Preached by Barry Unwin, in Upton, Welland, Hanley Swan, Hanley Castle and Ripple, July-Sept 2017

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expectand hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body,whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

I wonder what you think would make you content – totally satisfied in life? Grandkids? A new home? A luxury holiday? Or maybe a pay rise, or career success, or Fame? One kid I know wants to be a famous Instagrammer. I know, I’m not sure what it means either.

Today we’re continuing our little sermon series all about finding contentment, and the Bible book we’re using for that is a letter written by an early Christian leader called Paul  to the Christians in the city of Philippi, and one of the things that letter contains is this statement:

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance.” (Phil.4:12)

You know, I once had the privilege of a holiday in Hawaii. A typical day involved get up late, walk to beach, sit on beach, swim with tropical fish, go home for lunch, have a shower, read while the kids have a nap or Have a nap myself. Then go to a different beach for an afternoon picnic tea. Swim with more tropical fish. Home. Dinner. Bed.  Throw in lashings of ice-cream, sunshine, tropical sea, it was a perfect.

But here’s the thing, we weren’t content or totally satisfied, our expensive condo, in an exclusive resort, had a rodent problem and cockroaches. And every evening there were mosquitoes. And the food was ridiculously expensive and to cap it all, we got a parking ticket. In paradise… Paul said,

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

That’s a contentment that works in Hawaii with rats, and here in Hanley Castle, and it even means Paul was satisfied where he was writing from. Did you notice where he was in our Bible reading? Have a look at v13 –

I am in chains.”

Paul was writing this from a Roman prison where he’s facing a potential death sentence – for being a Christian. And yet he’s

learned the secret of being content.

Most of us – we’re not content even in the good times, are we? But he’s content in the very worst time.

It seems he’s discovered something that can offer an answer to all of those big questions we ask in life:

  • What’s the purpose of my life?
  • Why am I alive?
  • What am I here for?

I dare say we’ve all asked those questions from time to time, and the trouble with questions like that is that they’re awfully hard to answer. So today I want to show you a reason to keep going that will never fail you, because it isn’t built on anything as flimsy as        career, or the housing market, or family. Instead, it’s a reason that if you can embrace it – Will bring you a peace and contentment that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

And it’s right there in our Bible passage, in v21, where Paul says,

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

The biggest reason to keep going, the only reason that will last forever, is to know and enjoy God through his son Jesus Christ. And if you’ll embrace that, if you’ll live it, then this passage picks out three ways you’ll gain a peace and contentment, that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Here’s the first one:

1) Jesus offers us security in the face of death.

Just think about those words in v21,

to die is gain.”

He knows the Romans might well execute for his faith. But that’s okay – because if he dies, he’s going to be with Jesus which is better by far than anything in this life.

Take all your best moments in life, and what we have to look forward to in eternity with Jesus is better. CS Lewis, in his Last Battle, the final Narnia book, tried to convey something of what that will be like, as he describes all his main characters dying and going into Narnia’s version of Heaven.

…the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.

But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: and in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

That’s what Paul’s getting at when he says “to die is gain.” And that can give us real confidence in the face of hardship.

Ten years ago, in a village in India, a family lead by a man called Bartu abandoned the local tribal religion and became Christians.

Years of persecution followed, which came to a head in February of this year, when Bartu and his wife were stripped naked, tied together and forced to stand up to their necks in a freezing pond for 17 hours. They were then beaten, and a few days later, Bartu died.

According to his son,

The villagers kept asking my father if he is ready to forsake Christ and return to [the village religion]. He replied every time, ‘I will not deny Christ.… I will continue to believe until my last breath.‘” [1]

That’s the security Jesus brings in the face of death.

2)Jesus offers us a mission for life

You see sometimes people hear what I’ve just said about heaven, and dismiss Christianity as

pie in the sky when you die”.

But Jesus isn’t just for Heaven – He’s also about here and now on the earth where he has a purpose, a mission, for each and every one of us.

Paul’s mission is there in v22-23, where he talks about

your progress and joy in the faith.”

You see, Paul’s mission from God was to start new churches all round the Mediterranean.  He even did it while he was in prison – v13 – he’s telling the palace guard about Jesus. Well I suppose it’s a captive audience.

So I wonder what your mission is? You see if you’re in Christ, you have one – in one of his other letters, Paul writes that

we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10).

God has a purpose – a mission – for each and every person he brings into his family. So what mission has he given you?

You know one of the main reasons Christians start to struggle with their faith, the reason they get miserable and grumbly, and start bickering and so on, is because they’ve forgotten the mission Jesus gave them. And contentment comes from being on your mission.

Here’s the third way Jesus can help us be content.

3) Jesus helps us make sense of life’s hard times.

Paul’s in prison. It’s hard, there’s probably beatings and so on. So how does he respond? Look at verse 19. He’s rejoicing that

what has happened to him will turn out for his deliverance.”

It’s a bit of strange phrase – but it comes from the Old Testament book Job, and the gist of it is that the tough times in our lives are often when we grow the most.

Three months back I bought myself an exercise bike. I know, why would I need to get more exercise?  So 3-4 times a week I cycle for half-an-hour.  And each time the same thing happens. After 15 minutes my backside starts to hurt. And the pain just gets worse and worse and worse. How those Tour de France riders can do it, is beyond me.

So how do I deal with the pain? Well I could give in to it and get off the bike. But actually what I do is remind myself that the pain now is part of getting fitter. No pain, no gain. And Paul’s got a similar attitude to his imprisonment.

I meet some Christians who – when tough times come – they give up on Jesus They think

How could a good God allow me to suffer?”

Or,

Life’s not easy, I must be doing something wrong.

Or

How can I be a successful Christian if life is hard?”

But look at the life of Jesus. He was rejected by everyone. His friends abandoned him. He was falsely accused, and then beaten. And then he was crucified for the sake of everyone else. That’s our God. The role model. His life tells us that hardship is normal in the Christian life.

So let Jesus make sense of your hard times. Learn the lesson of them, and grow through them.

So to finish, how do we put all this into practice? Well it kind of depends where you are on the journey with Jesus I kind of like to think of it in terms of a football game.

Some of you have been Christians for ages. You’re out on the pitch – playing the game. If that’s you – stick at it. Keep going. No pain, no gain and all that. Trust the instructions given you by the coach – that’s Jesus. And remember to work as a team.

Others of you – you were once in the game – but now your on the treatment table. Maybe the wound was self-inflicted – in which case it’s time to get over it and get back in the game.

Or maybe someone hurt you. Jesus said

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

That’s how you get back in the game.

And maybe – just maybe – one or two of you feel like you’re  sitting on the substitute’s bench at the moment, but the coach has just told you to take of the tracksuit and get out onto the pitch and start living for Jesus.  If that’s you – go for it. Don’t hang back. Let Jesus be your leader, your guide, your inspiration, and your rescuer. It won’t be easy – so don’t do it alone But it will be worthwhile.

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

What are you living for?

 

[1] https://www.globalchristiannews.org/article/the-cost-of-faith-indian-christian-pays-with-life/

 

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