’t want some of you to beat yourselves up here. Some of you are quite capable of imagining testing scenarios and feeling great guilt and shame about not doing well in those imaginary settings. Don’t think up settings that are uncomfortable – what are you doing with those settings in which you already find yourself? If someone asks you to your face whether you believe – how do you respond? Are you prepared to honour Christ there? We are to be bold and full courage where the Lord has placed us – that is what is expected of the believer.
Paul was also concerned that he honour Christ whether in living or in dying. That covers everything really doesn’t it? In everything Paul did he wanted to honour Christ his Lord. He didn’t want to leave Christ out of any aspect of his existence – he didn’t want to try to put off "getting serious about religion" until he was nearly dead he wanted his energy and strength to be used for the Lord’s honour and he wanted his declining years to be used for the Lord’s honour too.
How concerned am I for the honour of the Lord? How concerned am I that every area of my life be consecrated to the one unique purpose of honouring the Son of God who left heaven’s glory to save a wretch like me? How concerned am I to use my life to honour him who laid down his life for me? And how is it with you?
Paul could declare his convictions so clearly and so well: "For me to live is Christ" he announced and every genuine believer has wanted to be able to say the same thing. Paul would go on later in his letter to explain more of what that meant to him but even here he makes it clear that it means to be absolutely bound up with Christ, for him to occupy first place in my heart and life – first second and third too.
Well if that is what is expected of us as Christians then we can surely begin to appreciate our need of all the help we can get – the prayers of God’s people, the support of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And remember that the other Christians in the church are in just the same position that you are in. They need all the help they can get if they are going to honour Christ in all they do, if they are going to be able to honestly say "for me to live is Christ". So will you pray for them? Will you pray for the Spirit to give them what they need too.
What a church we can be when all the members are genuinely Christ-centred and concerned for his honour above all else! What a church we can be when we all focus on what is really important! What a church we can be if loving one another we pray so wholeheartedly for one another! How Christ will be pleased with us and how he will be honoured!
Well, may God help us by his grace to be so!