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Steve Mickel: Christ is All Around, Philippians 1:12-26

April 15, 2024

Audio Recording

Whether in chains or in crisis, our circumstances can be opportunities to magnify Christ to others when our focus remains on Him.

Westside Church Podcast
Steve Mickel: Christ is All Around, Philippians 1:12-26
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Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

First place we're gonna look is Philippians, chapter one, verse twelve.

Paul writes, now, I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. If you're reading this, the first thing you have to ask is, well, what has happened to you, Paul? And I'm not gonna give you his whole history, but what has led him to this moment in a roman cell in prison, writing a letter to the Philippians, you can actually read the backstory in the book of acts. Acts, chapter 21 through 28 describes Paul's journey from Jerusalem all the way to Rome, and it tells you a little bit about that story and about the persecution, actually, that he experienced along the way. And so that's what happened to. He's saying, you know, what happened to me? Because everybody in the christian world at that time knew what had happened to him. But I love what he says. He says it has actually served all that has happened to me, all the ups and the downs, all the trials and tribulations, everything that has happened to me, even these chains in a roman prison, has served to advance the gospel. At the end of the day, as you go through this, as we go through this series in this book, get this. That Paul, his primary focus is and always has been the advance of the gospel. That the good news of Jesus. That's what the gospel. That's what the word gospel means. It means good news. That the good news of Jesus, he came to set the captives free. He came to give sight to the blind. He came to liberate us, to help us reconnect with our creator in heaven. That's good news. And all that. Paul's life, everything about Paul's life is about that one thing.

Everything else flows out of his desire for the advance of the good news of Jesus Christ. That is the main thing. And we see this, his perspective about the gospel on suffering and persecution and trouble, all of it would advance the gospel. Now, that word advance that he uses here in verse twelve is a greek military term. But before you think, oh, yeah, he's talking about you, you know, take up our swords and fight. Actually, that's not in this context. That's not what he's saying at all. It's actually a greek word. It is a military term that describes an army engineer that would go before the soldiers and make a way for the troops to be able to cross.

He's describing what John the Baptist described himself as before, Jesus Christ came into his public ministry, where John the Baptist said, I'm preparing the way for Jesus to enter in. I've always thought this, that the primary role of the church is to prepare the way for people to meet Jesus, for people to come to terms with the good news of Christ, to have it stare them in the face, and where they have to make a choice whether to follow Jesus or not. I've always felt that that's one of the primary purposes of the church, is to go before the spirit of God and prepare the way to receive Jesus. And so instead of Paul finding himself confined as a prisoner, Paul discovered that his circumstances opened up new areas of ministry, opportunity. He doesn't see himself as a warrior as much as an engineer, as someone who's preparing the way. It makes me think of Henry Ford when he engineered a car, an engineer. And he engineered a car, right, to be more accessible to everyday people.

But he did it by rethinking the way the car was built, right? And he introduced the assembly line, and it revolutionized the car industry, and it became. The automobiles became much more accessible to everyday people. And in the same way Paul describes himself, and I think he has this desire for the Philippians and for us, that we would make Christ more accessible by the way in which we live, by the way in which we go through trials, by the way in which we navigate suffering, by the way in which we have faith in the midst of hardship. All of that is paving the way for people to. For Christ to be more accessible to people. Paul, in a sense, would retell the gospel story in a way that opened it up to everyone. Jew and gentile, slave and free men and women. It was like everyone's in, you know, everyone gets to play. Everyone has an opportunity to receive Christ. Because Paul had one mind, one goal, the gospel. It was the central message of his life, and we see it out through all the pages of the nine different letters that he wrote that are included in the New Testament. He even wrote one time, I preach Christ only in him. Crucified.

That's it. Nothing else. There's no other story.

You know, I feel like I'm becoming a one note Christian. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. I'm just like, you know, I mean, it's in our name, Christ.

We are ambassadors. We are his children. We are his representation on this earth. And how Paul responds to three different moments helps us to know how do we respond in this cultural moment, how he responds to his chains, how he responds to his critics, and how he responds to a very deep crisis that he's facing even as he's in prison. So let's keep going, verse 13. Let's look at Paul's chains.

As a result, as a result of all that has happened to me, he's writing, it has become clear.

There's no ambiguity. It's absolutely clear. Throughout the whole palace guard, every single one, he had four different soldiers every 24 hours, rotating.

In that 24 hours period, four different soldiers would take care of him, would watch over him. And so he's making it clear, by the way in which he is suffering, by the way in which he is living his life, by the way in which he talks about his faith, by the way in which he endures suffering, he is making it clear through the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ, about what I believe, about Jesus, what I think he came to do, and what I think he came to set us free. And because of my change, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. A couple things happen. Here is obviously the opportunity for Paul to preach, to share, to show the gospel the good news of Christ to those that were watching over him. The roman guards, the, the people in Caesar's palace, they all got to see Paul up close and personal. But then also his faith, his endurance, his joy in the midst of suffering, also gave Christians confidence that they also could walk with faith. Isn't it true that when you see that kind of faith, when you see the faith of someone who has suffered deeply and they just keep their. They keep their faith in God, they keep holding on to joy, they keep like, I'm not gonna let go of Jesus. Isn't that inspiring? When you see someone who has gone through so much, you go like, oh, I want to have that kind of faith. I want to live like that.

As I thought about this, my heart was drawn towards the persecuted church around the world.

I actually have many friends. And being in this denomination for most of my life, I've gotten to know people in Turkey and the Middle east and other places where there's actual persecution happening. Right now, 365 million christians face persecution. That's one in seven christians because of their faith. In 2023, almost 5000 christians were killed in faith related attacks. Do we have that slide? Do we guys have that slide? We can put that up. That way people can read it along with me if we haven't. If not, there it is. 5000 christians were killed in 2023, almost 15,000 attacks on churches, christian schools and hospitals. This is global, global stats. Almost 43,000 christians were beaten or threatened.

Over 21,000 attacks on christian homes.

278,000 plus christians forced out of their home are into hiding.

Sometimes it's just good to just sit back for a moment and remind ourselves, one, that we're not alone.

That, and two, that there are people who are facing deep, deep persecution loss because of their faith directly related to their faith. It just reminds us like, oh, we have it pretty good here. Even though if you believe what you hear on tv, it's like, oh, man, poor Christians, you know, it's like, no, we have it pretty good. We still have some freedoms. I know they're getting less and less. We'll talk about that in just a moment. But it's like, remind ourselves that there are people around the world who are facing persecution and are standing strong in their faith in Jesus Christ. Regardless, that encourages us and gives us confidence to stay the course, to not give up, to keep our eyes on Christ. These men and women inspire us to live with greater confidence.

Last Monday night, in the Monday night groups that are happening here at Westside during this series, David and Evan talked about kind of three categories of pressure, and it's good to make this distinction.

Three categories of pressure that we experience as Christ followers in the US currently. Indifference, opposition, and persecution. And some Christians call every external challenge persecution. I don't know if you recognize that. I see that more and more. And when we do that, though, when we kind of name everything as persecution, what it does is it does a great disservice to those around the world experiencing real physical danger because of their faith. But there is indifference.

People don't make special accommodation anymore for our christian beliefs and practices, do they? You know, where we used to be, you know, at the head of the table. We're oftentimes not even invited to the table.

There's opposition. People are proactively challenging our beliefs or practices. And in some places in the US, there is persecution. Where there is targeting someone's beliefs and practices to inflict actual pain or harm. But regardless of whether our experiences, we're experiencing difference or opposition or persecution. The point is, of what Paul is trying to say here is, stand strong in your faith.

Don't let go. Have joy. Even in the midst of opposition, even in the midst of. Of persecution. Keep your joy. The joy of the Lord is what our strength. It's the thing that holds us, the thing that keeps us going, especially in those moments, because our faith will encourage others to stand strong in their faith. Have you noticed this? Fear breeds fear.

But have you also noticed joy breeds joy. Faith breeds faith. Hope breeds hope. It's just we've got, as people of God, we got to keep our eyes on the prize.

Knowing Christ, being conformed into his image, that's somebody else's message.

Through this series. Philippians, chapter one, verse 15. Let's keep going. Paul's critics. We also have something from Paul's critics. It is true, verse 15, that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preached Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. So Paul is expressing here a division that existed in the church. And Paul was a divisive figure.

He was preaching a law of grace rather than of works and wasn't very popular with the jewish religious system. And so he's created a lot of animosity. People are actually preaching the opposite of what Paul is preaching, the gospel of Christ. They're actually preaching against Paul. And I was thinking about that, how divided churches are now since the pandemic. And then I realized, well, actually they've been divided since about 30 years after Christ's ascension, and they haven't stopped. It's just God's thing.

It's the nature of this thing that just ends up being divisions. And the church always has this. But as I thought about this, we know that some people preach Christ sincerely, and then others preach Christ out of a sense of selfish ambition. They want something for themselves, or they're envious of Paul. Or some people preach Christ out of goodwill and love. They simply want the love of Jesus to just be expressed. Right.

And the word that Paul uses here in, where is it at? In verse, verse 15, stirring up trouble.

It's interesting, as I studied that word in the original language, it's the same word that the Greeks used for debate politically. And it was just fascinating to me that these Christ followers had preached. They were preaching the gospel, but in a way that was like, I'm going to convince you. I'm going to debate you. I'm going to fight what you believe with what I believe.

And it's just an interesting kind of notation in this that they were trying to garner the support of others in their message. They were trying to have more power and influence as a result of their preaching. I was thinking about where we're at in the nation right now. And those who choose to fight the culture wars presently oftentimes, and I think actually their motives are good, we got to get back to our values. We got to get back to our christian values. But what ends up happening sometimes is when that becomes the focus, the gospel kind of becomes relegated to the side.

And I think what Paul is trying to tell us here is like, okay, let's get back to the gospel. Let's get back to what's really core. That's the goal. It's not, by the way, I don't know if you know this, but I think we sometimes think that the Bible is, and the goal of Christ's coming was to change culture.

Did you know? It's not that it's to change you.

It was to help you have connection with the father. We lost that. It's all relationship. It's all about reconnection. And as a result of that reconnection, guess what happens?

Cultures change.

But you see what I'm saying? Sometimes if we start with culture, I'm going to change culture. The gospel gets lost often in that fight. Whereas if we stay focused on Christ bringing people to Jesus, helping them become more like him, helping them to live like him and grow in him, what absolutely happens is that culture changes wherever they go. Those people, true Christ followers, man is different.

How they respond to their enemies, how they respond to their. In their relationships. It's all different because of their relationship with Christ.

But here's the part that challenges me, and I don't want to preach this. I want to skip it. So. But I was committed to exegeting this passage, this section. But this is what Paul says. So he's talking about this, right? Verse 18. He's talking about these two different people, some people preaching Christ out of selfish ambition. We would all say, that's not good. They should stop doing that right now, and let's all talk about it and let's post about those preachers that are off, off basis. You know, let's call them out, Paul, but what does it matter?

Well, I got an answer to that question, Paul, if you want to listen, you know, but no, what does it matter? Listen to this. The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true Christ is preached.

And because of that, I rejoice.

I'm still working through. I'm still getting to the rejoicing part. I gotta be honest with you. I just. Still getting there. But I'm challenged by this today that I can't stay in my judgmental self toward other christians who I don't think are preaching the gospel with pure motives.

It's not my fight and it's not yours.

Our job, our fight, is to focus on Christ, to keep our eyes on the ball, not to get distracted by what other people are doing or not doing what other people are saying or not saying. It's that I preach Christ and him crucified.

There is nothing else. That is the most important thing about what we do. One of the hardest parts of my job is I oversee the district that seven states from Alaska. I'll skip to you. Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota. So you can imagine the difference in philosophy about how the gospel is preached between Seattle and Bismarck.

I'm telling you right now, if anybody from Seattle's listening to this and anybody from Bismarck, they're all feeling very uncomfortable, like, which side is going to win?

Which side am I going to land on, the Bismarck people or the Seattle people? I could intimately describe to you the different ways that these two groups of pastors and leaders approach the preaching of the gospel. And what I am learning is that while I think that stuff is important, and I do talk to all pastors about how do we present the gospel.

But what's most important is to press for unity, to lay down our biases and our philosophies and how we think it should go and serve one another, lay our lives down for the other. There's a great story of two english evangelists of the same time period. I don't know. It might have been the 18 hundreds. John Wesley and George Whitfield. Familiar names. If you do any kind of work in theological education, you would run into these two men, very, very influential evangelists of their time who adamantly disagreed doctrinally. They could not see eye to eye on much of anything.

But both of them saw thousands of people come to Christ at that time. And so someone came to Wesley, probably wanting to stir up a little bit of trouble, because sometimes we like to do that. I don't know if you've noticed that.

And they asked him, hey, do you expect to see Whitefield in heaven?

And Wesley said, no, I don't.

And so that guy's like going, oh, I got a good article going right now. Right? And so the person followed up and said, so you don't think Whitefield's a Christian?

Here's Wesley's response. Of course he's a Christian, but I don't expect him to see him in heaven because he will be so close to the throne of God and eyes so far away that I will not be able to see him.

I want that kind of humility.

I want to approach, especially the people in the body of Christ, fellow brothers and sisters. I want to approach them with that kind of humility and with Paul's belief in the church.

For whatever motive people are preaching Christ, at least Christ is being preached.

At least Jesus is still at the front of the line. That, to Paul, is more important than anything else.

Like I said, I'm still getting there. But it's a challenge to see others the way Paul was seeing them. And then the third area is in Paul's crisis. And I'm gonna read a little larger section here, verse 20 through 26. He writes, I eagerly expect and 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.

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

If I am going to go on living in this body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose?

I do not know. I am torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, he says, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body convinced of this. I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy, joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again, your boasting in Christ, Jesus will abound on account of me. Here's Paul's crisis. He doesn't know what's going to happen. He does not know his future.

He doesn't know the future of the church. He doesn't know the future of his own life. He doesn't know the future. And he is in this crisis. And he's saying, whether by life or my death, Christ be glorified, whether I'm found guilty, executed, found innocent, and freed, what I want to ensure, either way is that Christ is magnified, Christ is glorified, that Christ is at the center.

Some of you know this about me. I'm a nerd.

It's true. It's self confession time.

I love the stars. I love the heavens. So a while back, my wife got me a really nice telescope. So I got it out a couple weeks ago to get ready for the eclipse, which I got ready. And of course, I looked at Jupiter and three of the moons I could see.

And if you're like, what are you talking about, Steve? Who cares about the stars? That's because you've never seen them. Like, really seen them. Looked at them with your own eyes up close. Anyway, I told you I was a nerd, so I forgot. On the eclipse day when I was getting my telescope ready, about two weeks before that, I was going to be on a plane during the eclipse. Yeah. So I land, we landed. I'm looking at my phone because I got, you know, I got some apps that tell me what's going on in the heavens. And so I'm looking, I'm like, oh, I still might be able to see it, but I have no gear with me. I have no, I don't have the glasses. I have nothing. So I'm like, okay. And so I'm riding the metro, and I'm trying to, like, take a picture with my phone and that this is nothing. And so I'm just like, it's up there. I know it is, but you can't, you're not supposed to look at the sun ever, by the way, especially in an eclipse.

So I get off the metro, and I'm walking to the bus station, and you're probably all wondering, why do you take the metro on the bus? This is my style. Don't, don't fight me on it.

Anyway, so I walk out of the metro station, and there's a metro worker looking up to the heavens with glasses on, and I do something I never do. You can ask my wife. This is way outside my norm. I just went up to him and I said, april, can I look through your glasses?

And anybody that's into this stuff are like, cher. All the more like, yes, of course. And so we were both, like, really excited. I'm looking. I got a view of the eclipse. Anyways, that's nothing to do with my message, by the way. I was just excited to tell you that.

But back to the telescope.

So you know this. We all know this. The stars are actually much bigger than what we can see with our bare eyes or even with our telescopes. They're massive. They're huge. We just, they're so far away, we can't see them. We can't, like, we don't know the magnitude of what they are.

And the telescope, in a sense, exalts or magnifies those stars to bring them closer to our eyesight.

And here's the beauty of what Paul is telling us. Whether by life, my life, and how I live my life and the way that I interact with people and the way that I suffer and the way that I interact with those people that I disagree with in every way, whether through our life, or even our death.

May our lives be a telescope that brings Jesus Christ closer to those around us. May they see Jesus up close and personal through the way that you live your life as a Christ follower. You know, there are moments like the eclipse, where everybody's looking up to the heavens, right? Like 911.

Our churches were filled with people for a few months. But then what happens is that most of the time, people think of Christ as elusive, hard to understand, like a misty figure that lived centuries ago. But through us, through his church, through your life and my life, through our trust in Christ, when everything falls apart, through our suffering and our uncertainties about the future, through the people that we disagree with, all of that stuff working itself out, they get to see the grandeur of God and how you and I live.

I think most of us live microscope lives rather than telescope lives, meaning we make small things bigger rather than making bigger things closer.

So I want you to ask yourself today, does your life bring Christ closer to others?

Do people see the love of Jesus on display up close and personal, through you, through your trials, through your sufferings, through your successes, through your joy?

For to me, to live is Christmas.